Worst NFL Team For 2018?

It is Election Day here in the US.  Please go out and vote.  It is the responsibility that comes with citizenship…

Since we are at the halfway mark in the NFL season, I assume that football pundits are beginning to formulate their pieces on who will make the playoffs and who will get the playoff BYE Weeks and the like.  As is standard operating procedure here in Curmudgeon Central, I have looked at the league through the other end of the microscope to try to identify the worst team in the NFL.  Trust me on this; it is just as difficult to project the worst team as it is to identify the best team at this point in the season.

Anyhow, I began the process by considering 5 candidates for the Dregs of the League.  After looking at the 5 teams and their situations, I eliminated 2 of them from the final consideration.  The fact that they were cast aside early in the process does NOT mean that I think these teams are any good; the fact that they made the initial list defines their substandard stature.  Those two teams are:

  1. Browns:  This team is no prize; make no mistake about that.  Nevertheless, they have a few redeeming qualities that set them ever so slightly higher on the competency scale than the 3 finalists here.  The Browns are a young team and so they should improve as the season progresses.  Lord knows; they have ample room in which to improve.  The Browns have a young QB who gives every indication that he can play at the NFL level, and it must be noted that the Browns have taken 4 opponents to OT this year including the Steelers and the Ravens – neither of which belongs anywhere near this list of ineptitude.  The Browns have fired their coach already and will probably have a new one next year.  That is not unusual under this owner; since he took control of the team in 2012, he has fired 4 coaches and is working with an interim coach at present.  Browns’ fans should be wary of the next selection here; the ones made before this have all left a lot to be desired.
  2. Cardinals:  Once again, let me reiterate; this is not a good football team.  However, when I compare it and its prospects to the 3 finalists here, I think they are on a level more like the one the Browns inhabit as opposed to the bottom rung of the ladder.  The Cards have a rookie QB who looks as if he can be their starter for a while and they have a top-shelf running back.  [Both of those assets would be more productive if the Cards had a better OL, but such is the plight of bad football teams.  The lack of offensive production from the Cards is rooted in their less-than-adequate offensive line play.]  The Cards’ defense ranks in the middle of the league in terms of yards allowed and points allowed.  That is a plus given that they are on the field a lot.

With that as prelude, allow me to present the finalists in the landscape of bad NFL teams to descend to the status of Dregs of the League.  Since there are still a couple of months to go in the regular season – and there will surely be no post-season action for any of these three teams – I will present the teams in alphabetical order and make the case here why they could well be the team that is on the clock for the first pick in the NFL Draft in the Spring of 2019.

  1. Bills:  The Bills rank 31st in offense in the league in terms of yards per game and they are dead last – by a comfortable margin – in the league in points scored per game.  The Bills average 10.7 points per game; we are into November and the Bills have not scored 100 points since the season began on September 10th.  In 7 of the 9 games played to date, the Bills have failed to score as many as 14 points.  Underscoring the team’s offensive ineptitude – on the field and in the roster-building aspect of the game – this team has Nathan Peterman on the active roster and needs to start him in actual NFL games that count in the standings.  Not intending to mollify Peterman’s ineptitude, but the Bills do not own a WR that any other team covets.  That leaves the Bills’ defensive unit in a position where they have to win football games.  The Bills’ defense is pretty good, but it is not the Steel Curtain.  In fact, it would appear that the defense is wearing down since the Bills have lost their last 3 games by a cumulative score of 103 – 20.
  2. Giants:  The Giants have won 1 game in 2018; they beat the Texans in Week 3.  The Texans were so embarrassed by losing to the Giants that the Texans sprung to life and proceeded to win their next 6 games in a row.  The Giants’ offense does not score a lot of points, but it does move the ball.  In fact, ten teams rank below the Giants in yards gained this year – – including the Skins who lead the Giants’ division.  The team has two good offensive players in Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham, Jr.  Eli Manning is clearly on the downward arc of his career which limits the contributions that Beckham can make to the team in terms of finding the end zone.  The Giants’ defense also ranks in the middle of the league.  Those statistical rankings make it difficult to understand a 1-7 record to date.  The Giants seem to find a way to do something wrong at a key time; for example, the team ranks 29th in the league in the number of third downs converted.  On paper, the Giants look like a team that should be 3-5 or maybe even 4-4 at this point.  The degree of their underachievement and their lack of any enthusiasm on the field makes me put them in the running for Dregs of the League.
  3. Raiders:  One of the NFL adages is that games are won and lost in the trenches.  I have seen all or part of three Raiders games this year and both their OL and their DL routinely lose that “trench warfare”.  Individually, the linemen do not “defeat” the guy in front of them; they do not run the ball effectively; they do not pass protect adequately; they do not stop the run well at all; they do not generate any meaningful pass rush.  Other than that…  Compounding the problem(s) here, Jon Gruden is intent on vaporizing the team he inherited; already 3 of the best players on the Raiders’ roster as of August 2018 are gone.  Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper were traded; Bruce Irvin was simply released.  Even if I stipulate that Gruden can/will reconstruct a Raiders’ roster that is able to compete at something above the middle levels of the league, that is not going to happen in 2018.  And just as icing on the cake, the Raiders have an owner who would need to add 50 “football IQ points” to achieve the level of “Incompetent”.

So, there they are.  There are five bad teams.  Three of them look to be a bit worse than the other two – – but none of them are any good.  There will only be one head-to-head game among these 5 teams down the line:

  • The Raiders and Cardinals meet in Arizona on Nov 18.  Try to contain your enthusiasm for that one…

Finally, Scott Ostler had this comment in the SF Chronicle last week regarding the impending move of the Raiders to Las Vegas:

“Usually when a high-rolling loser comes to Vegas, the casinos set him up with a comp hotel room. With [Mark] Davis, they’re giving him a comp stadium.”

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



Basketball Today

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that the President of the WNBA had resigned to take a new executive position and that the new person in her seat would likely have to deal with new CBA negotiations very soon.  Well, it happened late last week; the WNBA players’ union has opted out of the existing CBA as of the end of the 2019 season meaning that negotiations for a new CBA can start now.  As is always the case, money is the fundamental issue in the upcoming negotiations.

WNBA players have been unhappy with the league’s salary structure for a while now.  The league minimum for players is $39K and the league maximum is $115K.  Several of the players choose to play internationally during the WNBA offseason to “make ends meet”.  That situation has never gone down well.  The irritation over this issue has been increased recently by the NBA’s announcement that it will offer elite high school prospects the option to sign a 1-year $125K contract to play in the G-League as their way to become eligible for the NBA Draft; these would be collegiate one-and-done players who would likely not attend more than a dozen classes in their year on campus.  WNBA players look at the money to be made available there and ask, “What about us?”

These negotiations will go on for a while but let me put some financial framework around the situation so you can calibrate the stories you will read along the way that are released by either side in the matter:

  1. The NBA owns 70% of the WNBA.
  2. The WNBA has lost money every year of its existence over the past 20 years or so.  The NBA accounting says the WNBA lost $12M in fiscal year 2017.
  3. Given the NBA’s revenues approximating $7B, a $12M loss is almost petty cash.
  4. NBA players get about 50% of the league revenues.  WNBA players get about 20% of league revenues.  Nonetheless the WNBA continues to lose money.
  5. WNBA TV ratings this year were the highest ever.  However, that does not mean those TV ratings are good.
  6. The WNBA has “partnered with” a daily fantasy sports site for whatever that means.
  7. There is now a WNBA video game available.

The data I would like to know here is rather simple and direct:

  • Of the 12 WNBA entries, how many of the individual teams operate in the black – without any fancy accounting legerdemain?
  • Of those franchises that operate in the black, how many would do so without any sort of subsidy from the NBA or the NBA team with which the WNBA team is affiliated?

Over the past year or two, the WNBA has made some major changes regarding the venues for their games.  The biggest news was that the NY Liberty would no longer play home games at Madison Square Garden and would play in a much smaller venue.  Here in the DC area, the Washington Mystics will not play in the Capital One Arena but will now play in a smaller arena in DC that holds a maximum of 4000 fans.  [The Washington team in the G-League will also play their home games in this venue.]

From the perspective of someone who has no particular interest in the outcome of any new negotiations here, this strategic move to smaller arenas to better manage operating costs is also an admission that the WNBA product is not nearly as appealing as the rosy projections have been for the growth of this league over the past 2 decades.  If Wikipedia is correct, there are 15 high schools in the US with basketball seating capacities of 7000 or higher; that makes a 4000-seat arena appear rather junior varsity.

Switching gears…  The college basketball season is about to get underway.  There is an unusual rhythm to college basketball these days.

  1. The season begins with various tournaments where at least a couple of the nominally top teams enter and often play one another.
  2. Then the season devolves into “December Blowouts” that are meaningless and bordering on annoying.
  3. In January conference play begins and interest begins to build again.
  4. Then comes March Madness and everyone focuses on college basketball.

With regard to the early season tournaments, there has been a new one added this year for late November.  It will take place in Las Vegas and feature Michigan State, Texas, UCLA and UNC.  That is an interesting field; and if you are wondering what might bring those schools together for a tournament since they are all in different conferences, consider that the games will be on FS1 meaning there is TV money for the schools to split.

File this under “Learning from Experience”:

  • Note that the UCLA basketball team did not choose to take a week or so trip to China in early November this year…

During the NBA off-season, the Washington Wizards acquired Dwight Howard; this will be his 15th year on the NBA; for his career, he averages 17 points per game, 13 rebounds per game and 2 blocked shots per game.  That is not too shabby…  And that is why it is interesting to note that Howard has been the NBA’s version of “one-and-done” with teams since the 2015-16 season.  Three teams – the Rockets, the Hawks and the Hornets – have all bid him adieu without receiving any recompense that might be appropriate for someone with Dwight Howard’s production.  He also had a one-year tenure with the Lakers back in 2012-13.  Howard has – rightfully or wrongfully – developed a reputation as a guy that messes up locker-room/team chemistry.

Last week, Howard made his debut with the Wizards; he had to sit out the first half-dozen games nursing an injury that was variously described as a sore muscle or muscles in either his “lower back” or his “hip area”.   Personally, I am hoping that it is eventually revealed to be a muscle in his butt because that will set up “pain in the ass” lines somewhere down the road.

  • Am I a bad person wishing for that?

Finally, since today’s rant has dealt with basketball and finances associated with basketball, consider this item from Brad Rock in the Deseret News.

“American CEOs earn 312 times what the average worker makes.

“Latrell Sprewell’s first thought: ‘Hey. They got families to feed’.”

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



Football Friday 11/2/18

It’s Friday and that means football.  Unfortunately, I have to begin this morning on a somber note.  Paul Zimmerman – or Dr. Z as he was known – passed away yesterday.  They say that the New York Times is the US newspaper of record; well, by analogy, Dr. Z’s commentaries on the NFL in Sports Illustrated used to be afforded the same stature.  There was a time before the Internet when Sports Illustrated was the most important and the most comprehensive site covering the entirety of the sports cosmos.  Dr. Z was Sports Illustrated’s NFL maven at that time and he was doing football analytics before the days of personal computers and video tape and multiple camera angles for every play.

Paul Zimmerman was a great writer and journalist.  I looked forward to reading his comments and analyses of NFL games and teams.  Ten years ago, Dr. Z suffered a series of strokes that left him in a wheelchair and unable to speak.  Yesterday, he passed away.

The folks at Sports Illustrated compiled some of Dr. Z’s most memorable writings.  This link will take you to that compendium.

Rest in peace, Dr. Z.

On a much brighter note, the Linfield College Wildcats notched their 5th win of the season last week securing another winning season for the Division III football program.  That extends the streak of winning seasons to 63 consecutive seasons dating back to 19956.  Linfield defeated Pacific Lutheran by a score of 41-7.  This week the Wildcats are on the road in Tacoma Washington to take on the Puget Sound Loggers who are 5-3 on the season.  Go Wildcats!

The first rankings by the CFP Selection Committee came out this week.  Meaning no disrespect to any of the other folks who promulgate rankings, these are the only rankings that count.  Moreover, the only part of their rankings that mean anything are the Top 8 or at most the Top 10.  The Committee ranks teams all the way down to 25th for a reason that escapes me.  When you get to where the rubber meets the road in early December, it will be the Top 4 that matter and everyone else will be scrambling for other things to do besides taking part in the CFP.

As I have mentioned, last week was my annual weekend in Las Vegas so I do not have nearly as extensive a set of notes to work from this week regarding last week’s happenings in football.  I was far too busy watching and wagering and engaging in the general conviviality of the weekend to take extensive notes.  But the show must go on and so I’ll have to make do.

Northwestern handed Wisconsin the Badgers’ third loss of the season.  The victory puts Northwestern squarely in position to be the Big-10 West champions.  Northwestern will host Iowa next weekend and a win for Northwestern there will all but guarantee that outcome.  Northwestern beat Wisconsin because of turnovers; every time I checked a play in that game that drew cheers from folks in the sportsbook, it was some sort of play where Wisconsin turned the ball over.

Michigan State rebounded from its horrible showing against Michigan two weeks ago to throttle Purdue 23-13.  The Spartans’ offense is nothing to write home about, but their defense really showed up last Saturday.

Nebraska won its second game of the season beating Bethune-Cookman 45-9.   This game was added to the Nebraska schedule in September of this year after the Huskers’ first game of the season against Akron had to be canceled.  Bethune-Cookman plays in the Mid-East Athletic conference against the likes of Florida A&M and Morgan State.  This was one of those games where they go to Nebraska to take a pounding and cash a big payday check.  Nebraska did not turn this into the slaughter it could have been by putting it on cruise control in the second half; bettors who took Nebraska were not happy with that because the Huskers did not cover the spread which got up to 49 points near kickoff.  Several days before the game, Brad Dickson had this insight about the scheduling:

“Bethune-Cookman game is a no win situation. Win by only two touchdowns or God forbid lose & it’s ‘What’s wrong with this team?’  Win 60-3 and it’s ‘Nebraska had no business playing the game’.”

Wake Forest beat Louisville 56-35.  This is only interesting because back in August, Louisville coach, Bobby Petrino, told reporters that his team was going to beat Alabama in the opening game.  Of course, they did not come close to doing that and now it is obvious they never had a prayer of doing that.  Louisville is now 2-6 on the season and just gave up 56 points to a Wake Forest team that is not an offensive juggernaut.

Clemson manhandled Florida State 59-10.  Late in the 3rd quarter and trailing 45-0, Florida St. kicked a field goal.  Why?  This was as big a beatdown as the score indicates.  Consider:

  • Clemson held FSU to minus-21 yards rushing for the game.
  • Clemson outgained FSU by 313 yards.
  • Clemson forced FSU to punt the ball 12 times.

Virginia stayed atop the ACC Coastal Division with a win over UNC.  If they stay there, Virginia would face Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.

Two weeks ago, Clemson dismantled previously unbeaten NC State.  Well, that loss must have damaged the psyche of the Wolfpack team significantly because they lost again last week to Syracuse by a score of 51-41.  NC State allowed 24 points in the first quarter alone.

Kansas beat TCU 27-26.  That game has no meaning at all regarding the Big 12 but it is noteworthy for this reason:

  • In the last 3 seasons, Kansas won a total of 3 games with records of 0-12, 2-10 and 1-11.
  • The victory of last week gives Kansas 3 wins in the 2018 season alone.
  • Not many schools find themselves in that situation.

Georgia beat Florida handily setting up this week’s game against Kentucky as a big deal for the SEC East crown.

Kentucky ran its overall record to 7-1 for the season beating Missouri 15-14 in a squeaker.

The Total Line for the Pitt/Duke game was 45 points.  The final score was 54-45 in favor of Pitt.  Anyone taking the UNDER in that game could have torn up their tickets by the early moments of the 3rd quarter.

San Jose St. won its first game of the year beating UNLV 50-37.  My interest in that game will become apparent later in this rant.

It was underdog week in the PAC-12.  On Friday night, Utah was the favorite and they covered easily beating UCLA 41-10.  However, on Saturday:

  1. Underdog Cal beat Washington straight up by a score of 12-10.
  2. Underdog Washington St. beat Stanford straight up by a score of 41-38.
  3. Underdog Arizona walloped Oregon by a score of 44-15.
  4. Underdog Oregon St. beat Colorado straight up by a score of 41-34.
  5. Underdog Arizona St. beat USC straight up by a score of 38-35.

Rankings for SHOE Teams:

For those readers who are new to this corner of the Internet, I like to imagine a second college football tournament at the end of the season.  The CFP identifies the best team of the year; I want my imaginary tournament to identify the worst team of the year.  I call that team the SHOE Team where “SHOE” is an acronym for Steaming Heap Of Excrement.  Here is how it would work – – if anyone ever dared to make it happen.

Since I find pre-season and early-season rankings of the Top-25 to be meaningless, I wait until November to begin my winnowing process.  Here are the teams on my radar at the moment.  I list them here alphabetically so that there is no sense of ranking; there is still too much football left to play to project seedings for the Final Eight:

  1. Bowling Green  1-8  They beat a Division 1-AA team by a TD in September.
  2. C. Michigan 1-8 They beat a Division 1-AA team by 12 points.
  3. Kent St.  2-7  They beat Bowling Green and Howard.
  4. New Mex St.  2-7  The wins were over UTEP and Liberty.
  5. Rice  1-7  The win was by 3 points over a Division 1-AA team.
  6. Rutgers  1-7  They beat Morgan St; they have lost 5 games by 27 or more points.
  7. San Jose St.  1-7  They beat UNLV last week.
  8. Tulsa  1-7  They beat a Division 1-AA team by 11 points.
  9. UConn  1-7  Worst defense in the country as of this week.
  10. UNLV  2-6  They lost to San Jose St. last week
  11. UTEP  0-8  The only winless team in Division 1-A
  12. W. Kentucky 1-7 They beat a MAC team but lost to a Division 1-AA team.

There are a few other teams under consideration, but we shall see what happens on the field before putting them on this list.  Interestingly, this week we have games between UConn and Tulsa and between Rice and UTEP.

NCAA Games of Interest This Week:

(Fri Nite) Pitt at Virginia – 7.5 (47):  Virginia needs the game to stay on course for the ACC Coastal Division title.  Pitt is one of the least predictable teams in the country.  I would not bet on this game with your money.

Iowa at Purdue – 2.5 (51):  Iowa can still win the Big-10 West but will be in deep yogurt if they lose here.  Same goes for Purdue.

Georgia – 8.5 at Kentucky (44.5):  This is a statement game for Kentucky and its football program.  A win here puts Kentucky in the driver’s seat for the SEC East title; it would mean that they had beaten both Georgia and Florida in the same year.  It has been a while since they did that.

Nebraska at Ohio St. – 18.5 (73):  Nebraska has won 2 games in a row but this ain’t Bethune Cookman they are facing this week…

Georgia Tech – 5 at UNC (64):  I do not understand this line at all.  UNC almost made my list of 12 SHOE Teams above…

Michigan St. – 2.5 at Maryland (46):  Interesting to see how Maryland plays this week afte3r all the drama of last week regarding the reinstatement of their coach and then his firing 24 hours later.

Oklahoma – 18 at Texas Tech (77):  Plenty of fireworks in this game…

W. Virginia at Texas – 1.5 (58): Both teams have only one loss in the Big 12; important game for both.

Notre Dame – 10 at Northwestern (53):  Even though this is not a conference game, this is important for both teams.  Notre Dame is in the Top 4 of the CFP this week; they will need a win to stay there.  Northwestern has plenty of Big-10 games ahead and could use whatever lift a win here would provide.

Cal at Washington St. – 10 (50):  Washington St. seems to be the PAC-12’s best shot at a slot in the CFP.  An upset by Cal would put the kibosh on that hope.

Texas A&M at Auburn – 3.5 (48.5):  Both teams are 5-3 but the vibe around the teams is different.  The Aggies are playing hard and losing close games; Auburn just seems to be underachieving and going through the motions.  Interesting betting angle here for trend bettors.  Auburn had a BYE week last week; Gus Malzahn’s teams are 7-0 after a BYE week.

Three more NCAA football games will be mentioned below in this week’s Six-Pack.

NFL Commentary

Lots of “stuff” went down this week related to the NFL and it all began on Monday when the Browns fired head coach, Hue Jackson, and offensive coordinator, Todd Haley.  According to reports, the two coaches had been “feuding” since the start of training camp and if those reports are accurate, you have to ask the question why it took so long for ownership to stop that sort of nonsense.  Owner Jimmy Haslam characterized the situation as an irreparable divide between the two men.  And, it took you two months to realize that and do something about it?

Jackson’s record in Cleveland is indefensible; his record there is 3-36-1.  This is yet another time when Haley’s departure from a team has not caused many tears to be shed.  I think he puts the “offensive” into the job title “offensive coordinator”.  Nonetheless, the situation in Cleveland remains a mess.

Taking over for the rest of the season is Gregg Williams who – you may recall – was banned from the NFL for his part in the “Bountygate” scandal and was subsequently reinstated.  Williams has been a decent defensive coordinator in several stops around the NFL but his one shot at a head coaching job was less than spectacular.  He spent 3 years as the head coach in Buffalo posting a 17-31 record.  Meh!

The Browns will have a head start in the coaching search department this time around, but the question is who would want the job – – absent someone who is only looking for a big payday?  There is some talent on the team; it looks as if they have the best QB they have had since Bernie Kosar hung up his cleats.  But if the ownership is as clueless as they have shown themselves to be over the last several years, I’m not sure “talent on the field” is sufficient to win there.

If the Browns want more drama with their coaching staff, maybe they can hire Lane Kiffin as their head coach who will also run the offense and bring in DJ Durkin to be the defensive coordinator.  Don’t put it past that ownership…

Here is another thing to think about regarding coaches in Cleveland:

  • The Browns axed a coach named Hue
  • The Cavs axed a coach named Lue
  • This is not a good omen for anyone in Cleveland who has a dog named Blue.

The dumpster fire in Cleveland is almost matched by the happenings in Tampa Bay.  Last week, Jameis Winston channeled Nathan Peterman and started throwing the ball almost exclusively to the other team.  Winston was benched in the second half and Ryan Fitzpatrick came in to spark a huge rally that almost pulled the game out.  Koetter had to announce that Fitzpatrick would again be the starting QB for the Bucs.  And this is a mess because:

  • The Bucs hired Koetter in the first place because they thought his mentorship of Jameis Winston was critical to Winston’s good first year in the league and his continued development.
  • Winston has regressed on the field and has been less-than-steadfast as a citizen off the field.
  • Koetter already fired his defensive coordinator this year so it is on him and the offense to “get it right”.

From the outside, it appears to me that the owners of the Bucs – the Glazers – are in a position where they blow up the whole thing and ditch Koetter, the rest of the coaching staff, the GM and Jameis Winston.  Can you spell scorched earth?  Yes, that would put them down at the same level as the Browns and the Bills; nevertheless, the Bucs are closer to that level than they are to anything resembling a contender in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the Broncos have a BYE Week upcoming; that is a typical time for teams to fire coaches in mid-season and Vance Joseph may not want to get a call from the GM or the owner on Monday morning leading into that BYE Week…

The Broncos have been disappointing on the field but the situation with 3rd string QB, Chad Kelly, must sting too.  He is Jim Kelly’s nephew and he has had a checkered past off the field.  The Broncos – and John Elway – took Chad Kelly as Mr. Irrelevant in the draft this year after Elway heard from Jim Kelly (Chad’s uncle) that the kid was basically a good kid who has learned from his mistakes.  Chad Kelly was arrested after a team Halloween party under bizarre circumstances.

Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot regarding Chad Kelly’s football situation:

“Yet more to do: With his release from the Denver Broncos, quarterback Chad Kelly has been kicked off his high school, college and pro teams. The question now is whether he’ll settle for the ‘bad teammate’ Triple Crown or join the Canadian Football League and shoot for the Grand Slam.”

And just to put a cap on coaches-on-the-move this week, the Cowboys fired their offensive line coach.  I guess he is the one responsible for the various injuries along the line and surely for center, Travis Fredericks’ Guillain-Barre Syndrome which has sidelined him for the entire season.

Last night, the Niners disemboweled the Raiders 34-3.  Niners’ QB, Nick Mullens, started his first game ever and threw 3 TDs against a Raiders’ defense that was about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.  The Raiders are just awful this year; they were manhandled in the trenches on offense and on defense.  After the game, Jon Gruden stated the obvious; he said the team has to play better.  Based on what I saw last night, I wonder if they can play worse.

NFL Games of Interest:

KC – 8 at Cleveland (51.5):  Baker Mayfield has played well for the Browns, but no one should get carried away and say that he is playing anywhere near Patrick Mahomes’ level.  Consider:

  • Mayfield has 8 TDs and 6 INTs.  Mahomes has 26 TDs and 6 INTs
  • Mayfield has completed 58.3% of his passes. Mahomes has completed 65.6%
  • Mayfield gains 6.6 yards per attempt.  Mahomes gains 8.9.

The Chiefs’ pass defense is not very good; the Browns’ defense has yielded 400 yards or more in each of the last 5 games.

Pittsburgh at Baltimore – 2.5 (47):  The Steelers lead the AFC North and have won 3 games in a row.  The Ravens trail by 1.5 games and have lost 2 in a row.  The Ravens beat the Steelers earlier this year in Pittsburgh.  This is a big game for the Steelers and a must game for the Ravens.

Tampa at Carolina – 6 (55):  Ryan Fitzmagic takes over at QB again for the Bucs as noted above.  The Panthers have won their last 2 games and are only one game behind the Saints in the NFC South.  The Bucs are also in that division but hardly look like a team that will be a factor later in the season.  The Bucs will move the ball in the game; their passing attack is very good.  The Bucs’ giant flaw is their defense which gives up lots of yards and lots of “chunk plays”.

Jets at Miami – 3 (43.5):  Here are two bad offenses going up against one another.  The Dolphins are 27th in the NFL in total offense and the Jets are 29th.  The QBs in the game are rookie Sam Darnold and Brock Osweiler.  The Jets have the better defense of the two teams.  This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.

Atlanta at Washington – 1.5 (48):  The Falcons have won 3 in a row but are still 3 games behind the Saints in the NFC South; this is a critical game for them.  The Skins have also won 3 in a row and they are perched atop the NFC East by a game-and-a-half.  Julio Jones has averaged 116 yards per game receiving but has yet to score a TD.  Very strange …  The Skins’ run game depends on Adrian Peterson who is running the way he did about 4 years ago.  He has a picture in his attic that is aging fast…

Chicago – 10 at Buffalo (37):  The Bills are terrible on offense and solid on defense.  The Bears have a good defense and an inconsistent offense.  With a double-digit spread on this game, I would avoid it like 7-Eleven sushi.  Word is that Nathan Peterman will be the starter for the Bills.  What could possibly go wrong?

Chargers at Seattle – 1 (47.5):  The Chargers are on a 4-game win streak and the Seahawks have won their last 2 games.  The venue clearly favors the Seahawks here.  As a side event, this will be Philip Rivers’ 200th consecutive start at QB; only 3 other QBs in NFL history have ever done that.

(Sun Nite) Green Bay at New England – 5 (56.5):  This is not a game I want to bet on; this is a game I want to sit back and watch as dispassionately as I can – – since I am not from New England or Green Bay in which case dispassion would be impossible.  This game showcases Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers on the same field playing a real game against one another.  I may never see that again.  The Packers are 0-3 on the road this year and they have lost their last 9 consecutive games against the Pats on the road.

(Mon Nite) Tennessee at Dallas – 5.5 (40.5):  Both teams are 3-4 on the season; the loser of this game will have a deep hole to dig out of if they hope to make the playoffs.  This will be the Dallas coming out party for Amari Cooper.

Your weekly Six Pack:

I have 3 NCAA games and 3 NFL games in the Six-Pack this week:

Penn St.  at Michigan – 12 (53.5):  The Michigan defense is outstanding, and they are going to make life miserable for Penn St. all day long.  I do not expect Penn St. to win this game, but I do think that the Nittany Lions’ defense can keep the Michigan offense from running wild here.  Therefore, that line looks awfully fat to me.  I’ll take Penn St. plus the points.

Stanford at Washington – 10.5 (45.5):  Neither team has lived up to expectations this year and neither team has shown any consistency from week to week.  However, I think that Stanford can control the clock here and keep this to a one-score game – – if they do not turn the ball over too often.  I’ll take Stanford plus the points.

Alabama – 14.5 at LSU (53.5):  If you believe the CFP Rankings, this is the #1 team in the country against the #3 team in the country.  It is clearly the College Football Game of the Week.  Alabama has not been tested this year; most of the starters get rested in the 4th quarter.  LSU has shown the it can play tough defense to the point that it is always in the game.  What will be interesting here is to see if LSU can continue to win by running the football in a power run scheme; the front 7 of the Alabama defense is awfully good.  I think that line is fat – – unless Alabama jumps out to a big lead early in which case LSU will play into the Alabama hand trying to catch up.  I’ll take LSU plus the points and sit back to watch.

Rams – 2 at New Orleans (58.5):  Notwithstanding the Sunday Nite game below, I think this is the NFL Game of the Week.  The Rams are a perfect 8-0 for the season; the Saints have won 6 in a row.  The ball should be moving up and down the field at a furious pace.  I think the key to this game is interior pass rush by the Rams.  Drew Brees is at his best when he can maneuver in the pocket and step up to make his throws; when the middle of the pocket is pushed toward him, he is less effective, and he is susceptible to having his passes knocked down.  I think Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh will provide that middle pressure sufficiently often to tilt the balance here.  I like the Rams to win and cover – – even on the road in the dome in New Orleans.

Houston at Denver – 1.5 (46):  That spread must reflect the fact that the Broncos play much better at home than they do on the road.  The Texans have won 5 in a row to lead their division; the Broncos continue to have QB issues and just traded away WR, Demaryius Thomas – – to the Texans.  I think the wrong team is favored here; I like the Texans to win outright so I’ll take them plus the points here.

Detroit at Minnesota – 5 (49):  This is a division game in the tightest division in the league.  Minnesota is 4-3-1; Detroit is 3-4.  The Vikings need the game to stay near the top of the division – or possibly take the lead if the Bears were to stumble this week.  The Lions need the game to remain relevant there.  The Lions have the 31st run defense in the NFL allowing 145 yards per game – – but the Vikes’ offense is not based on running the football.  There are conflicting trends at work here:

  • Lions are 7-2 to go OVER in their last 9 road games
  • Lions/Vikes are 7-2 to say UNDER in their last 9 matchups.
  • You make the call…

Both teams lost last week; neither looked good in doing so.  I do not see how the Lions improved themselves this year by trading away Golden Tate.  I do think the Vikes will get the train back on the tracks.  I like the Vikes to win and cover here.

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

“Two fires consumed seven cars in the MetLife Stadium parking lot during last Sunday’s Jets-Vikings game — because of late-arriving fans unwittingly parking their cars atop hot coals dumped from tailgaters’ grills.

“ ‘Not the first time we’ve been burned,’ sighed a fan wearing a Vernon Gholston jersey.”

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

What The Hell Took So Long?

When I was a kid, Dinah Washington had a hit song titled, “What a Difference a Day Makes”.  Well, those lyrics ring true this morning because late yesterday, the University of Maryland president, Wallace Loh, reversed course and fired head football coach DJ Durkin.  Loh did so without consulting with the Board of Regents which had directed him to reinstate Durkin as of yesterday; he simply informed the Board of his decision and acted on it.

While my instinct here is to praise Dr. Loh for demonstrating integrity and leadership in that action, there is a little voice in the back of my head saying:

  • What the Hell took so long?

The only new information that came forth in the last 24 hours relative to this matter is that students and players supported the idea of getting rid of Coach Durkin and to say that was the information that tipped the scales begs credulity.  Students do not run the university – or at least they are not supposed to.  I do not know why the narrative there is that it was the expression of various student bodies on campus that opened Dr. Loh’s eyes to the fact that he was in the middle of a mess that would fester unless he made a clean break with coach Durkin.

So, let me congratulate Dr. Loh for doing the right thing – – finally.  However, to get an understanding of the dynamics ongoing at Maryland related to this messy situation, I strongly recommend that you read this column by Barry Sverluga in today’s Washington Post.  I have said that this is a sordid situation; Barry Sverluga will fill you in on some of the details as to how we got to this point.

One of the underpinnings for the Maryland Mess as pointed out by Sverluga is the chasing of athletic dollars.  Interestingly, as this comes to light at Maryland, a related situation seems to exist at Northern Illinois University – whose football team plays in the MAC and not the Big-10.  According to the student newspaper at NIU, the school bought back more than $250K worth of tickets to their home football games to inflate attendance figures.  Why did they do that?  Well, it seems that in order to retain one’s status as a Division 1-A football program, a school must have a certain minimum attendance at their games – – and NIU was going to fall short.  That would mean some sort of “decertification” and that would mean loss of football revenue from playing on TV on Wednesday nights against other MAC schools and loss of money from corporate sponsorships etc.

  • [Aside:  If you ever bother to tune in on a Tuesday or Wednesday night to a MAC football game, you might conclude that most of the other schools in that conference are doing the same thing NIU has done.  To say there are 10,000 people at most of those MAC games would mean that you believe that Caspar the Friendly Ghost and all his buddies bought tix and are sitting in those broad open swaths of seemingly empty seats.]

The common thread between what the college newspaper reports about NIU football and the Maryland Mess is that both schools are chasing dollars.  The difference is that in Maryland the environment boiled over and resulted in the death of a “student-athlete”; at NIU, the only casualty is a financial one as $250K that could have been used to do something constructive for the institution was spent on tickets that no one wanted to buy.

Please keep these situations in mind the next time NCAA president, Dr. Mark Emmert, stands up and tells you that intercollegiate athletics are about enhancing the college experience for the student-athlete.  I will join you in giving him a chorus of raspberries when he does so.

Since the last two items have been football-related, let me deviate from normal practice here and talk about tonight’s Thursday Night Football game.  This game probably looked very enticing to the suits at FOX and NFL Network back in August; the Niners would be in the middle of a decent season with Jimmy G at the wheel and the Raiders would be experiencing the glory associated with “Gruden 2.0”.  As they say in Australia:

  • Yeah …  NO!

There have been plenty of bad match-ups on nationally televised NFL games in the past.  This one may be on the Mount Rushmore of bad games of that type.  The combined record of the two teams is 2-13.

  • The Niners’ only win came at the expense of the Lions (meh!) and the Niners’ have already lost to the Cardinals twice (yuck!).
  • The Raiders’ only win came at the expense of the Browns in OT (meh!) and four of their losses have been by 14 points or more (yuck!).

As the good folks at FOX and NFLN prepare to bring us the game with all the pre-game and post-game blather, I beg them to avoid a tempting storyline for tonight’s game:

  • This is NOT a “Battle for Bay Area Bragging Rights”.
  • The ONLY thing tonight’s winner can claim is that they are the “Least Worst Team in the Bay Area”.
  • I do not expect you to be so direct/blunt about it, but please do not try to glorify this game as anything more than a fetid pool.

And there is another football-related thing to consider this morning.  The NY Giants – talk about an NFL team that is worthy of being labeled an environmental hazard – have to deal with their backup QB being arrested earlier this week for disobeying a police officer’s traffic instructions and almost hitting the officer with his car.  After the arrest, it turns out that Kyle Lauletta has done this same thing before but was merely given a traffic citation for that incident; evidently all he did then was to disobey the directions and did not come close to running over the officer.  I guess the only good thing for Giants’ fans to think about here is that Lauletta did not ask the officer at the time of his arrest:

  • “Do you know who I am?”

Switching to baseball for a moment here, I ran across this item in Gregg Drinan’s excellent blog, Taking Note.  There is a link to his blog over on the right side of this blog under the heading “Columnists I Read”.

“Game 3 between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers went 18 innings and took seven hours 20 minutes to complete on Friday night. It took longer to play that one game than it did to play the entire 1939 World Series when the New York Yankees swept the Cincinnati Reds with the four games taking a combined 7:05.”

Finally, since I mentioned Mount Rushmore above in the hackneyed metaphor of the top 4 whatevers in some random category, here is an observation from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle that has been sitting on my clipboard waiting for an appropriate time to close a rant with it:

“You know what’s on my Mt. Rushmore of famous landmarks?  You guessed it.”

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



A Teachable Moment?

Somehow, the folks in charge of the University of Maryland are going to – in their words – “honor the memory of Jordan McNair” while reinstating the head football coach who oversaw the practice conditions that led to McNair’s death.  If you can square the circle created by those two things, you are better than I am.  The way the Washington Post reports the story, university president Wallace Loh was told by the Board of Regents to reinstate Coach DJ Durklin or be fired himself.  Loh’s recommendation to the Board of Regents had been to fire Durklin based on investigations into the football program and the circumstances surrounding Jordan McNair’s death.  Loh reinstated Durkin and simultaneously announced his intention to leave the university in June 2019.

The return of Durkin did not go over all that well with the team.  According to reports, several of the players walked out of his first meeting with the team since he had been placed on paid administrative leave back in early August.  That gesture leads directly to a key point in this sordid mess:

  • What’s next?

The reporting by ESPN and The Athletic that revealed the circumstances of McNair’s death from heat exhaustion at a football practice revealed what became known as the “toxic culture” surrounding the Maryland football program.  Whatever that “toxic culture” entailed was overseen and directed by Coach Durkin and the already fired strength coach for the team.  For reasons known only to the folks in the room when the Board of Regents met and voted on what to do now, all of that information was deemed to be secondary to the reinstatement of Coach Durkin.  That is now; what is next?

I do not expect it to happen, but it would be very interesting to see how the Board of Regents would deal with a situation where a significant fraction of the football team – say half of the players – decided to come to the field on Saturday November 10 for the Terps’ next home game stand on the sidelines for the national anthem and then walk back to the locker room and choose not to play in that game.  In these times when there is lots of talk about placing proper value on college athletes in the revenue sports, that sort of action would go a long way toward establishing the athletes themselves as the critical part of the revenue generation process.

One of the phrases in vogue now is something called a “teachable moment”.  What that really means is that someone has really screwed things up and in the process of fixing them, you simultaneously show folks how they should behave so as not to screw things up again in the future.  Normally, adults apply the teaching/fixing and children do the learning.  In this case, I think the football players at Maryland can take advantage of a “teachable moment” and be the fixers/teachers for the football coaches and the Maryland board of Regents.  Will they step forward and take that mantle?

  • We shall see…

Moving up a level in the football hierarchy, the NFL trade deadline passed yesterday afternoon.  Before I comment on a couple of the transactions from yesterday, let me say that the NFL’s trading rules are far superior to those in MLB.

  • First, the deadline is around the halfway point in the season.  In baseball, the halfway point is around the end of June, but the trade deadline is not until the end of July.
  • Second, once the NFL trade deadline is passed, there are no “secondary markets” for things that are trades but are not labeled as such with concocted processes like revocable waivers and the like.
  • MLB would do well to emulate the NFL model when it comes to trading players in the middle of a season.

Several players moved around the NFL in transactions yesterday and some of the movements were interesting:

  • The Packers traded Ty Montgomery to the Ravens for a 7th round pick.  Montgomery is not a star player, but he is a useful player despite his boneheaded decision to try to return a kickoff at the end of last Sunday’s game against the Rams.  A 7th round pick is the trade equivalent of a duffel bag full of practice footballs and a used kicking tee.  That trade seems like the Packers’ recognition that he had to be separated from the team and that a 7th round pick is better than just cutting Montgomery outright.
  • The Packers also traded safety, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to the Skins for a 4th round pick.  I don’t get that move at all; Dix had started every game for the Packers this year.  Maybe the fact that he will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this year was the motivation for the Packers’ decision?  In any event, the Skins did well with that move.
  • The Texans needed a WR after Will Fuller tore his ACL in the game last Sunday.  They got Demaryius Thomas from the Broncos for a 4th round pick and an exchange of draft positions in the 7th round.
  • The Rams acquired an edge rusher in Dante Fowler from the Jags for a 3rd round pick next year and a 5th round pick in 2020.  I don’t understand this move at all from the Jags’ perspective.  The Jags win with their defense and not their offense; that cannot be news to anyone who follows the NFL even perfunctorily.  So, why weaken that part of the team without getting back an asset for the underachieving offensive unit?
  • The Eagles got Golden Tate from the Lions for a 3rd round pick.  I do not get that move from the Eagles’ perspective.  They need to upgrade their running game more than they need to upgrade their WR corps.  Moreover, Tate will be a free agent at the end of this year and his contract demands were too rich for the Lions, so the odds are that the Eagles traded away a 3rd round pick to “rent” golden Tate for an 8-game playoff run.

Finally, here is a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

“Atheist:  A person who privately prays that they don’t turn out to be wrong.”

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



Congratulations To The Boston Red Sox

Naturally, there need to be congratulations to the Boston Red Sox for completing such a dominant MLB season with a dominant World Series championship.  As we were watching Games 3-5 in the sportsbook in Las Vegas, we were directly reminded that the Red Sox are relentless.  Trailing 4-0 late in Game 4, one might have expected to see some frustration, or some quit in the Red Sox dugout; it was almost the opposite.  The dugout camera shots gave us the impression that the players knew there was going to be an eruption, but they did not know when it was going to happen.  Well, it happened in the final 3 innings when the Red Sox put 8 big runs on the scoreboard.

Much has been made about the “managerial errors” made by Dave Roberts.  While I totally agree that his lifting of Rich Hill in Game 4 was premature and boneheaded – – and that is not a second-guess as any of my viewing companions will attest – – I think there is a larger problem here.  I think what Dave Roberts is guilty of is over-managing.  Frankly, far too many MLB managers do that these days – particularly the true-believers in advanced analytics.  There are times when a manager ought to believe what he sees with his eyes on the field as opposed to what the Excel spreadsheet says in his briefing book.  Advanced analytics has its place but if it were the absolute answer to every baseball situation, every game would come down to a 1-0 game depending on which team made the first run-producing physical error on the field.

  • [Aside:  One of my weekend companions got a message from a friend with a fantastic stat.  According to the message, the seven-and-a-half-hour marathon game in this World Series was longer than the entire 1939 World Series – a 4-game sweep by the Yankees.  That was in the days when you could actually see MLB games that took less than 2 hours more than twice a year.]

Imagine that the “marathon game” had started in the afternoon instead of at 5:00 PM on the west coast.  Lots more people would have been able to see the whole game because even in the Pacific Time Zone, there were far fewer people there to see the final inning than there were in the sportsbook an hour-and-a-half earlier.  On the East Coast, the game did not end until after 3:00 AM.  For the remaining TV sets that were still on at that time, I suspect that more than a few of those sets did not have any open eyeballs staring at them.

  • Memo to Commissioner Manford:  I know you cannot predict which games will take forever and which ones will be over in short order.  Nonetheless, please use your “Commish authority” to require one game in the World Series to be played with an afternoon start.  In fact, let me be more specific; make it the Saturday World Series game.  You may get lucky and have a great game on TV at a time when a lot more people can be awake to see it happen.

According to Clayton Kershaw’s contract, he has 72 hours from the conclusion of the World Series to notify the Dodgers if he will exercise his option to get out of the final two years of his 7-year contract worth a total of $215M.  If I read the terms of what is left on the deal, Kershaw has 2 more years with LA and for those 2 years he will take in $65M of the Dodgers’ money

Clayton Kershaw is an excellent pitcher – but he is not nearly the pitcher he was 5 years ago when he signed that deal.  He has had arm issues and a lower back issue sufficient to put him on the DL in each of the last 2 seasons; advanced analytical folks say his average fastball has lost a few miles per hour and that loss of velocity makes his slider less effective.  Let me stipulate that; I am sure plenty of MLB execs and managers will take that as gospel truth.

The question comes down to this; it is a bird-in-the-hand situation:

  • Can Clayton Kershaw get a deal this winter that will pay him more than $65M plus whatever the going rate will be for his services 3 years down the road?

Clearly, that is an unanswerable question; but that is the financial landscape to be filled in here.  Personally, I think his best financial move is to stay with the Dodgers and collect his $65M and then see how things shake out after the 2020 MLB season.

Switching gears…  The verdict is in; the jury found the Adidas execs guilty of fraud because they paid college basketball recruits under the table.  You know my skepticism here about the basis of this trial in the first place; I have said several times that I do not believe any federal law was broken here even though:

  1. What the execs and agents and runners did and still do is despicable – and –
  2. There are NCAA rules prohibiting anything resembling what they did – and –
  3. The colleges are complicit in all of this because of their passivity and tolerance of the status quo.

I have no expertise in legal theory and do not pretend that I do; so, I have now asked three friends who are both sports fans and practicing attorneys about the legal basis of this case.  All three of them agree with my three points above – particularly in the colleges’ complicity in this mess.  Moreover, they all agree that they do not see any federal law that was broken here and one of the three said he will be shocked if the conviction stands up on appeal.  The other two were less certain of the outcome of an appeal but said they hoped it would be overturned.

I do not live in the jurisdiction where this case was tried so I could never have been selected for the jury.  However, if I were on that jury, the panel would still be deliberating, and gridlock would seem inevitable.

Finally, here is a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

“Art:  The deliberate arrangement of elements in any given medium in such a way as to appeal to the aesthetic sense.  If the last few centuries are any indication, most works of art could easily have been painted by the five year old child of whoever is viewing the painting.”

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



Football Friday – On Thursday This Week – 10/25/18

Football Friday will happen on Thursday this week because I need to leave the house at “Oh-Dark-Thirty” tomorrow to catch a flight to Las Vegas for the annual visitation.  The spreads and totals here are mid-week numbers; so be it…  As usual, I shall begin with NCAA football.

The Linfield College Wildcats extended their season record to 4-2 last week with a 14-0 shutout win over George Fox University.  The Wildcats need one more win to assure themselves another winning season in football – – something the school teams have done every year since 1956.  This week the Wildcats host the Pacific Lutheran Lutes in a Northwest Conference game.  The Lutes are 3-3 for the season; they are 3-0 at home and they are 0-3 on the road; this game is in McMinnville, OR.  Go Wildcats!

Two weeks ago, college football was Bizarro World; last week was relatively tame – – once you got past the fact that Ohio State threw in a horrendous clunker against Purdue.  The Buckeyes did not merely lose to the Boilermakers; the Buckeyes got their doors blown off in the process losing by 29 points.  Ohio State has not lost often in the past several years, but when they lose, they tend to lose badly.  Remember Clemson in the CFP a couple years ago; remember Iowa last year; now losing by more than 4 TDs to Purdue…

Here is a telling stat from the game that will explain how Ohio State found themselves so far out on the wrong end of the stick:

  • Ohio State had the ball in the red zone 4 times.
  • Those 4 possessions yielded a total of 6 points.

You can explain away that big loss to Clemson in the CFP; an opponent in the CFP is – by definition – a really good team.  You can sort of forgive the loss to Iowa last year because Iowa was a decent team and they were at home.  This year’s loss to Purdue on the other hand came at the hands of a team that had already lost to E. Michigan.  When a team beats Ohio State – and remember, that does not happen very often – it is very surprising if/when you find a loss to a MAC opponent on that team’s résumé.

In other Big-10 action, Nebraska won its first game of the year bringing its record to 1-6.  It was a dominant win over Minnesota by a score of 53-28.  Brad Dickson had this to say in a Tweet during this game:

“How bad did the first half go for Minnesota? Goldy Gopher was just picked up by a Humane Society van.”

By the way, Minnesota has a freshman offensive lineman born in Australia named Daniel Faalele.  He is probably not finished growing but even at this young age, he is listed at 6’ 9” and 400 lbs.  If you invite him to Thanksgiving dinner at your house, I would suggest doubling up on the mashed sweet potatoes…

Michigan dominated Michigan State last week and it was the defense that stood out.  Consider:

  • The Spartans had 65 yards total net offense for the game.
  • The Spartans were 0-12 on third down conversions and 0-1 on 4th downs.
  • The Spartans had only 11 first downs in the game and 5 of them were via penalty.

I don’t know if Michigan will crack the top 4 in the rankings this week; but if that defense can play that way consistently, I think they should be considered a CFP participant.

Ed Orgeron started the season on a hot seat at LSU facing some stiff competition in the SEC and dealing with an obsessively irrational fan base.  Two weeks ago, LSU beat Georgia; last week, LSU dominated Mississippi State 19-3.  Maybe that score does not look like “domination” to you, but it was.  Bulldogs’ QB, Nick Fitzgerald, was harassed all game long and threw 4 INTs.  Next up for LSU is Alabama a week from now.  If LSU wins that game, Ed Orgeron might be the Coach of the Year.

Last week, Auburn beat Ole Miss 31-16 improving to 5-3 overall but only 2-3 in SEC games.  That is a bit surprising; I thought Auburn would be better than that back in August.  Looking at the stats, it seems that it is the passing game that has let Auburn down.

  • Passing offense 217 yards per game; passing defense 222 yards per game
  • Rushing offense 4.4 yards per carry; rushing defense 3.3 yards per carry

Last week had to put to rest the notion that NC State and Clemson were on the same level – or even very similar levels.  The Tigers shellacked the Wolfpack 41-7 and it could have been worse.  An embarrassing moment for the NC State program came late in the game with the Wolfpack trailing hopelessly.  A defensive back for NC State made a nice play to break up a pass near the goal line.  Then, he proceeded to strut and gloat and dance to the point where he drew a taunting penalty.  Taunting an opponent who ultimately wins the game by 34 points is cause to hang your head in shame.

In other ACC action, UVa put itself squarely in the ACC playoff picture beating Duke and extending its record to an overall 5-2.  I have not seen a lot of UVa football this year, but I have seen enough to think that they would be no match for Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.

Oh, and UNC dropped its record to 1-5 by losing to Syracuse in double overtime.  If Larry Fedora keeps his job after this year, the reason is probably tied to an inability to come up with the money to buy out the rest of his contract.

Previously undefeated Cincy went down in another OT game losing to Temple in Philly.  Temple is undefeated at home in 2018.

Texas Tech won a Big-12 conference game at home for the first time in 2 years beating Kansas 48-16.

Washington State established itself as the leader of the PAC-12 last week with a home win over Oregon.  The Cougars dominated the first half and led 27-0 at one point.  Oregon rallied but it was too little, too late as the Cougars prevailed 34-20.  Washington State is the only PAC-12 team with only 1 loss for the season; they would probably have to win out in order to get any consideration for the CFP.  I seriously doubt that a 2-loss PAC-12 team is going to get in.

That status will make the Apple Bowl game (Washington/Washington State) at the end of the season even more of a big deal than it usually is – – and it is always an intense rivalry game.

Washington beat Colorado 27-13 handing the Buffaloes their 2nd conference loss of the season.

Meanwhile Utah beat USC 41-28 and put itself in position to be the PAC-12 South participant in the PAC-12 Championship Game.

Just a scheduling note here … I will begin to collect candidates for the imaginary SHOE Tournament at the end of the NCAA football season starting next week.  I prefer to wait until the season is a little more than half over to look for the teams there; we have a month to go meaning that bad teams can get better and evade the ignominy of being a SHOE Team.  But it will be time to start the winnowing process…

NCAA Games of Interest:

Clemson – 16.5 at Florida State (51):  Two weeks ago, Georgia was ranked #2 in the country and lost.  Last week, Ohio State was ranked #2 in the country and lost.  This week, Clemson is ranked #2 in the country …  Is this a trend?

Georgia – 7 vs. Florida (51.5):  This game could decide who plays for the SEC Championship out of the SEC East.  It is always a big game and a big rivalry; these stakes raise the intensity.  I might succumb to temptation in Las Vegas this weekend and take this game to stay UNDER – – but I have other “opportunities” that I like better.

Texas – 3.5 at Oklahoma St. (59.5):  This is not a vintage year for Oklahoma St., but they are not pushovers at home.  Texas seems to have momentum on its side about now, but this is not a “gimme” for the Longhorns.

UNLV at San Jose St. – 2.5 (60):  San Jose St is 0-7 so far this year; they have been blown out more than a couple of times.  Here, they are listed as a favorite in a game.  That tells me this game is of interest because there may be TWO SHOE Tournament teams on the field here…

NCAA Football Six-Pack:

Iowa at Penn St. – 6.5 (51.5):  Penn St. is at home – – where they have lost twice this year.  The Nittany Lions have blown a 4th quarter lead to Ohio State and almost blew another one against Indiana last week.  Iowa has a shot at the Big-10 West title.  I like Iowa plus the points.

Purdue at Michigan St. – 1  (50):   This is a perfect letdown game for Purdue after last week’s dominant win over Ohio State.  I like Michigan State at home to win and cover.

Kentucky at Missouri – 7.5  (55.5):  I think this game is much closer to a “pick ‘em” game than to a game with more than a TD in the spread.  I like Kentucky plus the points.

Texas A&M at Mississippi St. – 2.5 (43.5):  I think the Aggies defense will stifle the Bulldogs’ offense much the same as LSU did last week.  I think Texas A&M will win outright so I’ll gladly take them plus the points – – even on the road.

Washington St. at Stanford – 3 (53):  The Cougars are on the road and Stanford is a good team.  But the Cougars are on a roll.  I’ll take Washington St. here with the points.

(Fri Nite) Utah – 10.5 at UCLA (54.5):  Utah has scored 40 or more points in its last 3 games.  That is not normal for a Utah team, but it is a fact.  UCLA seems to be out of the doldrums lately.  I like this game to go OVER.

NFL Commentary:

As the NFL trade deadline approaches, two teams have tossed in the jockstraps and are focused on getting high draft picks for 2019.  The NY Giants have traded away CB, Eli Apple, who was a high first round pick a few years ago and who had some difficulties with teammates over his level of effort last season.  His trade value was a 4th round pick next year and a 7th round pick in 2020.  Ho-hum …  Then, the Giants traded Damon Harrison, a big run-stuffing DL, for a 5th round pick in 2019.  More Ho-hum …  The Giants are tanking; but so far, they have not gotten any major draft assets in return for two starting players.  Unless one of those low-round picks turns into a great over-looked player (think Tom Brady in the 6th round), it is going to be a long time until the Giants return to relevance.

  • [Aside:  The Lions acquired Damon Harrison and that could turn out to be a good move for them.  The Lions rank 30th in the NFL at the moment in rush defense; Harrison has limitations but plugging the middle and stopping the run are not those limitations.]

It is striking to note that the Giants were 11-5 just two seasons ago and made the playoffs.  Last year’s horrid season saw the team crippled with key injuries and many – including me – thought those injuries would heal and the team would be stronger this year.  Actually, those injuries provided cover for the roster-rot that seems to have set in with the Giants.  GM Dave Gettleman has his work cut out for him.

The other tanking team would be the Oakland Raiders.  So far, “Gruden 2.0” has not been a stroll down primrose lane.  The team has 1 win and will not be an oddsmaker’s favorite very often for the rest of this season.  This is not what the fans in the Black Hole had envisioned; in their minds, the arrival of Gruden was the akin to the return of the prodigal son; there would be a great family feast and then it would be a straight shot to the playoffs and prior glory.  And then Khalil Mack was traded away to the Bears…

This week, Amari Cooper was sent to the Cowboys.  I do not want to make Cooper out to be the next coming of Jerry Rice, but he will be the best WR on the Cowboys’ roster and he was the best WR on the Raiders’ roster.  The silver lining here is that Gruden has gotten back significant draft assets for Mack and for Cooper; the Raiders now have 3 first round picks in the 2019 draft and 2 first round picks in the 2020 draft.

If the rumors around the league are correct, CB Gereon Conley, S Karl Joseph and QB Derek Carr could also be available for trade now or in the off-season leading up to the draft.  That would not be a mere housecleaning; that would be like Hercules cleaning out the Augean stables by diverting a river through them.

Before Raider fans go into euphoria again and risk another “crash and burn experience”, let me offer a bit of history.  First round draft picks only have value if the picks produce quality starting players.  These picks usually do that; but sometimes, those picks produce significant busts.  So, it is the acumen of the selector that is critical here.  And that leads me to my “bit of history” for Raider fans.

  • Two years ago, when Johnny Manziel was in the draft, Jon Gruden was on the ESPN set advocating every team who was on the clock to take or consider Manziel.  He was “all in” on Johnny Football; his position was that he was great on the field and that he would outgrow his “immature behaviors”.
  • If Gruden was being truthful – – something that can never be assumed for any football coach – – he would have taken Manziel with a first round pick.
  • I am NOT saying that will happen again with one or more of the 5 upcoming first-round picks the Raiders have.  Nevertheless … pump the brakes, Raiders’ fans.

While I am on the subject of tanking teams, let me suggest that some other teams may look to acquire future assets too:

  • Bills:  The Bills’ offense is pathetic; until and unless Josh Allen shows that he is indeed their QB of the future, they have no QB on the roster who belongs in the NFL.  Moreover, they are woefully understaffed at the so-called skill positions and their best running back is 31 years old.  If they can find anyone willing to give them a medium round draft pick for anyone on the offensive side of the ball, they should jump at the opportunity.
  • Cardinals:  This team needs help everywhere – except at QB where it looks as if Josh Rosen has a positive developmental path.  One day you hear that Patrick Peterson wants to be traded; the next you hear that he wants to be a Cardinal for life.  The Cards’ braintrust needs to assess what he might bring in trade and if it is a “big haul”, he should be shipped out of town.
  • Niners:  Those who suggest that the Niners need to acquire assets to shore up their defense are over-reacting.  The Niners season took a staggering blow in the late exhibition season when RB, Jerick McKinnon, went down for the year.  Then Jimmy G had to go under the knife.  I am not saying the Niners are fat, but I do not think they are in the same state of chaos/disrepair as the Giants, Raiders, Bills and Cards.  If I were the Niners, I would stand pat.

In other news, Hue Jackson said at his press conference that he might “step in” and try to do more with the Browns’ offense.  Many have reported that his intention was to indicate that he would do the play calling for the team.  If that is true, then Cleveland is much more of a hot mess than it would appear on the surface.  Consider:

  • The Browns brought in Todd Haley to run the offense in the last off-season.  Haley is clearly a “prickly personality”; he has been successful as an offensive coordinator in Arizona and Pittsburgh; while with the Cards, his offense took them to the Super Bowl in February 2009.
  • He left Arizona to be the head coach in Kansas City and that did not go well at all.  He clashed with the offensive coordinator there and seized control of the offense and the play calling.  He clashed with his starting running back and suspended him for a game and then released him when he came back from suspension.  His overall record was sub-.500.
  • His time in Pittsburgh showed successful offenses and tension between him and Ben Roethlisberger.
  • This is his first year in Cleveland and the offense is significantly better than it was over the past several seasons.  And not all that surprisingly, there is tension and drama surrounding Haley and the head coach and with who knows who else.

Before you conclude that I think Haley is a “bad guy” and never should have been hired by the Browns in the first place, that is an erroneous conclusion.  In this situation, no matter how “prickly” Todd Haley may be, he is getting positive results with the offense in Cleveland.  Moreover, fans there need to recall that it was Hue Jackson himself who was the offensive guru and play caller for the Browns last year and that he produced an 0-16 season.  From afar, it would seem that Jackson taking over the offense/play calling is more about ego-stroking than results.

The Lions beat the Dolphins last week running the ball for 248 yards averaging 7.1 yards per carry.  The last time the Lions did things like that, Barry Sanders was carrying the ball.

The Chargers beat the Titans and Philip Rivers threw 2 TD passes more than 50 yards in length.  He needed to do that because Chargers’ RB, Melvin Gordon was on the shelf and the Chargers could only manage 47 yards rushing.  The Titans lost by a point; Marcus Mariota threw a red-zone INT and Ryan Succop missed a field goal in the 4th quarter.  Hi-ho…

The Vikes cruised to a win over the Jets.  The Vikes’ defense shut down the Jets’ run game and that left Sam Darnold to try to deal with the Vikes’ defense on a one-dimensional basis.  That got ugly when the Vikes intercepted him 3 times.

The Bucs beat the Browns in OT.  I think the Browns do not realize that it is OK to finish and NFL game after only 60 minutes of play; that was their 4th OT game in 7 starts this year.  It was an ugly game.  The Bucs sacked Baker Mayfield 5 times; Jameis Winston threw 2 INTs and lost a fumble.

The Pats beat the Bears by 7 points and scored 14 points on special teams – a kickoff return for a TD and a blocked punt returned for a TD.  Tom Brady had 3 TD passes too.

The Texans beat the Jags when “Bad Blake Bortles” showed up again.  He was 6 for 12 for 61 yards and he lost two fumbles.  He was benched in favor of Cody Kessler in the second half.

The Colts beat the Bills 37-5.  When the Bills’ defense has an “off-day” the team has no chance.  Derek Anderson started at QB with about 10 days of practice time with his teammates; LeSean McCoy was injured in the first half.  The game should have been stopped by a mercy-rule.  The Bills’ defense was a no-show too allowing the Colts to run for 220 yards.  The Colts defense – – not the showcase unit for that team by any means – – produced 5 turnovers in the game.

The Panthers erased a 17-0 deficit in the 4th quarter to beat the Eagles in Philly 21-17.  Cam Newton threw for 201 yards in that 4th quarter comeback.

The Saints also had a 4th quarter comeback to beat the Ravens 24-23.  Last week, I thought it would be the Game of the Week and it sure turned out that way.  The Saints scored 17 of their 24 points in the 4th quarter.  The game deciding play was a missed PAT by Justin Tucker.  Prior to that attempt, he had converted 222 out of 222 attempts in his career.

The Rams dominated the Niners recording 7 sacks – including 4 by Aaron Donald.  This was never a contest…

The Skins beat the Cowboys 20-17.  The Skins’ defense won the game; they scored a TD with a fumble recovery and sacked Dak Prescott 4 times.  Ezekiel Elliott was limited to 34 yards rushing in the game.

The Chiefs beat the Bengals 45-10.  The game was in doubt for about the first quarter or so; then came the deluge.  The Chiefs had 550 yards of offense in the game and the Chiefs’ defense held the Bengals to 10 points.  This Chiefs’ team is going to win 99.9% of the games where the opponent scores only 10 points.  Patrick Mahomes threw for 4 TDs and 358 yards against a good Bengals’ defense.

The Giants and Falcons played on Monday night in a game that was hard to watch because neither team was interesting.  The Falcons won.  Hi ho…

NFL Games this week:

There are 4 teams on their BYE Week:

  1. The Chargers are 5-2; they trail the Chiefs by 1 game; as of this morning they would be the first AFC wild card team.
  2. The Cowboys will use the week to try to get Amari Cooper comfortable with the offense.
  3. The Falcons need to figure out how to do some different things on defense – – like tacking people – – and to stop giving up 30 points per game.
  4. The Titans have lost 3 in a row but are still only one game behind in their division.

Philly – 3 vs. Jax (42) [Game is in London]:  Back in August, this looked like a potential Super Bowl preview game.  Both teams arrive here with 3-4 records and both need the game a lot.

  • [Aside:  Since the game is in London, perhaps this is the appropriate time to ask if I am the only one who thinks Carson Wentz looks like Prince Harry if the Prince had spent a year or so in the weight room?  Google Images are your friends…]

Cleveland at Pittsburgh – 8 (49):  If the Browns can take this game to OT – – as they did with the Steelers in Week 1 and with 3 other opponents this year- – they are guaranteed to cover this spread.

Jets at Chicago – 7.5 (45):  The spread on this game is all over the map.  You can find it as low as 7 points and as high as 9 points depending on the sportsbook.  Once again, the Jets must be able to run the ball a bit to give Sam Darnold a fighting chance against a good Bears’ defense.

Seattle at Detroit – 2.5 (50):  Here is another game where the spread varies wildly from sportsbook to sportsbook.  You can find the game as high as 3 points and you can find the game as a “pick ‘em” game at one sportsbook.  I am not sold on the Lions and I do not like the Seahawks on the road.

Baltimore – 2 at Carolina (43.5):  The oddsmaker sees a defensive game and I agree.  This is the Best Game of the Week unless you think that label belongs on the Saints/Vikes game below.

Indy – 3 at Oakland (50):  One interesting stat about the Colts is their record is 2-5 but they have outscored their opponents by 4 points over the course of those 7 games.  That does not happen often.  I was tempted to label this one as the Dog-Breath Game of the Week, but it has competition below.  If you think this is “that game”, I will not argue strenuously …

SF – 1 at Arizona (42.5):  This is my Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  Normally a Total Line of 42.5 results from a pairing of two pretty good defensive teams.  Here it is a recognition that both offenses stink.

Green Bay at Rams – 10 (56):  I am trying to recall a time when I thought that a Packers team with a healthy Aaron Rodgers was overmatched going into a game; I cannot do so.  However, that is my thinking here…

NFL Six-Pack:

Denver at KC – 10 (53.5):  The Chiefs sure do appear to be on a roll and the Broncos are not nearly as good on the road as they are at home.  However, I really hate double-digit spreads in the NFL.  Did the Chiefs’ defense come to life last week against the Bengals or will they revert to their previous sieve-like state?  That is the question here because I am confident the Chiefs will score points.  I’ll take the Chiefs at home and lay those double-digit points.

Washington at Giants “pick ‘em” (43):  You can find the spread with the Skins favored by a point and you can find the spread with the Giants favored by a point.  Most sportsbooks have it as a “pick ‘em game” and that is because the Skins always play poorly at the Meadowlands.  Using the eyeball test, the Skins are the better team on offense and the better team on defense, so I’ll take them to win the game and hope that they forget where they are playing when they kickoff.

Tampa Bay at Cincy – 4 (54.5):  If the Bengals’ offense shows up here – – as it most certainly did not last Sunday night against the Chiefs – – they should cruise against a sub-standard Bucs’ defense.  This game will provide the Bengals with a way to rebound after that national humiliation last week.  Am I a fool to trust the Bengals?  We shall see …  I’ll take the Bengals and lay the points here.

(Sun Nite) New Orleans at Minnesota – 1 (52):  This is my Best Game of the Week.  I think the Saints will exact a bit of revenge here for last season’s playoff ending – – the Minnesota Miracle.  Drew Brees is on a roll – as are Kirk Cousins and Adam Thielen.  I like the Saints plus the point here and – rounding out the Six Pack – I also like the game to go OVER.

(Mon Nite) New England – 14 at Buffalo (44):  Excuse me, but the QB match-up here is Derek Anderson and/or Nathan Peterman versus Tom Brady.  That is like a 100-meter dash between a sumo wrestler and Usain Bolt.  However, I am not going to lay double-digits in two NFL games on the same weekend.  I will, however, take the game to go OVER.

Finally, here is an NFL-related comment from humor-writer, Brad Dickson:

“Rae Caruth gets out of prison today & the NFL won’t allow fans to buy Rae Caruth jerseys. I hate to think we live in a world where fans would want a Caruth jersey.”

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



Hither, Thither And Yon…

When you consider that Game 1 of the World Series had two starting pitchers whose names are frequently mentioned in the same sentence with “Cy Young Award”, things did not go according to Hoyle.  If you make the mistake of extrapolating from a single data point – – never a good idea – – you would have to say that this will be a World Series dominated by offense.  Last night’s game produced 12 runs and 19 hits; it could be an omen of fireworks coming in future games.

Last week, news broke that the NBA and the G-League – – it used to be the D-League until Gatorade ponied up money to sponsor it and get the name changed – – were going to offer elite high school prospects a contract for $125K for a year if they did not want to go to college for a year while they awaited their NBA draft eligibility.  This action is part of the NBA’s broader movement to try to eliminate the one-and-done aspect of college basketball.  Naturally, it generated plenty of over-reaction.

Almost immediately, there were commentaries to the effect that one-and-done is dead and college basketball just took a serious if not mortal blow.  I think neither of those dire states will come to pass.  Even if the top dozen high school basketball players choose not to play college basketball in a year – remember, the G-League is their THIRD option to avoid college basketball – – there will still be plenty of players to fill the collegiate rosters and to continue to make March Madness a dominant sports event.  If any sports entity was dealt a serious blow by this announcement, it would be LaVar Ball’s Junior Basketball Association.  The JBA had a niche to itself; now it has the G-League – – and the NBA as the G-League’s patron – – as close competitors.

  • [Aside:  I do not think “all the good players” will skip college basketball.  In addition to the money offered by the G-League, top players also seek exposure so that they can enhance their brands.  The fact is that the G-League has little to no national following and college basketball has a large national following.  We shall see…]

Moreover, even if the top dozen or so high school players skip college basketball, who is to say that the best of the freshmen who do go and play college basketball will not declare for the NBA draft after a single season at the collegiate level.  When that happens, one-and-done will still be alive and well…

However, the most interesting reaction to the announcement that the G-League will be offering 1-year $125K contracts came from a bunch of WNBA players.  They are upset that the top salary in the WNBA right now is $115K and the G- League is about to pay high school seniors more than the top salary for any WNBA player.  Several players were enraged and suggested there would be some sort of confrontation with the WNBA over this financial slight.

On one hand, I can understand the WNBA players’ anger here.  In addition, I can understand why many people will take up this as a cause under the banner of “equal pay for equal work”.  On balance, I hope the WNBA women prevail in this situation and get a salary scale that is higher than the current one.

HOW-EVAH … [/Stephen A. Smith]

  • Please recall that only a few months ago, a bunch of WNBA players pulled a no-show for a scheduled game.  A bad set of connections led to a 24-hour trip to the game site such that the team arrived only 5 hours before tip-off.  The players met and decided not to show up; they called their union and their union supported that decision.  Let me be kind and say that is hardly professional behavior and the union leaders need to be reminded of that over and over.
  • Teams in the G-League do not travel first class and often have less-than perfect connections as they go from venue to venue.  I cannot recall an instance where a G-League team was in town for a game but decided that it was too tired to play and pulled a no-show.

The WNBA players and their union did damage to the cause that the WNBA players are now fighting for.  It cannot be undone; it is not something that should be a permanent albatross around the necks of WNBA players.  At the same time, it should not be forgotten or forgiven either.  WNBA players are professional basketball players; one of the hallmarks of being a “professional” in any field is that there are times when one acts in ways that are expected of people in that field even if at the time those acts might not be in one’s personal interest or in one’s convenience space.  For a professional basketball player – of any gender – showing up for a scheduled game when you are already in the city where the game is to be played is one of those fundamental tenets of professionalism.

On the subject of pro basketball, I happened to tune in to see a small part of the Houston Rockets/LA Clippers game a few days ago.  I guess I watched about a quarter of the game and then lost interest and flipped the channel.  What was the problem?  I did not count, but I would not be surprised if you told me that the Rockets took more 3-point shots than they did 2-point shots plus free throws in that span.

  • Obviously, that is a successful strategy for the team.
  • Just as obviously, that is not much fun to watch.

Public Service Announcement:  The latest news related to the Tiger Woods/Phil Mickelson challenge match that will be on pay-per-view is that the only way you will be able to see it is on pay-per-view.  The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that no tickets will be available for the event; the only folks on the course with Woods and Mickelson will be those who are there to provide the TV coverage, sponsors and guests of the sponsors.  So, just in case you were thinking of heading out to Las Vegas over Thanksgiving weekend and trying to score tix to the event at Shadow Creek Golf Club, stay home.

Finally, here is a comment from humor-writer, Brad Dickson, about the huge Mega-Millions Jackpot out there…

“The odds of winning Tuesday night’s lotto drawing are 88 quadrillion to one. About the same as Rutgers winning the Big Ten conference next season.”

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



Futbol And Money

As I graze through the assemblage of sports channels on my cable provider, I run across lots of international soccer.  Recently, I saw something new to me; the UEFA Nation’s League.  I knew about UEFA running a Champions League for the top clubs in Europe and I knew about the Europa League for a wide range of European futbol clubs, but I did not remember ever encountering the Nation’s League.  The three things that kept running through my head were:

  1. This must be a scheduling nightmare for the folks in UEFA and for the folks in all the various futbol leagues all over Europe.
  2. How do the players remember where they are supposed to be and for which team they are playing in these myriad overlapping seasons?
  3. How many games a week do those players participate in?

[Aside:  In England, the diversity of competition includes not only the EPL and the various European competitions, it also includes the FA Cup tournament which involves 170 club teams in the country from the top-shelf Manchester City and Liverpool four levels down to the likes of Woking, Wealdstone and Weston-super-Mare.]

I am not going to try to pretend that I did any investigative journalism of the quality of Woodward and Bernstein here, but I did a bit of Google searching and chatted up a good friend who follows the German Bundesliga about as closely as I follow college football.  I hope you are sitting down as you read this because I have some shocking news for you.  The basis of all this complexity and all this overlapping participation by players on club teams and national teams is:

  • Money

All of these competitions draw lots of interest and lots of interest generates revenue for the clubs.  When it comes to the concept of “money” in sports the maxim to keep in mind is this:

  • Whatever we have is not enough; there is always room in the coffers for more.

So, all these teams are out there generating revenues and that means that all the teams are fat with cash, right?  This is not like MLB where the Yankees and the Red Sox and the Dodgers have such a revenue edge on teams like the Marlins and the Rays and the Royals that they can scoop up all the best players for salaries that the “have-nots” cannot possibly afford, right?  As Johnny Carson once opined to Ed McMahon when he incorrectly guessed the answer to one of Carnac the Magnificent’s queries:

  • Wrong, buffalo-breath…

In European futbol, the revenue disparity and the operating budgets for teams varies hugely.  That is why when a player like Ronaldo is available for transfer, there are only a handful of clubs who have the wherewithal to meet the price that Real Madrid set for his transfer (€100M = $118M).  The UEFA Champions League gives you insight into this phenomenon.

To get into the Champions League competition from England, a team must finish in one of the top 4 slots in the EPL.  In other leagues, there are slot allocations based on prior successes in the Champions League by teams from those other leagues.  But it is a BIG deal to be part of the Champions League because:

  • Real Madrid won last year and received a prize of £42.1M = €47.7M = $54.7M.
  • For perspective, the winner of the FA Cup in England last year received a prize of £3.4M = €3.9M = $4.4M.
  • In the less prestigious leagues, the participation revenue for playing in the Champions League gives the one or two teams from that league a huge advantage in their home league.  Olympiakos is a regular in the Champions League from the top association in Greece; Olympiakos has won that league in Greece 19 times in the past 22 years.

As I noted above, I am neither Woodward nor Bernstein.  However, given my “investigation” in order to understand why all of these various complex leagues and competitions exist in the first place, the answer is similar to the advice the Woodward and Bernstein got from “Deep Throat”:

  • Follow the money…

I got back to my friend who tracks the German Bundesliga closely and asked if anyone ever thought of leveling the playing field a bit in European soccer with something like a salary cap as we have here in the US in football and basketball.  He said that I would win the Nobel Prize for Literature before the leagues and the clubs – – and FIFA – – would agree to such a thing.  He said they have something there called “Financial Fair Play” which is what he calls “fancy talk” to make it seem as if FIFA is trying to give the “have-not clubs” a fighting chance to get even with the big boys.  His advice to me was simple and direct:

  • Don’t try to understand Financial Fair Play; it will just make your head hurt.

The Miami Marlins announced yesterday that they have signed two brothers from Cuba and some have declared these signings as a coup by Derek Jeter in his role as the major domo for the team.  Over the weekend, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this to say about the impending announcement:

“[Marlins] on Monday will formally announce the signing of highly regarded Cuban outfield brothers Victor Victor Mesa, 22, and kid bro Victor Mesa Jr., 17. Yes, the more MLB-ready of the two Mesas is named Victor Victor. I guess among the many things in short supply in Cuba are middle names!”

Finally, Brad Rock of the Deseret News noted the intersection of sports (sort of) and politics and international relations with this item:

“Some are urging WWE to cancel its November show in Saudi Arabia, following the suspicious disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“Now that’s a first: wrestling drama that isn’t staged.”

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



Getting Ready For The World Series

The World Series pairing is set.  Both teams are worthy of participation, so fans should be happy.  TV execs are likewise happy to see Boston and LA as the participants; given MLB’s “final four” this year, this is the final pairing likely to draw the most eyeballs to TV sets.  Yes, I know that Houston is a large city and a larger TV market than Boston.  Notwithstanding the population disparity, baseball is a bigger deal in Boston than in Houston.

The US has very different regional sports interests.  Baseball is big in the northeast; NFL football is big in the northeast – – but college football is only a minor attraction.  In the south and particularly the southeast, football of all variations is huge, and baseball is something fans pay attention to when football is “on hiatus”.  Houston is “football country”; Boston is “baseball territory”.

Both league championship series provided some history and drama.  Once it was necessary for the Dodgers and the Brewers to decide their series in a Game 7, something “important” had to happen:

  • The Dodgers had not won a Game 7 since 1988 – the last time they won a World Series.  So, they won their first such game in 30 years.
  • The Brewers, on the other hand, have never won a Game 7 in franchise history.  That status remains.

Regarding the controversy of “fan interference” in the Boston/Houston series, all I can say is that Joe West botched the call.  He has seen the replays and the still photos of the event, and he now knows that he botched the call.  He will not, however, be forthcoming and say he made a mistake.  I believe that Joe West is genetically incapable of such behavior.  I suspect that LaVar Ball will take a vow of silence before Joe West admits he blew that call.

The Red Sox beat a very good Astros’ team and the Sox appeared to be in control for most of the series.  David Price seemingly exorcised some of his “playoff demons” in this series.  When he took the mound in Game 5, he brought an ERA of 6.15 in playoff games on his shoulders.  His opposing pitcher, Justin Verlander, brought with him a reputation as a guy who pitched his best in the biggest games.  It was not a Game 7; even if the Sox had lost, they would still have two more chances to wrap up the series.  Nonetheless, here is how David Price performed:

  • He threw 6 shutout innings allowing only 3 hits.
  • He struck out 9 Astros and walked no one.

In the NL championship series, Clayton Kershaw likewise seemed to exorcise his playoff demons.  Kershaw has been a dominant regular season pitcher – – perhaps THE dominant MLB regular season pitcher – – for the last 8 years.  In that span, he has won the Cy Young Award three times and has finished second in the voting twice.  However, his playoff performances have been far less impressive.  At the start of this series, he had appeared in 21 games throwing 133 innings with an ERA of 4.23.  Making that number even worse, Kershaw had allowed 5 runs in a playoff game 7 different times and no pitcher in MLB history had ever suffered that fate.

In Game 5 against the Brewers, Kershaw defied the narrative that he chokes in big playoff games.  He was in deep trouble in the 3rd inning but pitched out of it allowing only a run.  When he left the game his stats for the night were:

  • 7 innings pitched allowing 1 run and 3 hits.
  • He struck out 9 and walked 2.

One well-pitched game does not offer total redemption to either David Price or Clayton Kershaw, but both of them came through when their teams needed them in 2018.

As to predictions for the World Series:

  • Clearly, the Red Sox were the better team in the regular season wining 108 games as compared to the Dodgers winning 92.  [Aside:  The Red Sox have dispatched two opponents to get to the World Series and both of those opponents had won 100 games or more in the 2018 regular season.]
  • The oddsmakers in Las Vegas have installed the Red Sox as favorites in the Series at odds of “minus-130”.  The Dodgers are at +110.
  • Many of the baseball writers think the Red Sox will dominate the series; it would seem that “Sox in five games” is the most common prediction floating out there.  If that is to be the case, I think that Chris Sale must be fully recovered from whatever arm ailments and intestinal ailments he has encountered over the past month or so.

Since the upcoming weekend will be my annual autumnal pilgrimage to Las Vegas, I have an enlightened self-interest in rooting against a sweep by either team.  Anything other than a sweep will give me 3 games to watch and wager on this weekend; so of course, a sweep is the worst possible outcome.  I’ll go fully hedonistic with my prediction here maximizing the games for me to see:

  • I like the Red Sox in 7 games.

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

“There’s a new World’s Oldest Man. Man, they keep dying. I’m beginning to think that title is cursed.”

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