All Baseball Today…

There has been a lot of activity in the Hot Stove League already this year and I would like to comment on a small part of the player exchanges. I wonder what the Atlanta Braves are thinking/doing.

Last year, the Braves lost 95 games which is bad enough; moreover, their run differential for the season was minus-187 which was 4 runs worse than the Phillies’ run differential. That means they got blown out more than once in a while. There is no question the Braves need a rebuild. And that sets the stage…

First the Braves traded Andrelton Simmons who was the best defensive shortstop in the National League and who was not an embarrassment at the plate. In exchange, they got a replacement shortstop in Erick Aybar who hits a bit better but who is several notches below Simmons in the field. The Braves also acquired 2 minor league pitchers in that deal.

Then, the Braces sent Cameron Maybin off to the Tigers and acquired 2 more minor league pitchers. So, it would seem as if the idea is to shore up the pitching staff, right? After all, with that negative run differential, one has to look at the team pitching and say to oneself:

    We ought to be able to upgrade that…

However, the next trade was to ship out their single best starting pitcher – Shelby Miller – to acquire Ender Inciarte (a good young outfielder), Dansby Swanson (a shortstop who was the overall #1 pick in last year’s draft), and 2 more minor league pitchers. In this series of moves, the Braves subtracted three solid major league players to acquire one good young outfielder, a journeyman shortstop, a top draft pick and 6 minor league pitchers.

    If Dansby Swanson does not become a solid major league player and at least 2 if not 3 of those minor league pitchers make it to the majors, one has to wonder how long it might be for the Braves to recover.

What the Braves seem to be doing is to trade off their valuable assets to accumulate numbers of young prospects in the hope that they will all mature together and become the nucleus of a strong contending team. That is not a bad idea when it works. There are two potential problems here:

    1. It may not work. The players they acquired may not pan out.

    2. There should be some anxious times in store for Braves’ fans. If you think I am exaggerating, talk to some Philadelphia 76ers fans; they are in medias res as we speak.

Another Hot Stove League trade of interest is the one that is limbo at the moment between the Dodgers and the Reds involving Aroldis Chapman and allegations that he was involved in a domestic violence incident several months ago where shots were fired although no one was injured. I have no idea what actually happened there so I shall reserve all judgments regarding that matter except to wonder:

    Do you think that Jerry Jones might sign Chapman for the Cowboys? He can throw a baseball 100 mph; I wonder if he can throw a football…

In other baseball news, Commissioner Rob Manfred said that he will not lift Pete Rose’s lifetime ban from baseball. Given that Manfred is only 57 years old, it would seem as if he is going to be in that position for a while; that means Pete Rose’s lifetime ban could likely extend to the end of Rose’s lifetime. According to this report by Matt Snyder on CBSSports.com, Rose told Manfred when the two met that he (Rose) continues “to bet on horse racing and professional sports including baseball.” Rose lives in Nevada where those activities are perfectly legal and millions (literally) of people go to Nevada every year to do just those sorts of things. Notwithstanding the legalities here, Pete Rose has to be dumber than a bag of hair. The thing that got him in the situation he is in now is “betting on baseball”. He is seeking clemency and redemption; so how can he still be betting on baseball and hope to obtain said clemency and redemption?

It would be even better if he stopped gambling on the horses and other sporting events and focused his gambling energies on things like poker or blackjack or roulette. It would be difficult for an objective observer to say that those activities might affect the “integrity of the game” when the person involved is not going to be a player or manager any time soon. So, Rose came to the Commish with a weak case for clemency/redemption to start with and then sealed his fate by doing something even more stupid. According to Snyder’s story, there is a footnote in Manfred’s report regarding his decision:

“Even more troubling, in our interview, Rose initially denied betting on baseball currently and only later in the interview did he ‘clarify’ his response to admit such betting.”

So, Rose is still betting on baseball and – after getting an interview with the Commish that he has been seeking for years to plead his case – what he did was to lie about his continued betting on baseball. Given those circumstances, I now pronounce Pete Rose as

    The Bull-Goose Looney.

In the Ken Kesey novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Randall Patrick McMurphy wanted to know which of the inmates in the asylum was “the bull-goose looney”. Well, now we know who it is…

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times regarding another baseball issue:

Joe Posnanski of NBCsports.com, on MLB traditionalists’ aversion to bat-flipping: ‘If Neil Armstrong had played by baseball’s stupid unwritten rules of decorum, he would have whispered, ‘Yeah, I’m on the moon.’”

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

What Is A Catch/What Is Not A Catch…

Roger Goodell announced last week that the NFL would create a committee to think about possible revisions to the NFL rule governing what is a catch and what is not a catch. That committee would then make its recommendations to the Competition Committee – who has studied this matter in the past and is the group that came up with the head-spinning rule that exists today – and then, the Competition Committee might suggest rule changes to the NFL and the NFLPA that might go into effect… Calculating the value of pi to 1000 decimal places using only a pencil and a notepad might not take as long to reach a result.

However, I prefer to be a problem-solver as opposed to a problem; therefore, I present to this new Yet-To-Be-Named Committee a simple place to start as they seek to define what is a catch and what is not a catch:

    When a receiver controls the ball and gets two feet down – or his knee, elbow, butt or some other part of his anatomy – that is a catch.

    When he can only control the ball and only get one foot down, that is not a catch.

    When he controls the ball – two feet down – and then hits the ground and loses the ball, that is a fumble.

Yes, there are still elements of judgment in those suggestions meaning that there will be the need for replays/challenges and there will still be some elements of controversy in the calls. Nonetheless, I do think my suggested rule change will be less controversial – it is certainly briefer and simpler than the current rule(s) – and should be worth consideration.

Oh, and while I am at it, I have another suggestion for the Competition Committee’s consideration:

    Just as “what is a catch/what is not a catch” is a mystery, another mystery is “what is pass interference/who committed said pass interference”. Having watched hundreds upon hundreds of replays of pass receptions and pass interference calls/non-calls, it almost seems as if these calls can be made with a flip of the coin in 75% of the cases.

    Therefore:

      1. Change the penalty for defensive pass interference to the same one that exists for offensive pass interference. Make it 10-yards and an automatic first down. Why should defensive pass interference result in a 50-yard penalty when offensive pass interference cannot be more than 10 yards? That seems a bit out of balance…

      2. Allow receivers and defenders to contact one another/hand fight/whatever until the moment the pass is thrown. Then, if there is any contact other than making a play on the ball as it arrives for reception/interception/incompletion, that is pass interference on the player who makes the first contact.

Now that my work is done with the NFL for today, let me turn my attention to college football for a moment. David Shaw is the head coach at Stanford and has shown himself to be highly competent in that position and a thoughtful man when it comes to what is good for the sport of college football. I took notice of the following remark in large measure because it was attributed to David Shaw; if it had come from a half dozen other college coaches who shall remain nameless here, I would likely have not paid it much mind:

“I do believe at some point it’s going to be an eight-team playoff. I think it’s going to be unavoidable. I’m not upset by any stretch of the imagination. I just know this year is a part of the process where you have these teams in Stanford and Iowa and Ohio State that you could make a case could be in a playoff, and it would be a phenomenal playoff. So I have no problems with where we are now. I just do believe eventually, it will become an eight-team playoff because it’s the only thing that makes sense.”

I agree completely with David Shaw that the CFP will eventually expand to 8 teams. I do not agree that the reason for that expansion will be to accommodate four more teams for which one “could make a case could be in a playoff”; rather, the expansion will be driven by the economics of the matter. Money talks…

I too like where we are now; the CFP as it is configured is a light-year better than the BCS was and the BCS was a light-year better than what existed when polls were taken after the big-time bowl games were played and a “national champion” was elected in an off-the-field process. I am happy with a four-team field and can continue to live with that for a long time. However, you will not hear me screech about the insanity of expanding the field to eight teams when that comes to pass maybe 5 years from now.

However, when the discussion of expansion/non-expansion heats up, let me put down a marker right now:

    It is ridiculous to say that expansion to 8 teams will eliminate the controversy about who is admitted to the playoffs and who is not. That sort of controversy/tempest-in-a-teapot will continue to happen until or unless the CFP includes each and every team playing Division 1-A football.

    If you doubt that statement, consider that there are now 68 teams in the March Madness field and there are discussions ever year about what team was unjustly denied a chance to be in the Big Dance.

Note that David Shaw named 3 teams he believes can and should be in a college football playoff this year. If you take his nominees and add them to the existing field that would give you 7 teams and the need to add an eighth. So, just for fun, let me posit that the second tier of 4 teams would be Iowa, Ohio State, Stanford and – – Notre Dame. Surely you do not believe that the folks in Tallahassee (Florida State), Chapel Hill (UNC) and/or Houston (Houston) would unanimously agree that was the only logical field of 8 teams. The tournament will expand because there is a ton of money to be made by expanding. However, the screeching and whining about who is in and who is not in the tournament will not go away.

Finally, Brad Dickson had these comments recently in the Omaha World-Herald about a college bowl game at the other end of the spectrum from the CFP games – the Foster Farms Bowl to be played in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara CA:

“Nebraska has been selected to play in the Foster Farms Bowl. That’ll teach the team to go 5-7.

“The Foster Farms Bowl features a 5-7 Nebraska team vs. UCLA, a team Nebraska has played multiple times in recent years. The best way to sell this game to Husker fans may be to publicize the typical high temperature here [in Nebraska] on Dec. 26.”

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

The NBA Goes Dormant Until March…

To begin today, I want to juxtapose two recent occurrences in the NBA. The first event is summarized by an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The Philadelphia 76ers finally snapped the longest losing streak in American pro-sports history — 28 losses in a row.

“That popping sound you hear is the Washington Generals hitting the champagne at Don Shula’s house.”

The other NBA event is at the other end of the success spectrum; the Golden State Warriors finally lost a game this year and as of this morning, their record stands at 24-1.

Those two streaks were very important to the NBA for a simple reason. Each of those streaks gave people a reason to give a fig about a few NBA regular season games in November and December. For the majority of such games in just about every NBA season, no one really pays attention at all. Without meaning any offense to the 5 games the NBA will stage on Christmas Day, few if any people really care about them either save for TV execs who have programming for the day other than the 6437th rerun of It’s A Wonderful Life. With these two polar opposite streaks in the past, serious fan attention to NBA games will be minimal until late February/early March when playoff positioning becomes interesting.

The NBA is somewhat fortunate in another way this season. Kobe Bryant’s announcement that he will retire at the end of the season has fueled

    The Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour Across America

That series of tributes – which in reality are not much more than a series of feelgood events – allows teams to promote the final visit of the Lakers and Kobe Bryant to their city/arena. It too brings attention to games that would normally be somewhere between “Meaningless” and “Blah” on the Spectrum of Interest. The Farewell Tour also masks something else:

    The Lakers are an awful basketball team.

    The Sixers are intentionally awful; the Lakers are awful even though they are trying not to be.

    You make the call which is the worse situation…

The Lakers have two young players taken high in the draft. DeAngelo Russell went #2 last year and he has had his fanny on the bench for all of or the majority of the fourth quarters of most Lakers’ games this year. Julius Randle was taken at #7 in the 2014 draft and he sat out last season with an injury. He had been a starter for much of this year but was recently demoted to coming off the bench. If the Lakers swung and missed on both of those guys – hard to believe after seeing them play in college – the franchise may be a while until it returns to an upper echelon NBA team. I will say one thing about Russell, he has a whole lot to learn about playing defense against NBA quality opponents and there are times that he does not look all that interested in said learning…

Another young player for the Lakers is Jordan Clarkson; I have only seen the Lakers play about 5 quarters of games this year but I think Clarkson might become a good player. Note I said “good player”; he is not the second coming of Jerry West or Elgin Baylor but he might be a “good player”. Here is an interesting strategic situation the Lakers find themselves in:

    The Lakers owe the Sixers their first round pick in the June 2016 draft – unless that pick is in the Top 3 of the draft. In that circumstance, they would then owe the Sixers their first round pick in 2017 draft no matter where it is.

    Question:

      Do the Lakers tank to protect that pick this year as best they can in a lottery situation or do they “play it straight”?

      Keep an eye on the meaningful minutes played by Clarkson, Russell and Randle for your answer here.

To bring to mind another tidbit of news from last weekend, here is a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“They announced Alabama running back Derrick Henry as the Heisman Trophy winner Saturday. I thought I saw Nick Saban almost smile but it may have just been indigestion.”

Derrick Henry is a really good player; he averaged 6.2 yards per carry over his three year career at Alabama; this season, he fell only 14 yards short of gaining 2000 yards. Now let me pose a rhetorical question:

    Would Derrick Henry start at RB if he were at LSU?

    I do not have a definitive answer for that one. As I said, Henry is really good and he had a fantastic season; as I have said before, Leonard Fournette is the best RB that I saw this year.

You make the call…

Finally, let me close out today with one more item from Greg Cote last weekend:

“The week-long Orange Bowl International Junior tennis tournament ends Sunday in Plantation. It’ll seem so quiet without all those boorish parents yelling.”

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 12/13/15

Last week’s Mythical Picks were something between a tire fire and a sack of wet goat s[p]it. Last week’s record was a miserable 5-11-0 sinking the season record below .500 to 96-100-5. The Curmudgeon Coin Flip Protocol did even worse for the week; the coin picked four games and missed all four. That 0-4-0 performance leaves the coin at 14-16-1 for the year.

The “Best Pick” of the week was taking Seattle as a “pick ‘em” over Minnesota and seeing the Seahawks win in a walk.

The “Worst Pick” last week was taking New England and laying 10 points to the Eagles and seeing the Eagles win the game outright.

The “Most Frustrating Picks” last week were:

    Lions +3 against the Packers – that untimed Hail Mary completion on the final play made the Lions lose by 4

    Jags +2.5 against Titans – the Jags scored 39 points and failed to cover by half-a-point

Undaunted, I shall go on. In light of last week’s record, it should be apparent that one would need to be monumentally stupid to take anything written here and use it as the basis for a real wager on a real NFL game involving real money. By “monumentally stupid”, I mean that stupidity has to be genetically imprinted upon you by your family lineage because no single person in a single generation could be that stupid. In fact,

    Your family was dumb enough to fight for the East in the US Civil War.

General Comments:

Consider that after 13 weeks of this NFL season (12 games and a BYE Week for each team), Tom Brady has more yards receiving (35) than he does TD passes (31). Who saw that coming?

Even more outrageous, Tom Brady’s 35 yards as a pass receiver is more productive than Dwayne Bowe’s receiving stats with the Cleveland Browns. In this offseason, the Browns signed Bowe to a 2-year contract worth $12.5M with $9M of that money guaranteed. He has collected a signing bonus and his money for this year; that adds up to a bit over $6M and the rest is guaranteed to him next year. For all of that money here is what the Browns have gotten:

    Bowe has appeared in only 5 games this season.

    Bowe did not catch a single pass in 4 of those games.

    In the other game, he caught 3 passes for 31 yards.

His last TD reception was on Dec. 8 2013 against the Skins while he was still a member of the KC Chiefs.

As the NFL season heads into the final quarter, here is my short-hand assessment of the 8 divisions:


    AFC West:
    Denver in charge; KC has won 6 in a row.
    AFC North: Cincy in charge; Pittsburgh’s offense is on fire.
    AFC South: Houston/Indy on top at 6-6; Jax not out of it at 4-8.
    AFC East: New England in the lead; Jets and Buffalo still relevant

    NFC West: Arizona leads; Seattle surging; St. Louis folding
    NFC North: Minnesota/Green Bay on top at 8-4.
    NFC South: Carolina has clinched; Tampa surging; Atlanta collapsing
    NFC East: Who the Hell knows?

Last week, the Packers beat the Lions at the end of the game. First there was a facemask penalty called that was – by rule – a correct call because the most minor contact occurred between a defender’s hand and an offensive player’s face mask. The official saw it and called it and he was right in doing so. Having said that, the contact made was about as violent as if someone had drawn a feather-duster across the face mask grill VERY slowly. After that, there was the Hail Mary throw to the end zone that won the game for the Packers. That gift from the football gods puts the Packers back in a tie for the NFC North lead because …

The Seahawks crushed the Vikings last week 38-7. People have heaped lots of praise on Russell Wilson all week long for his 3 TD passes and another running TD; he deserves plenty of praise. I would like to highlight here the Seahawks’ defense from last week’s game. They too had a dominating day:

    Seahawks defense held Adrian Peterson to 18 yards rushing
    Seahawks defense held the Vikes to 125 yards total offense

Kudos to the Seahawks’ defense and defensive game plan.

Going into last week’s games, the Bears still had an outside shot at the playoffs and could have been in the mix in the NFC North because it seemed as if the Packers and the Vikes were determined to self-immolate this season. They had a clearly winnable game on the docket with the lowly Niners coming to Soldier field for a visit. The Bears got off to a lead and held a 20-13 lead in the final 2 minutes of the game. Then, Blaine Gabbert ran through the Bears’ defense for a 44-yard TD to tie the game. If you watch the replay there, the Bears secondary never seemed to go after Gabbert at more than half-speed; had they gone at three-quarter speed they would have run him down well short of the goal line because – to be polite – Blaine Gabbert is not swift afoot.

Not to worry though, the Bears got the ball back and moved it down the field to set up Robbie Gold for a game winning 40 yard field goal – which he missed. Whatever … the Bears were still the home team going into OT against a sorry-assed Niners’ squad that was 0-5 on the road up to that point. Then the Bears’ defense seemed to go into a trance for one more play and Gabbert hit Torrey Smith for a 71-yard TD pass to give the Niners the win. Folks, the Bears choked this one away every way you want to look at it. Absent a miracle – equivalent to the return of Lazarus from the dead –, the Bears’ season died last Sunday.

The Broncos beat the Chargers 17-3 last week looking like the Broncos’ teams that started out the 2015 season. The defense shut down the Chargers and scored a TD itself; the offense did just enough good things to keep the defense rested and the offense did not commit any costly turnovers. Neither team scored in the second half of the game; here is how the Chargers second half possessions ended:

    Two possessions ended with lost fumbles.
    Two possessions ended with punts.
    Two possessions ended with the ball going over on downs.

The other two AFC West teams – Chiefs and Raiders – played in Oakland last week; the Chiefs won their 6th game in a row with a 4th quarter surge. The Raiders led 20-14 as the 4th quarter began; then the Chiefs’ defense took over the game. The Chiefs’ intercepted Derek Carr three times in the fourth quarter – one of which was a Pick Six. Up to the start of the 4th quarter, the Raiders dominated the game and then they drowned in a barrel of mistakes. The final score was Chiefs 34 Raiders 20. From that score you would never guess that the Raiders had 128 more yards of offense than the Chiefs in the game.

The Panthers beat the Saints in another “Saints Shootout Game” 41-38. In so doing, the Panthers clinched the NFC South division title in the first week of December. Cam Newton threw 5 TD passes and the Panthers ran up 497 yards of offense in the game. Note that this is with the “new defensive coordinator” in charge of the Saint’s defense.

    Look, I am no “Rob Ryan Fanboy” but the “defensive problems” in New Orleans have more to do with who is on the field than it does with who is calling the defensive alignments.

NFL history was made in the game when the Saints blocked an extra point attempt, scooped up the ball and returned it all the way to the end zone. The new rule in the NFL this year credits the defense with two points for such a return and this is the first time it has happened. For trivia buffs, Saints’ linebacker Stephone Anthony made that bit of NFL history.

The other two NFC South teams – Bucs and Falcons – played in Tampa last week. The Falcons led at the half; as has become their wont recently, they then lost the game in the second half by a score of 23-19. Surely, you have seen the replay of Jameis Winston’s amazing run in a 3rd and 19 situation where he was all but stopped and tackled 10 yards short of the first down but he managed to break free and get the first down. It was an amazing play indeed. However, its “amazingness” overshadows the fact that it was merely part of an 80-yard game-winning drive. The Bucs and the Falcons are now both 6-6 on the season; in the NFC, that means both of them are in wild card contention. However, it sure looks as if these two teams are headed in very different directions at the moment.

The Jets/Giants game went to OT and the Jets came out with a win. As has happened to the Giants more than once this season, they led by 10 points with about 4 minutes to play in the game; then they found a way to lose. At one point late in the 3rd quarter, the Giants had the ball with a 4th down inside the Jets’ 5-yardline and a 10-point lead. The Giants went for it and Eli Manning threw an INT. If you look on paper at the receiving corps for the Giants vis-à-vis the Jets, you give the edge to the Giants. If you compere starting QBs, you give the edge to the Giants. Nevertheless in this game here is how it played out:

    Jets’ Brandon Marshall 131 yards receiving and a TD
    Jets’ Eric Decker 101 yards receiving
    Jets’ Bilal Powell 91 yards and a TD.

The games are played on the field and not on paper…

The Bills inserted themselves into the playoff discussion last week with a 30-21 win over the Texans. Tyrod Taylor threw 3 TD passes and ran for another one. That is a good day for a QB under any circumstances but recall that this is what the Texans’ defense has done recently:

    They gave up 35 points total in their last 4 games.
    Two of the last 4 opponents were the Saints and the Bengals – not chumps.

Moreover, the Bills’ OL kept JJ Watt from getting a sack and limited him to only 4 tackles in the game. This was a team-victory for the Bills; Sammy Watkins had 109 yards receiving; LeSean McCoy had 112 yards on the ground.

The Dolphins remained mathematically alive in the AFC wild card race beating the hapless Ravens 15-13. In the Ravens’ 12 games this season, they have won 4 of them by one score or less and they have lost 8 of them by one score or less. The Ravens had Javorious Allen rush for 63 yards and add another 107 yards plus a TD in the passing game. And they lost… A Pick Six in the middle of the 2nd quarter by the Dolphins gave them a 15-0 lead and they held on for the win. Dolphins’ QB, Ryan Tannehill, was 9-19 for 86 yards and 1 TD. That was enough for the Dolphins to come out with a win here…

The Steelers’ offense had another huge day last week against the Colts. The Steelers amassed 522 yards and 45 points for the game. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 364 yards; DeAngelo Williams ran for another 134 yards; at times it looked like a training camp session where the first string was going against a bunch of undrafted free agents that would make the team only if the only other choices at their positions were Pee Wee Herman and/or Urkel. Matt Hasselbeck played the way one ought to expect a 40-year old career backup QB to play against a real NFL team. He threw 2 INTs early in the game; the Steelers led 21-10 at the half and then shut out the Colts in the second half. It was a dominating performance…

The Bengals matched their AFC North rivals – the Steelers – last week in terms of routing their opponent. The Bengals beat the Browns 37-3; it could have been worse. In the last 3 games between the Browns and the Bengals, the Browns have lost by a cumulative score of 98-13. Ouch! AJ Green had 128 yards receiving putting him over the 1000-yard mark for receiving yards this year. That is big deal because it is the 5th time in his 5 year career he has done that. Here is the list of WRs in NFL history who have reached that mark in each of their first 5 years:

    AJ Green
    Randy Moss

That’s it; that’s the list…

The more interesting outcome from this game is that the Browns started Austin Davis at QB with Johnny Manziel as the backup and Davis struggled – to put it mildly. Let me be clear about this:

    If Austin Davis is the answer, the question was not “Who is the Browns’ franchise QB going forward from the 2015 season?”

Based on last week’s showing, Davis is going to be a career backup in the NFL and Josh McCown, who will be 37 by the time training camp starts next season, is not the QB-of-the-Future either. That leaves the following QBs – sort of – on the Browns’ roster:

    Johnny Manziel
    Connor Shaw (IR)
    Terrelle Pryor (used to be a QB but now a WR)

That’s it; that’s the list…

So, naturally, the Browns announced on Monday that Manziel will be the starting QB this weekend. I said “naturally” in the last sentence because when push comes to shove, the Browns have no real choice; they really need to find out if Manziel is an NFL-level QB or not on the field. I think they and everyone else knows already that he is not yet nearly mature enough to be a “football star” in modern society. Here is how Mike Pettine described his thought process in terms of naming Manziel the starter for this week:

“[Manziel] has been solid in the building over the last couple weeks.”

Think about that statement for just a moment. Now take yourself back to your sophomore year in college in a situation where some friends are setting you up with a blind date. They tell you that she,

“is a really good dancer and has a great personality”.

At that moment, you know for sure that your blind date looks like the loser in an axe fight. Nevertheless, that is where Mike Pettine finds himself as he prepares the Browns for Week 14 of the NFL season. He has no REAL choice; this has to be his guy. And even if Manziel leads the Browns to a win by a margin of 4 TDs, Pettine will be holding his breath until Manziel shows up for the next week of preparation without another entry on his rap sheet or a half-empty growler in his hand.

Mark Whicker of the LA Examiner assessed Johnny Manziel this way:

“If this idiot Manziel wanted to be an NFL QB half as much as everybody else wants him to be, he’d be in the Pro Bowl by now.”

I do not know if Manziel is an “idiot” or if he is merely “self-destructive” and “enamored with entitlement”, but other than that, I agree completely with Professor Whicker.

The Cards beat the Rams 27-3 last week. The Cards played two unknown RBs in place of the injured Chris Johnson and got a total of 158 yards from the pair; Carson Palmer added 356 yards and 2 TDs through the air and this game was a laugher. The Rams have a good defense but even a good defense has to get tired and/or discouraged after a while. The Cards exploited the Rams’ good defense for 524 yards of total offense. On offense, the Rams are a mess. Their QB situation is mediocre on good days; when defenses load up to stop the run, even Todd Gurley cannot save the day. To give you an idea of the Rams’ ineptitude last week, they were 1-12 on third down situations.

The Titans beat the Jags 42-39. Probably the most noteworthy item to come from this game is that the Jags missed 3 extra points in the game. The kicker missed two of them and the team biffed on an attempted 2-point conversion. Look at the score; the Jags lost by 3…

In the shocker of the weekend, the Eagles beat the Pats. The Eagles had scored 5 TDS and here are how those hit the board:

    5-yard TD pass
    Blocked punt – scoop and score
    99-yard Pick Six
    83-yard punt return
    10-yard TD pass

Not many teams score 35 points in a game in that fashion; I think I am on firm ground with that assertion. The Eagles’ offense was better than it had been in recent games but that is damning by faint praise. The Eagles’ offense is still not very good. Nevertheless, it participated in the scoring-fest here enough for the team to come out of Foxboro with a 35-28 win.

Two weeks ago, it would have been unthinkable to suggest that the Pats might not have a BYE Week in the playoffs. Well, as of this morning, they are the #3 seed in the AFC Playoff Standings and would not have said “BYE Week”.

On MNF, the Cowboys beat the Skins 19-16 in one of the ugliest and most inept football games of the year. At least the game was close so that it held some of your attention but the execution on the field by both teams was execrable.

    It was 3-3 at the half and neither offense showed that it was good enough to have earned that many points.

    Jordan Reid (Washington TE) was called for offensive pass interference in the first half. That was his 10th penalty of the year – more than any other player in the NFL who is not an offensive lineman.

    On one play, the Skins had TWO defensive linemen lined up in the neutral zone. Not one but TWO.

    The Cowboys were 1-9 on third downs – and they won the game.

    Cowboys’ total offense was 317 yards; Skins gained a total of 266.

If you like trends, the Skins are now 2-14 on MNF since 1997 and they are 2-9 on MNF since 2008. In spite of all that nonsense, here is why ESPN loved to carry that game:

    ESPN had the highest overall ratings of any network – cable or over-the-air – for Monday night.

    Moreover, it was the highest rated program in the “coveted demographics” for Monday night.

The fact is that the Cowboys deliver TV ratings and when they play their “rivalry game” against the Skins, the ratings spike.

The NFC East race has the Giants, Skins and Eagles tied for first with 5-7 records and the Cowboys only a game out of first place with a 4-8 record. This is a goat rodeo…

The Games:

The Cardinals put themselves in the NFC playoffs by beating the Vikes on Thursday Night Football last night. Despite the fact that the play that sealed the win for the Cards was a “Strip-Sack-Recover” play, the Cards’ pass rush is suspect. They harassed Vikes’ QB, Teddy Bridgewater most of last night but almost always the pressure came thanks to blitzes that came from different directions on about every play. Whatever … The Cardinals will be playing in January and the Vikes are now in second place in the NFC North pending the outcome of Sunday’s contests.

Pittsburgh at Cincy – 3 (49): The Total Line for this game opened at 47 and jumped to this level very quickly. In fact, you can find it at 50 points at one Internet sportsbook this morning. The Steelers’ offense has been on fire for the last month; in their last four games, they have scored 30 or more points every time out including 30 points on the Seahawks’ defense. Moreover, the Steelers have gone north of 450 yards of total offense in those 4 games. Both teams have something to play for here.

    Currently the Bengals have a BYE Week in the playoffs. They would like to keep that status and perhaps gain home field advantage in the playoffs.

    Currently, the Steelers are in the first tranche of teams fighting for the two wild card slots. However both the Chiefs and the Jets have identical records and there are three other teams only a game behind.

The last time these teams met, they only put 26 points on the scoreboard because Roethlisberger and Dalton threw a total of 5 INTs in the game. I do not see that happening again – just as I am happy to see that the Steelers will not be wearing their bumblebee uniforms again – and I like this game to go OVER.

Buffalo at Philly “pick ‘em” (47): The spread in this game is all over the place. You can find the Bills as a 1-point favorite in a few places; you can find the Eagles as a 1-point favorite in a few places; you can find the game as “pick ‘em” in a few places and you can find the Bills as a 1.5-point favorite at one place. The opening number was Eagles – 1 point but it has bounced around all week long. Raise your hand if you have heard more than you need to hear about this being “The Chip Kelly vs LeSean McCoy Game”. I sort of had that figured out as soon as the schedule came out and this game was on the menu. This game has playoff implications – more toward the negative side for the loser than the positive side for the winner but nevertheless… It is difficult enough to pick games where one of the teams is up one week and down the next; here you have that condition applied to both teams. Since I said I would make a pick in every game, I’ll take the Bills to win the game and here is why:

    The Bills’ defense is good enough to prevent the Eagles from “quick-strike scores” and the Bills’ offense is good enough at ball control to keep the Eagles’ defense on the field for much of the game. I think that will be to the Bills’ advantage late and they will win the game.

Atlanta at Carolina – 8 (47): The Falcons started the season with 5 straight wins; as of this morning, they are on a 5-game losing streak. Here is a stat for you:

    Since the NFL/AFL merger, 72 teams have started a season at 5-0. Of those 72 teams, 66 have made the playoffs.

    OK, Falcons; the pressure is on…

The Panthers are the division champs and hold a 1.5-game lead over the Cards going into this contest for the best record in the NFC. Technically, the Falcons are still in the wild card race, but I doubt many folks feel confident in their chances. There will be an interesting match-up in this game. Josh Norman has established himself as a dominant CB this year; Julio Jones continues to be an outstanding WR; those two should make acquaintance on Sunday. I do not think the Falcons are going to win this game but that line does look fat. I’ll take the Falcons plus the points.

SF at Cleveland – 2 (41): I just could not pick one game this week as the worst game of the week and so this game is the Co-Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Last week, the Browns/Bengals game was the early game in the part of the country where I found myself; I saw that debacle. Make no mistake; the Browns are a bad team. Yet, they are 2-point favorites in this game likely due to the fact that the Niners are also a bad team and they have a 3 time zone change to deal with. Neither team runs the ball well; the QBs will be Johnny Manziel and Blaine Gabbert; therefore I am not expecting an aerial explosion. Just a hunch here, I like this game to stay UNDER.

Washington at Chicago – 3 (44): The Skins are still in the midst of the race to see which NFC East team will stumble home with the best record. The Bears’ loss last week in a perfectly winnable game was shameful. The Skins are winless on the road this season – and they are 1-12 on the road since Jay Gruden took over the coaching duties in Washington. How bad is that? The Skins are the only team in the NFL not to win a road game this year. Even the awful teams – Browns, Niners, Saints, and Rams etc. – have won a road game. Meanwhile, the Bears’ home-field advantage has not materialized this year; the Bears’ are 1-5 at home; that puts them in the company of the Cowboys, the Titans and the Browns with only 1 home win. I mentioned above that the Bears’ defense could not catch Blaine Gabbert last week in a 44-yard TD scamper; imagine what DeSean Jackson will do to that defense… Here is the bottom line:

    Both QBs in this game can turn in sterling performances and both QBs in this game have a history of throwing a critical Pick Six to lose a game.

This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game if ever there was one. The coin says to take the Bears and lay the points.

Detroit at St. Louis “pick ‘em” (41): Here is the other Co-Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Let’s see here… The Rams have lost their last two games 58-10; the Lions just gave up a Hail Mary pass to come from ahead and lose a game. The Lions are not a good road team but at least this road game is still in a dome. The Rams’ have gotten miserable QB play so far this year and there is no relief in sight. I cannot make this a Coin Flip Game because the protocol does not allow for the coin to judge in a “pick ‘em situation”. Therefore, I will make this purely a venue call and take the Rams to win the game.

San Diego at KC – 11 (45): The first time these teams played this year, the score was 33-3 in favor of the Chiefs and that game was in San Diego. Neither team has shown a drastic reversal of form since that meeting; the Chargers have injury issues that exposed a lack of depth and they have an anemic running game. Philip Rivers is actually playing very well, but playing “one-on-eleven” is not a winning formula. I do not think the Chargers can win this game but I am not laying 11 points in a division game. I’ll take the game to go OVER – only because I need to make a pick in every game.

New Orleans at Tampa – 4 (51): The Bucs are in the playoff hunt; the Saints are under-whelming. Here are the pivotal questions about this game:

    1. Has Jameis Winston matured sufficiently that his “bad games” are no longer going to be “disastrously bad”?

    2. How big a clunker will the Saints’ defensive unit put out on the field this week?

      The Saints have allowed 380 points so far this year – worst in the NFL by 33 points.

      The Saints have allowed 35 TD passes in 12 games this year. The NFL record for TD passes allowed is 40 and that record was set by the Denver Broncos in 1963. Yowza !!

I like the Bucs to win and cover at home.

Indy at Jax “pick ‘em” (46): There were no lines on this game until Wednesday night this week because Matt Hasselbeck is not fully healthy, Andrew Luck is not ready to play and the default option is Charlie Whitehurst. On the other sideline, there is a team that normally scores points sparingly but found a way to put 39 of them on the board last week – – and still lost the damned game to the Titans no less. Here is a totally irrelevant – yet interesting stat:

    Colts have won their last 3 games in Jax by a combined score of 108-30.

Next week, the Colts will host the Texans; those two teams have identical records this week and that game could well decide the AFC South. The Colts must avoid looking past the mediocre Jags this week. If Chuck Pagano and staff cannot get the team to focus on the task at hand this week, the howls for his head on a stick will be heard as far away as Tahiti. I’ll take the Colts to win here – with little if any conviction.

Tennessee at Jets – 7.5 (43): The Jets’ record of 7-5 puts them in a tie with the Chiefs and the Steelers for the two wild card playoff slots. In three-way tie situations, the tiebreaker often comes down to “Conference Record” and here is where those three teams stand today:

    Chiefs 6-2
    Jets 5-4
    Steelers 4-4

This is a conference game for the Jets and they really cannot afford to lose it – especially since the opponent is a bottom-feeder. The Titans scored 42 points last week against the Jags; they will not score 42 points against the Jets this week. However, I can see them scoring 17 points and if they do, I think that will be sufficient for this to be a correct pick. I like this game to go OVER.

(Sun Nite) New England – 3.5 at Houston (44.5): Both teams need a win; the Texans are tied with the Colts atop the AFC South; the Pats have lost 2 in a row and stand 3rd in the AFC playoff seedings as of this morning. Not to minimize the vast array of injuries to the Pats’ WRs and RBs, but the Pats’ OL has played poorly in their last two games. Tom Brady is not going to be at his best if he has to scramble around to avoid sacks and big hits. JJ Watt should make life miserable for the Pats’ OL this week – even though he broke his hand in practice and will probably look like Jason Pierre-Paul with a club on his hand for the game. I like this game to go OVER.

Oakland at Denver – 7 (43): The Raiders have lost 4 of their last 5; the Broncos have won their last 3 games with Brock Osweiler in the drivers’ seat. It appeared for a while that the Raiders might have been contenders for a wild card slot in the playoffs; that did not end with last week’s loss to the Chiefs but a loss here will pretty much assure that the Raiders’ season will end on 3 January. The Raiders had problems with a good/opportunistic Chiefs’ defense last week; this week they face a defense that is better and even more opportunistic. I like this game to stay UNDER and I like the Raiders plus the points.

Dallas at Green Bay – 7 (43): The Cowboys are 4-8; they are also only 1 game behind the other three NFC East pretenders. Maybe their best chance to win this game lies in the fact that they are on the road; this year the Cowboys are 3-3 on the road while only 1-5 at home. The Packers lead the NFC North today because the Vikes lost last night; in normal years, playing the game in Lambeau Field would be a big plus for them, but the Packers have already lost twice at home in 2015 and two in a row to boot. I do not think either defense is going to be able to hold down the opposing offense well – even with Matt Cassel at QB for the Cowboys. I like this game to go OVER.

Seattle – 10 at Baltimore (42): Straight to the bottom line here… The Seahawks seem to be getting it together for a playoff run; both offense and defense seem to be surging. The Ravens have stayed close in all their games this year but not here. Even in Baltimore and even with my aversion to laying double-digit spreads, I like the Seahawks to win and cover.

(Mon Nite) Giants – 1 at Miami (46): This is an epic collision of two 5-7 teams… The only thing that makes it interesting is that the Giants’ 5-7 record has them tied for first place in the NFC East and they will know just how all of their rivals in that division fared on Sunday as they tee it up for this game. The fact that both teams have the same 5-7 record might obscure a significant difference here:

    Giants have outscored opponents 307 – 296
    Dolphins have been outscored by opponents 300 – 240.

The Giants defense is a mess; their pass defense is brutal because they have no pass rush to speak of. I think both offenses can score on these defenses so I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Finally, here is an over-arching comment on this year’s NFL season from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“I saw an article about a presidential candidate referring to unskilled labor. He was talking about NFL referees.”

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

Dipping Into Inventory…

My writing rhythm for football season changes this week. With only NFL flavored Mythical Picks left to do, I have to find material for an additional daily rant each week. That is why I keep a document called “Clipboard” in my computer memory; I need to dig a bit deeper into the inventory starting right about now.

Not that football is off-limits for commentary here… The Linfield College Wildcats needed a second-half comeback last week to beat Mary Hardin-Baylor 38-35 advancing Linfield to the quarterfinals of the Division III NCAA football tournament. On Saturday, the Wildcats venture east to play the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. The Tommies have a 13-0 record so far this season and every victory has been by 19 points or more. It should be a good game… Go Wildcats!

In the continuing saga of the NFL’s glacial pace to put a team in the LA market, there was a report late last week that Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke was open to the idea of having a second team occupy the stadium he wants to build in downtown LA. That seemingly changes the dynamic of the league decision because until that news broke, the choices seemed to be Kroenke putting the Rams in a downtown stadium or the Chargers/Raiders jointly building and occupying a stadium in Carson, CA.

When I read that report, what came to mind was that Kroenke had counted up the votes he was likely to get for his original proposal and knew that he was short of the 24 votes he would need for approval. Therefore, he wanted to float another idea to:

    a. Give his fellow owners another option to consider
    b. Keep the heat on the folks in St. Louis who want to try to keep him there.

However, this new proposal is such a departure from his original plan – he would go it alone and wanted to develop the area around his new stadium by himself – that it felt to me as if there was more to it than slight feint for a minor advantage in the process. I just had a sense that there was more to this…

Then, someone dug up some more information and it would appear that Mr. Kroenke is still playing hardball on his proposal. Yes, he would accept a “partner team” who would occupy the stadium but his terms for the “partnership” are just a tad skewed:

    The Partner Team would pay half the costs to build the stadium. OK…
    Partner would not have control over design or construction of the stadium. Uh…
    Partner would not have control over development of surrounding area. Uh…
    Partner gets none of the non-football revenue from the stadium. Wait, what…?
    Partner gets no revenue from the development of surrounding area. WTF?

Obviously, I do not have nearly the resources to pretend that I might be a “partner” in a deal of this magnitude. Nonetheless, this seems more like a “Master/Apprentice” relationship than it does a “partnership”. So, I doubt I would be interested in such a deal for very long. However, it might be sufficiently intriguing to either the Raiders or the Chargers to drive a wedge between them and their Carson, CA joint venture.

The “NFL-to-LA saga” is not over; the fat lady may not even be loosening up her vocal chords just yet. I do believe, however, that the NFL as an entity has to start to move toward a decision in the next couple of months if not make their decision then. Here is why:

    There are 3 cities (San Diego, Oakland and St. Louis) where the league risks losing some of the fanbase because the team is threatening to move.

    That drives down revenue; that will ultimately drive down TV ratings.

I think the NFL needs to stop the music and find out which teams are left standing without a seat so that the teams NOT moving to LA can figure out what to do in their home cities to “mend fences with the fans” or to find some other place to move (San Antonio, London, Ulan Bator…)

In NBA news, there have been several videos played and replayed hundreds of times on ESPN and FS1 showing James Harden “loafing” on defense and not exerting himself in rebounding situations. Confronted with the idea that he might not be playing hard at both ends of the court, here is how Harden responded to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“Forty [minutes] a night is pretty tough, especially if you want to get efficient on both ends of the floor. We got to figure it out. We have to figure out how to give guys more minutes and be more effective on the court so as a team we can get better.”

The bit about having to figure it out and get better as a team is standard pabulum; I would have been shocked not to hear that roll off his lips. However, the part about 40 minutes a night being tough if you have to play both ends of the court may get by some millennials who are not aware of anything that did not happen during the span of time when they were sentient. However, we old-timers recall an NBA player named Wilt Chamberlain. Here are some of his numbers that James Harden – and some of the millennials who bought into his excuses – need to consider:

    On offense, Wilt once scored 100 points in a single game and for one entire season (1961/62) he averaged more than 50 points per game. He played a bit on offense.

    On defense, Wilt averaged 22.9 rebounds per game over his 15-year career. In one game he took down 55 rebounds; that record has stood for 55 years. He played a bit on the defensive end of the court too.

    In terms of minutes played, over his 15-year career in 1045 games, Wilt averaged 45.8 minutes per game. For the entire season in 1961/62, he averaged 48.5 minutes per game. Remember, there are only 48 minutes in an NBA game so he played just about all the time in every game and then some OT minutes too.

Perhaps James Harden finds “forty a night” tough. However, we should acknowledge that it is not beyond the limits of human endurance.

Finally, here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald from earlier this week:

“Curry, Warriors reach 22-0: NBA scoring leader Steph Curry and Golden State made it 22-0 Sunday at Brooklyn. I think we finally discovered a team that could beat the Carolina Panthers.”

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

Bowl Game Reviews…

Back in the 1960s, there was a genre of movies that enjoyed widespread – though brief – popularity. These were the “Spaghetti Westerns” produced in Italy and featuring gratuitous violence at every turn. It seems that the film that was the apogee of that art form was The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. In a sort of homage to that cult classic, I want to present to you some of the 40 college bowl games for this year grouped under those headings. By default, you may consider any bowl game not mentioned here as “The Irrelevant”.

The Good:

Las Vegas Bowl: 12/19 BYU 9-3 vs Utah 9-3 [Big rivalry game here]
Camelia Bowl: 12/19 Appalachian St. 10-2 vs Ohio 8-4
Sun Bowl: 12/26 Washington St. 8-4 vs Miami 8-4 [About halfway between the campuses]
Russell Athletic Bowl: 12/29 UNC 11-2 vs Baylor 9-3 [Bet the OVER]
Orange Bowl: 12/31 Oklahoma 11-1 vs Clemson 13-0
Cotton Bowl: 12/31 Alabama 12-1 vs Michigan St. 12-1
Citrus Bowl: 1/1 Florida 10-3 vs Michigan 9-3
Rose Bowl: 1/1 Stanford 11-2 vs Iowa 12-1

The Bad:

Idaho Potato Bowl: 12/22 Akron 7-5 vs Utah St 6-6 [Starting to snore already]
Pinstripe Bowl: 12/26 Duke 7-5 vs Indiana 6-6 [Cannot give tix away for this one]
Independence Bowl: 12/26 Tulsa 6-6 vs Va Tech 6-6 [Guaranteed losing season here]
Arizona Bowl: 12/29 Nevada 6-6 vs Colo St. 7-5 [Two MWC teams in one bowl game?]

The Ugly:

New Mexico Bowl: 12/19 Arizona 6-6 vs New Mexico 7-5 [A border war; who cares?]
Cure Bowl: 12/19 San Jose St. 5-7 vs Georgia St 6-6 [Somniferous or soporific?]
Quick Lane Bowl: 12/28 Minnesota vs C. Michigan 7-5 [Bad Big 10 vs MAC…]
Cactus Bowl:
1/2 W Va 7-5 vs Ariz St 6-6 [Game starts 10:15 EST; ends ~ 2:00AM]

All 40 of these bowl games are sanctioned by the NCAA and generate revenue for the member institutions and conferences that make up the NCAA. Since the games here are only about money, consider a potentially negative aspect of money that could befall the NCAA as a result of a courtroom action. Recently a California Appeals Court ruled that a defamation of character lawsuit brought against the NCAA by Todd McNair, a former assistant coach at USC, can proceed. The assistant in question was at USC during the “Reggie Bush Investigation” and the NCAA announced that it was issuing sanctions against USC because this assistant knew of the improper benefits that Reggie Bush received. This may all sound pretty vanilla at this point but it seems to me that the three judges on the Appeals Court Panel made it pretty clear that they think the NCAA played “fast and loose” with the facts here:

“This evidence clearly indicates that the ensuing [infractions committee] report was worded in disregard of the truth to enable the [committee] to arrive at a predetermined conclusion that USC employee McNair was aware of the NCAA violations … To summarize, McNair established a probability that he could show actual malice by clear and convincing evidence based on the [committee’s] doubts about McNair’s knowledge, along with its reckless disregard for the truth about his knowledge, and by allowing itself to be influenced by nonmembers to reach a needed conclusion.”

I think that translates roughly into something like this:

    It is pretty damned clear that you folks figured out what the answer was supposed to be and then contorted whatever process you sort of established to make sure that the “right answer” came out over the signature of the investigators. Good luck with that…

I do not think this is nearly the first time the NCAA has pulled a stunt like this. In the Nevin Shapiro fiasco at Miami, there was the aroma of at least a smidgen of pre-ordained outcome. Moreover, in the Duke Lacrosse Mess, the NCAA stood by allowed one of its member institutions to fire a coach and defame more than a few of its student-athletes on false accusations and then on actions by the prosecutor that were so atrocious that the prosecutor was disbarred and sent to jail.

I have wondered for some time now just why it has taken the NCAA so long to finish whatever it is doing with regard to the academic fraud situation that was ongoing at UNC for about a decade. Perhaps the problem is that so much of the evidence in that matter is in the public domain already that it has been very difficult to sculpt the outcome that is in the best interests of the NCAA. Would love to be a fly on the wall…

In another legal proceeding not having anything to do with the NCAA but one that might be fun to watch, Jonathan Papelbon has filed a grievance against the Washington Nationals who docked him 4 games pay for the time the team suspended him after his “dugout choking incident” with Bryce Harper. Given that the confrontation was replayed on national TV at least a bazillion times, one might wonder what the grievance is all about.

According to reports, there is no precedent under the history of MLB CBAs for a team-initiated suspension to carry with it a loss of pay. That seems counter-intuitive to me; but if that is the case then Papelbon ought to fight to get back the money the Nats took from his pocket. My rough calculation is that it comes to about $275K which may seem like a whole lot of nothing considering MLB salaries these days. But there are two things to consider here:

    1. If indeed there is no precedent for any of this, then the MLBPA surely does not want to set such a precedent outside the umbrella of a collective bargaining scenario.

    2. Papelbon has a reputation for being “difficult to get along with” and this is the sort of thing a person who actually is “difficult to get along with” might do over a long and boring offseason.

Seriously, if Papelbon is still on the Nats’ roster when Spring Training starts, it will be fun and games for the reporters assigned to that beat for about 6 weeks.

Finally, Scott Ostler had this comment in the SF Chronicle a while back. Maybe the folks at the NCAA who do investigations and write disciplinary reports could take note:

“Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko says of the massive doping allegations against his country, ‘We admit some things, we argue with some things, some are already fixed, it’s a variety.’ You fellas out there, memorize that speech and try it on your wife or boss next time you get caught doing something really stupid.”

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

Officiating Problems…

The 2015 NFL season has had its share of officiating blunders and I am not merely talking about questionable actions on replays where the officials can slow the motion down to stop action for inspection. There have been rules interpretations that have been mistakenly applied leading to suspension of an official for a game and leading to an entire officiating crew being taken off the Sunday Night Game. If there has been a full season of poorer officiating in the NFL’s past, I must have missed it.

I do recall a time when the mantra was that “instant replay” would resolve all controversies and get all the calls right. Well, the current system of coaches’ challenges has been in place for about 15 years now and they still do not get all the calls right. I do recall a time when the NFL officials were locked out and the league used “replacement refs” who butchered games badly until they completely blew a call on national TV (Seahawks/Packers) that changed the outcome of the game and the labor dispute miraculously settled in about 48 hours. That was supposed to assure that they get the calls right too…

Let me ask; how many times this year have you heard this statement or a small variant on this statement:

    “I just don’t know what a catch is anymore…”

That is a telling comment because it usually comes from a color analyst who is nominally an “expert”; if that comment was merely the screeching of Joe Fanboy somewhere, you could ignore it. However, we are getting to the point where the NFL may not be able to ignore this kind of thing much longer. I say that because the narrative seems to be changing.

On PTI about a week ago, Michael Wilbon said that the Patriots “were hosed” by the officials in the Pats’ loss to the Broncos. There is more than a semantic difference between “the Pats’ lost on a blown call” and “the Pats were hosed by the officials”. The first comment speaks to officials’ competency; the second intimates officials’ intent. Now, as soon as there is even a whiff of “officials’ intent” in the conversation, you begin to think about “integrity of the game” and stuff like that.

The NFL loves to stand tall and announce its commitment to the integrity of the game – because it has to do that. Never to be admitted in public, the NFL suits know that their game enjoys its 800-lb gorilla status to the fact that people gamble on the games legally and illegally. If there is any perception that the outcomes of said games are scripted in any way, the public’s gambling interest will dwindle and the NFL’s product will be less attractive. The “officiating problems” from 2015 have to be corrected.

I believe that replay has made officials lazy. They know in the backs of their minds that they might get a buzz from the booth to review a call or that a coach may challenge one they make so there is no need to invest the physical and mental energy in getting it right with the toot of the whistle. After all, Big Brother Replay, can set things straight at a more leisurely pace…

In the past, the NFL, the NFLPA and the officials have tried the single-focus solution to problems such as “replay” or “get rid of the replacement refs”. What 2015 has shown, is that the problem(s) are more complex than that.

Now since I mentioned the word “hosed” a couple of paragraphs above, consider please that North Carolina was hosed by the officials in its loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game last Saturday. Trailing by 8 points late in the 4th quarter, Carolina executed and recovered an onside kick giving them a chance to tie/win the game. The officials threw a flag and said Carolina was offside on the kickoff when replay showed clearly that they were not; no Carolina player was even close to being offsides. Why might this be a “hosing” rather than a “blown call”?

Well if you love conspiracy theories consider:

    Carolina had been ranked about #10 in the CFP polls going into the game; Clemson was #1.

    If Carolina wins and is the ACC Champion, it is possible – even likely – that neither team would make the CFP meaning the ACC would be out of the spotlight for those games.

    And who employs the officials? Why the ACC itself. How convenient…

Let me be clear, I do not believe for a moment that conference moguls sat around in a closed room two days before the Clemson/North Carolina game and assigned someone to let the officials know that Clemson had to win that game. Clemson did not have to cover – which they did anyway –; but they had to win – which they did. If you want to make a “hosing argument” that erodes the integrity of the game, you can do so with the video replays from that game.

Reports have it that the Super Bowl halftime act will be a rock group named Coldplay. It should surprise exactly no readers here that I do not know Coldplay from Hotwork or The Hot Toddies. Since this is Super Bowl 50 and the NFL will be flogging the nostalgia angle for that game for all it is worth, I wonder why they did not go back to Super Bowl 1 and invite the Grambling State University marching band to perform. I do not know what fee the NFL will pay for Coldplay’s appearance, but I suspect that the folks at Grambling can use the money more than the rock group can use the money. If you want to make it even better, do a “Battle of the Bands” at halftime with Grambling against Southern.

Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this comment after the Cavs and LeBron James visited Miami for a regular season game:

“Half of NBA fans are talking about Steph Curry’s unbeaten Warriors and the other half are talking about Kobe Bryant announcing his retirement. Meanwhile, the Heat on Saturday hosted the Cavaliers and ol’ what’s-his-name.”

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

Erratum

I must begin today with an erratum. Last week I was writing about Mark Richt’s firing at Georgia and mentioned that his winning percentage of 74% put him in the company of Urban Meyer, Nick Saban and Bob Stoops. That statement is absolutely correct – but it is not as inclusive as it should be.

I received an e-mail last Friday from a former colleague who is a devoted football fan and an alum of TCU. The e-mail informed me that “this proud Horned Frog” knows that I did not omit the name of Gary Patterson intentionally but that I would “give offense to all who follow TCU” if I failed to correct my error. Not meaning to give offense, my former colleague is exactly correct. Gary Patterson’s record at TCU – his only head coaching job at the collegiate level – is 142-47 and that winning percentage is just north of 75%.

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa…

Yesterday, the Portland Timbers captured the MLS Cup by beating the Columbus Crew in Columbus. The fact that two “small market teams” played in the final game surely did not enhance the TV ratings for that game going up against a full slate of NFL games. However, the presence of two “small market teams” in the final game does present MLS in a positive light with regard to the competitiveness of the league and the ability of any city to field a team that can compete for a championship.

Let me say one other positive thing about MLS here. The league has spent a lot of money and effort on player development. Youth academies continue to open and operate putting young players in a skills-learning situation as opposed to an environment where much of the time is devoted to games. In addition, MLS and the United Soccer League (USL) have created a third level of US soccer as another way to develop players. MLS is the top-tier of professional soccer in the US; the North American Soccer League is one level down from MLS; the USL is a third tier of pro soccer in the US consisting of 28 teams. Just as MLB incurs costs for developing young players in the minor leagues, MLS is involved directly with teams in the USL to develop talent that one day could show up in MLS or other professional leagues.

The NBA and Anheuser-Busch have extended their marketing agreement. I was glancing through a report about this extension and ran across this paragraph:

“A number of Anheuser-Busch’s flagship brands will activate as part of this partnership. Starting this season, Budweiser and Bud Light will run NBA marketing activations at the same time, with each brand owning year-round platforms and different marquee league events, including NBA All-Star, NBA Playoffs, The Finals, NBA Draft, and WNBA All-Star.”

I am pretty sure that I could define every word or phrase in that paragraph. Nonetheless, I am positive that I have no idea what that paragraph means. This is a value-subtracted process – as opposed to a value-added process. Here we have words I understand arranged in sentences that make no sense.

    What does it mean for a flagship brand to activate? Does that mean that cans of Bud Lite will open themselves and pour themselves into mugs?

    What is the significant change that I will notice now that “Budweiser and Bud Light will run NBA marketing activations at the same time”?

    What does it mean for a brand to “own year-round platforms”? Should I expect to see Budweiser trucks floating on barges in lakes? Maybe the Clydesdales will be on the roof of an arena near me?

Here is something I am sure that I do know about all of this. None of this management-speak is going to change the fact that Bud Light is undrinkable…

After the Arizona D-Backs signed 32-year old Zack Greinke to a deal reportedly worth $206M over the next 6 years, someone went back through the myriad records kept for baseball games and figured out that Greinke had thrown “more than 33,000 pitches in his major league career”. Talk about a pitch count… I checked his minor league stats and found that Greinke has had a couple of “rehab assignments” to the minor leagues and he threw 333.1 innings in the minor leagues as he was coming up to the major leagues. Seems to me that is an awful lot of pitches for an arm or a shoulder but then I did one other calculation:

    Nolan Ryan struck out 5714 batters in his career. If I estimate that it took him 4.5 pitches per strike out – probably a low estimate but good enough – that means Ryan threw 25,713 pitches just to his strikeout victims.

    Ryan pitched a total of 5386 innings meaning he got 16,158 hitters out. That means 10,444 hitters were retired in some way other than a strikeout. Conservatively, that is another 20,000 pitches…

    Ryan walked 2795 batters. At 5 pitches per walk, there go another 13,975 pitches.

    Ryan gave up 3,923 hits in his career. Round that off to another 10,000 pitches

    Using conservative estimates for all of these situations, Nolan Ryan threw at least 68,900 pitches in his career. By that measure, Greinke could be only in the mid-day of his career…

Finally, since I mentioned the NBA and Anheuser-Busch and their new marketing agreement, let me close with something from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times at the intersection of sports and beer:

“Canadian Lewis Kent broke the world record for the beer mile — four laps around a track, and downing a bottle of ale before each one — running it in 4:51.9.

“In terms of miles per gallon, though, that makes a Winnebago look like a Prius.”

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

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend Of 12/5/15

This will be the last iteration of the NCAA flavor of Mythical Picks for the season. Please keep the cheering down to a dull roar. I have never – and will not begin now – to try to make picks for bowl games that mean precisely nothing. I may have something to say about college football or have a pick for a single game somewhere down the road. In such a case, I will incorporate it into one of the daily rants. Specifically, I will continue to “report” on the progress of Linfield College football in the 2015 season via daily rants.

Oh, not to worry, the final seedings for the imaginary – yet more interesting than three quarters of the actual bowl games – SHOE Tournament appear below…

Last week’s Mythical Picks were plain vanilla in terms of outcome. The record last week was 9-8-0 leaving the season record at 102-97-5.

The “Best Pick” of the week was taking Texas/Texas Tech Over 72; the total score went north of 90 points.

The “Worst Picks” of the week were all of the 8 losses. Other than the Stanford minus 4 pick, none of them were even close.

No one should use any information here as the basis for making a real wager on a real college football game this weekend should such a wager involve real money. If you are dumb enough to do that, you also probably think:

    A love triangle is a problem best solved in geometry class.

General Comments:

The Linfield College Wildcats won their third round game in the NCAA Division III football tournament beating Cortland State 38-22. That puts the Wildcats’ record at 11-0 for the season and puts them in the “Elite Eight” for those playoffs. This week, the Wildcats host the next round of the playoffs when the Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders bring their 11-1 record to McMinnville. The Crusaders only loss for the year was on Halloween to Hardin-Simmons by 3 points but the Crusaders avenged that loss in the Division III playoffs beating Hardin-Simmons by a score of 37-19. It should be a good game. Go Wildcats!

Last week, Memphis beat SMU 63-0. The interesting stat from the game was that Memphis QB, Paxton Lynch threw for 7 TDs. What makes it even more interesting is that he threw those 7 TD passes in the first half of the game. The score at halftime was 56-0. To say SMU “struggled” in the game is a monumental understatement; obviously, the defensive unit had no clue how to stop Memphis; on the other side of the ball, the SMU offense gained only 97 yards of offense for the day and turned the ball over 5 times. Remember this performance when you see the seedings for the SHOE Tournament below.

In another game that had SHOE Tournament importance, E. Michigan came from ahead to lose to Central Michigan 35-28. E. Michigan led 21-7 at the half – – and then gave up 28 points in the third quarter. You may be sure that you will see E. Michigan in the SHOE Tournament below.

Wyoming beat UNLV last week 35-28 giving the Cowboys 2 wins for the year and dropping their seeding in the SHOE Tournament.

UTEP came from behind to beat N. Texas 20-17. That was UTEP’s 5th win for the year meaning they could not possibly have fit into the SHOE Tournament. But N. Texas has been a fixture for that tournament for quite a while now. Here is how the game was so close:

    UTEP total offense was 256 yards
    UTEP fumbled 6 times and lost 5 of them
    N. Texas total offense was 205 yards
    N. Texas lost 1 fumble and threw 1 INT
    N. Texas penalized 10 times for 112 yards

Aren’t you glad you missed that game?

Akron beat Kent State 20-0 last week but the stats for the game were very lopsided. Akron had the ball for 40:59 in the game; Akron held Kent State to 135 yards total offense; Akron held Kent State to 10 yards rushing on 20 rushing attempts. Adding insult to injury, Akron also recovered three fumbles in the game. Now look at the final score of 20-0 and you will wonder how it could have been so close…

Kentucky led Louisville 24-7 in the first half. The final score was Louisville 38 and Kentucky 24. Not much more to say about that one…

In games that actually mattered last week, Houston disposed of Navy 52-31. At the end of the 3rd quarter, it was 38-17; the outcome here was not seriously in doubt. That victory puts Houston in this week’s AAC Championship Game against Temple (more about that game later). Houston QB, Greg Ward, Jr. led the Cougars’ offense throwing for 308 yards and 3 TDs. Navy gets the week off to prepare for its game against Army next weekend.

Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State 58-23 to win the Big 12 Championship for the year. It turns out that State’s 10-0 record was a mirage…

Ohio State beat Michigan 42-13 but the game was actually still in doubt at halftime when Ohio State only led 14-10. Ohio State’s running game returned to life last week:

    Ezekiel Elliot ran for 214 yards and 2 TDs
    JT Barrett ran for 139 yards
    Total rushing yards for Ohio State were 396 yards
    Total offense for Michigan was 364 yards.

However, Ohio State will not play in the Big 10 Championship Game because Michigan State beat Penn State handily 55-16. This game was also still in doubt at halftime when Michigan State only led 20-10. However, the second half belonged exclusively to Michigan State.

Meanwhile, Iowa beat Nebraska 28-20 running the Hawkeyes’ record to 12-0 and setting up an Iowa/Michigan State game for the Big 10 Championship this weekend.

UNC ran its record to 11-1 beating NC State 45-34. Actually, this game was over very early on. UNC led 35-7 at the end of the 1st quarter. UNC goes on to play Clemson in the ACC Championship Game this weekend.

Clemson played a rivalry game last week beating South Carolina 37-32. The ACC might not have a CFP participant if UNC wins the Championship Game. The Selection Committee has done everything but spell out that UNC’s body of work for the year is not real good. Even though UNC is 11-1, consider:

    The loss is to South Carolina – a 3-win team.
    One win is over North Carolina A&T (Division 1-AA)
    One win is over Delaware (Division 1-AA)

The SEC could be in for turmoil too if Florida were to beat Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Florida has two losses and the last one was to Florida State in which the Florida offense scored no points. However, a win over Alabama would mean that Alabama would have 2 losses also and would not be a conference champion. Let me say this unequivocally:

    If you are someone who desperately wants to see the CFP expanded to 8 teams, you have to root very hard for Florida to win on Saturday. If the SEC has no team in the CFP field, the cries to expand the tournament will hit a crescendo.

    Personally, I like the 4-team field well enough to hope merely for a good competitive game for me to watch.

In rivalry games:

    Washington beat Washington State in the Apple Cup
    Oregon beat Oregon State in the Civil War
    Alabama beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl
    Ole Miss beat Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl


The Ponderosa Games:

Last week there were 3 Ponderosa Games and none of the favorites covered.

Appalachian State, Central Michigan and Oregon failed to cover.

That brings the season record for Ponderosa favorites covering to 38-49-1. That is one of the most unbalanced season records I can recall since I started tracking this sort of thing in the mid-90s.

There are no Ponderosa Games on the schedule this week and the only college game on tap for next week is Army/Navy. Even though Army is not very good this year and Navy is ranked at #23 in the country, I doubt that there will be a Ponderosa number on that rivalry game. I believe the final record for Ponderosa games will be 38-49-1.

The SHOE Tournament:

The CFP determines the National Champion. If there were a SHOE Tournament, it would determine the worst team in the country, the SHOE Team – the Steaming Heap Of Excrement. Here is how that tournament would operate:

    A Selection Committee (me) would pick the 8 teams to contend for this level of ignominy and then would seed the teams where the #1 seed is presumably the worst team in the country. However, that level of sordidness would be determined on the field.

    The seeded teams would play in the normal seeding order #1 hosts #8 and #2 hosts #7 etc. Here is the kicker:

      The winners can stop playing but the losers have to soldier on and play again the following week.

      One team will wind up losing 3 games in the SHOE Tournament and be this year’s SHOE Team.

Without further ado, here are the teams for this year’s Tournament:

#1: Kansas – 0-11, losing margin of 31 points per game, worst defense in the country

#2: UCF – 0-11, worst offense in the country

#3: N. Texas – 1-11, lost to 1-AA Portland State 66-7

#4: La-Monroe – 1-11, win over 1-AA Nichols St., plays New Mex St. this week, so what?

#5: Wyoming – 2-10, losing margin is 15 points per game; lost to E. Michigan

#6 E. Michigan – 1-11, losing margin is 17 ppg, beat Wyoming and lost 10 in a row.

#7: Oregon St. – 2-10, losing margin is 18 ppg; 110th in offense and 117th in defense.

#8: SMU – 2-10; see above for last week’s debacle; a late surge of stink got them here.

Games of Interest:

Texas at Baylor – 20 (68): This is a meaningless game; so why is it a game of interest? Well, the anticipated resurgence of Texas football seems to be delayed just a tad and the Texas fanboys cannot be happy playing a game on a weekend where just about everyone else taking the field has a reason to do so. It looked for a while as if Texas might be bowl eligible and get themselves to a minor bowl game but the bottom fell out of that market over the last month. The Longhorns rank 104th in the country on offense and 86th on defense; that is not a recipe for success. Baylor will go to a bowl game but they had their eyes on something much bigger until losing last week to TCU in a monsoon. I put this game on the list to demonstrate why I do not pick bowl games. Neither team has any burning desire here; neither team will achieve anything of value from a win. So, the question is simple; which team will show up at kickoff playing hard as opposed to going through the motions? The answer to that question usually points to the team that will cover the spread in such a game and the answer to that question is best derived through mind-reading skills.

New Mexico St at La-Monroe “pick ‘em” (59): La-Monroe is a SHOE Tournament team playing a final game against a 3-win team and it is a “pick ‘em” game. People in Monroe, LA must have better things to do than to attend this monstrosity of a game.

W. Virginia – 5.5 at K-State (58): At least K-State has a reason to play hard in this game; the Wildcats have 5 wins and need 6 to be sure of a bowl invitation. I think this will be a high-scoring affair so I’ll take K-State plus the points and I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Temple at Houston – 6 (54.5): The Total Line opened the week at 57 and dropped quickly to this level where it seems to have settled. This is the AAC Championship Game and it matches a team that wins with offense (Houston, ranked 15th in the country) against a team that wins with defense (Temple, ranked 19th in the country). Make this a venue call, I’ll take Houston to win and cover.

USC vs. Stanford – 4.5 (58.5) [Game is in Santa Clara]: The spread here opened at 3.5 and the Total Line at 61. This is for the PAC-12 Championship and a win for USC would lock the PAC-12 out of the CFP. USC enters the game with 4 losses on its sheet; no amount of chaos involving upsets this week will result in a 4-loss team playing in the CFP. USC has a revenge factor going for it here; Stanford beat USC at Stanford earlier this year. I think the Total Line has moved in the wrong direction; I like this game to go OVER.

Florida vs. Alabama – 18 (40) [Game is in Atlanta]: The spread here opened at 15 and has climbed slowly but steadily to this level during the week. I am not a “trend bettor” but Alabama has won the last 4 games between these two teams by a cumulative score of 143-47. The Alabama defense is peaking; they have given up 41 points in their last 4 games. Florida struggles on offense and wins on defense; against Florida State the only points the Gators could muster was via a safety. I doubt Florida can play “grind-it-out-offense” and be even marginally successful here. The question is:

    Do they have a repertoire of “trick plays” they can go to in dire circumstances?

Normally, when I expect a low scoring game, I prefer to take the points particularly three scores worth of points. However, in this case I can easily see Florida scoring only once in the entire game. For two excellent defensive squads, I will just take this game to stay UNDER.

Air Force at San Diego St. – 6.5 (50): The Total Line opened at 52.5 and dropped to this level almost immediately. This game is for the Mountain West Championship. Both teams run the ball most of the time and they both do it effectively as demonstrated here:

    Air Force is 3rd in the country in rushing yards per game (323.2)
    San Diego St. is 15th in the country in rushing yards per game (235.5)

Air Force holds an edge there, but with regard to defending against the run:

    San Diego St. is 4th in the country against the run (95 yards per game)
    Air Force is 34th in the country against the run (139.5 yards per game).

If San Diego St. can limit the Air Force running game, the Falcons do not have a potent pass attack to resort to. For the year, Air Force only averages 138.6 yards per game meaning they rank 120th in the nation. I like San Diego St. to win and cover here.

UNC vs. Clemson – 4.5 (67.5) [Game is in Charlotte]: The Total Line for this game opened at 63 and shot up to this level in about 24 hours. At first glance, this game looks like a shoot-out. Clemson averages 503 yards per game and UNC averages 496. So the ball will just be racing from one end of the stadium to the other, right? Maybe not… The Clemson defense only gives up 288 yards per game and it is on defense where Clemson enjoys the advantage here; UNC allows 395 yards per game. Purely a hunch – and mixed with a bit of a wish for some degree of chaos in the final week for the Selection Committee to deal with – I’ll take UNC plus the points here and I’ll root for them to win the game to produce said chaos.

Michigan St. – 4 at Iowa (51) [Game is in Indy]: The winner here is the Big 10 Champ and will be a shoo-in for the CFP. Right now, Iowa is ranked 4th and Michigan St. is ranked 5th by the CFP Selection Committee so in essence this is a play-in game for the CFP. Iowa finished the season at 12-0; some folks have downgraded that accomplishment saying that Iowa did not have to play any of the best Big 10 teams and was “less than adventuresome” in its out of conference scheduling. Nonetheless, the last time an Iowa team went undefeated for an entire season was back in 1922; so this is a big deal. The expectation here is for an old-time, smash-mouth football game; neither team gets fancy on offense and both teams play tough defense. I smell a low-scoring game here so I’ll take Iowa plus the points.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times. It is an appropriate way to bring the college football regular season to a close:

“From the ‘Sometimes These Headlines Just Write Themselves’ file:

“B1G awards: U-M’s Butt named Tight End of the Year”

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend of 12/6/15

Last week’s Mythical Picks were ever so slightly “in the black” and pushed the season total over the .500 mark. Last week’s record was 9-7-0 bringing the season total to 91-89-5. The Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games went 2-1-0 keeping the coin in positive territory for the season at 14-12-1.

The “Best Picks” from last week were taking the Vikings plus points and the Skins plus points and watching both teams win straight up.

The “Worst Picks” from last week were the ones in the Pats/Broncos game. I liked the Pats and gave points (They lost straight up.) and I liked the game OVER 44 (It stayed UNDER.).

No one should use any info herein as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game involving real money this week – or any other week for that matter. If you are dumb enough to that, you probably also think that:

    Nacho cheese is cheese that belongs to someone else.

General Comments:

Despite suffering his second collarbone injury for the season, the Cowboys have chosen not to put Tony Romo on the injured reserve list for the moment. Reportedly, the reason is that the Cowboys are not mathematically eliminated from the NFC Playoffs and should they get in and should Romo’s shoulder be “healed”, they want him available for a playoff run. That thinking stretches the limits “wishful thinking” and threatens to edge over the line into the realm of “magical thinking”.

Wishful thinking is hoping against hope; in the rare situation where a bit of wishful thinking comes to pass, it makes for a huge feelgood moment. Magical thinking is different; magical thinking is accepting the concept that Santa Claus on a sleigh powered by flying reindeer can actually visit the home of every child in the world on a single night.

If my math is correct, the best record the Cowboys can attain is 8-8. To do that they will need to win all of their next 5 games and even if they do so, there is no guarantee that they will win the NFC East. Compounding their task is a stark fact:

    The Cowboys have had 7 games this year with Tony Romo unable to play.
    The Cowboys lost all 7 of those games.

Just as maintaining the Santa Claus Myth for young kids does no great harm, neither does keeping Tony Romo on the active roster do any great harm. Nevertheless, he and his wife need not worry about booking themselves on a vacation to Tahiti sometime in January 2016…

On Thanksgiving, the Lions beat the Eagles 45-14 meaning that the Eagles defense gave up a total of 90 points in a 5-day period. More than a few Eagles’ fans have been lighting up Philly sports radio for the last few months calling for Sam Bradford to be benched – or worse – meaning that Mark Sanchez would take over the QB duties. Well, now those fans have seen Sanchez for about 6 quarters of football and it is time to ask them if they still think Sam Bradford is the reason the Eagles have not done well this year. I am not saying that Bradford has had a good season; he has not. I am not even saying that Bradford is well-suited to chip Kelly’s offense; I think he is not. However, Sam Bradford is not the reason the Eagles have been unsuccessful and the reason I say that is that there are multiple reasons why the Eagles have been unsuccessful.

Against the Lions, the Eagles defense surrendered 3 TDs to Calvin Johnson and allowed Matthew Stafford to throw 5 TD passes in the game. The 90 points the defense has surrendered in the past two games have been against the Bucs and the Lions. I doubt that many folks would place those two opponents near the top of a list titled “Fearsome Offenses NFL 2015”.

Later on Thanksgiving, the Panthers pantsed the Cowboys 33-14. In addition to losing Tony Romo for the rest of the season, there had to be another disappointing aspect to the game:

    Someone was wearing a Cowboys jersey in the game with the number 88 on it and was doing a miserable imitation of Dez Bryant.

The Panthers got a Pick Six on the Cowboys’ first possession of the game. Here is what followed in the first half:

    Two more INTs – one of which was a second Pick Six
    Two punts
    One field goal

Folks, that was BEFORE Tony Romo was injured; that was the offensive output with the varsity squad on the field. The score at the half was 23-3 and anyone watching the game who was not adorned in Cowboys’ paraphernalia had to know the outcome was not in doubt. For the game, the Cowboys managed only 209 yards of offense. From here forward, they will have Matt Cassel and/or Kellen Moore at QB. Good luck with a playoff run…

On Thanksgiving night, the Bears beat the Packers 17-13 in Lambeau Field on the night the Packers retired Brett Favre’s number. The game was not nearly as exciting as I would have wanted. After all, that is when the tryptophan from all the turkey tends to kick in and an exciting game on the TV would have made it much easier to stay conscious. Whatever… At kickoff, the Bears were 9.5-point underdogs and they won the game outright; that should get Bears’ fans pumped for at least a week.

The Skins beat the Giants 20-14 and based on tie-breakers the Skins are now the NFC East leaders with a 5-6 record. This game was not as close as the score would indicate; the Skins led 20-0 after 3 quarters and the Skins’ defense dominated. The Skins got 3 turnovers in the game and did not give the ball away one time. Here is what I mean by “dominated”:

    The first 10 Giants’ possessions resulted in:

      3 INTs
      7 punts.

Kirk Cousins continues to play well in the “Jay Gruden offense” and he topped the 300-yard mark once again. Cousins’ contract is up at the end of this season; I think he is in line for a nice payday…

The Broncos handed the Patriots their first loss of the year by a 30-24 score. People have properly paid lots of attention to the injuries that the Pats have encountered at the WR position this year. However, it should also be noted that at the end of the game on Sunday, the Pats were also without their two starting inside linebackers on defense. The Broncos’ defense had no such difficulties and played exceptionally well holding the Pats to only 301 yards of offense – the Pats’ lowest offensive output for the year. Virtually all of that offense came through the air; the Pats could only eke out 39 yards rushing for the night.

Brock Osweiler played well in this game showing poise in addition to physical skills. Like Kirk Cousins, his contract also expires at the end of this season. One or two more games like the one on Sunday night and he too will be in line for a nice payday…

The Raiders beat the Titans 24-21 limiting the Titans to only 44 yards rushing. Marcus Mariota played decently but Derek Carr played better. Carr threw for 330 yards and 3 TDs including a late game TD that marked a come-from-behind win.

The Bengals beat the Rams 31-7 and two stats from that game will let you know how discombobulated the Rams were:

    Todd Gurley ran the ball only 9 times
    Nick Foles threw the ball 46 times – including 3 INTs

The Chargers beat the Jags 31-25 last week. Philip Rivers had a field day against the Jags’ defense going 29-43 for 300 yards and 4 TDs. That had to make the 5 hour flight home pleasant. The Jags’ offensive ineptitude aided in the win. Note the margin was only 6 points and consider that the Jags had the ball inside the Chargers’ 30-yardline on 4 occasions in the game and scored ZERO TDs.

The Chiefs beat the Bills 30-22 and the Chiefs are en fuego. After a miserable start, the Chiefs have run off 5 straight wins and are in the thick of the AFC wild card picture. The Chiefs had a tough schedule at the start but from here to January, the schedule is not nearly as fearsome:

    At Raiders
    Vs Chargers
    At Ravens
    Vs Browns
    Vs Raiders

All five of those are “winnable games”; I doubt the Chiefs will run the table, but they should stay in the wild card chase to the end. The Chiefs have something in their favor as they make their wild card run. Three other AFC teams angling for those slots are the Steelers, Texans and Bills; the Chiefs have beaten all three of them giving them a significant advantage in tie-breaking situations.

The Cardinals beat the Niners 19-13 in a game that was so wacky that it got the officiating crew taken off this week’s nationally televised Sunday Night Game. The margin of victory came after two early mistakes by the Niners in the first quarter (an INT and a muffed punt recovered by the Cards) gave the Cards 2 field goals. Oh, and Carson Palmer ran for a TD on a bootleg. Honest, there is video to prove it…

The Colts beat the Bucs 25-12 and held the Bucs scoreless in the second half and to less than 100 yards of offense in the second half. Matt Hasselbeck threw for 3 TDs and 315 yards in the game – – not bad for a 40-year old backup QB. Nevertheless, when Andrew Luck is completely recovered from his lacerated kidney, I think the Colts would be dumber than donkey dung to keep Luck on the sidelines.

The Texans beat the Saints 24-6; the Saints did not score a TD in the game. That is the first time in Sean Payton’s tenure in New Orleans where that has happened. In case you have lost track, Payton took over in New Orleans at the start of the 2006 season. The Texans’ defense dominated the game holding the Saints to only 268 yards of total offense.

The Vikes beat the Falcons 20-10 and fans booed Matt Ryan during the game. Ryan did not have a stellar game; he threw 2 INTs in the Vikes’ half of the field – one of them inside the Vikes’ 5-yardline. This makes 4 straight losses for the Falcons; if their season is not in a freefall right now, it sure will be if they lose this weekend.

The Jets beat the Dolphins 38-20 but the game was not nearly this close. Early in the 4th quarter, the Jets led 35-7 and put it on cruise control. This loss makes the Dolphins’ record against AFC East foes a sorry-assed 0-5. As mentioned above, the Dolphins fired their offensive coordinator after the game. Here is a stat that might have tilted the scales in favor of jettisoning him:

    The Dolphins ran the ball 9 times in the game for a total of 12 yards.

The Seahawks beat the Steelers 39-30 in a most entertaining game. Russell Wilson threw for 5 TDs and 345 yards in the game; there were loads of open Seahawks’ receivers running through the Steelers’ secondary. When the Steelers had the ball, Ben Roethlisberger was also carving up the Seahawks defense; he threw for 456 yards in the game on 55 pass attempts; the Steelers had 525 yards of total offense for the day.

And then there was the Monday night game where the Ravens won on the blocked field goal returned for a TD on the final play of the game. Here is all I have to say about that game and the Browns in 2015:

    Good teams find ways to win games.
    Bad teams invent ways to lose games.

The Games:

(Thurs Nite) Green Bay – 3 at Detroit (46.5): The Packers have lost four of their last 5 games including a loss at home to these same Lions. What is even more disturbing to Packers’ fans is that Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the offensive unit appears confused on more than a few plays. Meanwhile, the Lions have won 3 games in a row and I sure never saw that coming. I shall turn this game over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip protocol and the coin says to take the Lions plus the points.

SF at Chicago – 7 (43): The favorite has covered the last 4 times these teams have met. Of course, they do not play all that often so that stretch of 4 games goes all the way back to October 2006. Nothing interesting there… The Bears are coming off a win over the Packers at Lambeau field last week; the Niners start Blaine Gabbert at QB with rookie Dylan Thompson (South Carolina) as the backup. I know full well that Jay Cutler is capable of throwing 3 INTs against the Bournemouth Gynecologists (/Monty Python’s Flying Circus) but I still cannot bring myself to take the Niners on the road with Blaine Gabbert at QB. I’ll take the Bears and lay the points.

Cincy – 9.5 at Cleveland (43): The spread for this game opened the week at 7.5 points and has been rising all week. You can even find it as high as 10.5 points at one Internet sportsbook this morning. The Bengals have a comfortable lead in the AFC North but they are still involved in a race for a BYE Week in the playoffs and possibly home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Bengals have something to play for; the Browns do not. The Browns are 26th in the NFL in yards gained per game and they are 30th in the NFL in yards allowed per game. It looks as if Austin Davis will be the Browns’ QB this week; how might that change the equation here. This is another Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the game to go OVER.

Jax at Tennessee – 2.5 (43): Woof! Woof! Without question this is the stone cold Dog-Breath Game of the Week. It is worth exactly no verbiage. I’ll take the Jags plus the points here.

Houston at Buffalo – 3 (42): The Texans have won 4 in a row and are tied with the Colts for the AFC South lead at 6-5. That record puts them in a tie with Pittsburgh, KC and the Jets for wild card slots in the playoffs. The Bills are 5-6 and need a win here to avoid needing miracles at the end of the season to get into the playoffs. I am a bit concerned with Tyrod Taylor’s shoulder; the Bills have not played well on offense the last two weeks and if the Bills have to turn to EJ Manuel, this game could get out of hand quickly. I like this game to be dominated by defense so I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Baltimore at Miami – 4 (43.5): Both teams are 4-7; the winners will delude themselves that they can make the playoffs and “do some damage” once they get there; the losers will fade from relevance. The Ravens are 11th in the NFL in offense while the Dolphins are 27th. The Ravens are 17th in the NFL in defense while the Dolphins are 28th. It is difficult to get any adrenaline flowing about a game involving a QB duel between Matt Schaub and Ryan Tannehill. I like the Ravens plus the points here in a blasé sort of way.

Carolina – 7 at New Orleans (50): The Saints cannot be as bad as they looked on offense last week, can they? The Saints cannot be as bad as they looked against the Skins a few weeks ago yielding almost 50 points there, can they? Well, if they can, this is not the team they want to face this week because the Panthers have an excellent defense (2nd in the NFL) and an adequate offense (17th in the NFL). Here is how I see the game unfolding.

    Saints offense gets 3 scores – say 17 points

    To cover, the Panthers need 25 points; they can do that.

    To take the game OVER 50, they need 34 points; they can do that too.

I like the Panthers to win and cover and I like the game to go OVER 50.

Seattle at Minnesota “pick ‘em” (41.5): Last week Ben Roethlisberger torched the Seahawks defense (see above). Whoa! I think he just completed another pass to a wide open receiver as I typed that last sentence. Teddy Bridgewater is playing well but he is not yet Ben Roethlisberger. If the oddsmaker wants me to pick the better team in this pick ‘em game, I’ll take the Seahawks as the winner.

Arizona – 6.5 at St. Louis (42.5): The Total Line opened the week at 44.5 and has been dropping steadily all week. The Rams have lost 4 games in a row but remember that they did beat the Cards in Arizona on October 4th. I do not know if the Rams have another upset they can pull out of a hat, but that line does look fat to me. I’ll take the Rams at home plus the points.

Atlanta at Tampa – 1.5 (46): The Falcons were once 5-0 for the season; this morning their record is 6-5. In October, they aspired to keep pace with the Panthers for the NFC South lead; In December, they are hoping to find ways to scratch out a win here or there. The Bucs have played well this season and Jameis Winston has had more good games than bad games. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Falcons plus the points.

Jets – 1.5 at Giants (45): The spread opened the week as a “pick ‘em” game but jumped to this level pretty quickly; you can find the spread as high as 2 points at two Internet sportsbooks this morning. These teams are hardly exciting ones this year; if the Giants happen to win, both teams will be 6-6 for the season. Ho-hum… The teams are dead even on offense; the Jets average 2 yards per game more than the Giants. On defense, that is a different story. The Jets are 3rd in the NFL giving up 323.9 yards per game while the Giants are dead last in the NFL giving up 419.6 yards per game. Yes, the Giants give up ever so slightly more yardage per game than the miserable Saints’ defense does. I’ll take the Jets and lay the points.

Denver – 4 at San Diego (43.5): Given that Brock Osweiler played as well as he did against the Patriots last week, this spread shows him no love. I think the Broncos’ defense will hold the Chargers well below the 31 points they put on the board against the Jags last week meaning that this game will not turn into a Brock Osweiler/Philip Rivers shoot-out. I like the Broncos to win and cover even on the road.

KC – 3 at Oakland (44): The Chiefs are smack dab in the middle of the AFC wild card race and the Raiders can insert themselves there with a win in this game. What we have here is a real throwback; we have a Chiefs/Raiders game that is important to both teams in terms of the playoffs. Looks as if Mr Peabody set the Wayback Machine for some time in the late 60s/early 70s. I think this will be a defensive game so I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Philly at New England – 10 (49): The Pats lost last week and they justifiably can look at the game tapes and think that a few dubious officiating calls in the 4th quarter had something to with that. The Eagles do not have the defensive personnel to match up with the Pats’ offense. I like the Pats to win and cover at home.

(Sun Nite) Indy at Pittsburgh (no lines): No lines means no pick for the game. The reason there are no lines is that Ben Roethlisberger is in the process of clearing out of the NFL Concussion Protocol so his availability for this game may not be known until Saturday. If I have to explain to you that there is a significant difference between the Steelers with Roethlisberger at QB and Landry Jones at QB, then you should not have read this far into these Mythical Picks.

(Mon Nite) Dallas at Washington – 4.5 (42): If the Giants lose on Sunday as I think they will, then the Skins can open up a significant lead in the NFC East with a win here. A win would give then a 3-1 record in the division; everyone else in the NFC East has two division losses as of this morning and the Giants have 3 division losses already. Jerry Jones still thinks the NFC East can be won by the Cowboys – hence no IR for Tony Romo yet (see above) – but a loss here would be the 9th of the year for the Cowboys and that would put the nail in the icing to mix metaphors here. Once more, I shall turn to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol and the coin says to take the Skins and lay the points.

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