Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend Of 10/24/15

Last week’s mythical picks were ever so slightly in positive mythical profitability territory. The results were 9-8-1 and that brings the season cumulative record to 55-52-4. The cumulative record is better than .500 and yet it would be in the red against the vig. This is an important lesson for novice sports gamblers to understand and internalize.

The “Best Pick” from last week was the Missouri/Georgia game. I liked Mizzou +15 and I liked the game to stay UNDER 46. Georgia won the game 9-6…

The “Worst Pick” from last week was the Notre Dame/USC game. I liked USC +6.5 and the game to stay UNDER 61. Neither of those outcomes actually happened…

Obviously, no one should consider anything that follows as information worthy of influencing the side to take in a real wager on a real NCAA football game involving real money. Anyone stupid enough to miss that point is also likely to miss this point:

    Fleetwood Mac is not a new breakfast sandwich at McDonalds.

General Comments:

The Linfield College Wildcats secured a winning season last week with a 49-7 win over Willamette last week. Division III schools play a 9-game regular season schedule; that was Linfield’s 5th win this year. The last time Linfield had a losing season in football was in 1956. This week, the Wildcats host Whitworth University in an important Northwest Conference game. Whitworth brings a 6-0 record to the contest; in only 1 game have they given up more than 14 points. The winner of this game has the inside tract to be the conference champion. Go Wildcats!

The challenge of finding a Division III football team as a mirror image to Linfield in terms of success is more work than it is worth. First, Finlandia went out and won a game; then I checked on Maranatha Bible College since they lost to Finlandia; last week Maranatha beat Trinity College. Enough, I shall simply track Linfield’s successes…

Surely you have seen the replay of the final play of the Michigan St./Michigan game from last week. As they lined up, I said to myself that the punter should be sure to send the ball out of bounds because the only way to lose here would be on a punt return for a TD. Well, there was indeed another way for Michigan to lose the game… Michigan State won its 7th game of the year and they “won-ugly” once again.

That was the first time this year that Michigan State covered a spread despite winning every game. The reason they covered is that Michigan was a 7-point favorite and they would have covered even without the miracle punt block/return for a TD.

Iowa dominated Northwestern last weekend and would appear to be on their way to winning the Big 10 West Division and a place in the Big 10 Championship Game. That raises a question in my mind:

    Did that division used to be the Legends or the Leaders?

Northwestern has lost 2 in a row now; Michigan shut them out 2 weeks ago. Nevertheless, there has to be some wellspring of talent there. Recall that Northwestern beat Stanford 16-6 in the opening game of the year. Since that game, Stanford has won 5 in a row and has averaged 40 points per game in those 5 wins.

Utah St. beat Boise St 52-26 last week. If something could have gone wrong for Boise St., it did. Utah State recovered 5 fumbles and picked off 3 errant passes in the game. Seven of those eight turnovers came in the first half and it is virtually impossible to beat any team better than Disco Tech when you give the ball away that often. I would love to hear a recording of the halftime speech in the Boise St. locker room after those 30 minutes of football. I imagine it may have peeled the paint off the walls.

Utah St. had lost 12 games in a row to Boise St. prior to last week. With that win, it would seem as if Utah St. could win the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference. Here is what Brad Rock of the Deseret News had to say about that game:

“USU forced seven turnovers, made a 51-yard field goal, and completed a 51-yard pass against BSU — in the first half.

“Analysts say the only trick the Aggies left out was deflating the footballs.”

Oklahoma had difficulty getting to the stadium for the game against Kansas State. Mechanical problems with more than one aircraft kept the team cooped up in an airport for more than 8 hours before they could get to Manhattan KS. According to Google Maps, that is a 308 mile trip; had the team chosen to take a bus to the game, they would have been there in less time even if the bus had a flat tire along the way.

The delay seemed not to have had any lingering negative effects on the team; there seemed to be no “hangover” for the Sooners from their surprising loss to Texas two weeks ago. They went out and beat K-State 55-0. In last week’s Mythical Picks, I took that game to go OVER 54 which it did. I must say, however, that was not one of the scenarios I envisioned by which the game would go OVER…

Memphis rallied from a 14-0 deficit to beat Ole Miss 37-24. Memphis QB, Paxton Lynch, was 39-53 for 384 yards and 3 TDs. Until last week, I had never heard of Paxton Lynch so I went to the Memphis football website to see if I could learn something about him. One thing that is clear is that Lynch is a large man; he is listed at 6’ 7” and 245 lbs. He has been the QB at Memphis for two-and-a-half seasons now; and for his career, he has completed just over 60% of his passes. For this season in 6 games, he is averaging 9.6 yards per pass attempt.

    Memo to Self: Check out a Memphis game in the future; is this guy someone to consider for the NFL Draft?

It was only a month ago that Ole Miss beat Alabama 43-37 and ascended to #2 in the polls. Looking at the Ole Miss schedule, it might just be that the win over Alabama was a bolt from the blue. Here are the teams Ole Miss has beaten this year:

    Tennessee-Martin
    Fresno St.
    Alabama
    Vandy
    New Mexico St.

Here are the teams Ole Miss has lost to:

    Florida
    Memphis

Let me be polite and say that is not exactly a murderous strength of schedule.

Speaking of teams not playing a murderous strength of schedule, Temple is undefeated at 6-0 meaning they are bowl eligible and it is not yet Halloween. Let me just say that is not a common circumstance on the Temple campus in North Philadelphia…

Alabama beat Texas A&M 41-23. Two Pick Sixes by Alabama dominated the first half but other than those plays, they just ran the ball down the Aggies’ throat for most of the game. Earlier this year, the Aggies surrendered 250 yards rushing to Arkansas but still came away with a win; last week they gave Alabama 232 yards on the ground but could not threaten to win this game at any point in the second half. They do need to find a way to shore up that run defense a bit…

The Alabama special teams seem to have come down with whatever it is that has afflicted the Texas special teams this year. In last week’s game Alabama had:

    A blocked punt
    Another punt returned for a TD against them
    Another return by them resulting in a lost fumble.

Nonetheless, Alabama won the game handily…

The Florida defense “held” Leonard Fournette to 180 yards rushing but LSU still won the game by a TD. The loss for Florida puts them 1 full game up on Georgia in the SEC East and 1.5 games ahead of Kentucky. Georgia and Florida play next week; that game just took on even more importance than the rivalry provides. Should Georgia win that game, the Bulldogs would still have to play Kentucky down the road. The SEC East has loads of possibilities…

In the SEC West, it looks as if it will come down to the LSU/Alabama game on November 7 at Alabama even though Texas A&M and Ole Miss are close enough to pick up the pieces should either Alabama or LSU fall apart. Both Alabama and LSU have next week off to prepare for the game; the fact that neither will play next week also assures that fans will get two full weeks of hype for that game instead of just one.

Washington State completed its sweep of Oregon’s Division 1-A teams last week beating Oregon State 52-31. In the PAC-12 North, Stanford is in charge with a 4-0 conference record but Washington State and Cal only have 1 conference loss. Washington State has a loud and rabid fanbase and I do not want to throw ice water on exuberance but in this case it may be irrational exuberance [/ Alan Greenspan].

Looking at the schedule and results to date:

    Washington State’s wins have come against Rutgers, Wyoming, Oregon and Oregon State. I’ll be polite and say the schedule could have been easier.

    Washington State lost to Division 1-AA Portland State at home. Not good…

    Washington State has already lost to Cal so they lose any tie-breaker situation head-to-head with Cal.

The rest of the schedule for Washington St is harder than what they have played to date:

    At Arizona, at UCLA, at Washington

    Home against Stanford, Arizona State and Colorado.

Yes, Washington State has a path to the PAC-12 title game, but it is a narrow path indeed with no margin for a misstep.

The Ponderosa Games:

Last week we had 4 Ponderosa Games and the favorite covered in 1 of them.

Toledo covered.

Georgia Southern, Texas Tech and Wisconsin did not cover.

That brings the cumulative record for favorites covering in Ponderosa games to 23-28-0.

This week we have 6 Ponderosa Games:

E. Michigan at N. Illinois – 28 (69.5): MAC games with spreads like this are monumentally uninteresting.

Miami (Oh) at W. Michigan – 26 (54): MAC games with spreads like this are monumentally uninteresting. Is there an echo in here…?

Wyoming at Boise St. – 35 (56.5): Boise St. coughed up a hairball last week against Utah St. (see above). This could get very ugly very quickly; Wyoming is a bad football team.

N. Texas at Marshall – 29 (60.5): Surprisingly low spread given that N. Texas lost to Division 1-AA Portland State by more than 50 points just a couple weeks ago.

Iowa St. at Baylor – 37 (81): Baylor needs to win big to stay firmly in the discussion for the College Football Playoff. Baylor cannot point to “strength of schedule” as a reason to get into the bracket so they have to pummel the weak opponents on the schedule.

Kansas at Oklahoma St. – 34 (61): That is a lot of points to expect a good but not great team to cover. Then again, they need only to cover against a bad football team…

The SHOE Teams:

Who is on the Watch List this week? Here are 15 SHOE Tournament possibilities…

    E. Michigan – what’s to like?
    Fresno St – 2 unimpressive wins; several blow out losses
    Idaho – 2 wins but over Wofford and Troy, yuck
    Kansas – actually stayed in a game last week against a real opponent
    La-Monroe – they play Idaho this week; oh joy
    Miami (Oh) – they are 1-6 and are a Ponderosa dog this week
    New Mexico St. – they play Troy this week.
    North Texas – hard to see them missing the SHOE Tournament
    Troy – not much good you can say about them
    Tulane – 2 wins but over Maine and UCF
    UCF – just simply a bad team
    UMass – they play E. Michigan and Miami (Oh) down the road
    UTEP – gave up 52 points to Florida International last game
    UTSA – their only win was over UTEP
    Wyoming – a bad team that could be crushed this week by Boise St.

Games of Interest:

(Thurs Nite) Cal at UCLA – 3 (68): I see this game as a shootout between with two good offenses and two “less than stellar” defenses. I like the game to go OVER.

Indiana at Michigan St – 16.5 (63): Michigan St. seems to be the team of destiny for 2015. When they finally lose a game, it will be in a monumental fashion but I doubt that Indiana has the horses to make that happen. State does not shoot itself in the foot and should win handily here. I like Michigan State to win and cover.

Clemson – 6.5 at Miami (FL) (56): Again, I see two competent offenses going against a pair of defenses that are not equally competent. I like this game to go OVER.

NC State – 9.5 at Wake Forest (46): Wake doesn’t score a lot but they can play defense. They should keep this as a low-scoring game. Is NC State really good enough to be a 9.5-point road favorite in a conference game? That line is fatter than Sally Struthers. I’ll take Wake plus the points at home.

Missouri – 2.5 at Vandy (35): In a college football era where some games have total scores over 100, this Total Line is at 35. Here you have two good defenses and two offenses that strive to be labeled as inept. I will not make a pick here but this is a game of interest just because the Total Line is so low.

Utah at USC – 3.5 (59.5): Utah is undefeated and ranked in the Top 10; USC has lost 3 times this year. USC is favored? Where is the respect? USC’s offense gains 115 yards per game more than Utah’s. Utah’s defense allows 45 yards per game less than USC’s. I like Utah plus the points here.

Tennessee at Alabama – 15 (53): Tennessee has had two weeks to prepare for this game. I think they are badly over-matched here because Alabama knows that it cannot afford another loss if they hope to be in the College Football Championship Playoff. Actually, Tennessee has had two weeks to prepare to get their butts kicked. I’ll take Alabama to win and cover at home.

K-State at Texas – 4 (50): This is a game of interest just to see what is going on in these two programs. State is unusually discombobulated this year; that is not the trademark of a Bill Snyder team. Texas has been awful at times – – and then it rose up and beat Oklahoma. Who knows what is going on with these two programs?

Texas A&M at Ole Miss – 6 (65.5): If you look at the way these guys played against Alabama, you would make Ole Miss a 3 TD favorite. I prefer to look at the schedules the teams have played. I like Texas A&M plus the points here.

Duke at Va Tech – 3 (43): Cutting to the chase, that Total Line looks very low to me. I’ll take the game to go OVER.

BC at Louisville – 7.5 (37): Here is another game with a Total Line in the 30s. Maybe I need to conjure up a list of “Limbo Games” where the question is:

    How low can you go?

Kentucky at Mississippi St. – 11.5 (55): Kentucky still has a shot at the SEC East title (see above). A loss here would pretty much eliminate them, however. I cannot see them winning on the road here but State is hardly a team to inspire confidence to cover a large spread. I do not see where 56 points will come from in this game. I like the game to stay UNDER.

Auburn at Arkansas – 6 (51): Arkansas loves to run the ball; Auburn’s defensive weakness is run defense. I am not sold on either team here but that matchup seems to favor Arkansas rather dramatically. I’ll take Arkansas at home to win and cover.

Texas Tech at Oklahoma – 14 (74): This game is another match-up situation. Texas Tech throws the ball all over the field; they are averaging 49 passes per game this year and 427 yards per game. Oklahoma has had its ups and downs this year but they do play decent pass defense. They only give up 152 yards per game and less than 50% completions. Meanwhile, the Sooners do not have nearly the yardage stats that Texas Tech does on offense, but the Tech defense has given up 554 yards per game this year. I like Oklahoma at home to win and cover here.

Florida State – 6.5 at Georgia Tech (56.5): Tech opened the season with two huge wins over Division 1-AA Alcorn State and SHOE candidate Tulane. Since then Tech has lost 5 in a row and has been outscored by 61 points in those 5 losses. This Florida State team is not the juggernaut of years past for that program but they sure do appear to be better than Georgia Tech. I like Florida State to win and cover.

Ohio State – 21 at Rutgers (no Total Line): The “Chief Logistics Officer” for our annual trip to Las Vegas has proclaimed this game as his “50-Star Mortal-Lock Beat-The-Book-To-Death Game of the Year”. Who am I to argue? I’ll take Ohio State to win and cover.

Washington State at Arizona – 7.5 (74): If Washington State hopes to be the PAC-12 North champion, they can ill afford a loss here. Expect to see a lot of hurry-up offense in this game and most of the play calls to be forward passes. I like this game to go OVER.

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

“In Pac-12 football play this season, the visiting team won 10 of the first 15 conference games.

“Veteran observers say they haven’t seen this much trauma at home since Elin discovered Tiger’s text messages.”

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 10/25/15

[I know it is only Wednesday and there is a daily rant already posted for today [scroll down to see it if you wish] but this is my annual Las Vegas weekend and all of the picks and postings have to be done by tomorrow afternoon. The NCAA flavor of Mythical picks will be posted here sometime tomorrow – not sure when since I have things to do this afternoon and we are having guests for dinner tonite.]

Last week was not a great week of mythical picking and it reduced the season-long totals to such a state of blandness that you might think Dean Blandino was making the picks. The record last week was 7-9-1; the cumulative record now stands at 47-47-3; the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games have gone 5-5-0.

The “Best Picks” were taking the Dolphins +2 points and watching them win in a walk over the Titans and taking the Saints +3.5 points and watching them win handily over the Falcons.

The “Worst Pick” was the pair of picks in the Broncos/Browns game. I took the Broncos – 4 (they won by only 3) and I took the game to stay UNDER 42.5. Cannot do much worse than that…

The picks for this week have been assembled much earlier than usual because this is the week I go to Las Vegas with friends. These are early lines and I would be surprised if many of them did not change significantly between now and kickoff.

Surely, no one will be tempted by any of the data above to think of anything that follows here as a realistic glimpse of the future. However, just in case … no one should use anything here as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game involving real money. If you are that stupid …

    You also think that the archives are where Noah kept the bees.

General Comments:

Where else might I possibly begin this week other than the Colts’ “fake punt play”? If you did not see it live on Sunday Night Football and you have not seen it replayed on ESPN or checked out the Internet to see it, you are one of three things:

    A rabid Colts’ fan who cannot bear to see your heroes do something so stupid

    A member of Chuck Pagano’s nuclear family

    A baseball fan who ought not to be wasting time reading all these words about the NFL.

I have long thought that the dumbest premeditated decision in the history of the NFL – or at least that portion of the history of the NFL that occurred during my sentient times – was the decision to hand the ball off in the situation that led to The Miracle at the Meadowlands. This decision resides up in that sort of rarefied air; in fact it may have been a diminished oxygen supply to the brain that made it happen.

Trailing by one score late in the 3rd quarter at your own 37 yardline with 4th and 3, this is clearly the time to punt the ball and play defense. It might be the time to line up in a goofy formation to try to draw the Patriots offsides knowing that if you take the delay of game penalty you will be punting from the 32 and not the 37. Big deal; the commitment here has to be to punt the damned ball. But the Colts did not and when the ball was snapped the guy under center had no more chance of making a play than Steven Seagal has of winning a Best Actor Oscar. Here is the note I wrote on my notepad at the end of that fiasco:

“Michigan had only the second worst punt play of the weekend. That was a physical error; this was just plain stupid.”

“Thought for a minute I was watching the Lions on the field with Wayne Fontes on the sidelines.”

There have been reports/rumors that Chuck Pagano’s job may be in jeopardy in Indy despite the fact that his teams always seem to go to the playoffs and have dominated the AFC South for much of the last decade or so. I have no inside information with regard to that but if the reports are accurate, there may be a rift between/among coach Pagano, GM Grigson and owner Irsay. Were I the owner and there were no rift between me and the coach up until last Sunday night, there might well be one there now…

Look Irsay owns the team and he can hire and fire whomever he wants to. I tend to think coach firings are more about owners’ egos than just about anything else, but he is the owner … However, were I the owner, I would be looking analytically at the team that has been assembled this year to wear the Colts’ uniforms. In most circumstances, that responsibility falls in the main to the GM and not the coach; in this circumstance, the GM would have a lot of ‘splainin to do. [/Ricky Ricardo]

    The Colts’ major asset is QB Andrew Luck. For a football team – like any enterprise – protection of one’s major asset is of primary importance.

    Some teams protect the QB by assembling an OL that is really good at opening holes for running backs such that the defense has to play the run and not get set to tee off on the QB.

    Other teams protect the QB by assembling an OL that is really good at pass blocking and picking up blitzes.

    The Colts have done neither; theirs is a mediocre-at-best OL.

    The most undervalued portion of a team’s defense is the DL. The Colts’ DL is also mediocre-at-best.

I understand that drafting players is a crap-shoot and draft picks sometimes make good and sometimes suck wind. No GM does that perfectly to be sure. But when GMs make trades and sign free agents, you would think that they are working in an area where the uncertainties are less than in the draft. So, let me highlight just 3 of the GMs decisions in that arena:

    He traded a first round pick to acquire Trent Richardson from the Browns. The operative phrase here is “from the Browns”; he was not good enough to be a cornerstone for the offense of the Browns.

    In 2013, he signed OG Gosder Cherilus to a 5-year contract theoretically worth $35M. As of 2015 Cherilus is gone and has signed on with the Bucs at $3.5M per year; meanwhile, the Colts are on the hook for a total of $8.7M of “dead money” against their salary cap for the next two seasons. Where did the GM find Cherilus? He had been on the OL for the Detroit Lions for the five years leading up to his free agency; he was not good enough to be a cornerstone of the OL for the Detroit Lions.

    Also in 2013, he signed S LaRon Landry to a 4-year contract theoretically worth $24M. As of 2015, Landry is gone and is serving a 10-game suspension for substance abuse policy violations. The Colts released him and are eating about $5M in dead money on their salary cap over the next two years. Where did the GM find Landry? He had been with the Skins and the Jets for 6 seasons meaning there was plenty of film available to show that he could not cover a corpse with a bed sheet.

I do not know if Chuck Pagano’s job is in jeopardy or if he will be fired. Truth be told, I really do not care all that much either. However, if the Colts’ GM stays on and gets a raise based on his performance over the past three years or so, I would have to suspect that he has come very incriminating pictures/videos in his possession…

As of this morning, the Colts are 3-0 against the AFC South and 0-3 against the rest of the NFL. Even if you extrapolate that record to its most wildly pessimistic end – the Colts only win 6 games for the whole season – it might be enough to win that division. If anyone were to beat them out, that team would have to win 7 games because the Colts would own all the tie-breakers. I am not so sure any other team in the AFC South can win that often.

Two other AFC South teams squared off last weekend; the Texans beat the Jags 31-20. The Jags are one of the AFC South teams that are not going to win 7 games this year; as of today they are averaging less than 20 points per game and giving up almost 30 points per game. Last week, their leading rusher was QB Blake Bortles with 37 yards. The Texans are now 2-4 and I guess they might win 7 games. I really like WR DeAndre Hopkins and I think he does not get nearly the acclaim he has earned because he plays in Houston for a mediocre offensive team. So far this year, he has caught 52 passes for 726 yards in 6 games. Not bad…

Going into last week’s game against the Dolphins, Ken Whisenhunt had led the Titans to a 3-17 record; now it is 3-18. The Dolphins waxed the Titans 38-10 last week making a lot of folks in South Florida a lot happier than they were two weeks ago. I am not ready to proclaim a new and rosy era for Miami football based on a single week of dominance; after all, those were the Titans out there in the opposing uniforms last weekend – a team that has won one out of seven games over the last season and a half… Oh, for the record, the Titans are the fourth team in the AFC South and they are not going to win 7 games this year either.

The Vikes beat the Chiefs 16-10 last week. I said in last week’s Mythical Picks that I thought this would be a boring game; it was pretty much like that. With Jamaal Charles on the shelf, the Chiefs ran for a grand total of 57 yards; with a defense focused on stopping Adrian Peterson, the Chiefs held him to 60 yards rushing on 26 carries. Neither team is exciting to watch; putting both on the field together showed that two individually unexciting teams can produce a completely unexciting game.

The Steelers beat the Cards 25-13. This is their second win with Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines with his knee injury; those two wins might be extremely important in December as playoff tie-breakers come into play. Landry Jones relieved Michael Vick in this game and played very well. I think the more important thing to note here is that Carson Palmer threw the ball for 421 yards in the game and that only produced 13 points. The Cards dominated the stat sheet but could not make that dominance into scores.

Speaking of dominating the stat sheet and losing the game, Philip Rivers threw the ball 65 times (completed 43 of them) for 503 yards with no INTs. Keenan Allen caught 14 passes for 159 yards in the game. Nonetheless, the Packers won by 7 points to remain undefeated; that is the most important stat to come out of this – or any – NFL game.

The Jets bet the Skins handily last week by 2 TDs. The focus of the moaning and groaning in the DC area has been Kirk Cousins throwing 2 INTs in the second half. While not trying to minimize how that makes winning more difficult consider some other factors:

    The Skins got 3 turnovers in the first half; the Jets had none in the half. With that advantage, the Skins only led at halftime by 3 points.

    As a team, the Skins ran the ball 17 times for 34 yards. Once the Jets got the lead, do you think the defensive coordinator there focused on stopping the passing attack or the running game?

    The Skins’ defense gave up 221 yards rushing (5.4 yards per carry) and 474 yards of total offense.

The Jets/Skins game had an unusual twist to it. There were no penalties assessed until 10 minutes were left to play in the 4th quarter. For the entire game there were only 4 assessed penalties – all of the 5-yard variety. That does not happen very often in 2015…

The Broncos beat the Browns by a field goal in OT to advance their record to 6-0. It was a “winning-ugly” situation. Peyton Manning threw 2 INTs – one of which was of the Pick six variety – and really looked like an ordinary QB for much of the game. Of all the undefeated teams, the Broncos look to be the worst of the lot; having said that, there are an awful lot of teams that would like to be the worst undefeated team in the league as of today…

The Lions beat the Bears by a field goal in OT giving the Lions their first win of the year. The game had another controversial call with regard to a ball caught/not caught in the end zone for a TD/not-a-TD; if you see a replay and can explain the call here as it might be consistent with previous calls of this nature, please give it a try because I cannot. Matthew Stafford returned to the field after his second-half benching last week to throw for 400+ yards and the Lions accumulated 546 yards of total offense. Was this an awakening by the Lions’ offense – – or was this just the Bears’ defense being the Bears’ defense? Consider:

    The Bears have allowed more points than any team in the NFL (179 in 6 games).

On Monday night, it looked after the first possession by the two teams that the Giants were going to win the game in a walk. Exactly the opposite happened; the Eagles came to life – particularly on defense – and the Giants started playing like zombies. The teams combined to fumble the ball 5 times (2 of them were lost) and to throw another 5 INTs. It was hardly a game where the adjective “artistic” might be applicable. Nonetheless, the Eagles now lead the NFC East by virtue of their head-to-head win over the Giants. That did not look likely just two weeks ago.

The Bengals stayed unbeaten by beating the Bills in Buffalo last week; the first snowflakes of the NFL season showed up on the screen as the teams were warming up. The Bills are now 3-3 for the season and all 3 of their losses have come at home. Andy Dalton picked the Bills apart surgically here with 3 TD passes and no INTs; most of the time he was unhurried. The Bills have a lot of high-paid players in the front-seven but they are not getting a lot of return for all that spending. Moreover, the needless and blockheaded penalties continue to pile up. At some point, you have to consider that the lack of production from the front-seven and the stupid penalties is a result of poor coaching by someone(s) on the staff.

Last week, Sammy Watkins went public with his complaint that he was not being targeted enough times. Basically he said that he was the best offensive option and they just needed to “get him the damned ball”. [/ Keyshawn Johnson] Late in the first half, QB, EJ Manuel, did just that; Watkins caught the ball in the end zone for a TD and was never touched on the play. He did wind up on crutches however with an ankle injury.

    Memo to Sammy Watkins: You are indeed the best offensive player on the Bills’ squad. However, availability trumps talent.

Let me offer up a dangerous game for those of you who think you need more excitement in your life:

    It is a drinking game. Watch a Bills game and every time there is a penalty flag against the Bills, you chug a beer. The last person to have to hit the head – to relieve pressure from the top of the alimentary canal or from the bladder – wins the game. Win or lose, be prepared for a humongous headache the next morning…

The Niners beat the Ravens 25-20 in my Dog-Breath Game of the Week last week. The Ravens are toast; I projected that they would win 11 games this year; to do that they need to win out from here and that will happen about two weeks after Urkel wins the Olympic Decathlon Gold Medal. The Ravens’ defense is simply a mess; they get only a modicum of pressure on the QB and the DBs need the kind of help that is illegal in the NFL – namely they need a couple of extra guys back there in the secondary so they would have 13 or 14 men on the field. Colin Kaepernick threw for 340 yards on that defense last week and that is the second highest total passing yards in a game for Kaepernick. By the way, the Ravens’ OL is not “getting it done” very well to establish a running game either. Now, Ravens’ fans will surely attack my thesis here by noting – correctly – that the Ravens have lost their 5 games by a total of 22 points and that the worst loss was by 6 points. I do not dispute those numbers; they are correct. What is equally correct is that the Ravens’ record is 1-5…

A team that had high aspirations for this season that similar to the Ravens finds itself on the brink of a disastrous season is the Seattle Seahawks who lost last week to the Panthers after leading by 6 points after 3 quarters. Yes, they blew a 4th quarter lead for the 4th time this season. In the final 10 minutes of the game, the Panthers drove 80 yards twice to put 2 TDs on the board and win the game. Giving up 160 yards in 10 minutes in the 4th quarter to lose a game is hardly a competent defense let alone a champion’s defense. I thought Kam Chancellor was supposed to prevent that sort of thing from ever happening again…

The Panthers are now 5-0. Going into the game last weekend, the Panthers had beaten a bunch of bad teams (Jags, Texans, Saints and Bucs). They showed in this game that they can play with teams that put a lot more talent on the field than those first four opponents. The Panthers and Falcons meet twice down the road; the outcome of those two games should determine the winner of the NFC South. Question:

    Will the “other team” in those matchups be a wild card team?

The Games:

Teams that will take the week off are:

    Bears: They will prepare to host the Vikes next week and will pretend that the rest of their season is relevant.

    Bengals: They are undefeated at 6-0 with a 2 game lead over the Steelers. However, next week, they need to go to Pittsburgh for an important game.

    Broncos: They are undefeated at 6-0 with a 3.5 game lead over the Raiders in a woeful division. Next week, the Packers come to town in a match of undefeated teams.

    Packers: They are undefeated at 6-0 with a 2.5 game lead over the Vikes. Next week they go to Denver to play the Broncos.

(Thurs Nite) Seattle – 6 at SF (42.5): The spread for this game opened at 4.5 points and has been climbing in the early part of the week. I suspect it could climb higher by game time. The good news for the Seahawks is that they finally found a way to get Jimmy Graham featured in their offense last week; he caught 8 passes. There are two bits of bad news for the Seahawks:

    1. Russell Wilson has been sacked 26 times in 6 games. That is the most of any QB in the league. For the record, that is not a good thing…

    2. Not only do the Seahawks have a bad habit of giving up 4th quarter leads, they have been outscored in the 4th quarter of their last 5 games 48-9.

Both teams are 2-4; the loser will be in last place in the NFC West. The Niners won last week and Colin Kaepernick played his best game of the season by far. Anquan Boldin had his second consecutive 100-yard receiving game last week; it seems he has been in the league for about 25 years now. Here is a disturbing trend:

    The Niners are 2-10 in their last 12 games against the spread on grass fields.

Why is that disturbing? Their home field is a grass field. I think the Seahawks are the significantly better team here so I’ll take them on the road to win and cover.

Buffalo – 6.5 vs. Jax (42) [Game is in London]: The spread here opened at 5 points and has climbed steadily to this level. You can see this game through streaming on Yahoo! Sonny Jurgensen is still alive; I wonder if he ever imagined the construction of that sentence when he was playing in the NFL. I found two meaningless and contradictory trends for the Bills to share with you here:

    Bills are 16-6 to go UNDER in their last 22 games overall.
    Bills are 15-7 to go OVER in their last 22 games in October.

Make of that what you will… The Jags’ offense is 15 yards per game better than the Bills’ offense; the Bills’ defense is 10 yards per game better than the Jags. The Bills have some significant injuries to starting QB, Tyrod Taylor and to their two best WRs, Sammy Watkins and Percy Harvin. DT Kyle Williams hurt his knee in last week’s game and is out for this one. LeSean McCoy played last week and looked as if he was over his leg injury; Taylor said he is going to play this week. The Jags have no set of injuries to key players that begins to compare to that list. I think that line is fat; I think the Jags have a legitimate shot to win the game straight up and the Money Line has the Jags at +220. For mythical purposes, I will take the Jags plus the points here. However, this is my Las Vegas weekend and should I find that Money Line steady at that level …

Cleveland at St. Louis – 5.5 (42): Todd Gurley has emerged as a threat to run the ball for the Rams in the last couple of games. The Rams had last week off to be sure to keep him involved in the offense because he is averaging 5.7 yards per carry. The Rams have to win with defense and running the football because their passing attack does not scare anyone. Josh McCown has had some good games for the Browns at QB this year but he is still a career journeyman. I think the Rams will hold the Browns offense in check and I will take the Rams win and cover at home.

Pittsburgh – 2 at KC (no Total Line): Many sportsbooks have not posted a spread on this game and I cannot find a Total Line even at the sportsbooks that have this spread up on the board. The reason is that no one knows who will play QB for the Steelers in the game. Landry Jones played well last week and is clearly the healthiest of the Steelers’ 3 QBs. Ben Roethlisberger will “give it a go” in practice this week; Michael Vick has a “small tear in his hamstring” according to USA Today. What we know for sure is that Jamaal Charles will not play for the Chiefs and that is not something the Chiefs’ offense can overcome. The Steelers are 2 games behind the idle Bengals and face the Bengals next week. They need a win here so that a home win over the Bengals next week puts them only a half-game out of first place in the AFC North. I’ll take the Steelers to win and cover on the road – – and hope they do not have to go to an “emergency QB” sometime during the game.

Houston at Miami – 4.5 (44.5): The spread opened at 5.5 points, dropped quickly to this level and has stayed here for the last day or so. The Dolphins played a strong game last week dominating the Titans. It is the last three words of that previous sentence that are most important, “dominating the Titans”. I do not want to make the Texans out to be some kind of super-team because they are not but they are better than the Titans. Here is the question:

    Was last week’s resurgence by the Dolphins a revival of their fortunes that will last or was it – as they call it on Wall Street – a dead-cat-bounce?

I shall turn the answer to that question over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip protocol and the coin says to take the Texans plus the points.

Jets at New England – 9.5 (48): Even though Todd Bowles is in his first year as a head coach, the Pats ought not to expect that he will gift them the game the way Chuck Pagano and his staff did last week. The Pats average 380 yards per game on offense; that is very good. The Jets allow an average of 269 yards on defense; that is very good. The biggest mismatch on the field is Ryan Fitzpatrick vis a vis Tom Brady. I do not expect the Jets’ defense to shut down Brady but they could easily keep him from throwing for 450 yards and 4 TDs. The question for me is how Fitzpatrick plays and how he controls the game. I think the line is fat; I’ll take the Jets plus the points.

Minnesota – 2.5 at Detroit (44.5): You can be sure that I will not be playing this game in Las Vegas this weekend and will likely be giving it only minimal attention as it progresses. Neither team is reliable; you never really know which version of the team – or either QB for that matter – will show up and play. Only because I said I would make a pick in every game will I turn this one over the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip. The coin says to take the Lions plus the points. Hey, if the coin says so…

Atlanta – 4 at Tennessee (48): I am surprised that there is a line on this game early in the week because there were questions about Marcus Mariotta’s availability for the game on Monday. Normally, that sort of thing postpones posting a line. The Falcons’ loss last Thursday to the Saints was an ugly loss and the Saints are not a good team. However, as noted above, the Titans are 3-18 during the tenure of head coach Ken Whisenhunt so there is no way to pretend that the Titans are any good either. I like the Falcons to regroup here and to win and cover on the road.

Tampa Bay at Washington – 3.5 (43.5): This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. More than likely, the team that makes the last mistake will lose the game and both QBs have shown that they are very error-prone. Between the two of them, they have thrown 15 INTs this year. Once again, this is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Bucs plus the points. Really…?

New Orleans at Indy – 4.5 (52): The Saints need to build on their win last week if they have any hope of relevance for their season past Thanksgiving. After last week’s soiling of the sheets, the Colts will likely get an earful of scorn from their home crowd if they do not play dominantly. Here is the key question for this game:

    Can the Saints’ defense repeat the positive performance it showed last week in beating the Falcons or was that a one-time aberration?

I do not think the Saints’ defense matured last week; I think they just got on a roll in the game. I like the Colts to win and cover here and I like this game to go OVER. I smell a shoot-out; both teams give up more than 400 yards per game on defense.

Oakland at San Diego – 4 (47): The spread opened the week at 5.5 points. Both teams are on a 2-game losing streak; the Raiders had last week off to prepare for this game. If these teams harbor thoughts of the Broncos coming back to Earth sometime later this year, they each need to win here to become the “team in the best position to pick up the pieces”. Both teams throw the ball better than they run the ball and neither pass defense is outstanding. I like this game to go OVER. Now if that spread were to drop all the way to 3 points…

Dallas at Giants – 3.5 (45): The spread here opened the week at 6 points and dropped to this level almost immediately. This is an important NFC East game; the Cowboys had a Bye Week to prepare; the Giants had a short week to prepare. Brandon Weeden goes to the bench and Matt Cassel takes over under center for the Cowboys. Cassel is not the second coming of John Elway by any means, but he should be a significant step up from Weeden. The Giants’ offense was AWOL last week. Was that because the Eagles’ defense smothered it or was it a mass drop in their collective biorhythms. Consider:

    In the first half against the Eagles, the Giants threw the ball to Odell Beckham, Jr 7 times and he caught all 7 passes.

    In the second half, they only threw it at him once.

    Was that a great defensive adjustment by the Eagles or a total brain-freeze by the Giants?

The Eagles’ DL harassed Eli Manning most of the night; will Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory be able to do the same this week? On the other hand, the Giants’ DL seems to think it is Lent and they have chosen to give up rushing the passer for Lent. I like this game to go OVER.

(Sun Nite) Philly at Carolina – 3 (46): The Eagles need this game to stay atop the NFC East; the Panthers are only a half-game ahead of the Falcons in the NFC South. Both teams will know how their rivals fared in earlier games as they take the field here. Consider these comparisons:

    Carolina is 5-0 with a point differential of +41.
    Philly is 3-3 with a point differential of +34.
    Both teams score in the mid-20s on average.
    Both teams allow less than 20 on average.

This might be the best game of the week. I’ll take the Eagles plus the points here.

(Mon Nite) Baltimore at Arizona – 7.5 (48): I think this game comes down to a single factor. The Ravens’ pass defense is a mess; they do not pressure the QB nearly well enough to cover for the mediocrity that exists in their injury-depleted secondary. At the same time Carson Palmer and his corps of pass-catchers average 8.7 yards per pass attempt. The Ravens are 1-5 for a reason and I think that reason will be on display front and center next Monday night. I like the Cardinals to win and cover here and I like the game to go OVER.

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

Pure Hedonism…

In the month of October, the batteries powering my TV remote get quite a workout. I flip back and forth between football games and MLB Playoff games more than just once in a while. Playoff baseball is different from regular season baseball just as regular season baseball is different from Spring Training. Playoff baseball is compelling to a much greater degree than any individual game in a 162-game season.

The great thing is that both football and baseball allow time for such channel commuting. When the football teams are not playing hurry-up offense, it is even possible to reach a state of synchronization where pitches and plays happen in real time such that you do not miss anything in either game. My long-suffering wife likes to characterize me as a Luddite and often reminds me that I can record one game and watch the other and not miss anything. I have tried to explain that there is something “delicious” about being able to catch it all in real time as opposed to catching it on replay.

I bring this up because I have a rooting interest in both the ALCS and the NLCS this year. It is not the typical rooting interest because I really do not care which team wins either series. I have said I wanted the Blue Jays to win in the AL only to see if a World Series Game might have to be postponed because of snow – as a way to tell MLB that even Mother Nature thinks baseball should not stretch into November. But that is not my rooting interest …

I want both the ALCS and the NLCS to stretch to at least 6 games and preferably to 7 games. The reason for that is purely hedonistic. This week is the annual Autumnal Pilgrimage to Las Vegas with “the regulars” and if those playoff series go to their final games, we will get to see them there on the big screen, in a sportsbook, amongst an energized environment – and with “a little something” on the game to root for. There will be other things going on in the sportsbooks while the games are on – but there will be no need to flip from channel to channel because there will be at least 2 dozen screens to cover all the action all the time. Like I said, pure hedonism…

About a week ago, there were reports that Browns’ QB, Johnny Manziel had been pulled over for driving at a high rate of speed on a road shoulder in Ohio and that he and his girlfriend had been involved in a roadside altercation which escalated to something physical. If those reports were accurate, it is difficult to see how this might be construed as a “good thing”…

Added to that sort of reporting, it appeared that Manziel had been drinking – although not to the point of impairment while driving – and given his long stint in rehab earlier this year for alcohol abuse, that was also disquieting…

Both of these aspects to the reports of this incident are important and bothersome. Domestic violence/abuse is abhorrent; let there be no cloud of uncertainty around or nuance associated with that statement. Drinking as a recovering alcoholic is tragic because it is a testament to the fact that the recovery is not real. I have several friends and former colleagues who are recovering alcoholics. Two of them that I know of have had to go through the start-up to recovery several times before recovery became central to their lives. Both of them said that as soon as they took “that first drink” they realized that their recovery had gone all the way back to square one.

Johnny Manziel has not been an endearing figure or an inspirational figure for his short time on the sporting scene. For much of that time he seemed to be the incarnation of the entitled spoiled brat to whom the rules that apply to others do not apply to him. It was easy to imagine a year or so ago him being confronted by any sort of authority figure and hearing him say, “Do you know who I am?”

Manziel brought out all of the euphemisms that reporters use to avoid negative commentary.

    He “made bad decisions”; he “showed immaturity”; he “refused to take accountability”.

What he was doing then was being an antisocial “starts-with-A-and-rhymes-with-glass-bowl”. Based on his need for rehab – and the length of his stay in rehab – we can at least consider that some of his antisocial behavior was directly tied to his alcohol consumption. If that consideration is closer to correct than to incorrect, the reports that he had been drinking proximal to the time of the traffic incident and the confrontation with his girlfriend are saddening and worrisome.

Since the police have not filed any charges in the matter and the girlfriend seems not to be interested in anything along the lines of a lawsuit or a protective order, the idea that the Browns and/or the NFL might punish Manziel is tenuous. None of the circumstances involved in the incident a week ago are laudable but I do have to wonder what good might come from a punishment. This is not over; stay tuned…

The Miami Dolphins spent two weeks acclimating to an interim coach and his new ways. Buried in the agate type was an announcement that the team also “promoted” special teams coach Darren Rizzi to the position of “Assistant Head Coach”. To be honest, I have no idea about Darren Rizzi’s coaching career or his credentials within that profession; so, please do not take the following comment as any kind of a swipe at him.

    What does it mean to be the Assistant Head Coach to a guy who is the Interim Head Coach?

    Should scribes refer to him as the Assistant-Interim Head Coach?

    If the Interim Head Coach goes down in flames, do you become the Neo-Interim Head Coach and inherit a new assistant?

    If the Interim Head Coach is a wild success and gets the job permanently, do you get to keep your “Assistantship” permanently too?

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald that is relevant to my channel commuting from baseball games to football games at this time of the year:

“The Iranian women’s soccer team must undergo gender testing after allegations that eight players are men. It’s low-budget gender testing. The players are handed a TV remote and if they haven’t lost it in five minutes, they are considered to be women.”

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

More On Daily Fantasy Sports…

Yesterday, I talked about the daily fantasy sports websites and their advertising presence on NFL telecasts. I mentioned that these sites had come under some criticism/scrutiny recently. Last week, the Nevada State Gaming Control Board ruled that daily fantasy sports is a form of gambling and therefore those websites will need to have a state- issued license to operate in Nevada. Here is a statement from the Chairman of that entity:

“We are saying that daily fantasy sports are a gambling game under the statutory definition. We’re also saying that these are sports pools, which is when someone is in the business of accepting wagers on sporting events through any system or method of wagering. We have found that it is a wager, and obviously, it’s on a sporting event, and DFS [Daily Fantasy Sports] companies are in the business of accepting those wagers.”

As you might expect, the folks who run the websites see this matter in a completely different light. Consider this statement from FanDuel:

“[FanDuel] is terribly disappointed that the Nevada Gaming Control Board has decided that only incumbent Nevada casinos may offer fantasy sports. This decision stymies innovation and ignores the fact that fantasy sports is a skill-based entertainment product loved and played by millions of sports fans. This decision deprives these fans of a product that has been embraced broadly by the sports community, including professional sports teams, leagues and media partners.”

Please note that this response hits at “plus-points” like “innovation” and “fun for millions of fans” while ignoring the fundamental issue. It is a form of gambling and that means it needs to be regulated. Note also, FanDuel calls this a form of “skill-based entertainment”.

Draft Kings has a PR/Communications Department too and issued this statement:

“We understand that the gaming industry is important to Nevada, and, for that reason, they are taking this exclusionary approach against the increasingly popular fantasy sports industry. We strongly disagree with this decision and will work diligently to ensure Nevadans have the right to participate in what we strongly believe is legal entertainment that millions of Americans enjoy.”

Once again the statement points to popular ideas that most will agree with – level playing field and opportunities for all – but seems not to address at all the Gaming Control Board’s assertion that these sites are running a gambling operation.

This entire situation stems from the actions of the US Congress and the US Department of Justice with regard to gambling using the Internet as the vehicle for the game(s). It is OK to use the Internet for daily fantasy sports wagering and wagering on horse races but not for wagering on the outcome of individual games or not to play poker for real money. It seems to me that if one is opposed to gambling, one should oppose all forms of Internet gambling; but of course, nothing is ever so simple or so definitive when it comes to Congressional actions.

Adding to the murkiness here is the fact that several players on daily fantasy websites have filed suit against the sites saying that the games are rigged because of alleged actions of insiders who know the betting patterns. Of course, the plaintiffs allege that they would never have played in the first place had they only known… Who knows? My strong suspicion is that no one who won money from the web sites is a plaintiff in such a lawsuit…

Another sports-related story has gotten a lot of coverage in the past week or so is the Lamar Odom health matter. Odom went to a legal brothel in Nevada – the Bunny Ranch – and reportedly binged on “herbal Viagra”, alcohol and possibly cocaine for hours on end. He was found in an unconscious and unresponsive state and rushed by emergency vehicle to a hospital in Las Vegas. He spent a few days in a comatose state fighting for his life; he is reported to be doing better and communicating with visitors as of the last report. My first reaction was to ignore the obvious opportunity here to make any snarky remarks about someone checking into a brothel and binging on “herbal Viagra” – sold under the trade name “Reload” no less. However, the massive reporting on this story requires me to ask:

    Why is this establishment always called a brothel and never a whorehouse?

    Do they offer soup or broth for sale there?

    What they do offer for sale there are …

Then yesterday, I saw a report that said someone got into Lamar Odom’s room while he was unconscious and stole his belongings. The report said he had a bodyguard with him at the building – not in his room obviously – and the bodyguard is mystified as to how this might have happened. Let me see…

    You are rather easily recognized and known as someone who has money and material possessions.

    You go to a “house of ill repute” which just might attract a clientele of under-developed consciences.

    Then you pass out in a room for a few hours and wonder how it might come to pass that some of your “stuff” has disappeared.

I do not think we need to resurrect Sherlock Holmes to get to the bottom of the motive and the opportunity for skullduggery here…

Finally, here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald from about a month ago:

“Shannon Briggs fought Mike Marrone at the Hard Rock near Hollywood on Saturday with the crowd advertised to include Evander Holyfield, Vladimir Klistchko and Lennox Lewis. It is seldom a good thing when the people sitting ringside are more interesting than the people in the ring.”

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

The Juggernaut Gets Bigger…

According to reports, the revenue generated by the networks televising NFL games is up again this year. For the first 5 weeks of the 2015 season, the total national TV revenue – this does not count the local TV deals that various individual local stations have with specific teams – totaled $947.7M from advertisers. Last year for the first 5 weeks, that total was 905.5M so 2015 revenue is up 4.67%. The NFL has encountered more than a bit of negative publicity in the last year with regard to Deflategate, domestic violence, bizarre on-field officiating calls and the like; none of that seems to have made its product less attractive to advertisers.

Deeper down in that data, I found that the largest single advertiser in terms of money paid for commercial spots in 2015 is FanDuel and they were not significant players in the advertising world even a year ago. Draft Kings is the third largest spender for advertising slots this year. Between the two of them, the two daily fantasy websites have spent $81M to buy time in the first five weeks of the NFL season during televised NFL games. While watching any NFL game, should you feel inundated with daily fantasy football ads, there is a good reason for that; the two sites have spent 8.6% of all the advertising money on that product.

By another measure, the NFL seems also to have weathered its storm of bad publicity. Ratings for the NFL games are up in 2015 once again. The largest gain in viewers is for Thursday Night Football which shows an increase of 10.4% in terms of the number of eyeballs on the screens. Here is the “measured” audience level for various NFL programming through 5 weeks of the 2015 season:

    Sunday Night Football – 23.9 million viewers
    CBS Sunday afternoon – 18.2 million viewers
    Thursday Night Football – 18.1 million viewers
    Monday Night Football – 13.2 million viewers

I can understand why MNF trails the field here since it is on a cable network and not “over the air TV”. I am a bit surprised at the difference between MNF and the other NFL programming but not nearly as surprised as I am at the rapid evolution of Thursday Night Football into a programming bonanza.

The NFL started Thursday night games in 2006 only for the second half of the season and telecast those games on NFL Network only. Since 2012, there have been Thursday night games for the full season and since 2014 the games are on both CBS and NFL Network. That is a very young product as compared to “Sunday afternoon football” which was the revenue source that made the NFL the TV juggernaut that it is. Nonetheless, the number of viewers is a dead heat as of the early stages of 2015…

Since I mentioned FanDuel and Draft Kings above, the fantasy websites have been under a bit of pressure recently – and I do not mean simply from TV viewers or Internet users who have been bombarded with the same ads over and over and over…

    Memo to FanDuel and Draft Kings: If you are going to buy 20 advertising slots on Sunday NFL games over the 12 hours of their broadcast, you need to have more than 2 ads that you will have run. At some point, you make me want to throw a shoe at the TV…

There were allegations that some employees of the website may have used “inside information” on betting patterns to playa the daily fantasy games for themselves and several states – including Nevada – are investigating the business practices of the companies to determine if they are indeed “gambling” as opposed to “games of chance”. The Congress of the United States in its minuscule wisdom and as an attempt not to criminalize the six bazillion fantasy football and baseball leagues that exist in offices and families around the country declared that fantasy sports would not fall under the auspices of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006. That was a laudable move and a popular move; nonetheless, it now creates the situation where daily fantasy sports is not considered gambling whereas online poker is. Forget for the moment the legalities and the popularity of such games; they are both gambling; at the start of the “game” people put up some money and at the end of the “game” the one who has played by the rules and amassed the best outcome collects more money than he/she put in to start taking some or all of the money from those who had less than the best outcome.

Anyone who has read these rants for any length of time knows with certainty that I am not opposed to gambling. I am cynical enough to believe that with huge amounts of money at stake and the only interface between the bettors and “the pot” being a computer hooked to the Internet there is the opportunity for “shenanigans”. That applies to online poker, daily fantasy sports, and other wagering events. Recall that a group of folks hacked into a Breeders’ Cup Pick Six Pool and gathered for themselves the single winning ticket for that pool. That happened about 15 years ago and the prize then was on the order of $2M. Well, if FanDuel and Draft Kings can spend $81M between them in only 5 weeks just on advertising, you might expect that they are “handling” sums that are far in excess of $2M at any time.

My position on this matter has been simple and consistent for the last 30 years:

    People are going to gamble. They may bet on sporting events or dice or cards but they are going to gamble.

    Criminalizing gambling will have the same outcome as criminalizing alcohol did in the 1920s or drugs through until today. It will mean only that the profits from such enterprises will fall to criminals and that there will be no tax collected on said profits.

Finally, here are comments from two sports observers about a happenstance related to the form of gambling known as dog racing:

“Two greyhounds at Bluffs Run Greyound Park in Council Bluffs, Iowa, have tested positive for potential PEDs.

“Which probably explains why the hounds’ back legs started smoking at the starting line.” [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]

And …

“Two greyhounds at Bluffs Run racetrack in Iowa have tested positive for PEDs.

“Under questioning by authorities, one of the dogs said he didn’t ingest anything except regular Purina Dog Chow and water from his home toilet.” [Brad Dickson, Omaha World-Herald]

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

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend Of 10/17/15

Last week’s Mythical Picks could have been better but they were still ever so slightly mythically profitable. The record was 9-8-0 bringing the season record to 46-44-3.

The “Best Picks” last week were two OVER bets. I took Iowa St/Texas Tech to go OVER 73 and the total was 97 and I took TCU/Kansas State OVER 63 and the total was also 97.

The “Worst Pick” from last week was taking Oklahoma – 16.5 against Texas and watching Texas win the game outright.

No one should consider anything written here as worthy of consideration when it comes to choosing a side in making a real wager on a real college football game where real money is on the line. Anyone doing that would be just about this dumb:

    He/She thinks a thesaurus is a well-spoken dinosaur.

General Comments:

The Linfield College Wildcats ran their record to 4-0 (2-0 in conference) with a massive 77-10 win over Pacific University (Oregon). One more win will keep their streak of winning seasons alive; Division III teams play 9 game schedules. This week, the Wildcats go on the road to face Willamette University. The Bearcats are 1-3 on the season but 2 of their 3 losses came at the expense of a total of 7 points. Go Wildcats!

Maranatha Baptist University had last week off to prepare for this week’s road game against Trinity Bible College in Ellendale, ND. Maranatha Baptist is 0-5 as is Trinity Bible College. If you have been following my quest to find the polar opposite of Linfield as a Division III team to follow, you know that Maranatha lost to Finlandia two weeks ago. Well after Trinity plays Maranatha, Trinity plays Finlandia and then Finlandia and Maranatha play each other again. This is getting much too complicated…

Last week, the Wake Forest/Boston College game set back college football about 75 years. The final score was 3-0 but that only begins to tell the tale of ineptitude in the game. Consider just a few stats:

    There were 18 punts in the game combined.
    There were 5 fumbles (4 of them lost) in the game combined.
    Each team had akin INT.
    The total offense for both teams combined was 412 yards. (Wake had 142)
    BC got 5 first downs by penalty in the game.
    Combined passing stats were 17-45 for 183 yards with 0 TDs and 2 INTs.

If you have concluded that the team to make the last mistake would lose that game you would be correct because BC botched the end-of-game possession in epic fashion. I will try to summarize:

    BC is losing 3-0 as the clock is winding down. They have the ball at the Wake Forest 1-yardline with a first down and no timeouts.

    The ball is snapped with 18 or 19 seconds on the clock and the play call was a run.

    The runner never got close to the end zone. That is not good.

    What is even worse is that BC could get lined up to spike the ball and stop the clock and if you watch the final seconds of that game expire (Google is your friend) your eyes will get very wide and your jaw will drop. It looks like a Keystone Kops flick.

I enjoy defensive games more than most folks do. That was not a defensive game as the 3-0 score might intimate; that was a blunderingly inept game.

Last week we saw Steve Spurrier resign and Steve Sarkisian get fired. It was not a good week for coaches with names beginning with the letter “S”. [Yes, I know Randy Edsall was fired too but including him in the sentence above does not fit the narrative…] There was another college coach firing last week that received far less attention than the others. North Texas fired Coach Dan McCarney last week right after the Mean Green lost to Portland State 66-7. Portland State is a Division 1-AA school; earlier this year, Portland State beat Washington St. by a TD in the opening game of the season. Nevertheless, that loss dropped North Texas to 0-5 and the school decided to “go in a different direction”.

Division 1-AA schools rise up and beat Division 1-A every once in a while. Many folks recall when Appalachian St. went to Ann Arbor and beat Michigan 34-32. That was about 10 years ago and it is often mentioned as one of the great upsets of all time. However, note that the score differential was 2 points; in most Division 1-AA victories over Division 1-A teams, the score is close enough that the loser still considers that it has a shot to win sometime in the second half. Not so last week in the Portland St./North Texas game:

    Portland State led 45-0 at the half.
    Portland State led 59-0 after three quarters.
    Portland State outgained North Texas 670 yards to 198 yards.

I do not have the time or the inclination to do the research to find out if this is the biggest butt-kicking ever administered by a Division 1-AA team to a Division 1-A team; suffice it to say that this was so monumental a rout that it justified firing the North Texas coach on the spot.

Oh, by the way, in another exemplar of the minimal importance one should attach to coaching changes in mid-season, North Texas played their next game last night. They did a lot better than they did against Portland State where they lost by 59 points; last night they only lost by 27 to W. Kentucky.

In a more uplifting piece of news last week, the nation’s longest losing streak came to a halt. Columbia beat Wagner 26-3; prior to that game, Columbia had lost 24 games in a row; their last win was in November 2012 over Cornell. Columbia has been known to go on losing streaks before. Back in the 1980s, they once lost 44 games in a row – the longest losing streak on record in college football. The losing streak that ended last week did not come close to the school record on the college football record.

Texas beat Oklahoma 24-17 and that ought to quiet down the “Fire Charlie Strong” chorus for at least a week. That victory was the first win for Texas over a ranked team since Charlie Strong took over the program. Here is a measure of the dominance in the game:

    Texas had 313 yards rushing
    Oklahoma had 67 yards rushing.

More importantly, there were no humongously embarrassing gaffes by any of the Texas Special teams units in the game; that seemingly had become a refrain for the Longhorns this year. It would be far too much of a feelgood story to say that Texas has turned the corner and is on its way back to greatness on the basis of one dominant win. Upcoming for Texas are K-State, Iowa St. and Kansas. Texas is 2-4 today; after those 3 games they should be 4-5 at the worst. Oh, and Baylor is still down the road for them later this year…

TCU and Kansas State went on an offensive bender last week. K-State led by 18 at halftime but TCU rallied to win 52-45. TCU QB, Trevone Boykin, had an amazing second half running for two TDs and throwing the winning TD pass in the 4th quarter. In the opening game of the season, TCU beat Minnesota 23-17. In the five games since that one, TCU has gone over 50 points in every game averaging 56.6 points in those 5 games.

Tennessee beat Georgia for the first time since 2009 last week. Nick Chubb suffered a season-ending knee injury on his first carry of the game and Chubb is more than just a really good RB; he is what makes the Georgia offense go. Georgia led 24-3 in the first half and managed to lose 38-31. The Vols ran up 512 yards of total offense on a Georgia defense that has not looked nearly that bad all season long. Some folks may want to ascribe this loss to the hangover sustained from the clobbering that Alabama put on Georgia 2 weeks ago; I think it was more about the loss of Nick Chubb. And, that has implications for Georgia and the SEC East going forward. More on that later…

Florida beat Missouri 21-2 last week. If ever there was a game that deserved the label “winning ugly” this would be it. There were 18 punts in the game and at one point there were 7 consecutive 3-and-outs. The Florida offense last week – and truth be told all season long – has been a unit using training wheels. It has been the defense that has carried the team to its 6-0 record. And the job for that defense just got harder because starting QB, Will Grier, will sit out a 12-month suspension imposed by the NCAA because he flunked a PED drug test.

Look at the SEC East today:

    Florida leads with a 4-0 record.
    Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee and Vandy all have 2 losses already.
    South Carolina is irrelevant here.

Florida’s next two games are against LSU and Georgia. If they lose both, all of those 2-loss teams in the SEC East become “contendas” again.

Michigan pitched its third consecutive shutout last week beating Northwestern 38-0. Michigan returned the opening kickoff for a TD; that was an omen; the score was 21-0 at the end of the first quarter and the game was clearly over at that point. Northwestern is an unbalanced team; they have a good defense and a sub-standard offense. Consider these stats:

    Total offense for Northwestern was 168 yards.
    After the first quarter, Northwestern never snapped the ball in Michigan territory.

Ohio State beat Maryland as expected by 3 TDs but that margin might be a bit deceiving if you are grading on the style points scale. The score of this game was tied in the second half. Maryland is not nearly good enough to be tied with the #1 team in the country in the second half…

Out west in the PAC-12, Utah beat Cal 30-24. Jared Goff’s NFL résumé took a hit in the game because he threw 5 INTs in the game. [He has only thrown 4 INTs for the season until last week.] I have been impressed by Utah’s defense since their opening week win over Michigan and last week it looked even better than it did then. However, Utah also has a running back who is not getting a lot of attention in a year when Leonard Fournette, Nick Chubb and Ezekiel Elliot have dominated headlines. Devontae Booker carried 34 times against Cal and gained 222 yards; he is one tough runner.

Utah now leads the PAC-12 South standings; USC and UCLA had been considered the co-favorites in that division but both of them now have 2 conference losses; Utah is undefeated. Arizona State has 1 loss and Arizona St and Utah play each other this weekend…

Interesting fact that may or may not have any significance:

    In PAC-12 Conference games this year, the road teams are 10-5 straight up.
    Is that a trend that might continue or just an anomaly based on a small sample size?

Oregon – like USC – has two losses at home already this year. Last week, Oregon lost at home in double over-time to Washington State – the “other Division 1-A team” that Portland State defeated this year. Sitting at 3-3 with at least 3 tough games remaining on the schedule, the question is whether this year represents a “precipitous decline” in Oregon football or “an implosion”. Chip Kelly has been gone sufficiently long that virtually none of his recruits are left on the team – and coincidentally, the team is not nearly as successful as it was then. Coincidence – – or causality?

UConn beat UCF last week 40-13; the game is of no real consequence except that it means that in starting out this year with an 0-6 record, UCF has managed to lose to an impressive array of lower-tier football programs to include Florida International, Tulane, Furman and now UConn…

The alums at Central Michigan are probably not thrilled by the team’s 2-4 record this year. However, sports bettors – or “punters” as they are known in the UK – love C Michigan because they are 6-0 ATS (against the spread). Just saying…

Conversely, the alums at Michigan State have to like the team’s 6-0 start but the fact is that Michigan State is 0-6 ATS…

The Ponderosa Games:

Last week we had 4 Ponderosa Games and the record for favorites covering was 2-2-0.

Baylor and Ole’ Miss covered. Interestingly, both teams covered 45-point spreads

Mississippi St. and Ohio St. did not cover.

For the season the cumulative record for favorites covering Ponderosa spreads stands at 22-25-0.

Once again, this week, we have 4 Ponderosa Games

E. Michigan at Toledo – 28 (60): Oh swell… A MAC game that looks as if it will be a blowout. Remind me not to set my DVR to record that one…

New Mexico St. at Georgia Southern – 30.5 (65): You read that right. This is not Georgia or Georgia Tech that is the 30.5-point favorite here…

Purdue at Wisconsin – 24 (50.5): I am sure the coaches and players care about the outcome here. As for me…

Texas Tech – 31.5 at Kansas (78): This line opened at 28 points and has been climbing steadily all week…

The SHOE Tournament Teams:

It is still too early in the season to start ranking the teams that will earn their way into my imaginary SHOE Tournament at the end of the year to determine the single worst Division 1-A football team in the country. However, it is getting to be the time to identify about a dozen teams that have made themselves known to the SHOE Selection Committee (me). In alphabetical order, here are teams that might be known eventually as the SHOE Team – the Steaming Heap Of Excrement for 2015:

    Army
    E. Michigan
    Idaho
    Kansas
    New Mexico State
    North Texas (see above)
    Purdue
    SMU
    Texas – San Antonio
    Tulane
    UCF
    UMass
    UTEP
    Wyoming

Games of Interest:

(Fri Nite) Houston – 20 at Tulane (58): I do not see either defense being able to stop the other guys reliably so I like this game to go OVER.

(Fri Nite) UNLV – 6.5 at Fresno St. (50): These are two bad teams. It is a Game of Interest because the loser will surely go on the SHOE Tournament Watch List and the winner may not be excluded from that list either.

USF at UConn – 2.5 (45): These are two bad teams. They are not bad enough to be considered at this time as SHOE contenders but they are still bad. If you took the family and friends of the players and coaches out of the stands for this game, might there be less than 2500 folks there?

BC at Clemson – 16 (35.5): After Wake Forest shut out BC last week, no one should expect BC to have an offensive explosion against a Clemson defense that is at least as good as Wake Forest’s. BC does play good defense, so I do not expect Clemson to get into 30s here. The question is if BC can get into double-digits. Because that Total Line is incredibly low, I’ll take the game to go OVER and hope BC can score 10 points here.

Iowa – 1.5 at Northwestern (41.5): Iowa plays very good defense particularly against the run. Michigan showed last week what a really good defense can do to Northwestern (see above). Iowa is not as good on defense as Michigan but they will prevent the modest Northwestern offense from doing a lot of scoring or a lot of clock control. Moreover, they may a bit of a “hangover” on the Northwestern side from the shellacking they took last week. I like Iowa to win and cover on the road here and I like the game to stay UNDER.

Alabama – 4 at Texas A&M (53): This should be a great game to watch; both teams are ranked in the Top 10. The Aggies have had 2 weeks to prep for this game and I suspect that the coaching staff has mentioned to the team the results of last year’s game with Alabama when The Tide won 59-0. The game sets up this way:

    Alabama relies on its defense
    Texas A&M has scored 28 or more points in every game this year.

The Aggies’ defense can be exploited by a good running game and Ezekiel Elliot is a very good RB. The question here is if the Aggies can run on Alabama enough to keep that defense guessing. I like Alabama to win and cover here.

Florida at LSU – 7 (45.5): Here is another SEC game pairing highly ranked teams. This may not be an “artistic game” but it is very important for Florida if they want to stay firmly in control of the SEC East (see above). The Florida defense has been dominant this year but they have not yet seen anyone like Leonard Fournette across the line of scrimmage. Florida yields only 99 yards per game on the ground; Fournette averages 205 yards per game rushing. Can Florida keep him under some semblance of control? That is the essential question for this game. I think defense is the order of the day and I like the game to stay UNDER.

Missouri at Georgia – 15 (46): The loser here is pretty much out of the SEC East race; it will be that team’s third conference loss. Missouri plays without their suspended starting QB; Georgia plays without RB, Nick Chubb. Missouri’s chance to win rests with shutting down the Georgia running game and forcing whatever QB Georgia puts on the field to win the game throwing the ball most of the time. I think this will be a low scoring game so I’ll take Missouri plus all those points and I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Oklahoma – 4 at K-State (54): Short and sweet here… I like this game to go OVER.

Michigan St. at Michigan – 7 (42): Here is another game with two ranked teams that ought to be a good one; this rivalry may not be as intense as the Michigan/Ohio State rivalry, but it is still an emotional game every year. Michigan State has not played well despite winning every game this year; last week, they escaped against Rutgers and no one would confuse Rutgers with Michigan. Michigan has been on a roll since that opening loss to Utah and as of last week they looked like a superior football team. I fully expect Michigan’s shutout streak to end here but I think the Michigan defense will be the dominant unit in the contest. I’ll take Michigan and lay the points.

West Virginia at Baylor – 21 (76): Baylor scores points by the bushel (see above); their “closest tussle” was a 63-35 win over Texas Tech; that is a 28-point win just in case your calculator batteries are low. West Virginia has lost its last two games and has turned the ball over 9 times in those two losses; if they do that here, they might lose to Baylor by 50 points. West Virginia is not a scoring machine in the same conversation with Baylor, but this is not a team that rarely finds the end zone either. I think there will be lots of scoring here so I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Vandy at South Carolina – 2.5 (43): No way would I bet on this game but it is interesting to see how South Carolina reacts to the new coaching situation there. Neither offense is any good; both defenses are just good enough to stifle the opposing offense. Over/Under for punts in the game is around 16…

Arizona St. at Utah – 6.5 (55): Arizona St. is the team in the PAC-12 South with only 1 conference loss. A win for Utah here would give them a 2-game cushion in that division; a win for Arizona St. would put them in first place in that division because they would have beaten Utah head-to-head. This may not be a great rivalry game like Michigan/Michigan St. but this is a very important game. I love the Utah defense but I am not in love with the Utah offense. That line looks fat to me so I’ll take Arizona St. plus the points.

Arizona – 7.5 at Colorado (67): Colorado can score points and the Arizona defense is not nearly the strength of the team. Meanwhile, the same situation obtains in reverse. That leads me to take the game to go OVER.

TCU – 20.5 at Iowa St. (73): The spread started out at 22 points and has been dropping. That means there was an excess of “Iowa State money” hitting the windows. There is no way that I think Iowa St. has a defense that is going to hold TCU to anything significantly less than 50 points. Therefore, if I believe that Iowa St. can get 3 TDs in the game, it will go OVER. That is exactly what I believe; I like the game to go OVER.

USC at Notre Dame – 6 (61): This is an interesting match-up having nothing to do with college football tradition or anything like that. USC comes to South Bend to play a rivalry game with new leadership on the sidelines. Coaches always say they need to rid the team of distractions; well, this week will be a test for the new coaching structure at USC. Notre Dame is 5-1 for the season; their loss was to Clemson in a monsoon. However, Notre Dame has not played much of a schedule outside of Clemson. Wins over Texas, Virginia, Georgia Tech, UMass and Navy are nice but they are not compelling. I like the game to stay UNDER and I like USC plus the points here.

Penn St. at Ohio St. – 19 (48): Normally, when I think a game will be low-scoring I like to take the points – especially if there are 19 of them to take. However, in this case I am loathe to do that because I am not sure that Penn St. will score more than 10-12 points. I do think the game will stay UNDER so I’ll take that. However, I will pass on any bet against the spread.

Oregon at Washington – 3 (60): This is a big rivalry game and Washington has been on the wrong side of the score for more than a few years now. Oregon is not the team it has been (see above) but I don’t think that Washington deserves to be favored here. I think Oregon will win the game outright so I’ll happily take them with the points here.

Finally, here is a college football observation from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Regrouping: Cardale Jones, so special for Ohio State in his three starts at the end of last season, has been pretty ordinary this year. He might be wondering if he made a mistake by not turning pro last winter when his stock was through the roof. With rare exceptions, no quarterback coming off a spectacular season has ever enhanced his draft prospects by returning to college.”

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 10/18/15

Well, last week’s Mythical Picks were more than just a little bad; they stunk. The record for last week was 5-9-1 bringing the cumulative record for the year to 40-38-2. Even the coin used for Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games had a bad week. The coin went 0-2-0 taking that record down to 4-5-0 for the season.

The “Best Pick” from last week was taking Philly and giving 4.5 points to New Orleans and seeing the Eagles win by 3 TDs.

The “Worst Pick” from last week – other than my choice to make Mythical Picks in the first place – was taking Washington/Atlanta to go OVER 47.5 and seeing the game go to OT with no prayer of that happening.

I shall, however press on… As I do that, I must remind everyone that nothing herein should be taken as information of value should you be contemplating a real wager on a real NFL game this weekend involving real money. These are Mythical Picks and nothing more. Here is how stupid you would have to be to rely on information here as the basis for a real wager:

    You might hurt yourself watching the move, The Exorcist, because you might mistake it for a workout video.

General Comments:

Something very unusual happened in the Cowboys/Patriots game last week; if you recorded the game on your DVR, go back and watch for this in the first half. There were two consecutive punts in the game on which there were no flags thrown. Two in a row… If you subscribe to the theory that one element of “news” is the reporting on things that are out of the ordinary, that pair of plays ought to be part of the headline for the gamers written about that contest.

Speaking obliquely of the Cowboys, does anyone besides me recall all of the Jerry Jones bluster and bravado 3 weeks ago when he lavished praise and confidence on Brandon Weeden right after he learned that Tony Romo had a broken clavicle and would be out for 2 months or so. He said basically that Weeden was an outstanding QB with one of the best arms in the NFL and that the Cowboys would not miss a beat with Weeden at the controls. I wish someone at ESPN had the cajones to sit Jerry Jones down and play that tape back to him. Here is reality:

    The Cowboys are 0-3 with Weeden as the starting QB. Weeden himself has lost 11 straight NFL games as a starter.

    The play-callers for the Cowboys cannot have much faith in his very strong arm because they rarely if ever call a play that calls for him to throw the ball more than 10 yards downfield.

    Weeden led the Cowboys to a loss against the Saints where the Cowboys scored 20 points in an OT game. That is the lowest number of points allowed by a miserable Saints’ defense so far this year.

Last week, the Cowboys never found the end zone against the Patriots. That was not a fluke; the Cowboys’ offense was inept. At one point in the first half, the Cowboys had four consecutive 3-and-out possessions… This week, the Cowboys have a Bye Week and the announcement has already come that they will be going to Matt Cassel as the starter next week when they return to action.

A year ago, the Pats struggled in their first several games and some folks began to express the opinion that Tom Brady was over the hill and that perhaps the Pats ought to think about a demotion for him. All Brady did then was to lead the Pats to a Super Bowl win – aided and augmented to be sure by Pete Carroll’s boneheaded play-calling near the goal line in the final 2 minutes of that game. This year, the “nominally washed-up” Brady is doing this:

    Completing 72.5% of his throws
    Passing for 374 yards per game
    Scoring 37.25 points per game.

Every QB in the league would wish to have those stats when they are considered “washed-up”…

And that story brings me to comment on a question posed to Broncos’ coach Gary Kubiak in a news conference earlier this week. Peyton Manning is not having a year that anyone has come to expect from him based on past performances; he has not looked good while he has been underperforming expectations. Nonetheless, someone asked Coach Kubiak if he had thought of benching Peyton Manning in favor of Brock Osweiler. Even ignoring the data presented just above, just let the thought process that produced that question wash over your existence. Kubiak had the perfect answer; he said:

“No.”

I am not suggesting that Peyton Manning will get to a point where he starts putting up stats like the ones we came to expect from him 5 years ago; I think he is indeed on the downside of his career. Nonetheless, he is on the downside from a peak that is well beyond what is reasonable to expect from a QB whose only meaningful action has been in exhibition games or in mop-up situations.

Last week, the Broncos beat the Raiders 16-10 despite scoring no offensive TDs; a Pick Six late in the game set them up for the win. In that same game, the Raiders’ kicker, Sebastian Janikowski, had a field goal blocked and also missed what for him is basically a chip shot (40 yards). I hope no one would look at that poor game and begin to suggest that Janikowski is washed-up…

If you want to believe in conspiracy theories, think about the cabal that must be going on in NFL Headquarters to humiliate and frustrate the pro football fans in the State of Florida. There are three teams in the state – no state has more than that – and all three of those teams are bad. Moreover, the Bucs and the Jags have been bad for an extended period of time; the Dolphins on the other hand have been bland and mediocre for an extended period of time which is almost as bad because apathy is almost as bad as depression for the fanbase. Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel composed a short song on this topic to be sung to the tune of Three Blind Mice:

Three bad teams; three bad teams;
See how they lose; see how they lose;
They fire their coaches; they miss their kicks;
Jameis Winston just threw four picks.
They’re a football version of the New York Knicks;
Three bad teams…

The Dolphins did not have the opportunity to soil themselves last week because they had a Bye Week and were busy doing the old Oklahoma drill for their new interim-coach Dan Campbell. Moreover, one of the other of the “Three bad teams” had to win last week because the Jags and Bucs played each other. The Bucs won the game 38-31 despite the fact that Jags’ QB, Blake Bortles, threw 4 TD passes in the game. If the Jags are going to lose games where Bortles performs like that, they may be consigning themselves to a record in the vicinity of 2-14. By the way, this was Lovie Smith’s first home win since taking over the Bucs last year; as of now, his home record stands at 1-10.

It is Quick Quiz time… Which team has been the most disappointing this year based on what they did last year?

    A. The Ravens
    B. The Lions
    C. The Seahawks

Last year, the Seahawks were about one yard away from winning a second consecutive Super Bowl game. This year they start off 2-3 and they have lost 4th quarter leads in all three losses. Last week, they sacked Andy Dalton 4 times (he had only been sacked twice in the first four games) and created a defensive TD. However, in the 4th quarter, with the Seahawks leading by 14 points, the Bengals rolled over the Seahawks as if they were a middling college team. In addition, the Seattle offense went dormant at the end of the game too. On the Seahawks last 6 possessions of the game, they were forced to punt. The Seahawks have been disappointing but they are not the worst offenders on my list…

    [Aside: In their last 20 home games, the Bengals are 17-2-1 straight up.]

Last year, the Ravens were 10-6 and a wild card team in the AFC Playoffs; they advanced in the playoffs beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh and then losing to the Patriots by 4 points. This year, they start off 1-4 losing their first two home games; what is even worse is that in all 4 losses this year, the Ravens have led in the 4th quarter. Last week, they allowed a team they have dominated for a long time – the Browns – to come into Baltimore and take an OT win home. The Ravens’ defense gave up 457 passing yards to Josh McCown. John Harbaugh had been 13-1 against the Browns going into that game. The Ravens have been more disappointing than the Seahawks, but they are still not at the top/bottom of my list…

Last year, the Lions were 11-5 and were the first wild-card team in the NFC Playoffs; they lost to the Cowboys by 4 points in the opening round. This year, the Lions start out 0-5 – they are the only winless team in the NFL by the way – and they found it reasonable to bench Matthew Stafford last weekend in favor of Dan Orlovsky. Seriously, they did that… The Lions’ average margin of losing this year is 11 points; since Week 1, they have not scored more than 17 points in any game. On defense last week, Carson Palmer torched the Lions’ defense going 11-14 for 161 yards and 3 TDs. Meanwhile, on the ground the Lions’ defense allowed 187 yards on only 25 carries. This level of noisomeness is a team-wide phenomenon; they stink in all phases of the game. It is too early to contemplate the Lions equaling their 0-16 showing from 2008 but if they start to look as if they are just going through the motions, they do not necessarily have the reserves of confidence to change that vector heading. To this point in 2015, the Lions are the most disappointing team in the league.

The Detroit News reported that only about 1000 fans stayed in the stadium to see the end of last week’s 42-17 shellacking at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals. WR, Golden Tate moaned about that and the lack of energy in the stadium saying that the fans in Detroit had turned their backs on the team.

    Memo to Golden Tate:

    This team has been awful for an awfully long time.

    In 2015, the Lions as a football team owe the fans a lot more than the fans owe the Lions. Hashtag – reality…

The last 5 times the Titans and Bills played each other, the Titans came away with the win. They led last week 10-0 in the third quarter – and then snatched defeat from the jaws of victory losing 14-13. The Bills had a measly 209 yards of offense against a mediocre defense and still managed to win the game. That stat tells you something about the Titans along with the fact that this is the second game in a row where the Titans have been at home and led by double digits in the second half and lost straight up. Not good…

No Rex Ryan team has ever been confused with one that is disciplined and business-like and methodical. However, they may have outdone themselves last week. On the opening kickoff of the game, the Bills recovered a fumble inside the Titans’ 10-yardline – – except – – the Bills were flagged for being offside on the kickoff and got to kick off one more time.

The Colts started and played Matt Hasselbeck at QB for the entire game and beat the Texans 27-20. Is it time to revise the thinking that the Texans have a dominant defense that can carry the team to contention despite a lack of quality at QB and WR? I know they have JJ Watt on defense and he is indeed an excellent player, but the rest of the unit seems awfully ordinary to me. Oh and for the record, Jadeveon Clowney still has not recorded a sack in the NFL. Last week against the Colts he was more AWOL than anything else.

With the Skins losing in OT to the Falcons in Atlanta last week, the Skins now have a record of 1-16 in their last 17 road games. In the game, the Falcons missed 2 field goal tries and the Skins missed 1. Late in the game when the Skins lined up to attempt a game-tying field goal to send the game to OT, play-by-play announcer Chris Myers said:

“It’s been hit or miss for kickers today.”

    Memo for Chris Myers: It is pretty much hit or miss for kickers every day and on every kick…

Coming into the game, the Skins led the NFL in rushing yards and the Falcons’ defensive unit was not near the best in the league stopping the run. So, when the Skins gained a total of 55 yards rushing, one has to wonder how that happened. The Falcons did not “load the box”; they just beat blocks and hustled to the ball all day long. Speaking of running the football, Falcons’ RB, Devonta Freeman is really good; the Falcons gained 176 yards rushing in the game.

The Bears beat the Chiefs 18-17 with another 4th quarter comeback for 2 TDs led by Jay Cutler. The Bears are not going anywhere this year but the Chiefs’ season is done and cooked. Even with Jamaal Charles healthy and involved, the Chiefs offense was merely adequate; Charles’ knee injury puts him out for the year and the Chiefs down for the count. To date the Chiefs have played a murderous schedule losing to the Broncos, Packers and Bengals prior to last week’s loss. There is a common factor here:

    The Broncos, Packers and Bengals are all undefeated teams.

This would be the part of the schedule where one might have expected the Chiefs to “get going”. Not now…

The Packers beat the Rams; that is not shocking news. What is “shocking” is that Aaron Rodgers threw not one but two INTs in a game at Lambeau Field. The last time he threw an INT at home was a little more than 3 years ago. The Packers’ defense played well here grabbing 4 INTs (one was a Pick Six) and sacking Nick Foles 3 times. The Rams defense held the Packers running game to a meager 44 yards in the game. Meanwhile Rams’ rookie RB, Todd Gurley ran the ball 30 times for 159 yards.

The Giants got a late TD to beat the Niners 30-27 and no one can blame this defeat on Colin Kaepernick. The Niners’ defense was a no-show here allowing the Giants to amass 525 yards of total offense for the day. Eli Manning was 41-54 for 441 yards and 3 TDs. Earlier in the week before the game, a reporter asked Jim Tomsula the same question put to Gary Kubiak in Denver; had he thought of benching Colin Kaepernick. Coach Tomsula showed great restraint in not laughing out loud or addressing the questioner as “You asshat…” Look at the depth chart in SF and you will see that the backup for Colin Kaepernick is Blaine Gabbert. Ladies and gentlemen, that is ALL you need to know.

The Eagles’ offense came to life last week – – or perhaps it marched up and down the field efficiently and effectively because it was the Saints out there trying to play defense. Watching most of the replay of the game, it was not clear to me what the more important factor here was. The Eagles scored 39 points and had 519 yards of total offense; that is not shocking for a “Chip Kelly offense”. What was surprising was that the Eagles held the ball for just over 34 minutes in the game; that is not commonplace for a “Chip Kelly offense”. The Eagles’ defense had 5 sacks and forced 4 turnovers; Fletcher Cox had a highly productive day for a defensive end recording 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery. Yowza!

Earlier in the week before the game, Terrell Owens went on sports radio in Philly to flog his new book and told the folks tuned into that program that he could still help the Eagles’ offense and that he was definitely available. For the record, the Eagles are more likely to sign me to a contract to play WR than they are Terrell Owens and I am 72 years old and run the 40-yard dash in about 3 minutes. I wonder if Chip Kelly played that radio segment for the offense as a reminder that if they could not get the job done, there was a guy out there who might come in and “shake things up”. Were I the coach, I would probably have done that…

The Saints are on the edge of an abyss – sort of like the Lions and the Chiefs. Their defense is giving up an average of 400 yards per game and 3 of their previous opponents were:

    Tampa Bay – with a rookie QB
    Carolina – not an offensive juggernaut
    Dallas – with Brandon Weeden at QB.

As if that were not bad enough, the Saints’ offense is no longer the bright light that it was. The biggest scoring output this year is 26 points (in the win over the Cowboys) and the Saints are only averaging 20.6 points per game. The Saints have some potentially winnable games down the road, but not if the team comes apart at the seams.

The Games:

Taking a breather this week are:

    Dallas – They will use the two week stretch to get Matt Cassel coached-up and ready to try to “hold the fort” until Tony Romo might be ready to return to the field.

    Oakland – They will use next weekend to pull for the Packers at home to beat the Chargers because that would give the Raiders sole possession of second place in the AFC West.

    St. Louis – They will use the two weeks to try to goose the offensive point production. So far this year, the Rams scoring is very close to that of the Niners, Lions and Bears in the NFC. For the record, that is not a good thing…

    Tampa – They will take two weeks and bask in the comfort of a win last week and the knowledge that they are a full game ahead of the Saints in the NFC South.

Before going through the individual games, the Curmudgeon Committee of One that has the responsibility to identify the most interesting games of the week and the Dog-Breath Game of the Week had a difficult time this week. There are several interesting games and there is a plethora of bad games.

(Thurs Nite) Atlanta – 3.5 at New Orleans (52): Hey, at least it is a divisional game. Hey, if the Saints lose here, they can join a bunch of other teams who will swear that they are not going to toss in the towel for the season – but the season is over in reality. The Falcons remained undefeated last week but did not look all that good in doing so. My memory tells me that getting 3.5 points with the Saints at home is a gift from the gods but then I wonder how the Saints’ defense is going to stop Devonta Freeman and Matt Ryan. So how about a trend or two:

    Falcons won in New Orleans last year. Last time Falcons won two in a row in New Orleans was in 2001/2002.

    The underdog in this rivalry is 9-3 in their last 12 meetings.

This is purely a hunch. I’ll take the Saints plus the points because they are at home and because they are clearly the more desperate team.

Denver – 4 at Cleveland (42.5): The spread for this game opened at 6 points. I wonder if the drop is due to a recognition of the offensive greatness of Josh McCown and the Cleveland Browns. Could be… However, Denver has the top defense in the NFL at the moment and I am not ready to believe that Browns are a top-shelf offensive team. I’ll take the Broncos and lay the points here and I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Cincy – 3 at Buffalo (42): The spread for this game opened as a “pick ‘em” game. Had it stayed there I would have had to say that I had no idea why that was the case. The Bengals are undefeated; the Bills struggle to run the football; the Bills young QB is hobbling and they may need to play EJ Manuel here. Yes, the Bills are at home but they are 1-2 at home so far this year. Here are two of the more meaningless trends I have seen in a while:

    Bengals are 1-7 against the spread in their last 6 road games in Week 6.
    Bengals are 18-7-1 to go OVER in their last 26 games in October.

I like the Bengals to win and cover on the road.

KC at Minnesota – 4 (44): I have a hunch this will be a most uninteresting game given the plodding Chiefs’ offense and the Vikes’ methodical mode of play. With Jamaal Charles on IR, I think the Chiefs are cooked. Their defense may keep them close in some games but if it has not yet dawned on the rest of the squad that they are “playing for pride”, it soon will. I like the Vikes at home to win and cover.

Houston at Jax “pick ‘em” (43.5): As a definite candidate for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week, do I really have to pick one of these teams? The answer is that I must because I cannot declare this a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game without violating the well-established and never-violated protocols for such games. The Texans are marginally better on offense and defense statistically so I’ll take the Texans here even though they are winless on the road this year.

Chicago at Detroit – 3 (43): Yes, I triple-checked this line and the winless team is indeed a field-goal favorite here. Clearly what we have here is a contender for Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Neither of these teams is remotely relevant this year. However, there is a motivational factor here for Matthew Stafford. He was benched last week in favor of Dan Orlovsky; he will be back in the starting role this week and he may feel the need to demonstrate that last week was an aberration and not an omen. (Stafford leads the NFL in INTs with 8 so far this year; continuing at that pace, he may well be riding the bench at some time later this year despite his $50M contract extension.) The Lions need Stafford to be engaged and aware because they really do not run the football very well at all; like it or not – and like Stafford or not – the Lions’ offense centers on throwing the football; the Lions are dead last in rushing yards in the NFL. I’ll take the Lions at home to win and cover here.

After making that selection, I went to find a trend that was in favor of that selection simply because taking an 0-5 team and laying points gives me a knot in my stomach. Here is what I found:

    Bears are 4-12 against the spread in their last 16 games against the AFC North.

That takes care of that…

Washington at Jets – 6.5 (40.5): Kirk Cousins has a proclivity for throwing INTs; the Jets’ defense has feasted on teams by forcing turnovers. The Skins have a corps of mediocre/interchangeable receivers and this game will give Skins’ fans a hint regarding something they probably want to know:

    Since the Jets like to line Darrelle Revis up on the opponent’s best WR, fans can look to see who the Jets’ defensive coaches think is their best WR – because it is surely not an obvious choice.

I think the key to this game is the Skins ability to rush the passer in order to force Ryan Fitzpatrick to make quick decisions. If they can do that, they may get a couple of turnovers to give their offense a short field to navigate. People nag Kirk Cousins about his propensity to throw INTs; he has thrown 6 of them this year as opposed to 5 TD passes; not so good. Then again, consider Ryan Fitzpatrick; he has thrown 7 INTs this year as opposed to 6 TD passes; also not so good. I see a low scoring game and a fat line. I’ll take the Skins plus the points.

Arizona – 3 at Pittsburgh (44): This is my 1-Star Game of the Week. Bruce Arians used to be the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh and his departure from that town did not involve a totally positive relationship with the fans. This could be an interesting game. The Steelers have a short week coming off the Monday Nite game last week; the Cards have to fly east and start early in the day. Ben Roethlisberger practiced on Wednesday this week; if he is ready to play to an extent more than standing like a statue and throwing the football, he will make a big difference. If the Steelers have to play Michael Vick for 60 minutes, I think the Steelers are in deep yogurt. I’ll take the Cards and lay the points on the road and I also like the game to go OVER.

Miami at Tennessee – 2 (43): This could be the Dog Breath Game of the Week – but the Dolphins are temporarily interesting because of their new coach and his “tough guy methods”. Other than that, the game does not matter a whit. The Dolphins have had two weeks under a new coaching regime that stresses “toughness” to prepare for a bland Titans team with a rookie QB. The stats say that the Titans’ offense is better than the Dolphins’ offense (by 36 yards per game) and that the Titans’ defense is better than the Dolphins defense (by a whopping 116 yards per game). I am going to go against all of that and take the Dolphins plus the points here because I think they are going to play differently this week then they did in their first 4 games.

Carolina at Seattle – 6.5 (41): In Detroit we saw the winless team installed as the favorite; here we have the undefeated team as the underdog. This is Bizarro World week in the world of NFL betting lines. The Panthers had their Bye Week last week to get ready for this game but the Seahawks loss last week clearly makes them the more desperate team here. A loss here gives the Seahawks 4 losses already and they have not played the Cardinals yet. They would greatly prefer not to have that situation obtain. The coaches do not want players looking ahead so perhaps the Seahawks players have not done so; but if they have, they probably recognize that the upcoming schedule is a lot softer than the one they faced already – having to play the Rams, Packers and Bengals on the road. Carolina is good and the Seahawks are not nearly as good as they have been for the last two years; nonetheless I like the Seahawks at home to win and cover here.

San Diego at Green Bay – 10 (50): The Chargers have a short week after playing last Monday and have to go on the road where they are not nearly as good as they are at home. I do not like laying double-digit points but I just cannot believe that Aaron Rodgers is going to throw 2 INTs again this week in Lambeau Field. I’ll take the Packers at home and lay the points.

Baltimore – 2.5 at SF (44): The Curmudgeon Central Committee of One (namely me) who decides on the Dog-Breath Game of the Week bypassed all of the candidate games cited above and bestowed the ignominy on this one. Back on Feb 3, 2013, these two teams met in the Super Bowl game; that was not ancient history; Al Gore had already invented the Internet. In the span of 32 months, these teams have devolved to this… The Ravens give away games after holding 4th quarter leads with regularity. The Niners find themselves in this situation as reported by Gregg Drinnan in his blog, Keeping Score:

“Last week, Jed York, the owner of the San Francisco 49ers, tweeted: ‘I have a few tickets left for the game Sunday. Let me know if you can make it. #FaithfulFanTix”’. . . Jake Echanove, a 49ers fan, tweeted this response: ‘I can’t give my tickets away either, Jed.’”

The Ravens are 53 yards per game better on offense here and the Ravens are 29 yards per game better on defense. I think the most important stat here is that the Ravens’ defensive vulnerability has mainly been their pass defense but the Niners’ pass offense ranks somewhere between meager and pathetic (178 yards per game). Having cited all those stats, how can I feel comfortable taking a team that has played as badly as the Ravens have on the road and laying points? The answer is that I do not want the Niners here unless I get a TD’s worth of points. Holding my nose, I’ll take the Ravens to win and cover.

(Sun Nite) New England – 7.5 at Indy (55): This is my 3-Star Game of the Week. This is the Post-Defleategate Game between these two teams and my suspicion is that the Pats will be pissed when they take the field. The Pats have won the last 6 games between these two teams and a couple of them have been rather lopsided. Tom Brady will want to leave an exclamation point on the field as punctuation for the game when he gives his calm and controlled after-game press conference. I really would prefer not to have the hook on top of the 7 point spread, but it is there. Nonetheless, I’ll take the Pats to win and cover at Indy and I’ll take the game to go OVER.

(Mon Nite) Giants at Philly – 4 (49): This is my 2-Star Game of the Week. This is a very interesting and potentially important NFC East game. The Giants lead the division but the Eagles have struggled mightily to this point in the season and only trail by a game – and they can make up that game right here at Lincoln Financial Field on MNF. I think both teams will play well here and so I will turn the game over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Toss protocol. The coin says to take the Eagles to win and cover.

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

Farewell To The Ol’ Ball Coach

Yesterday, I mentioned 3 football coaches who had been fired recently; and as I posted that rant, I learned that Steve Spurrier had resigned as the head football coach at South Carolina. While this year’s South Carolina team is not doing well, Steve Spurrier leaves college football with a distinguished record of 228-89-2 and a national championship. At the collegiate level, he has been successful in taking downtrodden programs and making them winners. He did that at Duke, Florida and again at South Carolina. He also had a successful run in the USFL with the Tampa Bay Bandits but his venture into the NFL coaching for Danny Boy Snyder was well-short of successful.

I always liked Spurrier for his willingness to throw out zingers with regard to his opponents. He did it with the guise of humor, but inside his comments were barbs. He famously called Florida State University – Free Shoes University; he pointed out that winning in the NFL was more difficult than winning in college because there are no Vanderbilts in the NFL. When a fire in the football dorm at Auburn reportedly destroyed 20 books, he said that the real tragedy here was that 15 of them were not colored yet. However, my favorite of his quips was the reason he gave for wanting to play Georgia early in the season:

“I sort of always liked playing them that second game because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended.”

Steve Spurrier put winning teams on the field without making college football out to be something equivalent to life and death. If for that reason alone, I will miss him as part of college football. Good luck to the Ol’ Ball Coach.

With Steve Spurrier out of college football, there is a little less “good stuff” around to take the edge off the stupidity injected therein by the NCAA. LSU’s outstanding running back, Leonard Fournette grew up in New Orleans and survived Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of that disaster. This year, a hurricane delivered serious flooding to South Carolina such that the LSU/South Carolina game that had been scheduled in South Carolina had to be moved to Baton Rouge. Fournette wanted to take his game-worn jersey and auction it off with the proceeds going to the relief efforts in South Carolina. Even before the game happened, Fournette wrote and released a moving letter expressing sympathy and prayers for the folks in South Carolina going through what they were going through.

And so, what did the NCAA do? They told him he could not do that because that violated one of the NCAA’s precious rules about special benefits for a student-athlete and amateurism. Seriously, that is what the grand overseers of collegiate athletics said; these are nominally the adults in charge here. That ruling lasted only a few hours when someone in the NCAA hierarchy came to his/her senses and convinced the nominal adults-in-charge that the NCAA already had enough black-eyes according to the public at large and needed to think about this one just a bit more.

At the end of the day, Fournette was informed that he could indeed auction off his jersey for this charitable purpose. The NCAA did this in a formal statement but that formal statement did not include any of the following as it should have:

    1. Start off with the phrase, “After further review…”

    2. An admission that its initial reaction was a stupid knee-jerk.

    3. An opening bid for the jersey up for auction or – – even better – – an offer to match whatever the final bid was so that the charitable contribution here would be doubled. Sigh…

This next story has been around for a while and I have refrained from comment because it has too many twists and turns that I do not understand. I have been waiting for some clarity here but since it involves FIFA, that is not likely to come about. FIFA announced that Sepp Blatter was going to be “provisionally suspended” for 90 days and then Blatter announced he would appeal that “provisional suspension”. Set aside the fact that I have no idea what distinguishes a “provisional suspension” form an “actual suspension” or a “sky-blue sleeping artisinal suspension”. “Suspension” to me is like a light switch; one is either suspended or not.

Moving on… Joining Blatter in this “provisional suspension status” are UAEFA President Michael Platini and FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke. If you think that makes this matter any clearer, it does not. Let me explain:

    Because Blatter is “provisionally suspended”, he “is not allowed to represent FIFA in any capacity, act on the organization’s behalf, or communicate to media or other stakeholders as a FIFA representative.” So, one might think that is what the meat of a “provisional suspension” is.

    Well, then the same ought to apply to Messr. Valcke, right? The problem with that logic is that Valcke was fired from his position a month ago. So, if he had already been fired, de facto he would not have been able to do any of the things that Blatter is forbidden to do. So, what does the ‘provisional suspension” add here?

Another interesting twist in the story is that Platini is now implicated in the same scandal/bribery allegations that have resulted in these “provisional suspensions”. Until now, Platini had been one of the folks on the inside track to be elected to replace Blatter as the major domo of FIFA. Oh swell…

The one thing in all of this latest FIFA mess that makes total sense are reports that FIFA took these actions to sever ties with Blatter et al. because several sponsors including big-time sponsors like McDonalds and Coca Cola urged FIFA to do so. The lesson here is the same one that Deep Throat indicated to Woodward and Bernstein in the Watergate scandal:

    Follow the money…

Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle summed all of this up succinctly:

“Can’t wait for the Sepp Blatter biopic: ‘The Line on Ethics: Bend It Like Blatter.’”

Finally, a coach in another college sport is under scrutiny today. Rick Pitino has not been fired as the basketball coach at Louisville but he and his program are squirming under the microscopes of multiple investigations stemming from claims that basketball recruits had escorts hired for them as part of the recruiting process. These allegations come from Katina Powell’s book, Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen. I do not want to pile on here based on allegations made in a book I have not read and do not plan to read. I prefer to wait for the stage play based on the work of literature here. May I suggest that the title of the stage play be:

    The Best Little Whorehouse in Louisville

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

A Tale Of Three Football Coaches

With apologies to Charles Dickens, the topic today seemingly represents only the worst of times. Today, I want to talk about 3 football coaches who find themselves in a less-than-happy place.

A week ago, the Miami Dolphins fired Joe Philbin as the head coach and named Dan Campbell as the interim coach there. Only 6 months ago, Philbin got a contract extension from Dolphins’ owner Steven Ross which means that his termination has a bit of a soft landing; nonetheless, he is no longer a member of the rather exclusive fraternity of “NFL Head Coaches”.

Dan Campbell said that the Dolphins’ team needs to be challenged more. OK, he is there with the team and I am not – but at his first practice he got the players to do the old Oklahoma drill. [Google is your friend…] The best players on that team are making millions of dollars and their continued ability to pull down that sort of coin is dependent on them having healthy muscles and joints with which to carry out their athletic instincts and capability. Question for Interim Coach Dan Campbell:

    How often do you think you can pull off practices like that before your “best players” make sure you do not become the permanent coach?

Dolphins’ owner, Steven Ross is very much into the publicity splash associated with things he does. He sells off small ownership pieces to celebrities to get his name in the papers and to get celebs identified with the team. Many folks think he will try to make a splashy hire here and will forego the chance to put in a call to fellow-owner, Danny Boy Snyder to find out just how well that works out. Don Shula is not coming out of retirement; neither is Bill Parcells; they would be “splashy hires” but that is not happening. Ergo:

    How long until the rumor has it that Nick Saban will be returning to Miami to tend to “unfinished business” there?

Philbin was fired after Game 4 this season when the Jets dominated the Dolphins in a London Game. That makes two years in a row when the first London Game did not work out very well for an NFL coach. Last year, the Raiders fired Dennis Allen after the Raiders were blown out in the London Game. Ironically, the team administering that blow-out was the Dolphins coached by … Joe Philbin. If that is the start of a trend, Todd Bowles had best hope that he does not have to play in London in Week 4 next year.

So, are there any other NFL head coaches who might not be around to see the end of this season with their current teams? The answer is probably not – but if pressed I would offer these two up for consideration:

    Jim Caldwell: The Lions are 0-5 and their Bye Week comes in Week 9. This is a franchise that knows all too well about the horrors of 0-16. Between now and the Bye Week, here is the Lions schedule:

      Vs. Bears – Lions are a 3-point favorite at the moment
      Vs. Vikes – Lions likely to be underdogs here
      At Chiefs – without Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs are eminently beatable

    Jim Tomsula: The Niners are 1-4 and their Bye Week comes in Week 10. He was dealt an impossible hand but there is no way that the GM and the Team President who is the son of the team owner will take the fall here…

At the collegiate level, Maryland fired Randy Edsall over the weekend. Make no mistake; he was not highly successful at Maryland and he was not always the most sociable fellow in the room. Please do not interpret even a syllable of what follows as any kind of argument that Maryland should have kept him on. The geniuses in charge of athletics and administration in College Park, MD put assistant coach Mike Locksley into the interim coach position. At his introductory press conference, Locksley said directly that there were a few things that were going to be done differently around there.

That is as it should be; when a new guy takes over – and in the deep recesses of his gut hopes that maybe this could turn into a permanent gig – he needs to do things differently and put his stamp on the program lest the changes turn out to be positive and he seemingly has nothing to do with those changes. So, let us take a cursory look at Mike Locksley’s history in football coaching:

    He has been an assistant coach/offensive coordinator at 7 schools since 1992.

    Starting in 2009 and lasting until the 4th game of the 2011 season, he was the head coach at New Mexico where he compiled a record of … wait for it … 2-26.

    One of those 26 losses was in a game against Sam Houston State. That was the loss that cost him his job there.

    One of his assistant coaches at New Mexico alleged that Locksley jumped on him and attacked him at a “contentious staff meeting”. That allegedly happened early in Locksley’s tenure there. The school suspended Locksley for 10 days without pay for that incident.

    An admin assistant at New Mexico filed an EEO discrimination complaint against Locksley asserting age and sex discrimination. The complaint was eventually withdrawn.

The geniuses who run things at Maryland had best hope that whatever things need to be done differently in the football program there involve strategic decisions on the sidelines and not fisticuffs among the coaching staff…

Yesterday, USC fired head coach Steve Sarkisian. Recall before the season began, Sarkisian had an embarrassing situation in front of USC fans/boosters where he appeared to be drunk. His explanation was that it was all caused by a mixture of prescription meds and an adult beverage at the event and he said he was going to be evaluated to take care of any problems he might have. Then the season began…

According to reports, Sarkisian – in the midst of divorce proceedings – had to attend to “family matters” last Saturday evening and all did not go well. There was a practice scheduled for Sunday but Sarkisian was not there; according to a report, a player told ESPN’s Shelley Smith that Sarkisian “showed up lit” for team meetings on Sunday afternoon.

The first announcement from USC was that Sarkisian would be on an indefinite leave of absence; that happened on Sunday evening. Yesterday afternoon, the announcement came that USC had fired Steve Sarkisian.

USC is not doing well on the field this year as measured by USC standards but this termination really does not reflect a “coaching problem”; Steve Sarkisian clearly has things going on in his life that have nothing to do with football that he needs to resolve. It would seem to me that separating himself from the pressures and demands of being the head football coach at USC would have to give him a better chance to take the time to deal with those things in his life and to make them better.

    Godspeed, Steve Sarkisian…

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Ex-football coach Lou Holtz, to the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call, on the state of his golf game: ‘While a lot of people want to shoot their age, I’m trying to shoot my weight. If I gain 5 pounds, I think I can do that.’”

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

Chase Utley/Reuben Tejada

With regard to Chase Utley’s “illegal slide” which happened also to break the leg of Mets’ shortstop Reuben Tejada, I have seen hundreds of slides that were way off second base where the runner could not have touched the bag if he still had a bat in his hand – – and there has been no ruling of an “illegal slide”. Utley’s slide was “violent” in the sense that he intended to make significant contact with Tejada prior to a throw to first base – and indeed he made that contact. However, from every angle of replay that I have seen, it appears to me that Utley can easily touch second base with his left hand as he slides through the play.

Suspending Utley for two games in NY might be a good idea simply from the perspective of maintaining order at those games but I am not so sure it is a good idea from the perspective of baseball history and the baseball rules. As I understand the rule here, an important aspect of the “illegality” is contained in the phrase “away from the base”. I cannot see where Utley was “away from the base” and a suspension here sets a precedent that I doubt baseball wants to set i.e. the violence of a collision or the outcome of a collision has an effect on the determination of “guilt” in the matter.

Utley will appeal the suspension and MLB will make its determination “posthaste”. That by itself is a departure from the normal for MLB which usually would take 8 days to determine if it was raining outside…

Whilst on the subject of baseball, consider the career stats of these two players:

    Player A: Played 17 years; BA .273; OPS .891; 5 All-Star Games; Career WAR 2.51

    Player B: Played 21 years; BA .297; OPS .937; 14 All-Star Games; Career WAR
    5.66

“Player A” is Jorge Posada and he has a plaque in centerfield in Yankee Stadium as of this year. “Player B” is Alex Rodriguez. Just saying…

Looking at the final MLB standings for the 2015 season, several things stand out to me:

    1. The Phillies had a negative run differential of 155 around the time of the All-Star break and no one else was nearly that bad. However, the Phillies did NOT wind up with the worst run differential for MLB this year. The Braves cratered in the second half of the season to finish at minus-187 while the Phillies staggered home at minus-183. By the way, the next worst to those two were the Tigers and the Reds both at minus-114.

    2. The Rangers won their division despite having a run differential of only +18. Compare that with the division winning Blue Jays who had a run differential of +221.

    3. The Dodgers and the Giants had identical road records (37-44). The Dodgers run differential was +72 and the Giants run differential was +68. Nevertheless, the Dodgers finished 8 full game ahead of the Giants in the standings.

Here is a stat I ran across somewhere but did not record where I saw it. My guess is that I saw it in a magazine at my doctor’s office because it was hand-written on a piece of paper from a note pad with the logo of a drug company on it.

    David Ortiz is one of only 4 players in baseball history to have 3 World Series championships and 500 home runs. The other 3 players are Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth.

Moving right along, you have probably read reports about a confrontation between Matt Barnes and Derek Fisher. Here is how Scott Ostler summed it up in the SF Chronicle last weekend:

“Matt Barnes beats up Derek Fisher because Fisher is dating Barnes’ estranged wife, Gloria Govan. Can’t blame Fisher. Since Barnes is dating other women, Fisher assumed Govan had cleared waivers.”

I think there is another angle at work here:

    Phil Jackson hired Derek Fisher to coach the Knicks specifically because Fisher was steeped in the triangle offense and could teach the triangle offense to the Knicks.

    Perhaps – I said PERHAPS – Fisher was merely finding out how things work in a different sort of “triangle”.

In the past, I have summarized here the futility of the national soccer team of San Marino which always enters the qualifying rounds for the European Cup and, more often than not, exits the qualifying rounds having been demolished by other sides. In this year’s qualifying rounds, the Sammarinese side managed to score a goal in an away game against Lithuania. San Marino did not win the game but this was their first goal in an away game since scoring one against Latvia in 2001. By the way, San Marino did not win that game against Latvia 14 years ago either.

In any event, the “away goal” was such an anomaly that the entire bench for San Marino emptied and ran onto the pitch to join Matteo Vitaioli in his celebration of this rare event. Such a team display on the pitch and away from the team area on the sidelines is not acceptable in soccer but according to reports, the referee did not issue warning cards to any of the celebrants from the sidelines. He probably recognized the rarity of what he had just witnessed and wanted to take in the moment for himself…

Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald about the last crop of folks inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame:

“Eleven new members were inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame: Dikembe Mutombo, John Calipari and nine people I care about even less.”

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