Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 1/24/16

These picks will need to be brief. I am preparing for the Snowmageddon heading toward the Washington DC/Maryland/Northern Virginia area. For those who live in more northerly climes, a foot of snow here is a paralyzing event; it could take three days to dig out from it. The forecast for this snow event is for two feet – or more in some spots. This is not a “hunker down event”; this is a “hibernation event”.

Last week’s Mythical Picks were blah. The record was 2-2-0 meaning that the season record now stands at 130-121-5. There were no Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games so that record remains at 17-17-1.

The “Best Pick” last week taking the Patriots minus 4.5 points and watching the Chiefs dawdle at the end in their attempt to catch up. They did not.

The “Worst Pick” of the week was taking Green Bay/Arizona to go OVER 49.5 points. Even with a TD in overtime, the game stayed UNDER.

Undaunted, I shall move ahead to the game for this week. Obviously, no one should consider using any information here as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game this weekend in the event that the real wager involves real money. Here is how dumb you would have to be to do something like that:

    You probably think that former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, left that post to become the CEO at Starbucks.

General Comments:

The big NFL news from last week is that the Rams will move to LA perhaps to be joined there by the Chargers leaving the Raiders in a dilapidated stadium in a downscale location for the moment. There is much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth in St. Louis and in parts of the State of Missouri over this move. As a fan of the NFL who has no particular affection for or animus toward the Rams as a franchise, I think there is an ironic twist to all of this.

How did St. Louis and Missouri attract the Rams? They offered the owner of the team a brand new stadium with lots of new amenities where she (Georgia Frontiere owned the Rams at the time.) could make more money than she could playing in an outdated stadium in LA. Fast forward to 2016 and the situation is almost exactly reversed except in this case the current Rams owner will build the new modern stadium as part of a much larger development effort he has underway in LA and he will make more money by moving the team than by staying put. Plus ça change; plus ça même chose…

This should be a cautionary tale for cities and states who borrow large amounts of money against future tax receipts to build stadiums for billionaire team owners. In the case of St. Louis, the city – and probably to some extent the State too – is now on the hook to continue to pay the interest and eventually to return the principle on the municipal bonds floated to build the stadium in St. Louis. There will, however be significantly diminished revenue from that stadium leaving the officials there two less-than-wonderful choices:

    They can default on the bonds leaving the bondholders in the lurch but that will affect their credit rating in a negative way meaning that future borrowings will come at higher interest rates.

    They can make the interest payments and the return of principle out of taxpayer funds in the “General Treasury” – or whatever they call it in that part of the country. That means those dollars will not be available for other things that might be important to the community at large because there is a fundamental principle at work here:

      In science, we talk about the Law of Conservation of Matter. In most everyday processes, matter is neither created nor destroyed; it takes a hydrogen bomb to destroy a bit of matter to turn it into a lot of energy.

      In economics, there must be a name for the law that says you cannot spend the same dollar twice. In the situation at hand, if the city spends tax revenue on bond interest, those are dollars than cannot be spent on schools or road or …

There was plenty of commentary last week about Blair Walsh – the Vikes’ kicker who missed that chip-shot field goal at the end of the game allowing the Seahawks to advance to the next round. Here are two of the better comments on that event:

“Blair Walsh gets all the blame for shanking that 27-yard field-goal attempt, costing the Vikings a playoff win. But what about the holder, who failed to spin the laces away from Walsh? ‘It’s not easy being a placekick holder. A lot of odd and crazy things can happen in the heat of the moment,’ said former kick-holder Lucy van Pelt.” [Scott Ostler, SF Chronicle]


“The Minnesota Vikings lost their playoff game when their kicker missed a 27-yard field goal. The kicker is now in an undisclosed location, waiting to meet with Sean Penn.” [Jimmy Fallon, the Tonight Show]

I enjoyed the way Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts did the Patriots/Chiefs game. There were no histrionics; there was pointed commentary when they chose to mention a missed call by the game officials; in the argot of the day, they let the game come to them. Would that more announcing teams would do the same.

Tom Brady was 28-42 in the game for 302 yards and 2 TDs. Of those 28 completions, 17 were made by Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. Perhaps that is a measure of the degree to which the Pats’ offense is diminished when either or both of those two players is sidelined. Speaking of Gronkowski, there reports that he had a back injury during the week and that he had to have his knee drained or shot up or whatever. He was “questionable” for the game. Looking at the way he played and ran around and hit people last weekend, I am left with only two possibilities:

    That shot he took in the knee was some kind of powerful – or –

    He somehow slipped off undetected on a trip to Lourdes the night before the game and got back just in time to dress for the game.

The stats from this game demonstrate two things:

    The Pats’ defense was the essence of “bend but don’t break”. The Chiefs ran off 83 offensive plays in the game and 51 of those plays (61%) were in Patriots’ territory; nonetheless, the Pats only gave up 2 TDs and the last one was in the final 2 minutes of the game.

    The Pats offense was extremely efficient too. They ran 56 plays for 340 yards (more than 6 yards on average per offensive snap). Part of that offensive efficiency comes from the way the OL played. The Chiefs averaged 2.9 sacks per game this year; last week they recorded exactly zero sacks.

The game was also very clean; the first penalty flag appeared at 11:36 of the second quarter (that penalty was declined) and for both teams there was a total of 11 penalties for 64 yards. The Buffalo Bills call 11 penalties for 64 yards an excellent game.

With regard to the Packers/Cardinals game, what was the more improbable occurrence:

    A. The tipped pass to Michael Floyd that gave the Cards a TD – or –

    B. Aaron Rodgers second Hail Mary completion for a TD this season?

    You make the call…

The Cardinals won this game in spite of Carson Palmer and not because of him. One of his two TD passes was a tipped pass that could just as easily have been a Pick Six going the other way and the threw 2 INTs in the game. Palmer has had a great season; he should get some votes for MVP; nevertheless, this game was not nearly his finest hour.

There were more than a few “non-calls” on pass interference/illegal contact during the game. The calls were ignored for both teams so you can say that the officials were consistent in their calls – consistently incorrect that is. Then came the coin flip fiasco for overtime; you could probably use that footage as part of a Marx Brothers movie.

Two questions that came to mind from that game:

    Did Jeff Janis have a breakout game or was this his 15 minutes of fame? Janis is a former 7th round draft pick in 2014 who caught 2 passes this season and only 4 passes for his entire career. In this game he caught 7 passes for 145 yards and 2 TDs.

    What should I say to all of the folks who suggested that the Cards should dump Larry Fitzgerald at various times over the past 2 seasons? All he did this year was catch 109 passes in 16 regular season games and then catch 8 more for 176 yards and the winning TD here.

People often talk about “negative body clock games” for West Coast teams that have to fly to the East Coast and play a game starting at 1:00 PM. The players’ biological clocks are telling them it is only 10:00 AM and some players/teams do not adjust to that very well. Perhaps that is the explanation for the lethargic first half played by the Seahawks last week? In any event the Panthers ran away to a 31-0 halftime lead and then held on to win 31-24. People quickly pointed out that the Panthers had “blown” large early leads in other games this year – the Giants game being the prime example – and such observations as criticism. The critics seem to fail to realize a fundamental fact here:

    In order to “squander” or “blow” a 31-point lead, you have to play such that you are leading by 31 points at some point in the game. Bottom-feeders and even average teams probably never led by 31 points in a game so they never had the “opportunity” to squander one.

The difference in this game was pretty simple; the Panthers were able to run the ball and the Seahawks were not. The Panthers ran the ball 41 times out of 64 offensive plays and controlled the tempo and the clock. The Seahawks only ran the ball 12 times.

Given that this was a playoff game and that the Panthers had a pretty good inkling that they would be hosting a playoff game for a while now, that field was in pretty bad condition. The Panthers should not be proud of their showing in that dimension.

Prior to the game, Bob Molinaro had this observation about Cam Newton in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Seeing the field: More evidence this season of Cam Newton’s growing maturity as a quarterback: He has 24 TD passes and zero interceptions in the red zone.”

The Broncos/Steelers game was hard fought and defense-oriented from start to finish. The Broncos had the best defense in the NFL; it was no surprise that they showed up and played well. The Steelers’ defense had not been nearly so highly regarded this year so did they play a bad game or did the Broncos’ offense play poorly? I think it was the Steelers’ defense playing well that produced what we saw last week.

Third down was not kind to either team last week. The Broncos were 3 for 15 on third down conversions; that pretty much stinks and usually will cost a team a victory. However, the Steelers were even worse; they were 2 for 12 on third down conversions last week.

Concerning Ben Roethlisberger’s shoulder injury, if Rob Gronkowski possibly visited Lourdes to make his miraculous recovery, then perhaps Roethlisberger got a shot of Pixie Dust from Tinker Bell in his shoulder. Here is what I saw in that game; he threw the ball long; he threw the ball hard; he was hit and sacked on his right shoulder and continued to throw the ball long and throw the ball hard. “Nuff said…

The fumble recovery by the Broncos that led to the winning TD drive happened with 9:52 left in the game. As important as the TD was, equally important was that the drive took 6:52 seconds. When the Steelers got the ball back there were only 3 minutes left to play in the game and the Steelers were down 2 scores.

I have one final “General Comment” regarding last week’s games and it relates to the CBS studio show that accompanies the CBS games:

    Am I the only one who – after a season of suspending judgment – thinks that CBS studio analyst Bart Scott is as useful as a toaster to a scuba diver? Maybe he is speaking in Klingon and my translator is not working. Other than that, CBS needs to find someone else to sit on the set and pontificate.

The Games:

(Sun. 3:00 PM EST) New England -3 at Denver (44.5): Here is an interesting fact I ran across earlier this week but I did not note where I found it so I cannot cite the source:

    The last time there was an AFC Championship Game that did not have either Tom Brady or Peyton Manning in it was back in 2011.

Bill Belichick has lost more playoff games (9) in his coaching career than Gary Kubiak has coached in (5). Of course, Belichick has also won 23 playoff games over his coaching career. For me, this game breaks down easily; the Broncos have the better defense (about 65 yards per game better) and the Pats have the better offense (20 yards per game better and 7 points per game better). The thing is that the Pats’ defense may not be as good as the Broncos’ defense, but it is still awfully good. I think this is a defensive game; I like the game to stay UNDER.

(Sun. 6:45 PM EST) Arizona at Carolina – 3 (47.5): Both coaches bring .500 playoff records to this contest (Ron Rivera is 2-2; Bruce Arians is 1-1). Arizona is in its second NFC Championship Game; they won the last time they were here but that was a home game. Carolina has been in the NFC Championship Game 4 times but this is the first time they have been at home for one. Bottom line:

    I think Carolina is the better team so I like the Panthers to win and cover.

    In addition, both of these teams can score; in terms of points per game they rank #1 and #2 in the NFL this season. I like this game to go OVER.

Finally, here is an observation from last weekend by Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“Mel Kiper’s first mock draft for ESPN has Dolphins selecting Clemson DE Shaq Lawson eighth overall. Mel will have 45 more mocks with 45 other guesses.”

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

NFL Coaching Changes – An Assessment

Now that it is official that the Eagles have hired Doug Pederson as their next head coach, the NFL game of Coaches Musical Chairs is over for the 2016 season – barring some unforeseen happening such as a video catching of one of the league’s head coaches in flagrante delicto with a chicken or a household pet. So, let me do a quick rundown of the seven teams that changed coaches here:

    Browns: Did the team pull the plug on Mike Pettine too soon? Possibly. Has Hue Jackson been a successful offensive coordinator in Cincy? Absolutely. More important for the Browns will be the effectiveness of baseball stats maven, Paul DePodesta as a decision maker in the Front Office.

    Bucs: I am not the biggest Lovie Smith fan on the planet but he did triple the number of wins by the Bucs last year as compared to 2014. It seemed as if he was on the right track. The Bucs’ justification here is that Dirk Koetter would have been hired by some other team and that it was Koetter – not Smith – who was responsible for the play of Jameis Winston. If true, the question now is this:

      Will Koetter as Head Coach have the same influence on Winston and his continued development as he putatively had as the Offensive Coordinator?

    Dolphins: Losing Joe Philbin in mid-season neither helped nor hurt the team; losing Dan Campbell at the end of the season was not a huge loss. Adam Gase is credited with guiding the Broncos offense under Tim Tebow to a playoff win and with upgrading Jay Cutler’s play in Chicago this year. Let me just say that I think the jury is out on the magnitude of those accomplishments; for example, the Bears ranked 21st in total offense in the NFL last season On the plus side, Gase does not have a hard act to follow.

    Eagles: Pederson is an Andy Reid disciple. Three years ago, the Eagles fired Reid who took Pederson with him to KC; now the Eagles have hired Pederson. Is this an admission that they should not have fired Andy Reid in the first place? Here is what Eagles’ owner had to say about Pederson when they announced his hiring:

    “We are excited to introduce Doug Pederson as our new head coach. Doug is a strategic thinker, a compelling leader and communicator, and someone who truly knows how to get the best out of his players. All of these factors were what initially attracted us to Doug and we believe that he is the right man to help us achieve our ultimate goal.”

    So, how did you not recognize all of this “wonderfulness” 3 years ago?

    Giants: Given the tone of Tom Coughlin’s departing remarks, I do not think that he was the one who decided it was time for him to leave the Giants. If that is indeed the case, I am trying to recall a situation where a coach was fired after a decade on the job where he won 2 Super Bowls. Lombardi, Noll, Shula, Walsh and Gibbs were not fired; Jimmy Johnson was fired after 2 Super Bowl wins but he had not been in Dallas for a decade. Moreover, Jerry Jones made that blunderous decision; so there’s that… The good news here – I guess – is that the Giants promoted Ben McAdoo from within.

    Niners: Jim Tomsula may be the nicest person in the world but he was underwhelming as a Head Coach. I think Chip Kelly showed in Philly that he has some serious deficiencies when it comes to building and selecting a roster. I think he also showed that he has an offensive system that can work. Remember, he won 10 games with Nick Foles at QB and 10 games the next year with Mark Sanchez playing more than a few games. This is the most interesting coaching change of them all as far as I am concerned because it has the potential for huge success and for flaming disaster.

    Titans: I do not think the Titans lost a great coach when they fired Ken Whisenhunt. At the same time, I do not think they hired a great coach in Mike Mularkey. This is Mularkey’s 3rd shot at the head job; in his previous stints with the Bills and Jags, his coaching record is 18-39. The Titans will draft #1 overall this year; they drafted #2 overall last year; the bar for “improvement in 2016” is not set high at all.

While those teams were playing Coaches Musical Chairs, the Lions decided to keep Jim Caldwell on in the head coaching position. During the previous season, the Lions fired all sorts of other folks in positions of authority – GM, team president, offensive coordinator. Hey, they probably also fired the guy in charge of painting the logos on the field for game day. But they kept Jim Caldwell and declared that he was the “right man for the job”. From my perspective, the “right man for the job” of coaching the Lions is the guy who is able to convince Calvin Johnson to come back to the Lions and play next year and forget all that talk about retirement.

It is very much in vogue today to offer up “trigger warnings” to sensitive young souls who might feel uneasy simply at the mention of something unpleasant that may have happened in the past. Well, here is a trigger warning for Lions’ fans:

    If Calvin Johnson actually retires from the NFL at age 30, prepare yourselves for a “flashback” to the retirement of Barry Sanders at age 31.

    Both men were great players; both men had gas left in the tank; both men are Hall of Fame quality players; both men spent their entire career with the Lions; both men decided to cash in early.

The Lions could not afford to lose Barry Sanders almost 20 years ago; the Lions cannot afford to lose Calvin Johnson now.

Finally, here is an item from Brad Rock in the Deseret News that will allow me to close on a lighter note today:

“A referee at a Toledo-Central Michigan football contest stopped the game to shush the band and cheerleaders.

“After which he was immediately offered a job as a commentator on the Golf Channel.”

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

Looking Back At College Football Bowl Games

“Spinning the message” is not limited to political operatives and political campaigns – although those folks have made spinning into an art form. Even in sports, folks find it necessary to provide “spin” to events. Consider the now mercifully ended college football bowl season. Some folks like to say that more people paid attention to the games this year than in any year in the past; they neglect to mention that there were more games this year than in previous years. Let me try to be factual here; in order to do that, I have to reveal my fundamental biases with regard to college football bowl games:

    There are too many bowl games which leads to the inevitable result that too many mediocre teams are participating in bowl games.

    After watching a full season of college football, I really am not interested in another game that pairs the fifth place finisher in the AAC against the sixth place finisher in the Sun Belt Conference. By late December, I just do not care about that game.

Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald seemingly shares my biases with regard to the plethora college football bowl games. I will share some of his commentary as I move along here:

“There’s a new type of fantasy football. This is when the NCAA fantasizes that anybody still cares after 40 college football bowl games.”

The reality of all this is that ESPN owns and operates many of the games and it owns the broadcast rights to most of the ones that it does not own and operate. ESPN does this because it needs programming; do not delude yourself that there is even a hint of altruism involved here. Here is another comment from Brad Dickson:

“We’re now at the point in college football bowl season when the ‘E’ in ESPN stands for ‘Enough!’ ”

The fact of the matter is that there were 11 college football bowl games before Christmas last year.

    Only three of those games had a measurable rating on TV.

    One of those three games with a measurable TV rating, was Utah vs BYU which is a huge rivalry game every year so it had an interest angle that no other bowl game had.

    Other than the Utah/BYU game which drew 3.675M viewers, not a single one of the pre-Christmas games drew more than 2.335M viewers.

    Moreover, eight of the eleven pre-Christmas bowl games drew fewer than 2.0M viewers.

A full listing of the games and the TV ratings and the number of viewers can be found here. From this compilation of data, we can see that “business picked up” after Christmas probably because folks had more leisure time on their hands after the Holiday and because more of the games involved “better than average teams”.

Nevertheless, if one happened to be grazing through the cable TV channels and came across one of the “lesser bowl games”, it was not difficult to see tons of empty seats in the stands at the game. Do not make a mistake and think that TV is the wrong yardstick to use with regard to measuring interest in these games; folks do not go out of their way to attend them either. The average attendance at all 40 bowl games was reportedly 43,817 and if that number seems astronomically high to you because you saw the early bowl games on TV and could almost count the house, that number is based on the officially released attendance figures. Officially released attendance figures might possibly include the number of tickets given to a local supermarket to give away with a purchase of more than $10 – whether or not the recipient used them to go to the game or used them to light the kindling under the Yule Log. Nonetheless, that average figure is a 2% decline from last year. Here is a link to a report summarizing attendance figures at the bowl games this year. Once again, Brad Dickson:

“Very popular this year: videos of ecstatic kids opening Christmas gifts and finding bowl tickets. My favorite was a kid who received tickets to the Quick Lane Bowl and asked if he could return them and get socks.”

In terms of fan interest, there are certainly a dozen – and perhaps as many as 18 – bowl games that can draw a sizeable TV audience and fill a reasonably sized football stadium to 80% capacity or higher. As for the other games, here is Brad Dickson on the subject one last time:

“I wouldn’t say attendance at the Foster Farms Bowl was not good, but even Foster didn’t show up.”

It is dangerous to compare a bowl game this year with the same game last year as a measure of “fan interest”. Such comparisons are alluring but simplistic. Consider one example only:

    The Fiesta Bowl this year had a 6.2 TV rating which was up 35% from the TV rating for the Fiesta Bowl game last year. Impressive, right? Shows strong increasing interest, right?

    Fiesta Bowl this year was a game between Notre Dame and Ohio State.

    Fiesta Bowl last year was a game between Arizona and Boise St.

    Meaning no offense whatsoever to fans of Arizona and Boise St., can anyone say with a straight face that either school commands anywhere close to the same degree of national attention as either Notre Dame or Ohio St.?

Finally, since Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald provided such a large fraction of the insight here today, let me close with another of his observations – this time about NFL football:

“Jilted St. Louis Rams fans sent owner Stan Kroenke a ‘huge pile of feces.’ I’m thinking this may be a subtle sign that not all fans are thrilled with the team’s move to Los Angeles.

“You know what the Rams typically call a huge pile of feces? The game plan.”

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

Pro Football Hall Of Fame Finalists – 2016

These are the 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2016 in alphabetical order:

    Morten Andersen
    Steve Atwater
    Don Coryell
    Terrell Davis
    Tony Dungy
    Brett Favre
    Alan Faneca
    Kevin Greene
    Marvin Harrison
    Joe Jacoby
    Edgerrin James
    John Lynch
    Terrell Owens
    Orlando Pace
    Kurt Warner

The selection rules and procedures to winnow down the finalists to the inductees are outlined here. The maximum number of inductees in a year is held to eight or less. If I had a vote – which I most assuredly do not – here are the six folks I would put in the hall of Fame:

    Don Coryell: Of the two coaches in this list, I think Coryell was the innovator who more affected the game of football.

    Terrell Davis: A knee injury before the days when surgery could rebuild a knee shortened his career; nonetheless his brief career was very good including one season (1998) where he gained 2008 yards rushing.

    Brett Favre: Simply a no brainer…

    Alan Faneca: He was an outstanding offensive guard.

    Terrell Owens: He was hardly a role model or a wonderful teammate in the locker room, but one cannot deny his on-the-field talents.

    Orlando Pace: He was the best left tackle in the league for about a 5 or 6 years.

Please note that I would not be offended by any of those 15 candidates making it into the Hall of Fame. They all bring legitimate credentials to the party.

When the Niners hired Chip Kelly, the reports said that Kelly’s contract was for 4 years and $24M; I assume those reports are accurate and for the moment, I will consider that he will make $6M in each year of that contract. The Niners will also be paying Jim Tomsula not to coach the Niners for a while; if reports are correct, the Niners owe Tomsula $10.2M over the next 3 years. That means the Niners are going to spend $28.2M on “head coaches” between now and the end of 2018. That is a whole lot of money to spend on “coaching” and a skeptic might say:

    Tomsula was a dumb hire in the first place since he had never been even a coordinator before getting the head coaching job in SF.

    Kelly comes in with big question marks given the ill-will he and more than a few of the Eagles’ present and former players have for one another.

Let me be clear; I am not a “Chip Kelly hater.” His offensive system worked at Oregon and it seemed to work in the first two years in Philly with QBs that were not “ideal” for his system. His skills as a GM/personnel maven and his interpersonal skills may be called into question, but the idea that he might now have Colin Kaepernick available and healthy to run his offense has to be allowed to play out. Kaepernick brings exactly the opposite set of skills to the table as did Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford.

    Kaepernick is a QB who can make a defense play all phases of a read-option offense. He is a dangerous runner and he can throw the ball on the move.

    Neither Foles, Sanchez nor Bradford fit that description well.

    On the other hand, Foles, Sanchez and Bradford have a degree of “pocket presence” and the ability to make multiple reads quickly. Those two things are important in Kelly’s combination-route passing game.

    Kaepernick has yet to demonstrate that he is better than average at “reading defenses”.

The Kelly/Kaepernick experiment will be interesting to observe – assuming that is that Kelly has not already decided and agreed with the Niners’ front office “braintrust” to ditch Kaepernick and draft a QB – like Paxton Lynch in the first round of this year’s draft…

The Niners’ success under Kelly is going to require an upgrade to more than just the offense. Kelly’s system when it is working at high efficiency still requires the defensive unit to be on the field for more than half the game. The Niners defense ranked 29th in the NFL last year in yards per game and 27th in the NFL in yards allowed per play by the opponent. If that defense is going to have to be on the field for lots of time every game, that defense needs an upgrade in talent and in depth.

Yesterday, I talked about Jerry Jones and his fascination with Johnny Manziel as a possible backup QB for the Cowboys. The Cowboys had another “problem” in 2015 that led to a 4-12 record. Dez Bryant sat out all of the team’s off-season workouts and OTAs while in contract negotiations; then he broke his foot in Game 1; he came back in time for a “playoff push” indicating that Jerry Jones was living in a fantasy world in November 2015. The problem was that Bryant was terrible. Yes, I agree; he had sub-standard QBs throwing him the ball. That does not negate the fact that he only caught 31 passes for the year.

I mention that because after the regular season was over, Bryant and the Cowboys announced that he would undergo another surgery on his foot and ankle; the consequence of that surgery is that he will not be able to do any “football stuff” until about the time training camp starts in July. That means a second consecutive year without time and effort to work with Tony Romo/Johnny Manziel/whomever the backup QB will be and – most likely – a gradual inclusion of Bryant into the passing game during the exhibition season.

Finally, some words of wisdom from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“Former NFL running back John Riggins is out with his own line of beer, called the 4th & 1 Pilsner.

“Now comes the hard part: getting Sandra Day O’Connor to give it her two thumbs up.”

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

Johnny “Football” And RG3…

According to a report on this morning, Hue Jackson – the new coach of the Browns – says that the team needs a QB and will consider drafting the right one if he is available. Since the Browns draft at #2 this year, the odds are that a QB will be available to them in the draft so the question is whether or not they think he is “the right one”. Also, that report says that Jackson took the job in Cleveland with the understanding that he would make the decision as to whether or not Johnny Manziel remains on the Browns’ roster. And with that as preamble, let me opine here on the possible futures of two QBs who are likely to be free agents very soon. I speak of Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin III.

There has been plenty of speculation that Cowboys’ owner and GM and master-of-all-things-Cowboys, Jerry Jones, would bring Manziel to Dallas to be Tony Romo’s understudy. Recall that there were myriad stories about how Jones wanted to draft Manziel a couple of years ago but was talked out of that in order to take offensive guard, Zack Martin.

Jones also told in an interview that he feels as if he is lying on his back and looking up and all he sees is ass. He wants to change his viewscape; he wants a completely new look in all his interactions with everyone associated with the team. He said that the Cowboys got “less than they paid for” in 2015 and it cannot be a surprise that he would prefer that not happen again in 2016. Here is a link…

I am going to do a bit of mind-reading here even though I know that is impossible. I suspect that Hue Jackson knows more than a bit about dysfunctionality when it comes to NFL teams. He was the coach of the Raiders in 2011 – the year that Al Davis died. For all the great things Davis did over the course of his career, his final years were enveloped in reclusion, confusion and delusion. Jackson happened to be at the center of that maelstrom.

Then he hooked on with the Bengals as the offensive coordinator and the cost of a “lack of discipline” has to be fresh in his mind after the great “Vontaze Burfict/Adam Jones Fiasco” about 10 days ago. Since I assume that Hue Jackson is smarter than a day-old donut, I think he will try to build a team that shows discipline as one of its characteristics. And that brings us to Johnny Manziel who may or may not have slipped off to Las Vegas to carouse when he was supposed to stay in Cleveland to be part of the NFL’s concussion protocol. That is only the latest alleged incident that might lead some to think that Manziel is not the most trustworthy person on the planet.

If the Browns were to release Manziel tomorrow – they should not! – my guess is that Jerry Jones would have Manziel in for an interview posthaste and assuming that Manziel Is smart enough to show up on time, here is what I think will transpire:

    Manziel will say that he has “seen the light” and that “being cut from a team for the first time ever” was a life-changing event for him. That event put all the things he heard in his “rehab days” into a form of reality that he had not recognized before.

    Since that is precisely what Jones wants to hear – because it will allow him to sign Manziel and then crow that he got both the guy he originally wanted PLUS Zack Martin who has already been to a Pro Bowl in his first two years -, the Cowboys will sign Manziel. Jones will say that the team will provide him with ”support” and that all the young QB needs to do now is to work to learn the Cowboys’ offense.

    Everyone will leave the press conference with huge smiles and optimism will rain from the skies. I would set the OVER/UNDER on how long it takes for Manziel to be in the headlines again for something other than an on-field football happening at June 1st.

Because Jerry Jones will jump at a chance to sign Manziel, that is exactly why the Browns should not release him until Jones is at the point where he needs to address the backup QB situation in Dallas. Last year should have taught him that backup QB is an important position if you harbor playoff thoughts. When it comes time for Jones to make whatever move(s) he thinks make sense, that is when the Browns can dangle Manziel and at least get a conditional 5th or 6th round pick for him. That may not sound like much, but:

    It is better than nothing and the Browns need all the draft picks they can amass.

    It is a good return for a player who seems to be more dedicated to the proposition that “it’s five o’clock somewhere” than he is to playbook study.

And that brings me to RG3 who appears to be in a similar situation in Washington. Owner, Danny Boy Snyder apparently loved him some RG3 to the point where their bromance created some locker-room tension. As the 2015 season ended, it had to be clear to anyone who paid any attention at all that Coach Jay Gruden wants no part of RG3 next year. When the Skins picked up the option on Griffin’s contract, it guaranteed his salary at something north of $16M for next year if either of these conditions obtained:

    RG3 is on the team roster on the first day of the new “football year”. That day is in mid-March 2016; releasing a player takes about 15 minutes; I suspect the Skins can find the time to fill out the proper forms and fax them to the league and the union to make that happen to avoid $16M showing up on their salary cap for the 2016 season.

    RG3 ended the 2015 season with an injury.

To avoid that second possibility, Griffin only dressed for 1 game this year and he never came close to seeing the field in that one. The reason he was dressed that week was that the team did not have enough players designated as “healthy” to put in a uniform to stand on the sideline during the game. Essentially, RG3’s final game as an “active player” in Washington was in the role of an “animated suit dummy” – the description I often used to describe the late Dr. Myles Brand.

RG3 and Johnny “Football” have a lot in common. Both were high school football stars in Texas; both were Heisman Trophy winners playing for colleges in Texas; both play a style of game that is “unconventional” and therefore “exciting” in terms of NFL quarterbacking. So, why should Jerry Jones focus only on Johnny “Football” as he searches for a splashy signing as his backup QB? Frankly, I do not think he will and in the case of RG3 he will not need to be part of a negotiation over a conditional draft pick because the Skins are going to release Griffin for sure. [Aside: If I understand the current CBA correctly, the Cowboys would owe Griffin the $16M guaranteed salary for 2016 if they were to trade for him. Under that circumstance, Jerry Jones would have to be dumber than a dugong even to discuss such a transaction.]

However, hidden in the weeds here is another potential actor. The Houston Texans need to upgrade themselves at the QB position. They have a very good defense but they got inconsistent play at QB for all of 2015; they won the AFC South but the Colts will get Andrew Luck back in good health for 2016; the Texans really need to do something and they do not draft until #22 in this year’s draft – hardly a position where one thinks a franchise QB will fall in one’s lap. The Texans may also be intrigued by the Texas roots and Texas notoriety of either of these QBs. I doubt there will be a bidding war for either one, but there might be a race to see which team gets to interview either player as soon as he is a free agent.

I think both RG3 and Johnny Manziel will get another opportunity in the NFL. Both will have to show a fast learning curve to their new teams/coaches because both suffer from a similar “problem”. Both of them arrived in the NFL succeeding at QB because they were significantly more athletic than just about every opponent they faced in high school and in college. Without putting a pejorative label on it, that superiority did not instill in either one a dedication to learning the subtleties of playing the QB position. In the NFL, they learned that they were not athletically superior to every opponent every time they stepped onto the field. Oops… Now that lack of study/attention/dedication made them susceptible to big mistakes and to frustration on the part of their coaches. [Aside: To be sure, Manziel’s off-field escapades provide his case with an entirely different dimension as compared to Griffin.]

Talent wins out in the NFL and both of these young QBs have raw talent. There will be coaches who are certain that they are uniquely capable of harnessing that talent and developing it to the point where it is manifest in all of its glory for all to see. Who knows? Maybe those future coaches are actually right…

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times that seems appropriate in light of what is above:

“At ‘Johnny Manziel facing questions about his judgment after being spotted in Cleveland.’ ”

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

Recommended Reading

Scott Ostler has this column in today’s SF Chronicle. It is an open letter to Mark Davis regarding what happened to him and the Raiders at the recent NFL owners’ meeting and things that Mark Davis might do now to make amends with Raider fans who reside in Oakland.

I think this column should be read in its entirety; it is vintage Scott Ostler. Here is the link…

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 1/17/16

Last week’s Mythical Picks took gas. The record for last week was 1-3-0 taking the season record down to 128-119-5. There were no Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games so that record stayed put at 17-17-1.

The “Best Pick” from last week was the only pick I got right. I took the KC/Houston game to stay UNDER 40.5 points. It did. In no way did I think that the Chiefs could score 30 points in that game; also in no way did I think that the Texans would fail to score all day. Nonetheless, it turned out right for a bunch of “wrong reasons”.

The “Worst Pick” from last week was taking Washington and giving a point to Green Bay. I really thought the Packers were coming apart at the seams and that an average team like the Skins could beat them at home. Not even close…

Please do not succumb to the temptation to use any information here as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game this weekend if, in fact, the real wager involves real money. These are Mythical Picks; you would have to be a dumbass to consider them authoritative. How dumb?

    You probably think a reign of terror is a frightening storm.

General Comments:

The Cleveland Browns have a new head coach; Hue Jackson will move north from Cincy where he was the offensive coordinator to become the Head Coach in Cleveland. Jackson had a previous shot in the pilot’s seat with the Raiders in 2011; his record in his only year in Oakland was 8-8 but he lost his job when the team installed a new GM, Reggie McKenzie, and the new GM decided to go out and find “his guy” to coach the team.

Jackson’s 8-8 record did not look like a “world-beater” at the time; but in retrospect, it keeps looking better and better. Consider the Raiders’ coaching records of those who came after Jon Gruden left in 2002:

    Bill Callahan 15-17
    Norv Turner 9-23
    Art Shell 2-14
    Lane Kiffin 5-15
    Tom Cable 17-27
    Hue Jackson 8-8
    Dennis Allen 8-28
    Tony Sparano 3-9
    Jack Del Rio 7-9 (to be continued next season)

The Browns re-entered the NFL in 1999; since then, they have had 8 coaches which seems like a lot unless you look at the Raiders’ history over a similar period of time. However, it is really worse than that. Since 2010, they have had four head coaches; Jackson will be the fifth.

    Eric Mangini 2009 – 2010
    Pat Shurmer 2011 – 2012
    Rob Chudzinski 2013
    Mike Pettine 2014 – 2015

Here is an idea for a new name for the position of Head Coach of the Cleveland Browns:

    Short Attention Span Theater.

The Niners had interviewed Jackson before he spoke with the Browns. Both rosters are short on talent and Jackson chose the Browns. That should not be taken as good news by Niners’ fans… However, it does set up an interesting thing to watch. Hue Jackson is an “offense guy” and in order to run an NFL offense, you need a QB. On the Browns’ roster as of this morning they have:

    Austin Davis
    Pat Devlin
    Johnny Manziel
    Josh McCown
    Terrelle Pryor (played QB in college)
    Connor Shaw

So, does Hue Jackson – Mr. “Offense Guy” – see someone on that list who can be “The Man” for the Browns? If the Browns do not take a QB early in the draft, you would have to think so.

The Browns are not a good team and they need a QB. The Texans are a good enough team that they made the playoffs without a good QB. If the Texans could wave a wand and get themselves a top-shelf QB, the Texans could be a good team for quite a while. Here is the quarterback cadre that got the Texans to the playoffs this year:

    Brian Hoyer
    Ryan Mallett (released in mid-season)
    Tom Savage
    Brandon Weeden
    TJ Yates

If the Texans are going to repeat as AFC South champions next year, their cause will be aided by adding to that list. They may need to spend money in the free agent market or swing a trade for someone better than what is on the roster now. They are going to draft a bit too low in the first round to count on getting a QB there who is ready to start. It will be interesting to see what the Texans do here…

In all four of the Wild Card Games last weekend, the home team started a QB who had never started a playoff game before. Meanwhile, all four of the visiting teams brought QBs to the stadium that had playoff experience – and three of those four had Super Bowl rings. Yes, all the visiting teams won their games.

    Brian Hoyer (Texans) had a horrible game – his worst of the season.

    AJ McCarron (Bengals) played just well enough to set up the team for a loss when the inevitable “Bengal Bungle” happened late in the game. [See below…]

    Teddy Bridgewater (Vikes) was solid but never did find a way to get the ball into the end zone.

    Kirk Cousins (Skins) played adequately but he was betrayed by his OL who allowed 6 sacks and could not generate any meaningful running attack.

Consider that list of first-time-starting QBs who exited in the first round of playoff games with the 8 QBs that are left and their playoff experience:

    Tom Brady – 29 playoff games
    Payton Manning – 24 playoff games
    Cam Newton – 3 playoff games
    Carson Palmer – 2 playoff games
    Aaron Rodgers – 13 playoff games
    Alex Smith – 3 playoff games
    Ben Roethlisberger – 16 playoff games
    Russell Wilson – 9 playoff games

    [Aside: Had you given me that list and asked me to name the QB with the fewest playoff starts, I would have guessed Alex Smith and not Carson Palmer. Hi-Ho! ]

Last weekend, the Texans ran up against the KC Chiefs and the Chiefs like the Texans have a really good defense. What that game put on display was the Texans’ inability to deal with a “really good defense”. The final score was 30-0 and that pretty much tells you what was going on down there on the field. The stats might lead you to believe that the Texans were able to run the ball a bit here, but that is a mirage. The stats say the Texans ran the ball 25 times for 114 yards which seems rather good. The problem is that they got 50 yards on one play so that for the rest of the game, they ran the ball 24 times for 64 yards – less than 3 yards per carry.

That lack of a running game – and the fact that the Texans were behind in the game from the opening kickoff that was returned by the Chiefs for a TD – set up Brian Hoyer to throw the ball 34 times. It simply was not Hoyer’s day; he was sacked 3 times and intercepted 4 times.

With the ball at about the Chiefs’ 1-yardline in the second quarter, the Texans sent JJ Watt in on offense to play “single wing tailback” with Vince Wilfork as a blocking back and another behemoth lineman next to Wilfork on the right side of a “single wing formation”. Everyone north of Antarctica knew where that play was headed; indeed, it lost yardage due to lack of surprise. That bad play call did not lose the game for the Texans, but the folks who put that play in the game plan and then actually called it in anger ought to be made to run laps.

I think the injury that took Jeremy Maclin out of the game for the Chiefs could be very important. Maclin did not practice on Tuesday or Wednesday this week but reports say that he is “not limping” and that his injury is a “mild high-ankle sprain”. Maclin is very important to the Chiefs’ offense because he provides speed in addition to experience and good hands and all that stuff. The Chiefs need a healthy Jeremy Maclin; for the moment, he is “questionable”.

The Chiefs/Texans game was hotly contested on both sides; you did not see any players on the field “dogging it”. Nevertheless, there were no cheap shots or “criminal intentions” exhibited on the field; there was no “head-hunting”.

I mention that as a way to lead into the Steelers/Bengals game. I understand that this is a division rivalry game that happened in a playoff situation. I get that. I also get that there is really no way to justify the barbarity/violence/thuggery exhibited by both teams in that game. All of that came to a head – so to speak – in the final minute of the game, but it was sadly on display for almost the entire game. In addition to the barbarism, there was an annoying level of “celebrations-over-nothing” in the game. The culmination of that was a 15-yard penalty on the Steelers for excessive celebrating after what turned out not to be a TD after all. On any ordinary week, the perpetrator of that silliness would be the odds-on favorite to be the Asshat of the Week. But not in this game…

In the final minute, the Bengals held a 1-point lead thanks to a nice pass from AJ McCarron to AJ Green. When the Steelers recovered a fumble, they had hope – but it was a faint hope. They had to march the length of the field with little time, no timeouts and with Ben Roethlisberger’s shoulder such that he could not throw the ball very far downfield. Then came the “Bengal Bungle of the Year” – the “Massive Meltdown”, the “Feline F-Up”, the “Incredible Inevitable Idiocy”. You have to have seen the replays of Vontaze Burfict’s head-shot on Antonio Brown and if you have followed football for any time now, it should not have surprised you. Burfict has been a serial offender when it comes to violent cheap shots for all of his NFL career and for some of his college career. That ridiculous penalty stopped the clock; gave the Steelers a first down and put them on the fringe of their kicker’s range. And then it got worse…

Adam Jones – in case you did not know, this is the same player who used to be known as “Pacman” Jones and the one who had that “minor incident” in a strip club where gunfire rendered a guard paralyzed for life – decided that this was the exact moment to get involved in some other altercation on the field in order to earn yet another 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. That made the field goal try not much more than an extra point try. The Steelers made the field goal and won the game.

In one sense, these monumental screw-ups are not all that surprising.

    The perpetrators have a history of “off-center behaviors”.

    The team has a history of having players who “make bad decisions”.

    The coaching staff apparently does not sanction such behaviors in any meaningful way because they continue to manifest themselves.

    The team has no GM so I think it is fair to surmise that the team’s owner, Mike Brown, has some role in roster building and player retention; if so, his inaction over the years would seem to be a form of acceptance of such stupidity.

Some have suggested that Marvin Lewis might – or even should – lose his job over all of this. I agree that Lewis has not provided the sort of strict discipline needed to curb this sort of stupidity; but on balance, he has done far more “right things” with the Bengals than he has done “wrong things”. These moronic manifestations should not cost him his job. However, this happened on a large national stage in front of a big audience; I do think he should be put on notice that another display of this kind would be sufficient to look seriously at getting a new coach in Cincy.

Before concluding my commentary on the Steelers/Bengals game, let me say clearly that Mike Tomlin, the Steelers’ coaching staff, and the Steelers’ players did not behave in an exemplary fashion either last week. The Steelers did not exhibit nearly the same levels of anti-social behavior or the same depths of moronic activities as did the Bengals; and indeed, they won the game. Nevertheless, their game behavior was anything but exemplary and they have not attracted anywhere near the level of public scorn as have the Bengals. However, they are not blameless here…

Dwight Perry had a wonderful summary of all this in the Seattle Times:

“Hothead costs the Bengals a playoff win? Cue the first “Burfict storm” headline in 3 … 2 … 1 …”

The Vikes/Seahawks game was another hard fought game featuring two good defenses that were both hitting hard from start to finish. However, there were no cheap shots or kill shots in the game despite the fact that there were hard hits on the vast majority of plays. It seemed as if the Vikes’ defense was out to prove that it is much better than what they showed in the last meeting between these teams a couple of weeks ago. In that contest, the Seahawks ran off to a 35-0 lead and dominated the game.

I still wonder why the Vikes did not really try to throw the ball downfield in the game. I can only recall one deep pass and it was incomplete. Maybe it was the frigid weather? Maybe it was a lack of confidence in their receivers? I have seen Bridgewater throw deep in previous games; he can do that when given the chance; the play calling never got to that last week.

The Seahawks’ defense geared itself to keep Adrian Peterson under control for the day. Peterson ran the ball 23 times for a total of 45 yards. The Seahawks’ defense can declare “mission accomplished” for that one. Peterson was extremely valuable for the Vikes this year in that he forced defenses to tend to him thereby allowing Terry Bridgewater some lebensraum in the passing game. For the Vikes to advance as a team next year, they will need Peterson to play at a comparable level to this year AND for Terry Bridgewater to ramp up the passing game.

I really thought the Skins had sufficient momentum going for them to win at home against a Packers’ team that had struggled in the late part of the season and a team that had looked discombobulated in several of their late-season losses. When the Skins led 11-0 in the early second quarter, I thought they might run away and hide. What followed next was that the Packers proceeded to score points on their next 6 possessions to win the game comfortably.

I mentioned above that the Skins’ OL betrayed Kirk Cousins. If you have a recording of the game, go and watch Skins LT, Trent Williams. He is a constant Pro Bowl selection and he deserves those honors; he is a really good offensive lineman. However, not last week… In the late stages of the game, the pressure and the sacks were always coming from his side of the formation and he was often the guy lurching in a desperate attempt to get a body on a defender just as Kirk Cousins was about to take a shot.

I also want to make a comment about Skins’ WR, DeSean Jackson. His speed, his hands and his general athleticism make him a serious deep threat that any defense must pay attention to. Having said that, he has hardly lived up to his physical abilities recently. Let me do a brief reset here:

    Jackson chose – as is his right under the CBA – to skip all of the Skins’ offseason workout programs and OTAs last year. He was working out on his own.

    Jackson injured himself in training camp by running into a blocking sled. Honest, he did that…

    After missing most of the exhibition season – but repeatedly professing that he was working on his speed and would be ready for the opener – he pulled a hamstring on the first deep ball thrown his way in the opening game. I believe the next time he was on the field in anger was in early November.

    Jackson appeared in 10 games this year, caught 30 passes and scored 4 TDs. That is a meager output from a nominal #1 receiver who claims that there is not a defender alive that can cover him on the field.

I went through all of that to set up the fact that Jackson cost the Skins a TD in this game. He caught a pass over the middle at about the 10 yardline and made for the pylon at the goal line. Holding the ball out from his body in a stylish fashion, he glided across the goal line but did not step in the end zone before going out of bounds. Hence the ball was not past the pylon and it was not a TD; had he dived into the end zone it would have been a TD. As fortune would have it, the Skins could not put the ball in the end zone even with a 1st and goal spot at the half-yardline. They got a field goal; and they saw the game momentum shift immediately to the Packers.

Two seasons ago, Chip Kelly simply cut Jackson in Philly and lots of people thought Kelly had taken leave of his senses. Jackson is an immense physical talent; there is no question about that. Jackson is also – to use a word a former colleague used frequently – a “meathead”. His “meatheadedness” is not violent or dangerous like the behaviors of some of the Bengals, but Jackson’s “meatheadedness” seemingly would have him fitting in just fine in the Bengals’ locker room.

The Games:

(Sat. 4:35 PM EST) KC at New England – 4/5 (42.5): The Total Line for this game opened at 45.5 and plunged to this level right away; you can find it as low as 41.5 this morning. The Pats will get Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola back on the field for this game and the knee-jerk thinking is that this will throw the Pats’ offense back into overdrive and all will be well in Chowdah City. I am a bit antsy with tha kind of reasoning because:

    The Pats’ offensive line is significantly diminished by injuries.

    The Chiefs’ defense succeeds by pressuring the QB.

I think that match-up is seriously tilted towards the Chiefs. I know that Bill Belichick has had 2 weeks to cook up some kind of “magical scheme” for this game. I think he needs a magical potion to heal his offensive linemen so they can play in top form more than he needs a “magical scheme”. On the other side of the ball, Belichick’s 2 weeks to prepare a defensive strategy may pay significant dividends. Alex Smith has been very efficient and effective this year during the Chiefs’ 11-game win streak. However, the Pats’ bring a good defense to the field and those 2 weeks to come up with a few “confusing wrinkles” could prove decisive. Make this a venue call, I’ll take the Pats and lay the points.

(Sat. 8:15 PM EST) Green Bay at Arizona – 7 (49.5): The Cards beat the Packers in Arizona 38-8 just a few weeks ago. Sounds as if laying only 7 points is a bargain, right? Remember, two of the Cards’ TDs in that game came from fumble recoveries that were run in for a score. How likely is that to happen again? Also, consider that the Vikings lost to the Seahawks 38-7 just a few weeks before those teams met last week. What happened there? The Seahawks won the rematch by a single point – and needed a botched chip-shot field goal to do that. This game is not a slam-dunk for the Cards. The Packers played the way we have come to expect the Packers to play against the Skins last week but there is a difference here. The Skins’ defense ranked 28th in the NFL this season in yards per game; the Cards’ defense ranked 5th in the league; the Cards gave up about 60 fewer yards per game than did the Skins. I think there will be lots of offense and lots of scoring here so I’ll take the game to go OVER.

(Sun. 1:00 PM EST) Seattle at Carolina – 3 (44): For me, this will be the best game of the weekend. I think the winner of this game goes to the Super Bowl and the winner of this game will be the favorite in the Super Bowl. Russell Wilson is undefeated playing against the Panthers in Charlotte; his record there is 3-0. None of those wins were blowouts by any stretch of the imagination, but they were victories. Counterbalancing that information is the fact that the Panthers beat the Seahawks this year on the Seahawks’ home turf in another close game. The Panthers have had a week to rest and to prepare for this game. The Seahawks on the other hand had to play in the “Minnesota Freezer” last week, fly back to Seattle, and then fly to Charlotte (3-hour time change for an early kickoff). The Seahawks are here thanks to a missed chip-shot field goal. Does that mean they are “destined” to win it all this year or does it mean they are not really good enough to be in this game in the first place. I have no idea about their destiny; I do believe they are good enough to deserve to be in this game. I like the Seahawks plus the points here. Notwithstanding that selection, I think this will be a great game to watch.

(Sun. 4:40 PM EST) Pittsburgh at Denver – 9 (40): The spread opened at 4.5 points and has been rising all week. Reports this morning say that Antonio Brown will not play on Sunday; reports earlier in the week said that Ben Roethlisberger’s shoulder injury is a “sprained AC joint and torn ligaments in his right shoulder”. I do not know an AC joint from a DC joint but it stands to reason that injuries to the throwing shoulder of a QB are not trivial matters. At the very least, Roethlisberger will be playing at something less than full effectiveness. If in fact Landry Jones has to play a significant portion of this game, let me say this very clearly:

    Landry Jones is probably a very nice young man, but against the Broncos’ defense in Denver, he is – simply – overmatched.

In the real world, no one would get down on this game until the playing status and the anticipated proficiency level for Roethlisberger was far better known. However, I have to make these picks a bit more than 48-hours before that information will be available. Here is how I think the game will roll out:

    Roethlisberger starts but it becomes clear very early on that he cannot throw the ball downfield.

    That diminishes the value of the speed the Steelers have at the WR position – even with Antonio Brown sidelined.

    Steelers’ defense also has no real deep threat to worry about because the evidence from the 2015 season says that Peyton Manning is not the deep threat he was just a few seasons ago.

    Both teams will try to run the ball with only marginal success against defenses that line up to stop the run.

    The game will turn on field position and turnovers.

With that scenario, I like the game to stay UNDER. By the way, if I knew for certain that Landry Jones and/or Michael Vick would never see the field in this game, I would take the Steelers with that basket of points. But I don’t know that for certain …

Finally, Brad Dickson had this comment with regard to Johnny Manziel and his off-field escapades in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Johnny Manziel has appeared in so many possibly alcohol-related videos, he’s been named an honorary Clydesdale.”

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

Finally, The NFL Is Back In LA…

The NFL owners have approved moving the Rams back to LA; they have given the Chargers the first option to join the Rams in a joint stadium situation akin to the Giants/Jets; they have left the Raiders in Oakland seemingly “twisting slowly in the wind”. [H/T to John Erlichman.] There are probably a dozen vantage points from which to view the decision(s) here leading to multiple dozens of interpretations and conclusions. My view is simple; my info sources are Forbes and Business Insider:

    Stan Kroenke owns the Rams. Forbes says his net worth is $7.5B as of 2016. The league approved his plan over and above any other.

    Dean Spanos owns the Chargers. Forbes says his net worth is $1.1B as of 2015. The league did not approve the plan he put forth but gave him the first option to join Stan Kroenke if the two of them can strike a deal.

    Mark Davis is the chief owner of the Raiders. Business Insider says net worth is $500M as of 2015. He was the tag-along partner with Spanos in the Spanos’ plan and now he is the owner most on the outside looking in.

The NFL owners are not – as a group – wonderful and philanthropic people. I seriously believe that they live by a statement made famous in the Abscam scandal about 35 years ago:

“Money talks and bullsh*t walks.”

If I am even close to correct, Mark Davis and Dean Spanos never really stood a chance of coming out on top here. The NFL’s “LA Relocation Committee” reportedly voted 5-1 to recommend the Spanos/Davis Carson CA “solution” to the owners en banc. But as soon as the owners met in plenary session, the magnitude of the potential returns to the league as a whole became the central issue and when that happened, the Kroenke Plan won in a walk. Dean Spanos has a year to decide if he and his Chargers will sign on with Kroenke and his Rams as tenants in the new playpen. If he does not act by then, Davis and the Raiders can opt in.

The “Kroenke Stadium” will be finished in 2019. Until then the Rams – and any other NFL team that signs on as a tenant in “Kroenke Stadium” – will play in the LA Coliseum. From my perspective, the folks in San Diego have one more short window of opportunity to decide if they want to spend a ton of taxpayer money to build the stadium that the Chargers want in the place that the Chargers want. If not, my guess is that the Chargers will be moving north.

What happens to the Raiders? Well, assuming that Dean Spanos does not let his first option to move to LA expire, I think the Raiders are up for bids. Look, the O.Co Coliseum is more than an anachronism; it is an embarrassment; the sewage lines back up periodically into team dressing areas; there is a baseball diamond in the middle of the field for the first half of the season. Oakland does not have a billion dollars lying around to build a new stadium and probably would be hard-pressed to borrow that kind of money at reasonable interest rates even if they thought that was a good idea. So, what does Mark Davis do now?

    Remember, his lease at O.Co Coliseum expired at the end of this season. He has to have a place to play games in 2016; that fact does not increase his leverage with the good folks in Oakland.

    He can wait it out to see if the Chargers do something stupid and let their option lapse. That is called kicking the can down the road.

    He can make nice with the folks in St. Louis who came up with a plan to do a new stadium there – even though it will be “junior varsity” as compared to “Kroenke Stadium” in LA. However, there will be no baseball diamond on the field and presumably, the toilet facilities will not back up into the locker rooms.

    He can warm up talks with San Antonio where he and the mayor had some “friendly chats” over the past year or so.

    Or … Mark Davis can be the owner who moves his team to London. The rub there is that the fee for moving a team is $550M. If Davis does not get the other owners to allow him to prorate those payments over a pretty long period of time, he cannot afford the payment to his fellow owners let alone any other expenses.

Lest you think my idea that the Raiders might wind up in London is far-fetched, consider that the NFL already has three “stadium deals” going on in the UK. The league started out with 1 game a year over there and it got traction; then it expanded to 2 games per year and will go further than that in the near future. Yes, that is different from having one team there permanently – and indeed there are scheduling hurdles to overcome – but there seems to be a clear audience/fanbase for NFL football in London. Next year, the NFL hopes to play games in London on 3 consecutive weekends with one of the teams involved staying there and playing two games on two consecutive weekends. And remember, greater London has a population of 8.6 million souls at last count

I said there were “three stadium deals” ongoing in London right now. Let me review the bidding here:

    Last year, the NFL agreed to play 2 games per year in Wembley Stadium through 2020. For details on this agreement, check here.

    Last year, the NFL signed a 10-year deal to play a game in the new stadium under construction for Tottenham Hotspur. That stadium will have a retractable roof and a retractable grass field (used for EPL games) with an artificial turf under that for NFL games. That sounds like a serious venue. For details, check here.

    Last year, the NFL signed an agreement with the Rugby Football Union to play 3 games (1 per year) at Twickenham Stadium in London. This venue seats 82,000 folks; it already exists; teams can play there tomorrow – if there were games tomorrow. For details, check here.

I do not know when this is going to happen, but the National Football League is going to become the International Football League one of these days. It seems to me that Mark Davis is in a position to be a pioneer here – if such pioneering tickles the pecuniary fancies of his fellow owners.

Finally, Dean Spanos and the Chargers have been doing the “New Stadium Boogie” with the San Diego pols for at least a decade now. Spanos has said that he and the team have done everything they could do to get a new stadium built there. I am certain that he and the team have worked hard on this but I take exception to his assertion that he did everything he could because:

      He never offered to build a stadium there on his own nickel.

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

Alabama/Clemson – A Great Championship Game

If you did not like the Alabama/Clemson game on Monday night for the College Football Championship, you must not like college football. The game featured two excellent teams; the teams played hard on every play; the game was close from start to finish and the outcome was still in doubt in the final minute of the game; there were excellent showings by excellent players on both teams. I can understand your not liking the outcome of the game if:

    You had Alabama minus-7 points and lost on the backdoor cover at the end.

    You are a student at or an alum of Clemson University.

    You are a student at or an alum of Auburn University.

    You think Nick Saban and/or Lane Kiffin are the Devil’s spawn.

However, I do not see how you can like college football and not have enjoyed watching that game.

Congratulations to both teams and to both coaching staffs. And congratulations to the folks who set up the College Football Playoff and set things up such that these two teams could be in a position to play one another for the championship. The current playoff system may not be perfect, but it is much better than the BCS which preceded it and a light-year better than the bowl games followed by polling which preceded the BCS.

In another aspect of college football, the Austin Business Journal reports that the University of Texas nearly doubled its concessions revenue at football games this year because for the first time they sold beer in the stadium. Fans bought beer to the tune of $1.8M for the six games played at Darrel Royal-Texas Memorial stadium this year. That is a lot of suds considering that a significant fraction of the fans in attendance are not – you know – legally allowed to purchase, possess or consume beer.

That same report said that Texas took down a profit of $812,798 from the $1.8M in sales. Here is the upshot as I see it:

    Texas will not be “re-thinking” or “re-evaluating” this decision any time soon.

    Other universities will be introducing this new convenience to their fans in the not-so-distant future.

Switching gears and sports, there are reports that the Brooklyn Nets are trolling John Calipari to come to Brooklyn to be the Head Coach and Grand Vizier of All Things Basketball for the franchise. Only a couple of months ago, there were similar reports saying that the Sacramento Kings were similarly fishing for Calipari. For all I know, those reports may have been planted by Calipari’s agent to see what sort of “action” it might stir up. Or, all of this might be nonsense…

In any event, the current reports regarding the Nets say that Calipari might think about making a switch if the Nets started their offer at 10 years and $120M. If other reporting is correct, this would be about a 50% raise from what his total package is worth at Kentucky. The thinking that is attributed to the owners who want to lure Calipari away from Kentucky is that he coached a lot of really good young NBA players at Kentucky and therefore he might have an inside track to get them to sign with Coach Cal’s team once they hit free agency. Who knows? That may actually be what the owners are thinking…

In addition to my faulty mind-reading skills, I am loath to try to figure out what sort of basketball-related reasoning might be percolating in the minds of either Kings’ owner, Vivek Ranadivé, or Nets’ owner, Mikhail Prokhorov. Without going through a list of questionable basketball decisions/pronouncements from either owner, let me just say that I might not be alone in questioning their “basketball acumen”.

What could get interesting here is if Calipari and his agent somehow get these two owners to start bidding against one another to get “Coach Cal”. Phil Jackson reportedly gets $12M per year from the Knicks in a 5-year deal; Jackson’s credentials include enough championship rings to require a wheelbarrow to haul them around; if those two uber-rich owners get into a bidding war for Calipari and that bidding war turns into an ego-battle, I wonder how far beyond $12-million a year they might be willing to go…

In any event, Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently regarding another time in John Calipari’s career:

“Questionable: From the What Are People Thinking Dept. comes news that UMass threw a two-day celebration this week for John Calipari, the rule breaker who took the school to the 1996 Final Four, only to have the team’s place vacated by the NCAA. The school is hanging a banner for Calipari in the gym rafters, a gesture normal people are not expected to understand.”

In one other NBA note, I think that the combination of the “Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour Across America” coupled with the obviously bad season Kobe is having in his final go-round is covering up something else. Flying under the radar so to speak is how bad some of the other Lakers’ players are playing. The team is obviously a mess; this morning, their record is 8-31 and they are a measly 28.5 games out of first place in the Pacific Division. Not all of that is Kobe Bryant’s fault. Consider:

    Roy Hibbert has started every game. He is shooting just under 43% from the field; remember he is 7’ 2” tall so he ought to be getting a bunch of dunks and 2-foot shots. Even worse, he is pulling down less than 6 rebounds per game. Hibbert is only 29 years old; he should be in the prime of his career.

    Julius Randle has started about half of the games. He is shooting 40% from the field. To his credit, he gets 11.5 rebounds per game but he turns the ball over about twice per game.

    DeAngelo Russell has started about half of the games. He too is shooting 40% from the field; he turns the ball over a bit more than twice per game; he does lead the team in assists with 3.2 assists per game. [The fact that 3.2 assists per game leads the team speaks volumes with regard to the style of play out there in LA.]

Finally, since I mentioned beer sales above, here is an item from Dwight Perry’s column, Sideline Chatter, in the Seattle Times:

“A 19-year-old named Bud Weisser was arrested for trespassing at the Budweiser brewery in St. Louis.

“Coincidence? Every Jack Daniels in town is suddenly under police surveillance in Lynchburg, Tenn.”

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