Football Friday 10/5/18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


NCAA Games of Interest This Week:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


NFL Notes:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


NFL This Week


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

Two teams have their BYE Week this week:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


This Week’s Six-Pack of Games:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Laws And Legal Stuff Today …

Once again, Happy Broderick Crawford Day…

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

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

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

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

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

The NCAA is in the catbird seat here.  Consider:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And …

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

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

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



Washington Nats 2018 Season Postmortem

Like almost all prognosticators, I thought back in March that the Washington Nationals would win the NL East handily and would flirt with or exceed 100 wins over the season.  After all, the rest of the NL East looked pretty weak back then:

  • The Braves were young and had underachieved in 2017.  I was not sold then on their pitching; I was in “show me mode” in March with regard to the Braves.  They proceeded to “show me”.
  • The Mets had good starting pitching – if healthy – and a good closer.  The lineup looked anemic.
  • The Phillies looked to be in the midst of a rebuilding; in no way did I think they might be leading the division after the All-Star Game for even a day.  They were a positive surprise to me.
  • The Marlins had traded away all their assets except their catcher.  I did not expect them to win very often.

Despite that apparently soft division which would provide the Nats with 76 of their games over the season, the Nats finished at 82-80 and needed a surge at the end of the season to corral that many victories.  It was a monumental example of underachievement.

The examination of “what went wrong” and “how did this happen” has begun in the DC area and the folks who follow the team around here have already trotted out the usual suspects in these sorts of dark circumstances.  Let me acknowledge them here:

  1. Yes, the Nats had a new manager who had never done this before and who did seem to be a bit overwhelmed at times during the season.
  2. Yes, the team had injuries.  So did every other team in the division and the league and …  Injuries happen to all teams over a season that spans 162 regular season games and six months of calendar time.

Personally, I think both of those “root causes” for the underachievement in 2018 are nothing more than convenient excuses.  The Nats entered the season with an embarrassment of riches at the 8 permanent positions and 2 studs at the top of their rotation.  The team was built to withstand an injury here and there.  Consider:

  • The outfield featured Bryce Harper and Adam Eaton back in March.  The team that started the season did not have Juan Soto at the time but added him sufficiently early in the year, such that he could be a serious contender for Rookie of the Year.  The outfield was loaded.
  • The infield had a star player in Anthony Rendon at third base, another star player at shortstop in Trea Turner, a good hitting second baseman in Daniel Murphy and good old Ryan Zimmerman at first base.  Surely, no starting infield in the NL East looked as good let alone better when the season started.
  • Catching was iffy from the start but if Matt Wieters could just hit .250 and be an anchor for the pitching staff, that should have been sufficient given the rest of the lineup.  Wieters hit .238 but only played in 76 games.
  • Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg sat atop the rotation that then included Gio Gonzales and Tanner Roark.  Scherzer and Strasburg are All-Star caliber pitchers; Gonzales has been an All-Star twice.  Maybe – I said MAYBE – the Mets had – on paper – an equally formidable rotation as the season started.
  • The Nats did not have a lights-out closer back in March and they struggled all season to find one – and to find reliable guys to get the game to the closer-of-the-week in the ninth inning.
  • Howie Kendrick and Matt Adams were on the bench for pinch-hitting duties and to give some of the regulars a rest occasionally.

That is not the Opening Day type of roster that would cause most fans to take a deep breath and wait to see how bad the season might be.  That is not a roster built to go .500 over a six-month season.

Dave Martinez is going to take some heat for this underachievement.  I believe that he deserves some of it, but I think he will take a disproportionate amount of heat.  Martinez is a rookie manager; he is described as a players’ manager; he is one who can communicate with today’s players; he is big on symbolism and fun.  All of that can be very positive with the right team; here is the problem:

  • The Nats are not that team.

Here is where I will take the path less traveled in assessing the disastrous 2018 season for the Nats.  What the Nats need now – – and frankly have needed for at least the last 3 seasons – – is a manager and a management structure less focused on “Dr. Feelgood” and more focused on “Drill Sergeant”.  The Nats are soft and have been for a while.  This team has been coddled/pampered for far too long.

  • Several years ago, as the Nats prepared to play the Giants in a playoff series, someone mentioned to one of the Giants’ players – – cannot recall which one – – that the Nats looked like a tough matchup for the Giants.  That player then said rather crudely – – but accurately – – that the Nats had plenty of talent and physical skill, but they did not have it [and then he grabbed his crotch].  The Giants prevailed in that series…

The grittiest guy on the roster for the Nats was Jayson Werth but Father Time caught up with Werth and he left MLB at the end of the 2017 season.  The new manager came in and proceeded to pull an early symbolic stunt in Spring Training.

  • The Nats brought a camel to Spring Training in Florida to symbolize that this was the year they were going to get over the hump.  Get it?  Hump?  Everyone thought it was a brilliant ploy.  This was going to convince the players that they were going to succeed in the playoffs this time around and make it to the World Series.
  • Yeah … no!

What the Nats needed to do was to work on fundamentals like hitting the cut-off man and covering bases on hustle plays.  Camels don’t help with any of that; camels make you smile and feel good and let you know that you are going to be in the playoffs and you can worry about getting over the hump once you get there.  Ah, the sin of hubris…

I have said this to many folks in the last couple of months as the Nats’ season was circling the drain.  I believe this is one of the critical elements of the team’s shortfall:

  • The Nats needed to hire as their manager whoever passes for today’s version of Billy Martin.  They needed a manager who is no-nonsense and who will punch them out if they loaf or lollygag during a game.  The enormity of the Nats’ collective physical skills tends to obscure the fact that they do not play hard all the time and that milieu becomes contagious and is difficult to eradicate.
  • The Nats needed then and need now a General Manager who will help and support this “latter-day Billy Martin” to whip that roster into shape so that it is a short-money favorite to make it to the World Series.  There is no evidence that Mike Rizzo is of that mindset.
  • Who was/is today’s Billy Martin?  My nominee would be Ozzie Guillen – and he was/is available…

Remember, I said that manager Dave Martinez is not the cause of the problem.  At the same time, I believe that he is the wrong guy with the wrong temperament and outlook on life to lead this roster.  He found himself in a situation where the team was like a Brooks Brothers three-piece suit and he was a pair hot-pink crocs.

The Nats’ fundamental problem has been ongoing for a while – – as evidenced by the comment from that Giants’ player several years ago.  Moreover, the team as an entity has not dealt with it even when confronted with it.

  • At the end of the 2015 season, Jonathon Papelbon grabbed Bryce Harper by the throat in the dugout in the middle of a game.  Teammates had to pull Papelbon off Harper.
  • The cause of that incident was a lack of hustle on Harper’s part on a pop fly to the infield.  Maybe that seems like a trivial thing – – except that it was and still is a pattern of behavior for Harper and other top-shelf players on the Nats’ team.

There is a very overused word going around these days; people talk about “accountability” without ever defining what it might entail.  Well, I will use it here and tell you what it means in this context.  Players on the Washington Nationals have – – for several years now – – been allowed to “half-ass it” during games without being pulled from the lineup for a day or two.  Or maybe even more…  Nothing of a corrective nature happened to players in the past and the attitude has spread.  Until that kind of nonchalance becomes unacceptable, there are not enough creative stunts like bringing a camel to Spring Training that will get the Nats to reach their potential.

I do not pretend to know if the problem is with the manager or with the general manager or with some of the poohbahs in the owner’s suite.  It could be in all those places; that is opaque to me.  What is transparent to me is that there is an organizational acceptance of lassitude/lethargy that undermines the assemblage of physical talent on the roster.

Charles Sanders Pierce was a pragmatist philosopher of the late 19th century.  One of his signature lines was:

“Effort supposes resistance.”

In the situation at hand here, there is little to no resistance when it comes to “half-assing it”; and so, there is no reason to expect anything more than little to no effort.

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



The MLB Playoffs Are Set…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Sports TV Stuff…

I want to start with a couple of TV comments today.  ESPN has put in place a schedule change that it announced more than a month ago.  High Noon – the discussion program featuring Bomani Jones and Pablo S. Torre – has been moved to 4:00 PM Eastern Time and it has been shortened to 30 minutes from 60 minutes.  Since I do not watch ESPN around noontime on most days, I only saw the show occasionally; in the new time slot, I see it more often – – and I like it a lot.  I certainly like it better than the program it replaced, Sports Nation.

  • Memo to ESPN Mavens:  You have got to change the name of this program since it does not go on the air at noontime anywhere in the continental US or Canada.  I doubt that the Aleutian Islands represent your target demographic for the show.

FS1 has also made a programming change.  Speak For Yourself used to air at 5:00 PM Eastern Time and the program usually featured Jason Whitlock and Colin Cowherd.  The two of them evidenced a good chemistry and the discussion topics – while a bit repetitious – were lively and interesting.  Colin Cowherd is not on the program any longer; he does a three-hour program 5 days a week on FS1 – and on the radio – so it is understandable that he might want some time to himself.  Cowherd has been replaced by Marcellus Wiley and the vibe between Wiley and Whitlock is just not the same as it was between Cowherd and Whitlock.

I do not dislike the new version of Speak For Yourself but it is just not as good as it used to be.  Jason Whitlock is still as assertive and controversial as always; Marcellus Wiley is interesting despite being a tad over-the-top once in a while; the problem is that they appear to be talking past one another too often as opposed to talking to one another.  The program has only been in this format for about 3 weeks, so it needs time to “ripen on the vine” …

In another ESPN note, it appears that they have hired Stan Van Gundy as an NBA studio analyst.  I think this is an interesting hire because it was not that long ago – sometime during the last NBA regular season – that Stan Van Gundy along with some other NBA coaches threatened to boycott ESPN reporters.  All of this stemmed from an ESPN report that quoted LaVar Ball during his time in Lithuania with his sons saying that the Lakers had stopped playing for Luke Walton and that it was obvious to anyone who was watching.  Stan Van Gundy reacted to the story very directly:

  • He did not bar ESPN reporters from any press conferences or from the locker room.
  • He said that ESPN reporters always wanted “something extra” from the team that they might use in an exclusive way and that he would not give them any such information or access.  All their access would be in the company of other reporters covering the team or the game.
  • He said that the ESPN story on LaVar Ball’s comment was a cheap shot and disrespectful to a coach who was doing his job.

Stan Van Gundy has been less than shy with the media as a coach and NBA exec; you can hold whatever opinion of him that suits your fancy, but you cannot say that he never speaks his mind.  I think he will be a very interesting addition to the ESPN lineup of studio talkers.

About a week ago, the golf headlines blared and declared that Tiger Woods had completed the greatest comeback in the history of golf – – and maybe in all of sports.  He had overcome injuries and surgeries and chaos in his personal life.  Notwithstanding all of that he had fought through and had won a PGA Tournament event.  The “Tiger Train” was back on track.  Then they played the Ryder Cup…

In the Ryder Cup matches, the “Tiger Train” did more than derail; it self-immolated.  Tiger Woods played in 4 matches and managed to lose all 4 of them.  The fourth loss was in singles competition against a rookie Ryder Cup participant – John Rahm.  In case that name is not familiar to you, he has a total of 2 PGA Tour victories in his career.

[Aside:  Phil Mickelson hardly distinguished himself in the Ryder Cup matches playing in two of them and losing both convincingly.  I was never going to pay money to watch Mickelson and Woods play one another the weekend after Thanksgiving but if I were so inclined…]

Oh, and by the way, allow me to say something to the golf goofs who gushed all over Tiger Woods’ “greatest comeback ever” win a week ago.  I do not want anyone to interpret this as minimizing the obstacles Woods had to overcome; I am not minimizing knee surgery of back surgery and the rehab processes that go along with each.  I am a firm believer in the adage that “minor surgery” is best defined as “surgery performed on someone else”.

Having said that, there are these annoying things known as “history” and “facts”.  “History” goes back in time before 1990; What follows here are “actual facts” not “alternative facts”.

  1. In 1949, there was a “pretty good golfer” known as Ben Hogan.  In those days there were no seat belts in cars or air-bags; Hogan was driving along on a highway (there were no Interstates then) and was hit head on by a bus.  Hogan survived but came out of the crash with a doubly fractured pelvis a broken ankle and several broken ribs.  During surgery to repair some of that damage he suffered blood clots that almost took the life that the bus had attempted to take.  Ben Hogan spent two months in the hospital.
  2. In 1950, about a year and a half after the accident, Ben Hogan won the US Open.

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

“The 1937 Heisman Trophy of the late Yale running back Clinton Frank could fetch $400,000 on the Heritage Auctions block, with bidding set to close Oct. 18.

“In keeping with the theme, they’re going to cut off the trophy’s outstretched hand and reattach it with the palm up.”

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



Football Friday 9/28/18 – – Abbreviated Version

This will need to be an abbreviated Football Friday because I have not had nearly enough time to do the research/check the stats on a wide variety of games.  Also, there will be no “Six-Pack” of picks this week because those would be nothing but guesses.  So, without further ado, here is what I have for today…

NCAA Football:

Linfield College evened their season record at 1-1 while I was gone defeating Redlands University 13-0.  This week the Wildcats travel to Spokane, WA to take on the Whitworth Pirates.  Whitworth is 2-0 on the season and this is the first conference game for both teams.  Go Wildcats!

Let me ask a very general question here:

  • Is there a really good team in the ACC other than Clemson?

The reason I ask is that VA Tech looked to be a quality opponent for Clemson after the Hokies throttled Florida St. Early in the season.  However, Tech coughed up a real hairball losing to Old Dominion and surrendering 49 points to a team that lost to Liberty in Week 1.  If the Tech defense can be torched like that, maybe the correct conclusion is that Florida St. is not that good…

After laying a giant rotten egg in Week 1 losing to Maryland at home, the Texas Longhorns have won 3 in a row.  The win over Tulsa was not anything to get excited about; however, beating USC and TCU in back to back weeks is enough to make you think that the team has atoned for that season-opening loss.  Are the Longhorns for real?  Well, they go on the road to play Kansas St. this week…

Cal is undefeated so far this year at 3-0.  Who saw that coming?  Are the Bears for real?  This week Oregon comes calling…

Texas Tech averages 52 points per game this year and they are not undefeated.  How does that happen?

UConn gives up an average of 54 points per game and they are not winless.  How does that happen?

Rutgers lost to Buffalo by 29 points.  That is the Buffalo Bulls not the Buffalo Bills.

As the teams were set to take the field in Ann Arbor for the Nebraska/Michigan game, Brad Dickson tweeted this:

“106,000 people in attendance. It looks like the last time I went to the DMV on a Saturday.”

What is the bigger game this weekend?  Ohio St at Penn St. or Stanford at Notre Dame.  Even though Ohio St. and Penn St. are both in the Top Ten as of this week, I think the bigger game is Stanford/Notre Dame.  Here is my reasoning:

  • If Stanford loses they would need to win out to get a sniff at the CFP.  They do not have a ton of top-shelf teams on their schedule down the line; a loss here could end their CFP hopes prematurely.
  • If Notre Dame loses, they still might get into the CFP based on name recognition.  However, they have played the toughest part of their schedule already, so a loss here might not be forgotten easily.

If either Ohio St. or Penn St. loses here, they will be in trouble in the Big-10 East race, but the Big-10 offers the loser here a better opportunity to win the East Division and play in the Championship Game.

Both Ohio St. and Penn St. are undefeated, but Penn St. has yet to face top-shelf competition.  If Appalachian St. is not the best team the Nittany Lions have faced this year, then Pitt is.  Ohio St. sports a win over TCU two weeks ago and TCU is clearly the best opponent either team has faced in 2018.  Ohio St. is a 3.5-point favorite on the road in this game.

TCU takes on Iowa St. this week; the Horned Frogs have lost two games in a row – to Ohio St. and Texas.  Let’s just say that Iowa St. is not on a par with those squads…

NCAA Games of Interest This Week:

VA Tech is at Duke and Duke is the ranked team.  Oh, and Duke is favored by 5 points…

Cal is a 3-point favorite at home against Oregon – – even though Oregon is the higher rated team in the polls.

UCLA is a 10-point underdog to Colorado.  You may look at the records and say that makes sense since UCLA is 0-3 while Colorado is 3-0.  Slow down for a moment Charlie Brown and look a bit closer.

  • UCLA lost to Cincinnati, Fresno St. and Oklahoma whose combined record is 10-1
  • Colorado beat Colorado St., Nebraska and New Hampshire (Division 1-AA).  The combined record for those three foes is 1-9.

Alabama is a 49.5-point favorite over La- Lafayette.  Why is this game on the schedule at all?  For a money line quote, I can only find one Internet sports book that offers the bet.  If you like La-Lafayette to pull the upset, you can get odds of +97,500.  If you want to take a huge financial risk for a small financial return, the money line odds for Alabama are – 202,500.

Syracuse is undefeated and is scoring 51.5 points per game.  Not to worry, they are 25.5-point underdogs against Clemson this week.

Washington St. opened as a 2-point favorite at home against Utah, but that line has flipped as the week went on.  Utah is now a 1.5-point favorite in the game.

BYU is a 17-point underdog to Washington this week.  The Huskies have zero room for error here; they already have a loss on their record.

Georgia is a 30-point favorite over Tennessee.  The more things change in Knoxville, TN, the more they stay the same…

West Virginia is a 4-point favorite on the road against Texas Tech.  The oddsmaker must believe in the Mountaineers defense being able to hold the Red Raiders’ offense in check.

Florida is at Mississippi St. this week.  It is the first time Dan Mullen returns to Starkville since leaving there to take the job at Florida.

NFL Football:

Moving on to the NFL, this is the week that begins the BYE Week rotation for the league.  The Panthers and the Skins have off this week; if I were an NFL coach, I doubt that I would want my BYE Week this early.

Last night’s game between the Rams and the Vikes (Rams won 38-31) may well be the best game of the weekend.  If not, then the best game is not until Monday night when the Chiefs and Broncos play in a division match.  The games on Sunday are pretty thin gruel.

The Vikings’ loss last night was their second in a row; losing to the Rams is not shameful; losing last week to the Bills by 3 TDs is plenty shameful.  When I saw that score on my phone in Bologna, Italy, I restarted my phone and my app because I thought that had to be a download error.

  • [Aside:  The Vikes were 17-point favorites over the Bills last week and lost outright.  Jimmy the Greek once declared the Vikes to be 17-point favorites over the Chiefs in an early Super Bowl and the Vikes had their lunch handed to them.  Perhaps, 17 is an unlucky number in Norse?]

The Las Vegas Review Journal reported that someone placed a “six figure bet” on the Vikes last week on the money line enough to have won $10K.  Well, that guy is now out “six figures…

Meanwhile, the Bills travel to Green Bay this week to try to wreak havoc on another NFC North team.  The oddsmakers are not buying into that proposition; they have installed the Packers as 9.5-point favorites in the game.

The Bills were not the only upset winners last week.  The Lions beat the Patriots the same way the lions used to beat the Christians in the Roman Coliseum.  Before panic sets in all over New England, recall that it is still early in the season and the Pats have started slowly before and still won the AFC East.  This week the undefeated Dolphins come to Foxboro and with a win they will take a 3-game lead over the Pats.  The oddsmakers are not buying into that proposition either; the Pats are 7-point favorites at home.  Presumably, Josh Gordon has learned the plays and stayed sufficiently sober to be eligible for the game.

I am not trying to throw shade on the Dolphins 3-0 start to the season, but those wins have come at the expense of:

  • Titans:  A good team but not a great team
  • Jets:  Still rebuilding; not a juggernaut
  • Raiders:  Not a good football team here.

I think the opposition for the Dolphins this week is a step up on the ladder of NFL competencies…

  • [Meaningless Stat:  The Dolphins are 0-14 in Foxboro when Tom Brady is the starting QB.]

Jimmy G will not be leading the Niners to glory this year; he is on IR with a torn ACL and his out for the year.  Basically, that means the Niners’ season is kaput.  CJ Beathard takes over the starting QB role for the rest of 2018 – – unless of course the Niners pull off a trade or make a stunning signing from the ranks of unemployed QBs.  There is not a lot out there.

Here is the list of possible candidates I came up with for the Niners if Beathard stumbles:

  • Kellen Clemens
  • Landry Jones
  • EJ Manuel
  • Tom Savage

I said above that the games this Sunday are pretty thin gruel.  Well the QBs currently unemployed who might sign on with a team that harbors playoff dreams are pretty thin gruel too.  If there is a “sleeper” on my list here, he should probably be nicknamed Rip Van Winkle.

Scott Ostler had an interesting analysis of the Niners potential search for a free agent QB to add to the roster in the wake of Jimmy G’s injury.  Here is a link to his column.  To give you a flavor of the column, here is his assessment of the Niners’ fans’ expectations for CJ Beathard for 2018:

“The team is rallying behind Beathard, whom most fans — no offense to the earnest and hard-working young man — were hoping would function mostly as a potted plant this season.”

The Cleveland Browns won a real NFL game a week ago Thursday beating the Jets 21-17.  Greg Cote summarized the happening very well in the Miami Herald:

“Lots going on in King Sport. Le’Veon Bell’s continued holdout. The Pats trading for Josh Gordon. But nothing made news this week more than the Cleveland Browns winning a game after going 635 consecutive days without. And now, a few words from Cleveland Mayor Baker Mayfield.”

Speaking of the Browns, they will travel to Oakland this week to take on the Raiders – a team that had great aspirations in August and need a win here to avoid ending September with an 0-4 record.  The Raiders have led at halftime of all three of their games; then they have lost all three of their games by about `10 points.  Let me be clear; that is NOT a good thing.

The line for the Browns/Raiders game is all over the map.  It opened as a “pick ‘em” game; that was probably sufficiently embarrassing to the folks in Vegas where the Raiders will make their home that money flooded in to the point where you can find the game today with the Browns as the underdogs by anywhere from 1 to 3 points.  This is a game where one team needs a win very badly – – and it is not the Browns.

A major weakness for the Raiders has been the total lack of a pass rush.  Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times on that subject:

“Raiders coach Jon Gruden, to reporters, on why his team has only two sacks in two games after trading away Khalil Mack: ‘It’s hard to find a great pass-rusher’.”

The Cowboys are 1-2 and are scoring at a less-than-torrid pace of 13.7 points per game.  Dak Prescott is averaging less than 150 yards passing per game; and now, Sean Lee is out with a tweak in his hamstring.  The Cowboys host the Lions this week as a field-goal favorite.  It is going to be tough to beat a team by more than 3 points if you don’t score more than 14 points.  However, the Cowboys do have Ezekiel Elliott and the Lions have the worst run defense in the league to date giving up almost 5.5 yards per rush attempt.  This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.

The Lions are hardly models of consistency this year but they did beat the Pats handily last week.  If they do the same to the Cowboys in the “Jerry-dome” this week, I suspect you will be able to see the blood vessels in Jerry Jones’ head throb during the post-game interviews.

The Seahawks visit the Cards this week in a division game between two flawed teams.  The Seahawks do not run the ball well nor do they protect Russell Wilson well.  Add to that evil exacta the fact that the team and their best defensive player – Earl Thomas – appear to be existing in a Hatfield/McCoy relationship.  Oh, and the Seahawks are not a good road team historically.

That sounds pretty bad until you realize that they are taking on the Cardinals who are simply awful and who will turn over the reins to rookie QB Josh Rosen this week.  Sam Bradford has been Sam Dreadful so far this year and the other guy on the depth chart is Mike Glennon.  Rosen needs to show – starting this week – that he really is the “most NFL-ready” of the rookie QBs from last Spring’s draft.  The Cards are 3-point underdogs at home.  I have to tell you that this game was a very strong contender for the label of Dog-Breath Game of the Week.

The Jets go south this week to take on the Jags in Jax.  The game is brought to you by the letter “J”.  [/Sesame Street] Last week, Bad Blake Bortles made an appearance for the Jags and the team lost to the Titans 9-6.  Presumably he took a purgative sometime this week…  Meanwhile the Jets have not looked like the juggernaut that they did in the opening game having lost to the Browns and Dolphins since then.  Sam Darnold will get his first test against a top-shelf NFL defense here and I think he will be overmatched.  However, there is always the Bad Blake Bortles factor to consider…

The Texans are 0-3 but all the losses have been one-score games even though the Texans’ O-line has Deshaun Watson running for his life on at least half the snaps.  That has to change at some point.  The Colts have a win over the Skins as the only positive sign on their ledger.  The Colts are 14-2 straight up against the Texans in Indy; shouldn’t that change at some point too?  The Colts are 2-point favorites at home, but I think there is a real chance for the Texans to hit the win column here.

The Bengals and the Falcons will tango in Atlanta this week.  The Total Line for this game opened at 48 but it has climbed through the week to the point where it can be had at 53 or 54 points depending on the sportsbook offering the line.  A 6-point move in the total Line for an NFL game is unusual.  Neither team has been a model of consistency this year and I surely do not understand why the Falcons are 5-point favorites here.

The Bucs are at the Bears this Sunday.  The Bears’ defense has been very good this year and if the Ryan Fitzmagic Season is going to hit a speedbump, this could well be the game.  The Bears are 3-point favorites at home.  Count this as one of the better games on Sunday…

Another potentially good Sunday game is the Sunday Night Football game between the Ravens and the Steelers in Pittsburgh.  The Ravens’ offense has shown measurable vital signs this year and the Steelers’ defense has been an embarrassment to any and all of the old Steel Curtain guys who have paid attention.  This is always a black-and-blue contest and I am not referring to the uniform colors.  The Steelers are 3-point favorites at home.

The Saints are on the road to take on the Giants this week in a showdown of veteran QBs; Eli Manning and Drew Brees have been around forever.  Drew Brees is like Ol’ Man River; he just keeps rolling along.  The Saints would love to find the secret elixir that made their defense competent last year because this year’s defensive unit has been impotent.  The Saints are 3.5-point favorites on the road.  What surprises me is that the total Line is only 50 points; I don’t think either defense is going to force a lot of three-and-outs here…

The Niners visit the Chargers this week as underdogs anywhere from 9.5 to 11.5 points.  The Chargers are 1-2 and find themselves in 3rd place in the AFC West; you cannot call a game in Week 4 a “critical game” but this is an important one for the Chargers.  The Niners season is all but done given the Jimmy G injury.

The best of the Sunday games should be the Eagles on the road against the Titans.  Both teams have formidable defensive units and both teams have young QBs with not-totally-resolved injury issues.  The Eagles are favored here by 3 to 4 points. The Total Line reflects the defensive nature of the game; it opened the week at 42 points and seems to have settled in at 41 points at most of the sportsbooks as of this morning.

The NFL schedule for the week is bookended by two good games.  After last night’s 38-31 win by the Rams over the Vikes, the week will end on Monday Night Football with the Chiefs and the Broncos.  This will be the first national appearance for Patrick Mahomes and he will be tested by a very solid Broncos’ defense.  The Chiefs’ defense has not been an equal partner with the offense in terms of the Chiefs’ 3-0 start to the season; the Chiefs’ have given up 92 points in 3 games this year and have won them all.  The Total Line for this game is a stratospheric 55.5.

Finally, here is another comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times regarding a non-football issue involving the NFL:

“A group of Pro Football Hall of Famers say they want health insurance coverage and their own slice of NFL revenues, or else they will:

  • “a) Boycott future HOF induction ceremonies
  • “b) Attend future HOF ceremonies — and bring Terrell Owens with them.”

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



Sports And Politics Overlap Today

Before my recent hiatus, I read a report that TMZ said that Oscar de la Hoya is “seriously considering” running for President in 2020.  I am not talking about running for President of his Homeowners’ Association; TMZ says he is considering running for President of the United States.  I have not even tried to verify that report, but the fact that it was out there for me to fall upon leads me to step over a line I really try to adhere to in these rants.  What follows has a far greater “political content” than I prefer to include here.  Nonetheless…

Here is a portion of the report I read:

“I am actually very, very serious and I strongly feel that if a Kanye West can do it and announce and maybe tease the world that he would maybe one day wanna run for president, why not me?”

Oscar de la Hoya was a very successful boxer and has been successful in the business world in his post-boxing days.  He is intelligent and articulate; he is photogenic.  He may or may not have socio-political views that are constructive for the country; I would not know about any of them until or unless he actually runs for office and explicates them in open forum.  Should that time arrive, I will pay attention to his positions on the issues of the day and counter-balance them with an initial aversion that I would have to his candidacy.

  • I have learned from experience over the span of my lifetime that it takes more than goodwill or noble intentions to govern.  Some very effective Presidents have been not-so-nice people; some very decent Presidents have been not-so-effective.
  • I do not think it is beneficial for the country to fall into a “cult of personality” mode when selecting a President.  I believe the candidate needs to bring to the party a record that shows he/she has been directly involved in successful governance.
  • Running the country or a state or being a successful legislator is a different form of experience and requires different skills from running a business or creating a personal brand.  The President must run the Executive Branch of the government; he/she cannot do that simply by being a recognizable figure.

I am NOT picking on Oscar de la Hoya here.  I have not commented on other folks who fit the same description when they have mused about a Presidential campaign in 2020 simply because they had no connection with the sports world.  I would apply the same skepticism to other folks who have hinted at Presidential runs to include:

  • Michael Avanazzi
  • Dwayne Johnson
  • Kanye West
  • Oprah Winfrey

Please note that I used the word “skepticism” in the paragraph above.  I did not declare opposition to any or all of these folks; I would remain open-minded and hear any or all of them out and compare their positions with those of any opponents.  By stating my skepticism, I am saying that any of their candidacies would have a hill to climb to get my support/vote.

Back to sports…

NBA teams are gathering to begin their version of Spring Training – – except it happens in the Fall.  I have noted here more than a few times that the NBA regular season is hugely anti-climactic even though it drags on for 6 months and exposes us to 1230 regular season games.  Brad Rock had this comment in the Deseret News this week.  I suspect that his views on the extent of the NBA regular season are not all that different from mine:

“The NBA season is nearly here, but there’s nothing to see until the playoffs.

“Well, maybe a few things.

“Last season went like this: Kawhi Leonard dissed Gregg Popovich, Bobby Portis broke Nikola Mirotic’s face, Dwane Casey was fired before being named Coach of the Year, and Kobe Bryant won an Oscar.

“Next they’ll be telling us a player is dating a Kardashian.

“Never mind. That’s not news.”

The NFL Hall of Fame ballot has been formulated for 2019.  Of the players appearing on the ballot for the first time, there are two who should definitely be in the Hall of Fame and would get my vote as first-ballot inductees – – if I had a vote.  They are:

  1. Tony Gonzalez
  2. Ed Reed

There are two other first time players on the list for whom I would need convincing to give them support this year.  I would not object to either of these players making the Hall of Fame one day, but somehow, I do not think they are of the same caliber as the two named above.  These other two players are:

  1. Champ Bailey
  2. London Fletcher

Finally, let me close out today with another observation about the upcoming NBA season by Brad Rock of the Deseret News:

“The Jazz will play a Christmas Day game for the first time since 1997.

“Whew, time flies. Last time this happened the Jazz were on track to play Chicago in the NBA Finals and Dennis Rodman thought foreign relations meant dating Alicia Douvall.”

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



I’m Back – But Not Because I Am Homesick…

There is an old adage that says a bad penny always turns up.  The fact that I am back at the keyboard would tend to emphasize the truth in that adage.  My long-suffering wife and I have returned from 11 days in Northern Italy.  Normally, flying from east to west is an easier adaptation for me regarding jet-lag, but somehow, this morning feels as if I have been beaten about the head and shoulders with a baseball bat.  Whatever …

As we left, Hurricane Florence was menacing the eastern US; we read and heard about that event while in Florence, Italy; even the Italian papers had reports on that.  What I did not have access to was a lot of information about US sports.  There is no ESPN in Italy – notwithstanding the myriad niche networks in the ESPN family.  Sports news in Florence and in Bologna (the two cities where we spent the most time) seemed to focus on the fortunes of the Serie A teams representing those cities.  Fiorentina (the team from Florence) is doing well and is near the top of the standings early in the season.  Bologna fans are far less happy; their team is in the relegation zone now standing in 18th place out of 20 teams.

  • [Aside: I scanned the Serie A table one afternoon and noticed that the last place team – Chievo – has a negative total point.  They have not won any matches, but they have two draws.  Normally that would give them 2 points in the table, but they had negative 1 point.  I checked the paper the next day and it was the same – so I assume it was not a misprint.  I asked a waiter at a café what that was about, and he said the club “did something bad”.  I have nothing else to add there…]

To demonstrate the intense interest in Serie A news there, there were feature stories about every day – not that I could read them effectively – dealing with a single subject:

  • Cristiano Ronaldo’s lack of goal scoring for Juventus (an Italian team in Torino)

Over the summer, Juventus acquired Ronaldo from Real Madrid (in Spain’s La Liga) for a transfer fee of 100 million euros (approximately $120M).  Then, the club did a long-term deal with Ronaldo to the tune of 30 million euros per season (approximately $36M per).  During his stay with Real Madrid, Ronaldo averaged a goal per game; in soccer, those are Ruthian numbers.  Since coming to Juventus – hold your breath here – he went scoreless for his first 3 games and has only scored 3 goals in his 6 games there.  I imagine that when Galileo first posited the heliocentric theory of the solar system, the collective confusion of the Italian population could not have been significantly greater.

I asked the same waiter who told me that Chievo had “done something bad” what he thought about Ronaldo’s lack of goal scoring.  His answer was stated with full confidence notwithstanding the fact that it requires mind-reading abilities to corroborate.  Here is the waiter’s explanation:

  • Ronaldo is homesick.
  • He is Portuguese and was playing in Madrid – which is right next door to Portugal – and now he is away from home and misses playing in Spain or Portugal.

So, there you have it…  Someone in the hierarchy of Juventus spent 100 million euros on a player transfer and never considered the “homesickness angle”.  And here in the US, we think the Cleveland Browns cannot find their way out of a phone booth even with a map…

I have had a chance to look over the MLB standings as the regular season draws to a close and there are plenty of games left that will be meaningful.  In the AL, we know the playoff participants but the site of the wild-card game (between the Yankees and the A’s) is still in doubt.  The Yankees are in an excellent position leading the A’s by 2.5 games – and holding the tie-breaker between the teams – with only 4 games left for the A’s and 5 games left for the Yankees.  Yes, the Yankees have a much more difficult schedule (Rays and Red Sox) than do the A’s but still …

In the NL, only the Braves are assured of being in the playoffs.  None of the other teams in the NL East will participate.  Here is this morning’s look at the rest of the NL:

  • NL Central:  Cubs lead the Brewers by half a game.  The Cubs have 5 left to play and the Brewers have 4.  Both teams have won 91 games.  The loser of this division race is currently the lead wild-card team in the NL.  Meanwhile the Cardinals have won 87 games so far and are not mathematically eliminated from the division race albeit they are hanging on by a thread.  The Cards finish the season with 3 games in Chicago against the Cubs and are very much in the wild card race.
  • NL West:  This morning the Dodgers lead the division with 88 wins and 4 games left to play – – all of them on the road.  The Rockies are a half a game back in the division race with 5 games left to play – – all of them at home.

It is highly unlikely, but it is still possible that all five of these teams (Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, Dodgers and Rockies) could end the season with records of 91-71.  That would require a bunch of playoff games to precede the “official playoffs” that lead to the World Series.  We can only hope…

Tiger Woods won a golf tournament playing against other real PGA Tour professionals over the weekend.  Hopefully, that will put an end to the horribly lazy reporting by the golf media saying that Tiger Woods shot better than his score and standing would indicate.  That sort of nonsense has been making the rounds for at least 5 months now and it is high time it got put away.  The tournament win was a big deal for Woods and for golf itself; he got back to the winner’s circle for the first time in next-to-forever and golf got its ratings-booster back at the same time.

Sadly, I suspect that the new “Tiger Trope” in the golf media will be how every shot he takes between now and next Spring will be crafted in such a way as to hone his game for The Masters where the media will install him as the favorite and follow him around like puppies follow children.  I would love to be wrong about all of that…

Finally, here is Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times commenting on a dust-up between the Detroit Tigers’ radio broadcast team:

“Tigers analyst Rod Allen allegedly assaulted play-by-play broadcaster Mario Impemba, grabbing him from behind, but Allen’s agent says it didn’t happen.

“Flummoxed Elias Sports Bureau types can’t decide whether to credit Allen with a blown hold or a no-hitter.”

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



On Hiatus

My long-suffering wife and I will be traveling in Northern Italy for the next week or so.  I’ll be off the air until at least 26 Sept.  Please check back then.

Looking ahead, I may not have enough time to catch up on “football happenings” to do a Football Friday two weeks from now.  We shall see…

Stay well, everyone.


Football Friday 9/14/18

It is Football Friday once again.  So, let me get to it and start with college football …

For about the last 15 years, I have tracked the football fortunes of Linfield College – a Division III program in McMinnville OR.  The reason I do that is that Linfield has had a winning record in football in every season since 1956; if they do that again this year, it will be their 63rd consecutive winning season; that is the longest stretch of its kind in North American sports.  Last weekend, the Linfield Wildcats lost their opening game on the road to Carroll (Montana) by a score of 21-14.  Division III schools play a 9-game regular season schedule; so, there is still room for Linfield to recover and post a winning record.

This week the Wildcats are at home to host the Redlands Bulldogs.  Redlands brings a 2-0 record to the field.  This is Linfield’s final out-of-conference game for the season.  Go Wildcats!

Last week, SMU led TCU 9-0 at the end of the first quarter.  At that point, my Six-Pack selection from last week (SMU +23) was looking good.  However, the fact is that TCU is much the better team and the Horned Frogs woke up starting in the second quarter.  The final score had TCU on top 42-12; SMU was shut out in the second half.

My most significant take away from the Clemson/Texas A&M game was that the Clemson DL is REALLY good.   Long before the movie, Remember the Titans, Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson was credited with saying that he liked his defenders to be “agile, mobile and hostile”.  Well, that is a good description of the Clemson defensive linemen in 2018!

Both Clemson and Texas A&M showed that they are good teams that are well coached.  Any time I have a chance to see them play quality opponents this year, I will be tuning in…

Ohio St. beat Rutgers 52-3.  Going into this game, the cumulative score for the last two “games” between these schools was Ohio St. 114 and Rutgers ZERO.  Maybe the Big-10 needs to consider installing a mercy rule?

Mississippi St. beat Kansas St. in Manhattan, KS last week 31-10.  K-state is not a patsy at home by any means, so this may be an indication that Mississippi St. is a team to watch even though it must play in the SEC West – the Division of Death.

Meanwhile, Kansas won a game and did it on the road.  That is a milestone because Kansas had lost 46 consecutive road games before last week.  Before anyone gets too elated here, the victory came at the expense of Central Michigan – not a school in a Power 5 conference.  Hey, at least C. Michigan is a Division 1-A school.

Another of the “directional Michigan schools”, Eastern Michigan upset Purdue 20-19 last week and it was a home game for Purdue.  It is an impressive win whenever a team from the MAC beats a team from the Big-10.

The MAC had another good showing last week – even though it did not result in a win over a team in a Power 5 conference.  Northern Illinois played Utah to a standstill for about 55 minutes; at that point, a Pick-6 put the game out of reach for the Huskies.  Utah won 17-6 but the game was close from the start until that late interception.

Notre Dame took on a MAC opponent last week and beat Ball St.24-16.  The Irish led 24-6 to start the 4th quarter and held on as Ball St. rallied in the 4th quarter.  Notre Dame was a 35-point favorite here; they never had a chance to cover that number.

Scott Frost’s opening game as the head coach at Nebraska – where he is viewed as the guy who will bring Nebraska back to national prominence in football – was a disaster.  Old rival, Colorado, came to Lincoln and beat the Cornhuskers 33-28.  I do not know if there is a town in Nebraska called Mudville – – although it would be an appropriate name; if there is, I assure you there is no joy in Mudville, NE either…

Oklahoma beat UCLA like a drum 49-21.  The Chip Kelly Era at UCLA is off to a sputtering start and one problem is that Kelly has not found either a QB or a featured RB that fits what he tries to do on offense.  To the folks in Westwood, this is going to take a while…

Penn St. beat Pitt 51-6.  Actually, it was not nearly that close.

Going into last week’s game, Kentucky had lost 31 straight times to Florida.  The Gators were 14-point favorites at home and lost the game 27-16.  I saw parts of the game and my impression was that Kentucky was the better team on both offense and defense.  As is the case in Westwood, it is going to take time to get things right in Gainesville…

Arizona lost to Houston 45-18 meaning that Kevin Sumlin’s first two games with Arizona have been losses.  This game was a spanking; Houston led 31-0 at the half.  Sumlin did not take over a disastrously bad program; Arizona won 7 games last year and they have a QB that some thought might be a Heisman contender.  [I did not; but that is beside the point since I do not have a vote.]  Arizona hosts Southern Utah this week; they need a blowout win – badly.

Colorado St. was 0-2 going into last week’s game against Arkansas – an SEC team and those losses came by a combined 41 points.  Yes, the game was in Colorado Springs and yes, Arkansas is not nearly the cream of the crop in the SEC.  Nonetheless, the Rams won this game in a dramatic way.  Arkansas led 27-9 in the 3rd quarter and Colorado State rallied to win the game 34-27.  The Rams scored on their final four possessions of the game and won it with 8 seconds on the clock with a 1-yard TD run.  It could be a LONG year for Arkansas’ fans…

Arizona St. beat Michigan St. in Tempe last week.  The temperature on the field at kickoff was 105 degrees; and it was a night game.  There was an interesting stratagem used by Herm Edwards and Arizona St at the end of the game:

  • The score was tied with 2 minutes to play.
  • Michigan St. was out of timeouts.
  • Arizona St had the ball inside the Michigan St. 10 yardline.  Instead of trying to score a TD – which would have given the ball back to Michigan St with a chance to tie the game – Arizona St. took a knee to run the clock down to nothing.
  • The Sun Devils called one of their timeouts and kicked the game winning field goal with nothing left for Michigan St.

It may not be “normal practice” for football teams in that circumstance, but Herm Edwards had faith in his kicker and as Edwards always said, “You play to win the game.”  They do not award style points…

Games of Interest This Week: 

UTEP at Tennessee – 31 (47.5):  UTEP is miserable; they could well be in my fanciful end-of-season SHOE Tournament.  Tennessee hopes to regain some status in the SEC above that of doormat/laughingstock.  This game sets up as a huge feelgood blowout at home.  We shall see…

Ball St. at Indiana – 14.5 (57.5):  The oddsmakers seem to think that the Notre Dame game last week was an aberration for Ball St.  We shall see…

Miami – 10 at Toledo (57):  Miami’s offense has not looked good so far this year.  Is this the game where it comes to life?  Or … is this another chance for a MAC team to upset a Power 5 school?

UCF – 11 at UNC:  This game has been postponed due to Hurricane Florence.  Frankly, that may be a blessing for UNC coach, Larry Fedora whose team might have gotten their doors blown off here.

Rutgers at Kansas – 2.5 (44.5):  Tis a rare occasion indeed where Kansas is a favorite over a Power 5 school.  Rutgers should be mightily offended…  The loser here should be mortified.  There is an important reason not to bet on this game.  If you did, you would feel compelled to watch it – – and if you watch it, that would require eye-bleach.

Michigan at Buffalo – 4 (53.5): Last week, E. Michigan went on the road to beat Purdue. (See above).  They must feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of college football with this line; they are underdogs to Buffalo?

UMass at Florida Int’l – 4 (60):  This game is interesting to me because either or both of these teams might be in the SHOE Tournament down the line…

Georgia Tech – 4 at Pitt (52.5):  Both teams come off a loss.  Tech lost to USF and gave up 49 points in the process; Pitt gave up 51 to Penn State.

SMU at Michigan – 35.5 (53.5):  It is time to see a Jim Harbaugh team show offensive prowess and this is a team they can do that against.

Colorado St at Florida – 20.5 (56):  This is two SEC opponents in a row for Colorado St.  Are they auditioning?

Oregon St. at Nevada – 4 (70):  It would be an embarrassment to the PAC-12 for Oregon St. to get pounded here…

Houston – 1 at Texas Tech (71):  Call this a Kardashian Family Reunion Game – – there should be no absence of scoring…

Vandy at Notre Dame – 14 (52):  Vandy is 2-0 and the combined margin of victory here is 59 points.  The Irish represent a totally different level of competition.  Interesting to see how good Vandy might be.


This Week’s College Football Six-Pack

Last week the Six-Pack went 2-4 bringing the season record to 5-7.  I’ll try and do better this week.  Nonetheless, anyone taking these selections – or the ones that follow in the NFL Sis-Pack – as the basis for making a real world wager involving real money is dumb enough to believe that “bacteria” is the rear entrance to the cafeteria.

Florida St. – 3 at Syracuse (68):  I do not get this line at all.  If the Total is going to be that high, then FSU is going to have to play lots better offense than they have shown so far this year.  If they do that, they should handle Syracuse comfortably.  If this is a “field-goal game” I can’t see where the 69th point would come from; the game should be comfortably UNDER.  Syracuse comes to the game with a 2-0 record but those wins came over Wagner and W. Michigan – – neither to be confused with big-time football programs.  I’ll go with pedigree here and take Florida St. on the road and lay the points.  If FSU loses here, I expect that the hounds will be baying for Seminoles’ coach Willie Taggert to be drawn and quartered.

LSU at Auburn – 10.5 (45):  I agree with the oddsmaker that this should be a low scoring game.  That being the case, I like LSU plus the points.

North Texas at Arkansas – 7 (70):  Arkansas had to learn something from that disastrous come-from-ahead loss last week to Colorado State, no? (See above).  The coaches should have them fired up for this home game.  I like Arkansas to win and cover.

USC at Texas – 3.5 (48):  I like this game to go OVER.  I am not impressed with the Texas defense at all.  Reports say that “pressure is mounting” on Texas coach, Tom Herman.  Losing this one at home will take things to DEFCON 3…

Ohio St. – 12.5 vs. TCU (60) [Game is in Arlington, TX]:  I mean no disrespect to TCU at all; the Horned Frogs are a very good team.  Having said that, I think Ohio St. is a much better team.  I’ll take Ohio St, on the road to win and cover.

Washington – 6.5 at Utah (47):  Utah is tough at home and Utah has a good defense.  This should be a low-scoring game.  Therefore, I will take Utah plus the points.

[Aside: I have seen two prognosticators say that Ole Miss will not only cover the 21-point spread in that game but that Ole Miss will beat Alabama outright.  If  you believe these two “pickers”, the Money Line odds on Ole Miss are +1040 this morning.]

Moving on to the NFL, seven coaches debuted with their teams in Week 1; all seven of those new coaches lost; some of those losses were brutal. You will notice all of this in last week’s rundown…

The Steelers/Browns tie game should have been an interesting game because it was close (obviously) and because it is a rivalry game and because the Browns have not won a game in what seems like forever.  However, the fact that both teams missed eminently makeable field goals in the final minutes of overtime leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.  The Steelers turned the ball of 6 – – that’s SIX – – times.  The Browns were +5 in turnovers and did not win.  How unusual is that?  Here are ESPN reported data:

  • Since the Browns relaunched in the NFL in 1999, there have been 139 games where one team was +5 in turnovers.
  • The record for those “+5 teams” is 134-4-1.
  • The Browns have been one of those “+5 teams” on 5 occasions.
  • The Browns’ record in those “+5 games” is 2-2-1.

Amazing …

The Bills looked positively awful in Week 1 losing to the Ravens 47-3.  In the first half of the game – under the leadership of Nathan Peterman – the Bills generated all of 33 yards of offense.  As you might suspect, they failed to gain a first down in the first half.  Peterman was 5 for 18 for 24 yards with 2 INTs before getting the hook in favor of rookie Josh Allen.  I am still at a loss to understand how Peterman could possibly have beaten out AJ McCarron for the role of “Placeholder QB” as the team worked to develop Josh Allen.  Bills’ coach, Sean McDermott, gave up the pretense of a “Nathan Peterman Era” in Buffalo announcing this week that Josh Allen would start for the Bills this week.  The football situation in Buffalo is a hot mess at best.

The Lions looked almost as bad as the Bills did, losing to the Jets 48-17.  This was Matt Patricia’s first game at the helm for the Lions and it was an ugly debut; the Lions lost to a rookie QB by 31 points.  [Aside:  Matt Patricia was never “svelte”, but it looked to me as if he had put on a lot of weight over the summer.  He looked like a bearded version of Andy Reid.]  The Lions have the initials “WCF” on their uniform sleeves honoring William Clay Ford, Sr. who owned the Lions’ franchise until his death a few years ago.  If the team plays like this all year long, someone will photoshop that uniform and change the initials to “WTF”.  Just as the Browns invent ways to focus attention in their ineptitude (see stats above), the Lions do it too.  Consider:

  • On Monday night, the Lions allowed 31 points to the Jets in the 3rd quarter of the game.
  • The last time a team scored 31 points in the 3rd quarter of an NFL game was in October 1950.  [Point of reference: President Truman had not yet removed Ge. Douglass MacArthur from command in October 1950.]
  • The team last to give up 31 points (or more) in the 3rd quarter of an NFL game was – wait for it – the Detroit Lions.


In Frank Reich’s first game as head coach of the Colts, the Bengals handed the Colts a 34-23 loss.  A late 83-yard scoop-and-score magnified the margin of victory here but there was ample reason for Colts’ fans to be unhappy.  True, Andrew Luck was back on the field and he played very well throwing for 319 yards and 2 TDs.  Not bad for a guy who has been hors de combat for 20 months…  In addition, Adam Vinatieri converted a 51-yard field goal in the game which is not bad for a 45-year old guy who has been kicking in the NFL for 23 seasons.  [Somewhere in the cosmos, Ponce de Leon wonders if Vinatieri found what Ponce died looking for.]  The bad news for Colts’ fans is that they led 23-10 in the middle of the 3rd quarter and then found a way to lose the game from there.

Pat Shurmer’s opening game with the Giants resulted in a 20-16 loss to the Jags.  This was not an embarrassing loss – unless you focus on the Giants’ offensive line performance.  The margin of victory came on a 4th quarter tipped pass that turned into a Pick Six. The Giant’s defense dominated the second half; until the Jags final possession where they took a knee in victory formation, they Jags has 7 possessions and punted 7 times.

The Dolphins beat the Titans 27-20 spoiling Mike Vrabel’s first game on the Titans’ sidelines.  This game was delayed twice for lightening around the Dolphins’ stadium and took more than 7 hours to complete.  The Titans have lost TE Delanie Walker for the year; Marcus Mariotta is questionable for this week’s game and OT Taylor Lewan left the game with an injury that put him in the concussion protocol.

Matt Nagy saw his Bears’ team jump out to a 20-0 lead over the Packers in Green Bay; things were looking up for the new head man in Chicago.  When Aaron Rodgers had to be carted to the locker room – replaced by DeShone Kizer – you could have heard a mouse squeak in the stadium.  The problem for the Bears was that Rodgers was merely hurt and not injured sufficiently to keep him off the field; he returned and led the Packers to a 24-23 come-from-nowhere victory.  It almost felt like a “Willis Reed Moment”.

The most celebrated new NFL coach for 2018 has to be Jon Gruden by a mile.  His Raiders led the Rams 13-10 at halftime and fans in The Black Hole were celebrating as if the glory days of the Raiders’ franchise had returned.  Then they played the second half and the Rams won the second half 23-0.  Here are three questions and one observation from that game:

  1. Question:  Did the Raiders avoid throwing the ball in the direction of any of their WRs because the Rams had them covered like a baby in a crib?  WR, Amari Cooper was only targeted 3 times in the game.  Something is wrong there…
  2. Question:  Was the lack of a pass rush by the Raiders a testament to outstanding OL play by the Rams or are the Raiders incapable of generating a pass rush?
  3. Question:  What were the Raiders working on for the last six weeks in practice?  The Raiders had 10 penalties for 145 yards in the first half on Monday night.
  • Observation:  Jon Gruden’s “Chucky Stare” seems not to have had the same effect as “The Belichick Glower” has been having recently.

The Skins spoiled Steve Wilks’ debut with the Cards winning 24-6 and running the ball for 185 yards in the game.  This was an old-fashioned ass-kicking; there is no polite way to describe it.  In the first half, the Cards had a total of 11 yards passing.  When a team’s offense can be compared to a “Nathan Peterman Offense”, that is not a good thing.  The Cards played as if they were on Quaaludes…

The Broncos beat the Seahawks 27-24.  The Seattle O-Line remains a mess; Russell Wilson was sacked 6 times in this game; the Seahawks were a mere 2-12 on third down conversions.  Th Broncos did not look like world-beaters here, but they did what they needed to do to get the win.

The Panthers beat the Cowboys 16-8 and neither team looked all that impressive.   In the first half, the Cowboys never snapped the ball in the Panthers half of the field.  The Cowboys offensive line showed its injuries allowing Dak Prescott to be sacked 6 times.  Cam Newton led the Panthers is rushing; he ran the ball 13 times for 58 yards.

The Eagles beat the Falcons 18-12 last Thursday night.  The game felt like a replay of last year’s meeting between these teams in the playoffs when the Eagles prevailed 15-10.  In both games, it was the Eagles’ defense that carried the day.  When the teams left the field at halftime with the Falcons leading 6-3, the Philly fans booed, and the announcing team seemed surprised that the Super Bowl champs would be booed after only a half of play.  Remember, the fans at The Linc last week are the spawn of the fans who booed Santa Claus and pelted him with snowballs at Franklin Field.  To paraphrase Denny Greene:

  • They are what we know they are…

The Vikes beat the Niners 24-16.  Already, after only one week of the 2018 season, one of my pre-season predictions has come to pass.  Jimmy Garoppolo has lost a game as a starting NFL QB.  Ta-dah…  The Vikes’ defense was the star of the show here forcing Jimmy G to throw 3 INTs.  Meanwhile, the Vikes’ new QB, Kirk Cousins, put up a workmanlike performance with 244 yards passing and 2 TDs.

The Bucs beat the Saints 48-40.  What happened to the Saints’ defense that was so improved last year?  Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 417 yards and 4 TDs in this game.  Yes … THAT Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson each had more than 145 yards receiving.  The Total Line for the game was 49.5 points; the game went OVER before halftime.

The Pats beat the Texans 27-20.  Father Time must have been a guest in Robert Kraft’s owner’s box for the game.  Tom Brady showed no signs of aging/slowing down throwing for 277 yards and 3 TDs.

The Chiefs beat the Chargers 38-28.  In a losing effort, the Chargers produced 541 yards of offense; normally, that level of output produces a victory.  You can pin this loss on the Chargers’ special teams without fear of contradiction:

  • Chargers gave up a 91-yard punt return for a TD.  (7 points)
  • Fumbled a punt in the 4th quarter giving the Chiefs possession inside the Chargers 5 yardline.  (7 points)
  • Missed a field goal.  (3 points)
  • Those plays effected a 17-point swing and the Chargers lost by 10.

Case closed.

Here are some quick comments on this week’s games outside the NFL Six-Pack:

  • Panthers/Falcons:  This is an important division game early in the season.  A Panthers win here gives them a 2-game lead on the Falcons.  Falcons lost safety Keanu Neal for the season last week.
  • Vikes/Packers:  This is the best game of the week – assuming that Aaron Rodgers is somewhere near 100 %.  If he can’t play, this could be ugly.
  • Chargers/Bills:  Both teams have “things to work on” this week.  (See above) This is also a long way to travel for the Chargers.  It is appropriate at this point to offer condolences to Josh Allen.  Call this one the Dog-Breath Game of the Week
  • Dolphins/Jets:  Both teams won as underdogs last week.  One of these teams is likely to be 2-0 on Sunday night.  Wow…
  • Eagles/Bucs:  Eagles should score more than 18 points this week.  Bucs should score fewer than 48 points this week.
  • Browns/Saints: Who would have guessed that the Browns would take the field here with the better record?
  • Cards/Rams:  This is the only double-digit spread on the card this week.  The Rams play on a short week; it should not matter.
  • Pats/Jags:  This will be the best game of the week if Aaron Rodgers is not at full strength.  The Total Line here is 45.5 and I was tempted to take it UNDER.
  • Giants/Cowboys:  A division game between two teams that lost their opening games in a somnambulant fashion.  If the Cowboys stink it up here, I expect to see steam coming out of Jerry Jones’ ears.

Without further ado, here is the This Week’s NFL Six-Pack:

Indy at Washington – 5.5 (48):  The Skins’ running game was most impressive last week and looks to stay on track against a mediocre Colts’ defense here.  Keeping Andrew Luck in check will be more difficult than what the Skins faced last week but that running game should keep Luck on the sidelines enough to secure a win.  Luck threw the ball 53 times last week; he is obviously not on a pitch-count after his injury  I like the Skins to win and cover at home. 

Houston – 2 at Tennessee (45):  This line did not go up until mid-week and the fact that it is at 2 points says that Marcus Mariotta will be on the field and in condition to play.  Nevertheless, I think the Texans are the better team and I think they lost to a tougher opponent last week.  I’ll take the Texans on the road and lay the points.   [Caveat:  If Hurricane Florence turns this game into a “monsoon game” or if the field is a swamp, change this pick to UNDER.]

KC at Pittsburgh – 4.5 (52.5):  The Chiefs play their second road game of the season here a sweep in those two games would give the Chiefs a leg up in the AFC West race.  I think the Chiefs’ offense will score against the Steelers’ defense and I think the Steelers’ offense will score against the Chiefs’ defense.  The Total Line opened at 50; it jumped to 52 almost immediately and then added another half-point.  I would not be surprised to see it keep rising.  I like the game to go OVER.   [Caveat:  If Ben Roethlisberger is not fit to play, this wager goes by the board.  If Josh Dobbs is the starting QB, I’ll take KC plus the points.]

Detroit at SF – 6 (48):  The Lions lost at home to a rookie QB by 31 points last week.  The Niners lost on the road to a team that many think will play for the NFC Championship next January.  The Lions must travel after a Monday night game.  I like the Niners to win and cover. 

Oakland at Denver – 6 (46):  The Broncos are tough at home; the Raiders do not always show up on the road and make this trip on a short week.  If the Raiders front seven cannot pressure Case Keenum – as they failed to do last week against Jared Goff – the Broncos will feast on the Raiders’ secondary.  It is going to be a long season for Raiders’ fans.  I’ll take the Broncos at home to win and cover.

Seattle at Chicago – 3 (43):  The Seahawks were on the road last week and travel again this week.  The Bears succumbed to the “Aaron Rodgers magic” last week and need to keep Russell Wilson in check here.  I think the Bears’ front seven overmatches the Seahawks’ offensive line by a wide margin.  I like the Bears to win and cover at home.

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