Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend Of 9/26/15

Last week’s Mythical Picks were decidedly in the red – mythically of course. The record for last week was a miserable 5-9-1 bringing the cumulative record for the year to 21-20-1. Those are not inspiring results so far this year – but it better than sitting on a sharp nail. The best pick last week was taking Stanford +9.5 and seeing Stanford beat USC straight up. The worst pick of the week was taking Cal/Texas to stay UNDER 58.5; the teams had 48 at halftime and looked on course to break 90; they slowed down in the second half and the total score was only 89.

Obviously no one would read that last paragraph and think that these picks provide a path to fame and fortune. Indeed no one ought to even consider using any information here as the basis for making a real wager involving real money on a real college football game this weekend – or any other weekend for that matter. Here is how dumb one would have to be to do that:

    It would take you 2 hours to watch 60 Minutes.

General Comments:

The Linfield College Wildcats extended their record to 2-0 last weekend in their quest to keep their streak of winning seasons alive. They beat the University of the Redlands 44-7 and begin their Northwest Conference schedule this week. They take a very short trip to Portland, OR to take on Lewis and Clark College. The Pioneers bring an 0-2 record to the game having lost to Claremont College and Pomona-Pitzer. Go Wildcats!

A neighbor who reads Mythical Picks in the Fall told me that he thought it was incongruous for a curmudgeon to revel in the successes of Linfield’s football program without some concurrent following of some obscure team’s utter futility. He has a point there. So, I went searching around and latched onto Division III Finlandia University. In parallel with Linfield, I have no affiliation with the school and know next to nothing about it academically or athletically. Here is what I did find, however:

    For 2015, the Finlandia Lions started the season 0-3. Lots of teams start 0-3 but Finlandia has had 3 epic losses. Here is the cumulative result so far this year:

      Opponents: 195
      Finlandia: 3

This week Finlandia hosts the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point up in the far reaches of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Go Lions!

The folks who brew Guinness and publish the Guinness Book of Records have hit upon a fantastic way to advertise their product at minimal cost to the company. People all over the world with way too much time on their hands go to great measures to get themselves and/or herds of their compatriots into that book. The Guinness folks “certify” the record and that gets the story into hundreds of outlets around the world. What a scam those folks are pulling on us; I would call them despicable scoundrels if they did not brew such a good beer.

Fans of Mississippi State football recently got together to “set a record” thereby giving Guinness some more free advertising. They set a record for “Most People Ringing Cowbells Simultaneously”. The previous record had been 640 bell ringers set somewhere in Switzerland; now that record stands at 5,748. I know you want to have all the details on this monumental achievement, so here is a link.

There is another intersection between college football news and beer this week. I will simply cite Dwight Perry’s item from the Seattle Times for you here:

“TCU defensive end Mike Tuaua and backup wide receiver Andre Petties-Wilson were arrested in Fort Worth on suspicion of accosting a fellow student and stealing his case of Keystone Light.

“They face charges of robbery, bodily injury and questionable taste in beer.”

Up until last weekend, Ole Miss had never beaten Alabama two years in a row. They have now. I heard one of the folks on sports radio saying that this indicated that Alabama was following the same downward path as Notre Dame as an “old-line football power” and that new schools were about to emerge as power programs. He may be right; but I think he is overstating the situation.

First of all, Notre Dame is pretty good this year; they had a few “down years” but they seem to be getting their fair share of football players year over year. Secondly, I think that what this shows is that there are more schools out there that are highly competitive with the traditional top-shelf programs. Rather than indicating a violent shift in the college football hierarchy, I think this points toward more parity in college football and a large part of that parity comes from the reduction in the number of scholarships that schools can give out. Today, there are fewer “blue chip” players riding the bench at the top schools because they are now out there playing for other schools. In fact, I think the rest of the SEC has caught up with Alabama and LSU to the point that when one of them loses a game it is not necessarily a “headline event”.

I mentioned above that my best pick of the week was taking Stanford plus a passel of points and seeing them beat USC straight up. Much has been made of the pressure on Texas coach Charlie Strong and Arkansas coach, Bret Bielema this week. Frankly, I think some of the microscopic attention ought to turn itself to Steve Sarkisian. After embarrassing himself and the school with his “impaired performance” at a booster rally, the team has not looked anything like the shoo-in champion of the PAC-12 (as more than a few folks predicted) nor as a strong contender to be in the Playoff Championship Game (as some predicted). Clearly, it is too early to write USC off, but they really looked ordinary against a Stanford team that lost badly to Northwestern earlier this month.

In its first season as a Division 1-A football program, UNC-Charlotte had won its first two games. Last week they encountered Middle Tennessee State – never to be confused with Alabama, Notre Dame or Ohio State – and lost that game by a score of 73-14. Welcome to Division 1-A…

Texas Tech beat Arkansas last week – at Arkansas no less – by 11 points and then coaches Kliff Kingsbury and Bret Bielema got into a spitting contest that matters not at all. What does matter is that Arkansas has now lost 2 home games in a row to Toledo (!!) and Texas Tech (!). Bielema is a large man with an outsized persona; perhaps he is the Rex Ryan of college football?

Speaking of teams losing badly, how about UCF? Last week, they lost to Division 1-AA Furman; the last time Furman beat a Division 1-A team was in 1999; just a week before the UCF game, Furman lost to Va Tech 42-3. UCF is now 0-3 on the season having also lost to FIU earlier this year. There are reports that George O’Leary wants to get out of the coaching business and take over as UCF Athletic Director. He may get out of the coaching business for other reasons if the team continues to lose games like this. Two years ago, UCF played in the Fiesta Bowl; that is a major game not an irrelevant game. Now, two years later, you have this kind of a team on the field…?

Georgia waxed South Carolina 52-20 last week. It looks as if it will be a loooong season for Gamecock fans. Georgia running back, Nick Chubb ran for 159 yards and 2 TDs in the game last week.

Navy beat E. Carolina last week by 24 points. Unless Navy is REALLY good this year, it may be that ECU is in for a long season also. They do have a win on their record this year over Division 1-AA Towson and they still have Va Tech and BYU on the schedule.

Idaho won a football game last week. Playing at home, they beat Division 1-AA Wofford by 3 points. If that is their only win for the year, they will be in the SHOE Tournament. By the way, Wofford College is in Spartanburg, SC; how much did they have to get paid to take that jaunt across the entire country to beautiful downtown Moscow, ID?

LSU played characteristically well beating Auburn last week 45-21. Going into the game, I did not think LSU could score 45 points nor that Auburn could give up 45 points; I was very wrong. Running back Leonard Fournette gained 228 yards and scored 3 times. He is very big and very fast; absent a traumatic injury, he will be playing Sunday football down the line.

From the same game, it surely appears as if the pre-season hype for Auburn QB, Jeremy Johnson was just that – – hype. Against LSU, Johnson was 11-19 for 100 yards. Word is that he will not start this week…

Missouri had a bad day at the office last week even though they won the game. Playing at home against UConn, Mizzou only won by a score of 9-6. Moreover, UConn had a chance to tie the game at the end with a field goal but UConn set up with a fake field goal that was telegraphed so badly that it looked as if the entire Missouri defense knew it was a fake and where the fake play was going. The pass play was into tight triple coverage and resulted in an INT that sealed the game. Nonetheless, this is an embarrassing result for a team in the SEC West at home against a mediocre-at-best program.

Ohio State beat Northern Illinois by a measly 7 points last week. That result ought to indicate 2 things:

    1. Even very good college football teams struggle to win once in a while – and sometimes they even lose a game as Alabama did last week.

    2. Northern Illinois should have gotten at least a few votes as the #2 team in the country from voters who only check the scores of the games and the stats after the fact.

In addition to holding Ohio State under 300 yards of total offense, Northern Illinois got 5 turnovers in the game. That is why the game stayed as close as it did; even with 5 turnovers, Northern Illinois only scored 7 points in the game. This week, Ohio State faces another MAC team and then the Big 10 season starts. I do not want that to sound too ominous because the first six Big 10 teams on Ohio State’s schedule are not particularly fearsome:

    At Indiana
    Vs Maryland
    Vs Penn State
    At Rutgers
    Vs Minnesota
    At Illinois

That takes Ohio State thru 14 November and if they are indeed the best team in the country, they should be undefeated at that point. Then their season starts in earnest on 21 November hosting Michigan State that weekend followed by a game at Michigan the next weekend.

Temple beat UMass by 2 points last week. The margin of victory came via a blocked extra point that Temple returned all the way to the other end zone for 2 points. That brought Temple to within 1 point of UMass and a very late field goal sealed the win. Temple is now 3-0 on the season.

Kansas State beat La Tech 39-33. The surprise here was the margin of victory (K-State was a 10-point favorite) plus the fact that it took 3 OTs to get the win.

Florida State beat BC 14-0. This was a result of good defense by Florida State and rather inept offense from BC. It seemed as if BC had “second and long” just about all the time.

UCLA beat BYU 24-23 even on a day when freshman phenom QB, Josh Rosen, had a bad game. Rosen was 11-23 for 106 yards and 3 INTs in the game. Nevertheless, UCLAQ found a way to win… Brad Rock juxtaposed Rosen with BYU freshman QB, Tanner Mangum with this comment in the Deseret News:

“UCLA QB Josh Rosen is 18 and BYU’s Tanner Mangum 22, but both are true freshmen.

“Nobody noticed the age difference, last week, until Rosen pulled out his iPhone and Mangum said, ‘Hey, nice Walkman.’”

Miami beat Nebraska 36-33 in OT. The game ended when Miami DB, Corn Elder intercepted a Miami pass. Indeed, the Cornhuskers lost the game when a guy named Corn intercepted a pass. Karma…

Ponderosa Games:

For the first two weeks of the season, the favorites covered an inordinate percentage of the spreads in these games. Last week, the favorites “regressed to the mean. Last week, there were 12 Ponderosa Games and only 1 favorite covered. The record last week was 1-11-0 bringing the season cumulative record to 15-15-0 for favorites covering spreads here.

Oklahoma State covered.

Arizona St, Michigan, Michigan St, Minnesota, Ohio St, Oklahoma, Oregon, TCU, Texas A&M, Washington St and Wisconsin failed to cover.

This week, we have 9 Ponderosa Games:

C. Michigan at Michigan St – 26.5 (54): Games between a “directional school” and a “state school” are often Ponderosa Games.

W. Michigan at Ohio St – 31.5 (61): If W. Michigan gets 5 turnovers from Ohio St. as N. Illinois did last week, they can keep the game close.

    [Aside: If you are wondering why E. Michigan is not a Ponderosa underdog, it is because E. Michigan is playing Army this week.]

Vandy at Ole Miss – 24.5 (54): The Total Line for this game opened at 59 and dropped to this level very quickly.

N. Texas at Iowa – 25 (54.5): Iowa is a Ponderosa favorite?

Rice at Baylor – 34.5 (75): This will be ugly.

LSU – 24 at Syracuse (47): The majority of Ponderosa favorites are home teams; LSU is a Ponderosa favorite on the road here.

UMass at Notre Dame – 29 (59): Maybe the Pope needs to say a mass for UMass here?

La-Monroe at Alabama – 38 (58): Do you think Nick Saban worked the team a bit harder than usual this week?

Hawaii at Wisconsin – 24.5 (50.5): That is a long way to fly to take a beating…

Games of Interest:

(Fri Nite) Boise St. – 2.5 at UVa (49): The Total Line here opened at 55.5 and dropped to this level very quickly. This probably reflects the fact that Boise St. will have to play without their starting QB here plus the fact that UVa has not exactly been an offensive juggernaut this year. I will make this a pure venue call and take UVA plus the points.

(Fri Nite) Stanford – 15.5 at Oregon St. (44.5): Stanford has to suffer at least a small letdown after beating USC on the road last week, no? On the other hand, Oregon St. looked awfully meek when they played Michigan earlier this year. I think the line is fat so I will take Oregon St. plus the points.

BYU at Michigan – 6.5 (44.5): BYU is not in a conference so they get to schedule all of their games without the restrictions that a conference imposes. You cannot accuse the folks there of scheduling only patsies. They have already played UCLA and Nebraska and hoof it all the way to Ann Arbor for this game. Both teams have better defenses than offenses so I see a low scoring game. I’ll take BYU plus the points here.

Missouri at Kentucky – 2.5 (45): Neither team has an offense that scares anyone. I am surprised to see Kentucky favored in a conference game and after UConn held Missouri to 9 points last week, there is no way I would take Mizzou on the road with that few points. Therefore, I will take the game to stay UNDER.

Navy – 7 at UConn (47): Perhaps this game will give an indication of how good Navy might be this year and/or how good UConn might be this year. No wagering interest hear at all, but the game is worth some attention.

Bowling Green – 2.5 at Purdue (75): This line opened with Purdue as a 2-point favorite but the movement has been toward Bowling Green all week. On the road at Maryland a couple of weeks ago, Bowling Green scored 48 points; last week Purdue gave up 51 points to Va Tech. I know that Bowling Green’s defense is nothing to write home about, but I like them to win here by wearing Purdue down. I’ll take Bowling Green on the road and lay the points.

Kansas at Rutgers – 14 (65): Kansas just stinks. Rutgers has coaches suspended and a half-dozen players either kicked off the team or in jail or both. This game is as attractive as a landfill site. Do not wager on this game; do not watch this game. Merely marvel at the fact that Rutgers can be a 2 TD favorite here; how bad must Kansas be?

Ga Tech – 7 at Duke (56): Notre Dame put the brakes on the Ga Tech option offense and forced Tech to throw the ball way more than they wanted to. Can Duke do something similar? Probably not. Nevertheless, this is a game between two good ACC teams and the rivalry had to have heated up last year when Duke beat Ga Tech in Atlanta. Purely a hunch here, but I like Duke at home plus a TD’s worth of points.

Texas A&M – 7 vs. Arkansas (58) Game is in Arlington, TX: Arkansas has lost two consecutive home games (one was in Little Rock) to Toledo and to Texas Tech. Texas A&M is a better squad than either of those teams and while this is a neutral site game, there are likely to be plenty of Aggie fans in attendance. I like Texas A&M to win and cover here.

Tennessee – 1.5 at Florida (48): Florida opened as a 2-point favorite here; the Total Line opened at 53.5. Neither team is great on offense but it appears as if Florida has the better defense. This is completely a venue call; I’ll take Florida plus the points.

Mississippi St. at Auburn – 3 (58): Auburn has changed QBs; is that going to be a plus for the team against a good Mississippi St defense? Miss. St has Dak Prescott at QB and he has good games and bad games seemingly with no pattern. I think this will be a defensive game so I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

TCU – 6 at Texas Tech (80): Yes, you read the Total Line correctly; believe it or not, it started the week higher at 81. The team that has the ball last is likely the winner here because neither defense is outstanding and both units will be tired in the 4th quarter. No pick here, but keep your eyes on the crawl at the bottom of your TV screen for a lot of “Score Alerts” here.

Utah at Oregon – 11.5 (64.5): Utah wins when their defense dictates the pace of the game and the field position; Oregon wins when it overwhelms the opposition with speed and quick strikes. Here are a couple of trend angles for the game:

    Since the start of last year, Utah is 7-1 against the spread on the road. They are on the road here.

    Since the start of last year, Utah is 5-1 against the spread as an underdog. They are the underdog here.

Forget the trends, I think Oregon is too fast for Utah to contain for 60 minutes. I’ll take Oregon and lay the points.

Northern Illinois at BC – 4.5 (47): Last week, Northern Illinois lost to Ohio State by 7 points while BC was shut out by Florida State (see above). The spread here suggests a significant offensive rebound for BC and that Northern Illinois left all of itself on the field against Ohio State. I think this will be a low scoring affair and so I’ll take N. Illinois plus the points.

Oklahoma St. – 3 at Texas (59): Last week, Ok.St. beat up on Texas-San Antonio; this week they get just plain Texas. The Longhorns have had plenty of problems this year but they have a decent defense and they are getting points at home. Purely a venue call; I’ll take Texas plus the points.

USC – 5.5 at Arizona St (61): USC played poorly on defense against Stanford last week. Arizona St. wins by outscoring the other guys. I do not see a lot of “three-and-outs” happening here. I like the game to go OVER.

UCLA – 3 at Arizona (66): This may the best game of the weekend. This will be the first real road game for UCLA freshman QB, Josh Rosen, so I expect him to play a tad below his level in the game. UCLA’s defense ought to keep Arizona from running wild too. I like the game to stay UNDER.

Cal – 3 at Washington (60): I am not impressed by either defense here and both teams have shown they can score points on offense. Therefore, I like the game to go OVER.

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 9/27/15

Last week’s Mythical Picks would have been ever so slightly mythically profitable. The record last week was 9-8-0 bringing the season total to 16-16-1. The best pick last week was Tampa Bay plus 10.5 points when the Bucs won the game outright. The worst pick last week was Indy minus 7 when the Colts lost outright and it was not close. The Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games worked out exactly the way one might expect coin flip games to work out. The record last week was 1-1-0; for the season the coin is 3-1-0.

Clearly, the performance to date is not inspiring in any way. No one should look at those results and think that they have stumbled upon a path to wagering nirvana. No one should use anything here as the basis for making a real wager involving real money on an actual NFL game this weekend. Here is how stupid one would have to be to do that:

    If someone offered you a penny for your thoughts, you would have to give them some change back.

General Comments:

Before I get to the details of what happened last week and what that might portend for the season, I want to share with you a great question posed by Gregg Drinnan in a recent iteration of Keeping Score:

“When an NFL team calls timeout, someone runs around the field squirting water into the mouths of the players. Just wondering, but what does that person put on their income tax return under Occupation?”

I guess the same question would apply to the “ball boys” because that occupation designation might be ambiguous…

OK, enough high school humor. Last week was a bad week for a good friend who is in several fantasy leagues – about which I do not care – and also 3 different survival pools/knockout pools. I spoke with him on Tuesday and he was not a happy camper. In his three survival pools he took:

    The Ravens to beat the Raiders
    The Dolphins to beat the Jags
    The Saints to beat the Bucs

His survival pool action for the year is finito. I wonder what the “knockout rate” was last week for those sorts of pools all over the country…

The season is two weeks old; if we equate that to a baseball season, it is about May 1st. Recall last year about this time, fans were thinking that Tom Brady was washed up and were speculating about his benching in favor of Jimmy Garoppolo. Also about this time last year, the Packers were not doing well and Aaron Rodgers felt is necessary to go on the radio to tell the fans in Green Bay to R-E-L-A-X.

That is where we are today. I am not pushing any panic buttons here; I am pointing out some teams that have played surprisingly well and others that have been surprisingly bad in the first two games. The fact that this happens every year does not mean we should ignore it; however, it does mean we should not afford it more credence than it deserves.

I think there are 5 surprisingly good teams:

    Arizona Cardinals: I said I was not sold on the Cards and predicted they would win only 7 games for the season. They are 2-0 and they have played really well averaging 39.5 points per game in those 2 wins. Buried way down in the Cards’ stats is the fact that they have yet to give up a sack this year.

    Atlanta Falcons: They are also 2-0. Their defense last year was miserable and so far this year they are only giving up 22 points per game. Oh, and they have Julio Jones on the roster and he is healthy…

    Carolina Panthers: In their two wins so far this year, the Panthers have only yielded a total of 26 points. Granted, they have only scored a total of 44 points in those two wins, but still…

    Cincinnati Bengals: I thought they would only win 8 games this year taking a step back from 4 consecutive years in the playoffs. They have played very well so far this year especially on defense.

    New York Jets: I projected them to win 4 games this year and they have half of that number already. In their two wins, their defense has created 10 takeaways. They are not going to keep up that pace, but it has been impressive indeed.

Here in Curmudgeon Central, the focus is generally not on the surprisingly good teams; rather, it is on the teams that seem to be on a path to the bottom or on teams that are asking themselves if things can possibly get any worse. Falling into that category are 7 teams:

    Baltimore Ravens: I guess it is OK to lose to a good Broncos’ team in Denver if you do not give up an offensive TD in the loss. It is not OK to lose to the Raiders when you score 33 points. I know that Terrell Suggs is out for the year, but still…

    Chicago Bears: They have simply been dreadful. I did not have lofty expectations for the team this year (5 projected wins) but they are giving up 39.5 points per game in their 2 losses…

    Detroit Lions: Yes, both losses have come on the road but this was nominally a team that would win on offense this year. Now it could be that Matthew Stafford is “hurting” and that would mean the field presence of Dan Orlovsky. How long until someone gives him the name “Oy-oy Orlovsky”?

    Indianapolis Colts: Put simply, their OL is substandard. They cannot run the ball and they are not protecting Andrew Luck well. The Colts’ defense is not good enough to carry the team.

    New Orleans Saints: In a nutshell, the Saints’ defense is offensive. That is not a good thing. Oh, and Drew Brees has a sore shoulder. Shudder

    New York Giants: They have blown a 10-point lead in both losses this year with blockheaded plays at the end of both games. On the bright side, they have a short week game tonight meaning they have had less time to think up ways to screw up the next one.

    Philadelphia Eagles: Where is the vaunted Chip Kelly offense? The OL is MIA; the Eagles cannot run the ball even a little bit. Dwight Perry found this “headline” and had it in the Seattle Times earlier this week:

    “Sam Bradford defeats deer in headlights in staring competition.”

    It is not that far off target…

There is plenty of time for all of these teams to change the vector heading for their seasons. All I am saying here is that the 7 surprisingly bad teams need to throw it into gear pretty soon and the 5 surprisingly good teams need to avoid believing all their press clippings.

Last week, I saw the Broncos/Chiefs game and I saw enough to convince myself that Peyton Manning is not “finished”. He is clearly on the downward arc of his career, but he can still play QB with no embarrassment. I think the issue in Denver is their OL. On passing plays, the offensive line is supposed to get in the way of the pass rushers in order to slow them down on their trek to get to the QB. The Broncos’ OL is doing that in the most nominal fashion. Quarterbacks and receivers have to have a little time to get their plays to work…

With regard to the Pats win over the Bills last week, I think it is time for media to stop taking the easy way out during the week prior to any game where a team coached by Rex Ryan is playing the Pats. The braggadocio act has become hackneyed for one simple reason:

    The Pats win those confrontations too often to make the pontifications interesting.

Against the Bills in his career, Tom Brady is 24-3 in 27 starts and has thrown 61 TD passes. No player on the Bills nor any fan in Buffalo needs to say a word about what they are going to do to Brady in any game. After they do something positive – like beat the Pats on a Pick Six from Brady – they may be allowed a few hours to crow. Until them, please go the bar and get a free mug of Shut The Hell Up

There were several Bills’ players who felt emboldened by Ryan’s bluster to denigrate the Pats as a team and specific players on that team. Well, the Pats had 466 yards passing against the defense that was doing most of the posturing and preening. In the end, the Bills’ defensive players look like primary standard asshats. Demonstrating their high degree of professionalism, the Bills amassed a total of 140 yards in penalties during the game. Make that asshats-squared…

After the game, here is what Rex Ryan had to say:

“I have to do a better job at controlling my emotions. And it starts with me.”

And with that statement alone, Rex Ryan earns is Masters’ Degree in The Obvious from Curmudgeon College. Congrats…

Last year, people in Dallas were referring to Tony Romo/Dez Bryant/DeMarco Murray as the reincarnation of “The Triplets”. Murray is gone in free agency, Bryant is out 10-12 weeks with a broken foot; Romo is out 8 weeks with a broken clavicle. The objective now is for the Cowboys to try to hold serve and break even while those guys heal. Brandon Weeden will be at the helm with Matt Cassel behind him. There will be a lot of reliance on the defense – and it is a good defense. The return of Sean Lee from ACL surgery has been a big plus for the Cowboys. Against the Eagles last week, he had an INT and at one point in the 4th quarter the announcers said he had made 11 solo tackles. I did not count any of his tackles from that point forward so I do not know the total, but he was all over the field.

Speaking of the Eagles – and I am reminded here of my mother’s admonition never to speak evil of the dead – they have stunk in spades in their first two games. The offense has been virtually non-existent; on the rare occasions where Sam Bradford actually hits Jordan Matthews in both hands, Matthews drops the ball. There is no rhythm or pace to the offense. Adding to that ineptitude, the defense has played well – except for when it matters. At the end of the first half against the Cowboys last week, the Cowboys drove the field helped along by 5 defensive penalties all of which resulted in 1st downs. Maybe that is something that just happens to a pee-wee football team; that is not acceptable for an NFL team. If the Eagles are not the most disappointing team in the league so far, then the Colts are…

The Colts have to find ways to protect Andrew Luck because that is the only hope they have to win games. They cannot depend on the running game and they cannot depend on the defense. Luck was not sacked last week by the Jets, but he was hurried and hit and had to scramble on about 75% of his dropbacks. The Colts are in a bad division; as of this morning, Jax and Tennessee are tied for the division lead. I suspect that will not be the outcome at the end of the season but the Colts are a flawed team. Make no mistake about that…

The Steelers beat the Niners last week and I think that Antonio Brown may be the best WR in the NFL if Julio Jones and/or Odell Beckham Jr. are not. Against the Niners, Brown caught 9 passes for 195 yards and a TD; not a bad day at work… Back in training camp, Ben Roethlisberger said that his goal for the year was to have the Steelers average 30 points per game. Indeed, the season is young but the Steelers have scored 64 points in 2 games; last week against the Niners, Roethlisberger threw for 369 yards and 3 TDs. Oh, by the way, the Steelers get RB, LeVeon Bell back from his suspension starting this week. Here is a capsule of how the Steelers dominated that game:

    On 2 long drives, the Niners ran17 plays in each one and came away with a total of 3 points. 34 plays = 3 points…

    At one point in the 3rd quarter, the Steelers had run a total of 36 offensive plays and had produced 29 points…

This was to be the “Year of the Dolphin”. Ryan Tannehill was going to take a big step forward and the acquisition of Ndamukong Suh to that DL was going to produce a lockdown unit there. Not so fast Sparky; the Dolphins lost to the Jags last week with another lackluster offensive performance. Moreover, there were reports that Suh was freelancing on defense and ignoring the calls made by the defensive coordinator. Obviously, I have no idea if that is true or not but there is a cautionary tale here for Messr. Suh:

    You got the largest contract and the largest guaranteed money for a defensive player in the history of the NFL. You are a defensive tackle and there have been instances in your career when fans, commentators and other players have thought you were a dirty player. Now IF these stories about your “freelancing” are correct and you are ignoring your coaches, you are entering into dangerous NFL historical territory.

    That profile fits beautifully with the career arc of one Albert Haynesworth.

      Memo for Ndamukong Suh: You really, REALLY, do not want your name mentioned in the same paragraph with his.

The Raiders scored 40 points on the Ravens’ defense to earn a win last week; recall that the Broncos were unable to score an offensive TD on that defense just a week prior to this game. They looked like the “old-time Raiders” in the first half amassing 10 penalties in the first 30 minutes of the game. However, the present Raiders’ defense is nothing like the “old-time Raiders”; last week they gave up 493 yards of offense and still won the game. Al Davis would be happy that they won; somehow I think that Ted Hendricks, Jack Tatum and “The Tooz” would not be so happy with that performance. In two games, the Raiders have yielded 889 yards or 6.5 yards per offensive play by the opponents. This week the Raiders go on the road to Cleveland. There is good news and bad news:

    Bad news: Raiders are 3-24 in their last 27 road games.

    Good news: Raiders will play the Browns this week.

Meanwhile, the Ravens’ defense was a real no-show last week. They exerted little if any pressure on Derek Carr and put the Raiders in “third-and-long” situations only on rare occasions. That has to change if the Ravens are going to get things turned in a positive direction…

The Titans lost to the Browns last week and Marcus Mariota looked as bad in that game as he looked good in the opening week win over the Bucs. Such is the story of rookie NFL QBs… In that same game, Johnny Manziel threw two long TD passes to Travis Benjamin (50 yards and 60 yards) and Benjamin had a long punt return for a TD too. Please do not extrapolate this to conclude that Manziel-to-Benjamin is the reincarnation of “Montana-to-Rice”. Remember, those were the Titans playing defense out there last week…

The Bucs beat the Saints in N’awlins last week making it 6 games in arrow that the Saints have lost at home in their dome. That site used to be one of the great home-field advantages but not recently. The Saints are a mess; their defense could not stop a faucet drip. So far this year they have lost to the Bucs and the Titans; last year, the Bucs and the Titans were the two worst teams in the NFL.

Last week, the Bears gave up 48 points to the Cardinals and they lost Jay Cutler to a hamstring injury. For all those Bears’ fans who have been clamoring for the team to get rid of Cutler, you now have Jimmy Claussen under center for the next several weeks. Should he be unable to play, you will get to see David Fales. In that circumstance, two things should become clear to Bears’ fans quickly:

    1. Jay Cutler ain’t all that horrible as a QB or as a human being.

    2. David Fales is a person with a name that is a complete sentence.

As they used to say on the old TV show, To Tell The Truth, will the real St. Louis Rams please stand up? After an opening week win over the Seahawks, the Rams’ defense was gashed repeatedly by the Skins running game last week and the Rams’ offense was meek as a lamb. The biggest improvement in the Skins so far this year has nothing at all to do with the drama that surrounds their QB situation; the biggest improvement has been in the OL which is opening good holes in the running game and giving Kirk Cousins time to set up his passing attack.

The NFC East is a division in flux. The Cowboys have bad karma with the football gods so far this year; the Giants are intent on giving games away; the Eagles just have stunk out the joint and the Skins have played the best football in the division to date. Can those situations continue to obtain?

The Games:

(Thurs Nite) Washington at Giants – 3.5 (44): The Giants have lost two games by a total of 5 points after leading by double digits in both games. The offense has moved the ball but has not scored a lot. The question here is whether the Giants defense can slow down the power running attack of the Skins sufficiently to allow that same defense to try to put some pressure on Kirk Cousins. I think this will be a low scoring game and so I will take the Skins plus the points here – with very little conviction.

Pittsburgh – 1 at St. Louis (48): Ben Roethlisberger said he wanted the Steelers to average 30 points per game this year (see above). They will have a fast track on Sunday to chase that goal. The Rams did not play well last week particularly on defense so that unit might be highly motivated here. I think the Steelers will prevail here mainly because they have the better QB and the better RBs. I’ll take the Steelers and lay the point on the road.

San Diego at Minnesota – 2 (44.5): The Vikings featured Adrian Peterson last week in their win over the Lions so I expect they will do the same here. The Vikings’ defense also harassed Matthew Stafford all game long and I expect they will do the same here. I like the Vikes at home to win and cover.

Tampa Bay at Houston – 6.5 (40): Jameis Winston has faced the Titans’ defense and the Saints’ defense so far. This week he gets to see the Texans’ defense and that is a more competent unit. The Texans’ have a different sort of QB issue to deal with. The Bucs have a young QB who will be up and down all year long; the Texans have two QBs neither of which is very good. The Texans really do need a healthy Arian Foster to run the ball because that will mean it spends less time in the hands of whichever QB happens to be in the game at the moment. I think points will be at a premium in this game so I will take the Bucs plus the points here and hold my breath…

Philly at Jets – 3 (46.5): The Eagles have two things going for them in this game:

    1. The Jets played on Monday night last week and have a short week to prepare.

    2. The game is at the Jets where the Eagles will be booed much less than they would had the game been in Philly.

It is put up or shut up time for the Eagles’ offense here – but the problem is that the Jets’ defense is very good even if they do not get 5 takeaways again this week. If Sam Bradford stinks it up in the first half again this week, and the Eagles go to Mark Sanchez in the second half, think of the pre-cooked storyline comments the announcers will have. I like this game to stay UNDER.

New Orleans at Carolina – 3 (45): The Saints may have lost 6 straight home games (see above) but that does not mean I like them on the road outdoors. If the team is not spoofing about Drew Brees’ shoulder issues, the Saints will be in big trouble here; they are not likely to run the ball well against the Panthers’ defense. I like the Panthers to win and cover at home.

Jax at New England – 14 (48): After feeling the adrenaline of playing Rex Ryan’s Bills last week, the Pats may have difficulty getting themselves into a fiery state of mind with the Jags coming to visit. Moreover, the Pats get their BYE Week in the first available slot next week so they may be looking through this game to the week off. I think that line is fat; I’ll take the Jags plus the points.

Cincy at Baltimore – 2.5 (44): This is the Ravens’ home opener and it is pretty much a “must-win” game for the Ravens’ fans if they want their team to be a factor in the AFC North Division race. The Bengals are 2-0 and have played really well in both games. I like the “desperation factor” here even if it may be just a tad hyperbolic this early in the season. I’ll take the Ravens and lay the points at home.

Oakland at Cleveland – 3.5 (44.5): This will not be a pretty game; it may be the worst game of the week. The Raiders do not travel well (see above); the Browns will go back to Josh McCown at QB if he is cleared to play and that is surely not a warm and fuzzy feeling for anyone looking to back the Browns with some cash on the line. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the game to go OVER. Why not?

Indy – 3 at Tennessee (45): The Colts have a chance here to take their record to 1-2. If they win here, the Titans will also be 1-2 and after the Jags lose in New England they will also be 1-2. The best that the Texans can be on Sunday night is also 1-2. So, the Colts have motivation here… Yes, they are coming off a short week after a Monday night game, but I think they are the better team here. The spread opened the week at 5 points and dropped to 3.5 points almost immediately and is now at 3 points. I like the Colts to win and cover even on the road.

Atlanta – 1.5 at Dallas (45): This game features two undefeated teams; no other game on the card this weekend can make that statement. The oddsmakers set this line and it has stayed pretty much at these numbers for the entire week. That tells you what they and the betting public think about the injuries to the Cowboys; no one looking at this game on Labor Day would have had the Falcons as road favorites. The Falcons play their third consecutive team from the NFC East and their second straight road game. Just a hunch, but I like the Cowboys here plus the points.

SF at Arizona – 6 (44): The Cards are on a roll and the Niners’ defense showed some holes against the Steelers last week. I think Carson Palmer and company will exploit those holes and light up the scoreboard. I like the Cards to win and cover at home.

Chicago at Seattle – 14 (43.5): This is the only game this weekend featuring two teams without a win so far. The Seahawks have an excuse; one of their losses was in OT and the other was to the Packers – a very good team. The Bears have no such excuses and are going to start the game with a sorry excuse for a QB. I will not lay that many points (and in fact, you can find the spread at 14.5 points at two Internet sportsbooks this morning) even with the game in Seattle. I like the game to go OVER because I think the Seahawks are going to score close to 40 points by themselves.

Buffalo at Miami – 3 (43): Absent the hype and bluster of a thousand press conferences, Rex Ryan will likely have the Bills more than ready to play this game. The Dolphins have been sleepwalking in two games against the Skins and the Jags and have split those two games against opponents that are not as good as the Bills. I like the Bills to win outright so I’ll gladly take them plus the points here.

(Sun Nite) Denver – 3 at Detroit (44.5): The Lions are finally at home for a game and the Broncos are on the road for the second week in a row. Often, that is the feather on the balance that would get me to take the home team in a game like this. HOW-EVAH … The Lions have not been running the ball well and Matthew Stafford is hurting – albeit not injured. The longest offensive play for the Lions last week was a 17-yard pass completion even though the Lions threw the ball 53 times in the game. The Broncos defense is the superior defense here and Peyton Manning may not be the same QB he was 5 years ago, but he is still very good. I’ll take the Broncos and lay the points on the road.

(Mon Nite) KC at Green Bay – 6.5 (49): The Chiefs have had a long time to get ready for this game coming off the Thursday night game last week. It is almost like an additional BYE Week. The trip from KC to Green Bay is not transcontinental by any means but it is a road game and the Packers play very well at Lambeau Field. I think this will be an offensive game and I do not think the Chiefs can keep pace. Alex Smith is overmatched here against Aaron Rodgers. I like the Packers to win and cover.

Finally, consider this comment from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot after the first week of this NFL season:

“Complaints: Four missed extra points in the NFL’s Week 1 are half as many as were missed all of last season. Bengals booter Mike Nugent, whose point-after attempt was blocked, says of the directive that pushed kicks back to 33 yards, ‘I don’t know of any rules that have been changed to make guys fail more.’ After the way the league has changed rules to help the offense, defensive players would take exception to that. But the extra point issue will be with us all season, giving fans one more thing to talk about. Which is always the NFL’s plan.”

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

QBs And The Law Of Supply And Demand…

There is still time for another NFL set of weekend games in the month of September; it is not even BYE Week time yet. Nevertheless, we can already see how thin the supply of NFL caliber QBs is. Consider the following situations:

    Dallas Cowboys: They will have to do without Tony Romo for about 8 weeks. The only other QB on their roster as of Tuesday morning was Brandon Weeden. They will get to go shopping on the Free Agent Quarterback Market.

    Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler has a hamstring injury that will keep him out a “couple of weeks”. The QBs on the roster now are Jimmy Claussen and David Fales – a 6th round pick from San Jose St. who is on the practice squad.

    Philly Eagles: Sam Bradford has looked horrible and horribly confused in two starts this year. Behind him is Mark Sanchez who will consider the label of journeyman as his next career achievement.

    NY Giants: Eli Manning has played poorly – physically and mentally – at the end of the first two games this year. Behind him is Ryan Nassib – meaning that Eli’s job is perfectly safe.

    New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees says he has a sore shoulder. Luke McCown might get his wish from the Verizon ads and get to show how good he can be – or not. Behind those two is Garrett Grayson whose claim to fame is that he is Colorado State’s all-time leading passer – ahead of Kelly Stouffer.

Not only are those situations dire, but consider what might happen to teams with really good QBs should the injury bug strike:

    Denver would put Brock Osweiler under center.

    New England would go with Jimmy Garappolo.

    Indy would turn to Matt Hasselbeck.

    Green Bay would hand the reins to Scott Tolzien or Brett Hundley.

    Atlanta would start Sean Renfree – a 7th round pick from Duke.

    Arizona would relive last year’s nightmare with Drew Stanton and/or Matt Barkley.

The QB Free Agent Market has commodities such as:

    Jason Campbell

    Rex Grossman – he was actually in the Falcons’ camp this year.

    Matt Flynn

    Kyle Orton

    Christian Ponder

    John Skelton – – and of course – –

    Tim Tebow.

In case you get upset the next time you read about a contract for a “better-than-average NFL QB” and think that the team must be out of its mind, think about the Law of Supply and Demand from when you took Econ 101. The demand is fixed at 32 starters and 32 – 48 backups. The current supply is far less than that plus the colleges are not turning out “NFL-ready” QBs at more than about 1 per year – sometimes 2 – maybe.

I mentioned Brock Osweiler above and I think he is in an interesting situation in Denver. He is behind Peyton Manning there and is not likely to get a lot of time on the field this year absent an injury situation. Nonetheless, Osweiler’s rookie contract will expire at the end of the 2015 season and he will be an unrestricted free agent at age 25 – unless someone in Denver takes total leave of his/her senses and makes Osweiler their franchise player. As of today, Osweiler has been in the NFL for 3 years plus 2 games; in that time he has hit the field in 13 games all as a substitute. He has thrown 30 passes completing 17 of them for 159 yards. He is not much of a runner; in 19 rushing attempts, he has a net of minus-11 yards.

So, you are the GM of an NFL franchise and you need either a starting QB or a competent backup. Over the winter Brock Osweiler’s name goes on the list that has those seven players above – plus plenty of others of even less renown.

    Would you make Osweiler an offer? For what kind of job and at what salary level?

    Do you have any reason to believe he can or cannot play adequately in the NFL? After all, it has been a long time since those tapes of his games at Arizona St. that you can watch.

    Do you look at what he has done in exhibition games and put credence in whatever he did there?

The supermarket shelves are bare and there is no reason to believe a truckload of new QBs will be arriving anytime soon. The shelves may be bare but no one has found a way to repeal that damned Law of Supply and Demand. This is an interesting time to be an NFL GM…

Have you noticed the new team jackets that coaches are wearing on the sidelines this year? Is that a zipper up the back of the jacket to the neck? Is that a zipper pocket on the sleeve for carrying one’s smartphone – which you are not supposed to use on the sidelines? Is this all some kind of new fashion design initiative by the league?

Here is an idea for another NFL extravaganza:

    Introduce the new coaches’ attire in a fashion show format and have all the coaches “walk the runway” to show off the designs and the new colors.

    Hey, it would provide some programming time for NFL Network and it does not take a genius to realize that they need the content.

    Sheesh…!

Finally, here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald demonstrating that some football coaches may indeed be from another galaxy:

“A football assistant coach at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, took a high-voltage shot from a Taser gun last week in a morale-boosting stunt to increase team unity. It worked, as afterward players unanimously agreed the coach was an idiot.”

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

NFL Opening Week Excess…

If you are anything like me, you look forward to the first week of the NFL season simply because the NFL starts its season with – no surprise here – excess. There is a Thursday Night game; then, I can see the standard 3 games on Sunday followed by a Sunday Night game; and of course, the opening weekend has to culminate with a Monday Night Football doubleheader. It does not take a calculator to recognize that makes 7 games on TV for the opening weekend meaning that I can get a look at 14 of the 32 teams in the league right out of the gate. Trust me, I do not want the NFL to think about trimming that excess even a little bit.

Having said that, I do have a quibble with the presentation of the late Monday Night Football telecast. Regular readers here know that my fondest wish is for Jon Gruden to get an offer to come back and coach in the NFL that is so outlandish that he cannot turn it down. Most folks seem to love Gruden on MNF; I do not; I recognize that I must be in the minority here. However, looking back on the first Monday night extravaganza, the announcing booth for the second game was Chris Berman and Trent Dilfer. Oh, my …

Chris Berman is very good as a studio host/analyst. He is a big persona and he is clever; he knows how to draw out the folks he is working with and does it seamlessly; in that setting he does an excellent job just about every week. Nevertheless, doing play-by-play is not his milieu. If you are of a certain age, you can play this in your imagination:

    Think of listening to Howard Cosell doing play-by-play for a 3-hour sporting event. How long might it take you to realize that – whether you loved him or hated him as a color analyst – doing play-by-play was not his long suit?

However, that only begins my problem with the decision makers at ESPN. Like Chris Berman, Trent Dilfer is perfectly acceptable as a studio analyst. Listening to him for 3 hours doing live color analysis definitely makes my teeth itch. There has to be someone in ESPN’s employ who can cover that assignment next year, right? Here is how bad I think it was:

    By the third quarter of the second game, I was hoping that Jon Gruden would appear in the booth having used the “Beam-me-up, Scotty-Machine” from Star Trek to finish the game.

    For a fleeting moment in the second half, I actually thought it might be acceptable to have Joe Theismann make a comeback on MNF. Shudder…

The opening weekend of the NFL season generated what seems to be a brief squall of controversy regarding the fidelity of the headset communications in the Pats/Steelers game. We know now that the equipment is provided by the NFL and not by the teams and we know now that the NFL will investigate the problem with the goal of resolving it. Swell… Lost in all of this, seemingly, is a relatively simple way to analyze the problem and resolve it:

    Major college football programs play in front of crowds as large as – and often larger than – the crowds at NFL stadiums. They have TV and radio coverage often from multiple outlets going on simultaneously. In the games I get to watch, all of the coaches on both sides of all the fields are using headsets to communicate with whomever they want and it seems as if problems are few and far between. When was the last time in a major college game that you saw the referees stop the clock and go tell one of the teams to take off their headsets because the ones on the other side of the field were not working?

Somehow, in virtually the same environment, the communications systems and protocols work at the collegiate level but the NFL cannot find a way to duplicate that. Seriously, does that make even a little sense to you?

Now ask yourself this question:

    How long will it be until the person(s) involved in the NFL “investigation” of this problem check out how this matter is handled at Michigan or Ohio State or Alabama or LSU or … ?

You may recall that there was drama surrounding the injury that RG3 suffered in the exhibition season and when he might be cleared to play again. [Aside: This involved RG3 and the Skins so drama is not surprising. Both he and the organization could find a way to add drama to an afternoon nap.] However, the dramatic situation went over the top even for those actors.

First, RG3 did not have a concussion and was cleared to play; the next day, the diagnosis was a concussion and he could neither play nor practice. That twist only set the stage for the physician involved here, Dr. Robert Kurtzke, to resign his position as one of the folks involved with the NFL and the NFLPA as an independent neurologist tasked with assessing players with head injuries. The use of independent medical consultants/evaluators is one of the means by which the league and the players union have addressed the issue of player safety. Team physicians in the employ of the individual clubs no longer make unilateral and unchallenged decisions on injury matters – particularly head injury matters. As best I can piece together the sequence of what happened here:

    RG3 was injured in an exhibition game against the Lions and from the team statements he had a concussion and then he did not have a concussion.

    Then the story was that he had a concussion but it was not severe and he was still going to be the starting QB.

    At a subsequent practice, a reporter asked RG3 if he had a concussion and RG3 declined to answer that question.

    The team announced that RG3 would start the next exhibition game – – and then the next day the team had to report that Dr. Kurtzke had never cleared RG3 to play.

If RG3 had a head injury of any kind and Dr. Kurtzke was to be the medical professional in charge of the evaluation of that injury, there is exactly no reason for the team or the coach to say even a word about the situation. RG3 can say whatever he wants about it because he is the patient and he can express his understanding of his situation however and whenever he wants to. Nevertheless, the loudest voice in the choir here has to be Dr. Kurtzke’s and his voice has to be tempered by doctor/patient confidentiality.

So, Dr. Kurtzke found himself in the midst of a situation where the team had a player practicing – and presumably ready to play in the next exhibition game – that he had not completed treating/evaluating. Coaches and team officials were making public pronouncements about the matter that he was nominally in charge of. Given that he has to have been an acceptable choice to both the NFL and the NFLPA, he must be a competent and recognized professional in his field which means that he does not need the drama and the potential to be caught in the crossfires created by said drama. No wonder he resigned from the independent evaluation program…

Finally, Gregg Drinnan in Keeping Score at newskamloops.com posed this question:

“With all of the money that Major League Baseballers make what’s with so many scraggly beards and bad haircuts?”

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

Enter The Attorney General Of Massachusetts…

Let me set the stage here for a moment. Last week, I saw reports that the Attorney General of Massachusetts, Maura Healey, is looking into the legality under Massachusetts law of daily fantasy sports sites such as DraftKings and Fan Duel. It is important for me to state why I am interested in this review/investigation/whatever:

    1. I do not play daily fantasy sports or any other kind of fantasy sports. That is not because I am opposed to them; I simply do not find them interesting or engaging.

    2. I am most assuredly not opposed to gambling and I am totally convinced that playing any fantasy sport system is a form of gambling as long as money changes hands.

    3. I believe that daily fantasy sports should be treated under the law exactly the same way poker and/or wagering on the outcome of individual sports games are treated under the law.

    4. I have indeed grown immensely tired of the non-stop ads touting both DraftKings and Fan Duel to the point that I want the ad agencies that produce them to burn to the ground.

Attorney General Healey is an elected official in Massachusetts and she campaigned in part on holding the gambling industry accountable and on assuring that any expansion of gambling in Massachusetts would comply with state law. Even if I ascribe the normal “bulls[p]it factor” to that kind of campaign rhetoric, it is difficult to find fault with the idea of making an industry comply with existing law.

It turns out that DraftKings is a Massachusetts company and that opens the door for Attorney General Healey and her minions to do their review/investigation. Some of the things that might be ripe for review are:

    Does the website block minors from participation?

    Does the website block players from other states where their participation would be illegal? [Aside: About a year ago, I was told by a friend who is an attorney that all fantasy sports are considered illegal in Arizona, Louisiana and Washington. I have not verified that statement because I do not know how to do so.]

    Do the daily/weekly fantasy leagues there represent a form of activity that is legal gambling or illegal gambling under Massachusetts law?

I am not an attorney – let alone an Attorney General – so there are likely a dozen other areas that could be reviewed/investigated here. I find the third one on the list to be the interesting one. As I understand it, the legal standard for “gambling” is threefold:

    1. Something of value must be at risk i.e. the player must put up an entry fee or a stake to play the game.

    2. The winner(s) must receive something of value at the end of the game i.e. a prize.

    3. The act of winning must involve chance/luck and not skill.

Under Federal Law – passed in 2006 – fantasy sports conducted over the Internet are deemed to be legal while things like poker or wagering on individual sporting events are deemed to be illegal. It seems to me that fantasy sports ought to be treated in exactly the same way that poker and wagering on individual games are treated. I believe it takes skill to win at fantasy sports just as it takes skill to win at poker or to “come out ahead” when picking winners in individual sporting events. Compare those activities with something like the Powerball lottery which involves no skill and only chance/luck.

[Aside: Here is a test of my assertion of fantasy sports involving skill and not chance. Collect from the websites the names of the winners. If certain people win “every week” while others “never win” that might indicate something more than a chance occurrence is involved in the winning.]

Obviously, I am not going to presume to predict the outcome of Attorney General Healey’s actions. In fact, I am not even going to try to presume what vector heading the investigation/review might take. I do applaud her action here and hope that it provides some clarity around the question of fantasy sports as a form of gambling.

Above, I suggested that the ad agencies that put all those commercials on TV about Daily Fantasy Leagues should burn to the ground. I am not inciting to violence here; I am simply expressing a personal opinion just as I also hope that each and every person who has ever been involved with producing such an ad would suffer at least two of the ten Biblical plagues that visited the Pharaoh in Egypt. Just to show that I am a sporting person, I would allow those two plagues for each person to be selected at random by said person…

Switching gears, Tiger Woods announced last week that he had undergone a surgical procedure on his back and that he would not be playing in any more tournaments in 2015. His intent is to return to the PGA Tour in 2016. He and the physicians involved pronounced the surgery as successful. When I read those reports, I started to think about this:

    When was the last time a professional athlete underwent surgery that the doctors pronounced as unsuccessful?

It took me a moment, but I do recall back in the 1960s that the KC Chiefs had a running back named Mack Lee Hill who was injured in a game and required knee surgery. He died on the operating table – I do not recall what went wrong – but he never came out of knee surgery. Obviously, I would categorize that as an “unsuccessful surgery”; however, I cannot think of any others.

Finally, speaking of knee injuries, here is an item from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin tore an anterior cruciate ligament while playing basketball.

“Doctors advised him to stick to safer pursuits — such as driving a stock car 220 miles an hour.”

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

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend Of 9/19/15

Last week’s college Mythical Picks were successful in terms that they showed a mythical profit for the week. The record was 9-6-0 for the week bringing the season record to 16-11-0. The “Best Mythical Pick” was taking BYU and getting points as BYU went out and won the game outright – on another final minute TD pass. The “Worst Mythical Pick” was taking Oregon State +15 and seeing them get their doors blown off.

The “winning record” for last week and for the season to date might tempt someone to think that there is a degree of wisdom and insight contained herein that simply does not exist. No one should use anything here as the basis for making an actual bet on an actual college football game involving actual money. Here is how stupid you would have to be if you did that:

    You put clocks under your desk in order to work overtime.

General Comments:

Last Saturday, Linfield College began its Division 3 football season. I track their season here because the last time Linfield had a losing season in football was in 1956. Division 3 teams play a 9-game regular season followed by a championship tournament in December for those teams that qualify. Last week, Linfield defeated Chapman 52-14 to start the 2015 season at 1-0. This week, Linfield hosts Redlands in their final out-of-conference game before they meet 7 consecutive Northwest Conference foes to fill out their season. Go Wildcats!

Going into last weekend, all 7 teams in the SEC West were ranked in the Top 25. Auburn, Arkansas and Missouri did not play like Top 25 teams last week:

    Auburn played Jacksonville St. – a Division 1-AA team from the Ohio Valley Conference that spend the bulk of its time playing against teams such as E. Kentucky, Tennessee St. and Austin Peay. Auburn won the game 27-20 but needed a late TD to tie the game in order to win in OT. Auburn QB, Jeremy Johnson, has thrown 5 INTs in 2 games this season.

    Arkansas lost to Toledo 16-12. Toledo is a MAC team and no one will confuse Toledo with a Top 25 team come December. Arkansas was a 21.5-point favorite and the game was played in Little Rock. While Arksansas dominated the stat sheet and held the ball for almost 38 minutes, they continued to find ways not to score points. One 73-yard drive involved 21 offensive plays and took more than 10 minutes off the clock and resulted in a field goal. Arkansas outgained Toledo 515 yards to 318 yards and still lost.

    Missouri managed to beat a less-than-fearsome Arkansas St. by all of 7 points.

In another SEC West game, LSU beat Mississippi St. 21-19. I watched most of this game and the thing you need to know here is that both of these teams can play very good defense!

Meanwhile, Ole Miss has been beating up on patsies and is averaging 74.5 points per game. This week, the Rebels are on the road against Alabama. I will go out on a limb here and suggest that they will not score 70+ against Alabama…

Over in the SEC East, South Carolina may be in trouble this year. Last week, the Gamecocks lost at home to Kentucky 26-22 snapping a 20-game road losing streak for Kentucky. Added to that, starting QB, Connor Mitch separated his shoulder and might be out for the rest of the season. Next up for South Carolina is a visit to Georgia this weekend and Georgia is a good team as usual.

Florida St. beat USF 34-14 last week. That is not so surprising but what is surprising is that the game was tied 7-7 at the half.

Washington St. beat Rutgers 37-34 last week. In last week’s Mythical Picks, I took this game to stay UNDER 63. At halftime Washington St. led 13-6 and after 3 quarters they led 20-12. Seemed as if that Mythical Pick was in the bag… Then the teams combined to score 39 points in the 4th quarter to take the game OVER. Arrrgh…!

BYU beat Boise St. 35-24 but this was not an easy victory for BYU. Taylor Mangum is the freshman QB for BYU who threw the Hail Mary to beat Nebraska in Week 1. Well he threw a TD pass with about a minute to go in this game to give BYU a 28-24 lead. Then on the next possession by Boise St., BYU intercepted a pass leading to an insurance score. That is not a bad way for a freshman to start his college career…

Notre Dame rallied to beat UVa last week but lost its starting QB, Malik Zaire for the season with a broken ankle. Reserve QB, DeShone Kizer took over and threw a late TD pass to win the game for the Irish. Kizer will get his first start this week against Georgia Tech and that gives Notre Dame two important practice objectives this week:

    Incorporate a new QB into their offense

    Get ready to stop Georgia Tech’s option running attack.

Oklahoma fell behind Tennessee 17-0 at Tennessee. Then OU woke up and rallied to tie the game and send it to OT and the Sooners won 31-24 in double OT. That has to be a downer for Tennessee…

Bowling Green beat Maryland 48-27 last week. Maryland led at halftime 13-6 and things got “offensive” in the second half. Here are some notes about the game:

    Maryland return man, William Likely returned another punt for a TD in the game – this time for 85 yards. Recall that in the first game of the season he gained almost 300 yards in kickoff and punt returns.

    Bowling Green ran 105 offensive plays for a total of 692 yards of offense. Talk about a frenetic pace; these guys would put Chip Kelly and his offense to shame.

    Maryland ran off 59 offensive plays for 341 yards.

    The total number of offensive plays was 164. A typical NFL game will feature 120-130 offensive plays.

Wisconsin beat Miami (Ohio) 58-0. Last week in discussing the Ponderosa Games for the week, I said I was tempted to take the game OVER 53 because I thought Wisconsin might be angry after losing its opener to Alabama and might go over the Total Line by itself. I did not take the OVER but indeed Wisconsin took the game OVER all by itself…

Temple beat Cincy 34-26. Going into the season, more than a few folks thought Cincy would be one of the teams to beat in the American Athletic Conference. Temple is now 2-0 with wins over Penn State and Cincy. This may be an up year for Temple football but I offer a cautionary note here having seen parts of both Temple games:

    Temple’s defense has stopped two teams that did not look organized on offense at all. Maybe it was the defense that made that happen – or maybe these are two not-very-good offensive teams.

UNC/Charlotte beat Presbyterian 34-10 last week. Why is that interesting? This is Charlotte’s first year playing Division 1-A football and they have started out 2-0. They are hardly going to be undefeated at the end of the year, but it has to be a good feeling on campus for now.

The last game from last weekend I want to talk about is the BC win over Howard by a score of 76-0. After the first quarter, the score was 41-0 and at the half the score was 62-0. Howard had 2 first downs in the game; they ran 40 plays for a total offense of 11 yards; that is not a typo… Howard ran the ball 28 times and gained 7 yards on the ground; you can easily do the math here to get their passing stats. Obviously, this game should never have been scheduled and I cannot imagine myself staying in the stands to watch this debacle beyond halftime. However, there is one positive thing to say about the game:

    In the second half, both coaches went to the officials and everyone agreed to play 10-minute quarters in the second half. Essentially, everyone agreed to acknowledge that this game was nothing but a glorified scrimmage.

Bob Molinaro had a comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week that applies directly to the BC/Howard game:

“Idle thought: Generally speaking, the difference between college football and the NFL this time of year is that pro games are worth watching into the fourth quarter.”

There are two players in college football this year with names that apply to the position they play:

    OU linebacker, Eric Striker, has a very appropriate name for his position.

    Tulane punter, Zachary Block, has a very unfortunate name for his position.

Ponderosa Games:

The favorites are crushing the lines so far this year. Last week the favorites went 7-3-0 against the huge spreads bringing the season total for favorites covering to 14-4-0.

Georgia Tech, Mississippi, Nebraska, Texas A&M, UCLA, USC and Wisconsin covered.

Alabama, Florida St. and Ohio St. did not cover.

This week, we have 12 Ponderosa Games:

(Friday) New Mexico at Arizona St. – 27.5 (65): This line opened at 24 and the next time I looked it was up to this level where it has stayed all week long.

UNLV at Michigan – 34 (49): The money lines for this game are:

    UNLV is plus 10,000
    Michigan is minus 19,500

Kent St. at Minnesota – 24.5 (46): This spread opened the week at 22.5 and has risen steadily over the week. Meanwhile the Total Line opened at 48.5 and dropped all week long. Obviously, the oddsmakers are not thinking Kent St. will be putting too many points on the scoreboard.

Troy at Wisconsin – 35 (58): The big question here is whether Wisconsin took out all of its frustrations against Miami (Oh) last week. If not…

N. Illinois at Ohio State – 35 (67): I doubt this will be a nail-biter of a game…

Tulsa at Oklahoma – 31 (71): Best thing to observe here is that this an intra-state matchup.

Nevada at Texas A&M – 34 (65): The spread here opened the week at 29. If you had laid the points at that level, you could take points here and play for a middle.

Georgia St. at Oregon – 44 (72): The money lines for this game are:

    Georgia State is plus 45,000
    Oregon is minus 135,000

Texas San Antonio at Oklahoma St – 25 (55): Other than alums from each school and their families, I doubt this game is interesting to many folks.

SMU at TCU – 37 (66): These schools are less than 50 miles apart geographically but they are light years apart in terms of football prowess.

Air Force at Michigan St. – 26 (54.5): The Total Line opened the week at 60 points; it dropped to 57 almost immediately and has been dropping from that level all week long.

Wyoming at Washington St. – 24.5 (64.5): Washington State is not very good; they lost their opening game at home to a Division 1-AA school. Yet, they are a Ponderosa favorite here. So what might that tell you about Wyoming…?

Games of Interest:

Florida State – 7.5 at BC (47): These lines have moved a lot this week. The spread opened at 9 points; the Total Line opened at 53. BC steps up in class from Howard last week to a big-boy in a big-boy’s conference. I see this as a low scoring game so I will take BC plus more than a TD’s worth of points.

Temple – 10 at UMass (54.5): I said above that Temple had not yet played a strong offensive team this year. UMass is a team that will try to up-tempo the game but I am not sure that qualifies UMass as a good offensive team. Temple won on the road already this year so that should not be a novelty for them. I’ll take Temple and lay the points.

NC State – 17.7 at Old Dominion (59): I think these teams will score a bunch of points off one another so I like the game to go OVER.

Northwestern at Duke – 3.5 (48): Northwestern beat Stanford in the first SAT Bowl of the year; now they face Duke in another such game. So far, Duke has played Tulane and N. Carolina Central; Northwestern is a step up in class from those opponents. Northwestern played one cupcake last week but faced Stanford in the opener. This should be a defensive game so I’ll take Northwestern plus the points even on the road.

La-Tech at Kansas State – 10 (50): The Total Line opened the week at 55 and has been falling all week. Tech is stepping way up in class this week; their previous opponents have been Div. 1-AA Southern and W. Kentucky. I think K-State demonstrates what a big-time college football programs is like here. I’ll take K-State and lay the points.

South Carolina at Georgia – 16 (52): Steve Spurrier has found ways to torment Georgia for the entire time Spurrier has been in the SEC. Does he have something up his sleeve for this game? Georgia can surely run the football; their passing offense is merely adequate. There are too many question marks in the game to make a pick – even a mythical one – but the game is interesting because it might tell you something about South Carolina down the road.

East Carolina at Navy – 4 (57): East Carolina has played Florida this year so it has seen real competition; Navy beat Colgate and then had a Bye week. The issue here is the ECU defense and its ability to stop Navy’s triple option run offense. That offense is very different from most of the other opponents ECU will face this year so one has to wonder how much time they have devoted to it in training camp. Purely a hunch, I’ll take Navy to win and cover at home.

Auburn at LSU – 7 (48): As noted above, Auburn played terribly against Jacksonville St. last week needing OT to beat that Div. 1-AA school. Moreover, if Auburn QB, Jeremy Johnson, continues to throw INTs at the rate he has, LSU will have a field day. On the other hand, perhaps Auburn was looking past Jax St. knowing that a trip to Baton Rouge was the next item on its dance card. LSU plays tough defense – but its offense did not stand out against a solid Mississippi state defense last week. Auburn can play done “D” too. I like Auburn plus the points – even in Baton Rouge.

Ole Miss at Alabama – 7 (53): Mississippi beat Alabama last year; I suspect that Nick Saban has mentioned that fact to his squad once or twice this week. So far, the Rebels have faced University of Tennessee-Martin and Fresno St; please let us not confuse either of those two defenses with the one Alabama will field this week. I like Alabama at home to win and cover here.

Nebraska at Miami (Fla) – 3 (58): I think Miami is the better team here and they are at home. Laying a field goal is not unrealistic in that circumstance. So, I’ll take Miami to win and cover.

Georgia Tech – 2.5 at Notre Dame (55.5): Notre Dame has lost a RB to injury and the starting QB to injury in the first two games. Tech is a solid team that will bring its option offense to South Bend and dare the Irish to stop it. The key words in that last sentence were “South Bend”. I like the idea of taking Notre Dame at home plus some points and so I shall.

Utah St. at Washington – 6 (44): Utah St. has already played one PAC-12 team (Utah) and lost by 10 points – but covered the spread. Utah is a better team than Washington so things point to taking the road underdog here. The question mark here is Utah State QB, Chuckie Keeton. He is a good QB playing at a school that gets little national exposure; he is also fragile having suffered two season ending injuries in previous years. Moreover, he was thrown around like a ragdoll in that game against Utah last week. I am going to take Utah St plus the points here and hope that Keeton can play his “A game”.

Memphis – 3.5 at Bowling Green (79.5): This game is only interesting because the Total Line started the week at 69.5 and has risen 10 points during the week. I am sure that sort of thing must have happened at some time in the past, but I cannot recall a line move that big for a game only a week away.

USF at Maryland – 7 (51): This game is only interesting to see what kind of return stats Maryland’s William Likely will get.

Florida – 3.5 at Kentucky (53): Florida has two home wins over mediocre to bad opponents – New Mexico St. and East Carolina. Kentucky has beaten La-Lafayette at home and then beat South Carolina on the road (see above). Let me just say that Kentucky’s football program in recent years makes me want to see more than one nice road win before I declare the team fully competitive. On the other hand, Florida has not played anyone yet so I cannot really assess the impact of their new coaching staff in Gainesville. This is another game where you keep your eyes on the game and your money in your pocket.

Cal – 7 at Texas (58.5): You read that spread correctly; Cal is a TD favorite over Texas in Austin. Moreover, the spread opened the week at 3 points and has ballooned to this number over the week. Texas has looked bad so far this year losing to Notre Dame by 5 TDs and then allowing Rice to score 28 points in the second game of the season. They have fired the AD there and Charlie Strong is not going to win a mayoral election in Austin these days. Strong changed play callers and changed offensive coordinators and we are still in September! Here is what Mike Bianchi had to say about that in the Orlando Sentinel:

“Texas coach Charlie Strong already has demoted his offensive coordinator after a season-opening blowout by Notre Dame. As UCF coach George O’Leary told me the other day, ‘When you start getting rid of people like that, you’re usually the next one to follow.’”

Cal’s defense has played well against second-tier opposition (Grambling and San Diego State) so whatever changes Texas has made to its offense will be put to the task here. I smell a defensive game so I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

UTEP – 3 at New Mexico St (62): this game is interesting because it matches two bad teams who might be invited to my imaginary SHOE Tournament at the end of the season. Please do not wager on this game…

Stanford at USC – 9.5 (50): Historically, Stanford plays USC tough but this Cardinal team is the one that lost to Northwestern in the opener and then beat a mediocre UCF squad. Granted USC has played Arkansas St. (the halt) and Idaho (the lame) so far this year which means they have never played anyone nearly as good as a PAC-12 foe. I think this will be a low-scoring game so I will take Stanford plus the points.

BYU at UCLA – 16.5 (59): How many times can BYU pull out a game with a heroic finish? They already have two of them under their belts this season winning both games in the final minutes when they were underdogs to start with. UCLA features true freshman QB, Josh “The Chosen” Rosen who has looked good against the likes of UVa and UNLV. BYU’s defense will challenge him a bit more than either of those previous opponents did. I think that line is fat. Even though I doubt BYU can pull this rabbit out of its hat, I will take BYU plus those points even on the road.

San Jose St at Oregon St. – 7 (49.5): Oregon St. beat Weber St. in the opener; whoop-di-damned-doo! Last week, they played like cadavers losing to Michigan by 4 TDs. I do not want to intimate that San Jose St. is a juggernaut by any measure, but after the way they were gashed last week by Michigan, I cannot see how Oregon St is a full TD favorite here. I’ll take San Jose St plus the points here.

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 9/20/15

Last week’s Mythical Picks went 7-8-1. That is not a good omen for the 2015 season – and yet, I shall press on. On the other hand, the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games were 2-0 for the weekend. The “best Mythical Pick” form last week was taking the Bills and getting points as the Bills won outright by 13 points. The “worst Mythical Pick” was taking the Cowboys and giving 6 when the Cowboys were just dumb lucky to win the game by a point.

Anyhow, last week’s results should convince any rational person not to take very seriously any of the selections here. Just in case someone chooses not to be so rational, let me say it clearly. No one should use anything herein as the basis for making a real wager involving real money on a real NFL game this weekend. Here is how dumb you would have to be to do that:

    You think an “utter disaster” is a cow jumping over a barbed wire fence.

General Comments:

It is clearly a small sample size – size equal to one to be exact – but I did notice that ESPN Countdown seemed to spend a lot more time chatting up fantasy picks and matchups and that kind of stuff. I really hope that I am wrong on that because if that is what the suits at ESPN have chosen as their new “points of emphasis” for the year, I will need to find new pre-game viewing options. I am sure that Matthew Berry is a nice human being but I really do not care about his opinions regarding whom to play and whom to sit in fantasy leagues this week – or any week for that matter.

The Raiders signed Aldon Smith last week and started him at LB in Sunday’s game. About a month ago, Smith was released by the Niners after a DUI incident that allegedly involved vandalism and hit-and-run action. That is bad enough but to provide context here, that incident was Smith’s fifth up close and personal interaction with police in 4 years. Of course, Smith is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law; nonetheless, he does tote a little baggage with him as he arrives in Oakland. Smith was suspended for half of the season last year based on previous incidents; now we have these charges. What is the OVER/UNDER on the length of his next suspension should he be convicted here?

Raiders’ GM, Reggie McKenzie, had this to say about this signing:

“We are confident that the Raiders provide an environment where Aldon can thrive through the support, structure and leadership within the building. We are excited to have Aldon here in the Raiders’ family.”

Let me take McKenzie at his word here for a moment and point out something about the environment there that will provide support, structure and leadership to Aldon Smith. If McKenzie is correct, then the Raiders of Al Davis’ glory days are indeed dead and gone. If Al Davis’ Raiders had signed someone like Smith way back when here is what they would have done in lieu of providing support, structure and leadership:

    They would have patted him on the back and invited him to join them at the local watering hole and bought his drinks for the night.

Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle has a message for paranoid NFL coaches:

“Hey, you coaches of Patriots’ opponents who are worried about Bill Belichick’s Bandits stealing your signals: Send dummy signals and let your quarterback call his own plays.”

There is no question that Marcus Mariota outplayed Jameis Winston in the first NFL game for both QBs. There is also no question that it is far too soon to conclude any of the following:

    Winston is/will be a bust.
    Mariota is destined for stardom and maybe even the Hall of Fame
    The Bucs’ front office is dumber than mule snot.
    The Titans’ front office is the cradle of geniuses.

For me, the most telling moment of the game was when the Bucs’ TE Austin Seferain-Jenkins caught a pass from Winston and went high-stepping into the end zone. At that point in the game there were about 4 minutes left to play and his TD brought the Bucs from a 35-point deficit to a 28 point deficit. And he was styling and preening for the home crowd – the vast majority of whom had already left the building.

By the way, the Tampa Bay Bucs have now lost 10 consecutive home games. Just saying…

After the Broncos looked pretty bad even in victory last week, many folks have taken up shovels and have been pouring dirt on the carcass of Peyton Manning. I think that is premature even though it is a certainty that his career is on the downslope because he is facing Father Time as his opponent now. His passes did not look crisp last week and he was uncharacteristically inaccurate on a few throws. However, before I send Manning down for an autopsy, I will point out that the Ravens have a much better than average defense and it might have been those guys – who also collect paychecks I might point out – who had a lot to do with his apparent discombobulation.

I did notice something about the new Broncos’ offense under Gary Kubiak that I found strange. He had two plays that stuck out in my mind because on those plays he had Peyton Manning in a designed roll out – once left and once right. Folks, Peyton Manning is going to the Pro Football Hall of Fame; there is no doubt about that. None of the credentials that will get him enshrined there have anything to do with his foot speed or his elusiveness or his ability to scramble or … you get the picture. Gary Kubiak has had success as an offensive coordinator and a head coach in the NFL, but it does not matter what worked with other QBs. Peyton Manning is not a “roll out QB”. Kubiak needs to lose those play selections.

I mentioned the Ravens’ defense above and the loss of Terrell Suggs for the rest of the year is a significant loss for the team. Suggs is 32 years old; it only seems as if he has been in the league for 20 years. In his 12-year career up until last weekend, he only missed 11 games and he is going to miss 15 this year alone. Unless, of course, his former teammate, Ray Lewis, still has some of that magic deer-antler spray left over…

The Browns lost starting QB, Josh McCown, early on in their game against the Jets last week and had to insert Johnny Manziel into the game. That led to some good news and some bad news:

    Manziel threw a 54-yard TD pass to Travis Benjamin soon after he came into the game.

    Other than that completion, Manziel’s stat line was 12 for 23 with 1 INT for 128 yards.

The Browns lost the game by 3 TDs; that is the 11th year in a row that the Browns have lost their opening game of the season. Plus ça change, plus ça même chose…

The Chiefs beat the Texans handily last week. Nominally, the Texans’ strength is their defense and the Chiefs’ liability is their offense. Somehow, the Chiefs managed to throw 4 TD passes in the game.

The Raiders lost to the Bengals 33-13. It was 33-0 after 3 quarters and then the Raiders scored two meaningless TDs. But it might be even worse than that because Derek Carr had to leave the game with a “hand issue” and Charles Woodson had a shoulder injury. Carr’s backup is Matt McGloin who is not going to lead the team to the Promised Land and Woodson – who is not the All-Pro player he once was – is a mainstay in the Raiders’’ secondary. How bad was that performance last week?

    The first time the Raiders had an offensive play that started in Bengals’ territory was at the start of the 4th quarter.

After the game, Coach Jack Del Rio had this to say:

“That’s a very disappointing, embarrassing effort. I take full responsibility. We’ll get it turned around and corrected.”

His first sentence was spot on. His second sentence is generous. His third sentence might be wishful thinking if Carr and Woodson both have to miss significant time.

One more outcome from that debacle:

    That is the first time ever that the Cincinnati Bengals have ever won a game in Oakland.

The Saints’ loss to the Cards could well be an indication that the Saints’ defense this year may indeed be as bad as it was last year. I really did not think was possible let alone that it would be the case. The Cardinals had only 44 offensive plays in the game; normally, that means the Cardinals should have lost the game. Not here… In those 44 plays, the Cards:

    Gained a total of 427 yards – 9.7 yards per play

    Had 25 first downs – it took them less than 2 plays on average to get a first down.

    Scored 31 points.

The Panthers beat the Jaguars in the “cat-fight of the week”. Nonetheless, the Panthers’ fans ought not to be celebrating too much here. With Kelvin Benjamin missing for the game – and the rest of the season – the Panthers’ offense scared up a total of 263 yards on 53 offensive plays (less than 5 yards per play) and only 1 TD. Luke Kuechly had to leave the game with an injury and as I said in the pre-season analysis, Kuechly is irreplaceable on that Panthers’ defense.

With about 9 minutes to go in the 2nd quarter, the Lions led the Chargers 21-3. At that point, either the Chargers’ woke up or the Lions put the game on cruise-control. The Chargers proceeded to score 30 unanswered points until the Lions got a TD with about a minute left in the game. Philip Rivers & Co gained 483 yards on offense against the “new look” Lions’ defense.

I watched one of those condensed replays on NFL Network for the Bills/Colts game. I said in the pre-season predictions that the Colts OL was a problem last year and that it did not seem as if the team had done much to resolve that problem. Well, that weakness was in full display last week. The Bills had pressure on Andrew Luck on just about every dropback and they held the Colts to 304 yards total offense.

You have to have read enough about the blockheaded play of the Giants and/or their coaching staff in the final minute and a half of their game against the Cowboys; I shall not add anything here. The Cowboys were dumb lucky to get the win but they may be without Dez Bryant for the next 4-8 weeks since Bryant had a screw inserted into a broken bone in his foot on Monday.

The Eagles fell way behind the Falcons on Monday night after the team seemingly left its offense on the team bus and did not retrieve it until the beginning of the second half. However, the Eagle threw the ball 52 times and ran it only 16 times. Since when is that the “Chip Kelly offense”?

The Niners beat the Vikings in a game that just had no rhythm or flow to it. Juxtapose these two stats and tell me this is what you expected:

    Adrian Peterson ran the ball 10 times for 31 yards.
    Carlos Hyde ran the ball 26 times for 168 yards and a TD.

I saved comment on the Rams/Seahawks game for last because of the drama of the game. Not only was the game won in overtime but there was the great play by the Rams DL on 4th and 1 in OT stuffing Marshawn Lynch for a loss that ended the game. People immediately jumped on the play call because it was the one that folks thought should have been called at the 1 yard line at the end of last year’s Super Bowl.

I think the outcome of the play call in the Super Bowl and the one last Sunday demonstrate several things;

    There are no guarantees when it comes to play outcomes in the regular season or in the playoffs.

    Saying that Lynch would certainly have scored in the Super Bowl denigrates the Pats’ defensive line and defensive unit.

    Saying that Sunday’s failure to gain a yard on a clutch running play demonstrates a failure of the Seahawks’ play calling denigrates the great play made by the Rams’ DL.

The Games:

(Thurs Nite) Denver at KC – 3 (40): The spread opened the week at 1.5 points and jumped to this level right away. The Ravens’ defense harassed Peyton Manning last week because the Ravens’ front seven dominated the Broncos’ OL. The Chiefs’ front seven is no slouch unit and I think you can expect more of the same here. At the same time, the Denver defense is also a top shelf unit and it ought to keep Jamaal Charles from running wild meaning Alex Smith will have to have a good game to win here. As the Total Line implies, this shapes up to be a low scoring game. I like to take points in low scoring games so I’ll take the Broncos plus the points.

Houston at Carolina – 3 (40): I was not impressed by the Panthers’ win last week; they may be dealing with an anemic offense for the entire season. I was not impressed with the QB play from either Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett (in the 4th quarter) for Houston last week either. Here is another low-scoring game and I’ll take the Texans plus the points.

Tampa Bay at New Orleans – 10.5 (47): Hear those dogs barking…? This might be the dog-breath game of the week. Neither team was impressive last week; both defenses gave up way too many points and yards. The difference here is that the Saints also demonstrated the ability to move the ball last week and the Bucs struggled – to be polite. I expect the Bucs to be an erratic team this year – bad on most weeks but surprisingly good on some weeks. If their offense is to “shine”, this is the defense for them to do it against. This is purely a hunch, but I’ll take the Bucs plus that double-digit helping of points.

SF at Pittsburgh – 6 (46): The Niners had the late game on Monday night last week and now they fly 3 time zones to start a game at 1:00 PM. Thanks for nothing to the schedule mavens… I thought the Steelers played the Pats solidly last week. I like the Steelers at home to win and cover here.

Detroit at Minnesota – 3 (43): Both teams stunk last week; both figure to play better this week. I do not like the Lions on the road – that is where they stunk out the joint last week – and I do not like the Lions outdoors – which is where they are this week again. I’ll take the Vikes and lay the points.

New England “pick ‘em” at Buffalo (45): There are lots of spread lines on this game. The two extremes this morning had the Bills as a 1-point favorite and another had the Pats as 2.5-point favorites. The most common line I found was “pick ‘em”. This has to be the most interesting of the early games on Sunday simply because of bombast of Rex Ryan and how it seems to have infected the Bills. Tyrod Taylor was 14-19 last week against the Colts’ defense; I do not think he will complete 74% of his throws against the Pats’ defense. I cannot make this a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game because if the first flip says to play the spread, there is no favorite/underdog to take on the second flip. So, I’ll go with my gut and take the Pats even up.

Arizona – 2 at Chicago (46): The Bears gave up 402 yards last week to the Packers and face another offensive-minded team here. The Cards gained 427 yards last week against the Saints and I am not so sure that the Bears’ defense is that much better than the Saints’ defense. I like the Cards to win and cover on the road.

Tennessee – 1 at Cleveland (41): If you think more highly than I do about the Bucs/Saints game above, then this game is the dog-breath game of the week. Both of these teams are capable of playing poorly enough to lose to anyone on any given Sunday. I am unaware of any motivational reason to favor either team and I have no reason to pick the game because I think one coaching staff will have the team “readier to play” than the other. So this will be the first Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game of the week. The coin says to take the Titans and lay the point. I never argue with the coin…

San Diego at Cincy – 3 (47): I could go into various details here but let me boil this one down to one factor only. The Chargers are not all that good when they make a cross country trip. Yes, I know they have beaten the Bengals in Cincy but on average, the Chargers are better at home. I’ll take the Bengals and lay the points.

St Louis – 3.5 at Washington (41): The Skins ran the ball very well against the Dolphins last week; Rex Ryan likes to call his offense “ground and pound”; that is exactly what the Skins’ offense was last week the Skins had the ball for just over 38 minutes in that game. It will be interesting to see if the Skins can make that work against the Rams’ DL which is surely one of the best 3 DLs in the league. The Skins averaged 4.4 yards per rush last week; the Seahawks managed 4.2 yards per rush against the Rams last week. I think that will be the storyline for this game. I like this game to go OVER because I sense the arrival of one defensive TD and another special teams TD in the game.

Atlanta at Giants – 2.5 (51): If the Giants have a pass rush option in their defensive bag of tricks, they might want to reveal it this week. Matt Ryan had plenty of time last week and he was very successful throwing the ball against the Eagles; the Giants never laid a glove on Tony Romo last week; if they do that again this week, Ryan will eat that secondary alive. If this game were in the dome in Atlanta, I would take the Falcons without hesitation – but the game is outdoors in New Jersey. Nonetheless, I see points raining down here so I’ll take the game to go OVER and pass on the spread.

Baltimore – 6 at Oakland (43): The Ravens opened the season in Denver and now they go to Oakland. No, you did not miss the announcement that the Ravens had been shifted to the AFC West. The Broncos’ defense held the Ravens’ offense down very effectively last week; the Ravens’ only TD was a defensive one. Meanwhile the Ravens’ defense held the Broncos’ offense down very effectively last week; the Broncos’ only TD was a defensive one. Even without Terrell Suggs, I think the Ravens front seven is too much for the Raiders OL. Moreover, I am not convinced that the Raiders’ defense will be similarly successful in stopping the Ravens. I’ll take the Ravens to win and cover on the road.

Miami – 6 at Jax (41.5): The Dolphins won last week and looked abjectly mediocre in doing so. The thing is that they can look mediocre again in this matchup because the Jags may or may not be better than the Skins. The Dolphins have more at stake in this game than the Jags. The Dolphins aspire to the playoffs and only delusional figures in the Jags’ locker room think that way. After this game, the Dolphins have to take on the Bills in an early season game that could be very important down the road. I think the Dolphins will be up for this game – they were not up for the game last week at all – so I’ll take the Dolphins and lay the points.

Dallas at Philly – 5 (55): This is the best of the day games on Sunday. Even though the Eagles’ offense was a no-show for the first half, they rallied in the second half and were one score from taking the game OVER 55. Dallas will run the ball a lot to make the Eagles stop that attack and to control the clock. Without Dez Bryant, I do not think the Cowboys can afford to get into a shootout with the Eagles; by the same token, if the Eagles do not get a lot more pressure on Tony Romo than they got on Matt Ryan last week, this game could ring up points like a pinball machine. This will be the second Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game of the week and the coin says to take the Cowboys plus the points.

(Sun Nite) Seattle at Green Bay – 3.5 (49): This is the best game of the week. The last time these teams saw each other, the Packers blundered an on-side kick reception leading to the Seahawks winning the NFC Championship Game. Only a sadist would wish that on the cheesehead fans once again. The Seahawks may not have anything like revenge going for them, but they do have this:

    They would really prefer not to start the season 0-2 in what looks to be a tough NFC West division.

I like this game to go OVER and I like the Packers to win and cover at home.

(Mon Nite) Jets at Indy – 7 (47): I think Andrew Luck will have a big day against the Jets’ secondary. I think the Jets will score on the Colts’ defense. I think the venue provides the difference here so I’ll take the Colts and lay the points.

Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this to say about the new extra-point rule in the NFL:

“NFL extra-point attempts this season are 10 yards farther out. The extra point used to be the dullest play in football. Now it’s the dullest play in football, only longer.”

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

Managing Expectations…

Managing expectations is a good thing to practice. If a team starts off training camp with the coach and/or the star QB telling everyone in the world that this is a Super Bowl participant at the very least, anything short of that will be disappointing to fans of that team. On the other hand, if the coach and/or the star QB recognizes that this is likely to be a very good team but tells everyone that the goal for the year is to win their division to get a good slot in the playoffs, every misstep along the way will not be cataclysmic to the fanbase.

Today’s example of managing expectations comes from NY Knicks’ guard, José Calderon who had his season cut short last year by a couple of leg injuries. The Knicks were a tire fire last year posting a record of 17-65. Calderon has rehabbed his injuries and is looking forward to the start of training camp; moreover, he demonstrated a fundamental understanding of managing expectations with this comment:

“We’ll win more than 17 games and we’ll try to win every game. I’m real excited we can do great things, but talking about the playoffs, it’s too early. You don’t talk playoffs a few weeks before training camp.”

Saying the Knicks will win more than 17 games this year does not exactly set the bar in the stratosphere, but it might prevent the Knicks’ fans from going ‘round the bend as the euphoria of training camp starts to pervade the airspace.

In MLB, they will celebrate the 20th anniversary of interleague play next year. I am not alone in thinking that interleague play has lost a lot of its luster and attractiveness from 20 years ago. There are two factors at work here:

    1. The novelty has worn off.

    2. With the advent of two leagues each with an odd number of teams, interleague play is a necessity from Opening Day until the final game of the season in October. What used to be an “event” has now become merely an “occurrence”.

There is nothing to be done about #1 above. The only way to reverse the trend of having at least one interleague game every day of the season is to put an even number of teams in each league. That is not impossible – but it is not something to be done just by snapping one’s fingers.

I said before I wanted Toronto in the World Series in November so that there might be a snow-out for one of the games. (Yes, I know; I said there would have to be a roof malfunction in Toronto to make this happen.) Baseball should be over before November. Now that I look at the standings, I think I want to see the Mets play the Blue Jays in the World Series. Here is why:

    This would feature both Yeonis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson.

    Both of these players were deemed to be expendable/replaceable by the Moneyball guru who runs the Oakland A’s.

    Any bets he will not be one of the studio guest commentators on MLB Network if that happens?

Here is a stat I ran across over the weekend:

    From the time the Mets acquired Cespedes, their average scoring has increased by 2.6 runs per game.

I have not gone back and tried to verify that number; I accept it as true and I recognize that is a huge increase. That acquisition by the Mets near the trade deadline may be one of the great deadline trade moves ever.

Having said that, I do wonder about Cespedes in the following sense:

    Cespedes will be 30 years old next month. He has been in MLB for 3 full seasons plus this current partial season and is clearly a good offensive player. His career batting average is .272 and he has a career OPS of .810. He has hit 105 HRs and driven in 365 runs in just under 4 full seasons. Moreover, he is a good defensive outfielder who can play all three positions if need be.

    Nonetheless, in less than 4 full seasons in MLB, Cespedes has been traded 3 times. He went from Oakland to Boston for 51 games in 2014. Boston sent him to Detroit over the winter and he started 2015 with the Tigers before the Mets acquired him in August.

    Why has a player who is good on the field been traded so often?

Speaking of baseball personnel moves, when the Marlins fire manager Dan Jennings at the end of this season and replace him with Joe Flabeetz, good ol’ Joe will be the 8th manager of the Marlins since 2010. Jeffrey Loria down in Miami has moved himself squarely into Danny Boy Snyder territory.

    Memo to Jeffrey Loria: That is not a place you want to be…

Speaking of Snyder, you should be glad you do not live in the DC area so that you will not have to watch all of the Skins’ games on TV this year. Their home opener was on last weekend and here is what I saw:

    Remember the totally fictional season ticket waiting list of 100,000 fans that Snyder and his minions claimed to have? Well Sunday you could see clearly that the upper rows all around FedEx field were blocked off; they did not use tarps as they do in Jax, but they did have highly colored barricades to close off and conceal large areas of the seats. My guess is that about 15,000 seats are “under wraps”.

    Attendance was announced as tad over 76,000. Two points about that:

      1. At least 15,000 and maybe 20,000 of those folks were wearing Miami colors and not Washington colors. Even the announcers commented that the Dolphins fans had “traveled well”.

      2. Lots of those fans must have been at the concession stands for much of the game because there were plenty of empty seats visible from start to finish.

    The folks in charge of the CBS telecast of the game showed close-up shots of RG3 at least 25 times. RG3 was not only the #3 QB on the depth chart that day but he was INACTVE and not wearing a uniform. The third string QBs on all of the other 31 teams combined will not get that many close-up shots over the entire season. The Skins’ QB mess is a goat rodeo at best; the guys in the TV trucks are going to milk that QB situation for all it is worth all season long.

Finally, here is what I hope is the final commentary on Deflategate for a while from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“A Dunkin’ Donuts in Maine has offered Richard Berman, the judge in the Tom Brady case, free coffee for life.

If he accepts it, of course, that’s grounds for appeal.”

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

Sports Media Stuff Today…

I really like college football so please do not take what I am about to say as a knock on the game because it is not. The fact is that attendance at college football games is dropping. On the opening week of this college football season, consider that UNC took on South Carolina in a game in Charlotte. Yes, it was a neutral field but it was not a huge schlep for fans of either school. I have made the drive from the Research Triangle area to Charlotte several times and it can easily be done in 2.5 hours. I have not made the drive from Columbia SC to Charlotte but a glance at a map tells me that it ought to take about 3.5 hours – give or take a few moments. In that circumstance, there were a lot of empty seats in the stadium.

Similarly on opening day, Alabama played Wisconsin in Arlington, TX. In that situation, I can understand the argument that the site of the game is a major travel event for both schools. Nonetheless, there were lots of tix available for that game up until the day of the game on the ticket resale sites and watching the game had to tell you that more than a few of those tix on the resale sites did not make it to the hands of consumers.

Last year – at the end of the college season – CBSSports.com reported that attendance at college football games dropped to the lowest average in 14 years. Their report came before the bowl games happened so they were not including the bowl games where stands struggled to be 30% full. Division 1-A teams averaged about 43.5K fans per game representing a 4% drop from 2013. If you want all the data that went into that CBSSports.com report, you can find it here.

I think there are two forces at work driving down attendance:

    Television deals: Perhaps UNC and South Carolina would have chosen to play in Charlotte on their own but TV networks want games in signature places and there was big TV money if the game happened in Charlotte. There is no way Alabama and Wisconsin choose to play in “North Texas” to start their seasons without TV money as the lure.

    On top of those two games, every conference now has its own TV deal – and some conferences have their own networks. That means a fan can find just about any major college football game on a TV channel somewhere. Put that fact alongside another fact – tickets to college football games are not “ten or twenty bucks” – and you have a formula to get some fans to choose to stay home instead of going to the stadium.

    Millennials: This is not going to be an old-guy rant about young whippersnappers who do not enjoy what I used to enjoy. This is an observation that is made by people across the age spectrum. Millennials do not like to sit still and do one thing exclusively for about 3 hours. If you are in a stadium full of rabid fans and boosters, it might be difficult – or at least distracting – to texting or posting shots on Facebook or listening to some tunes or playing Angry Birds. All of those ancillary activities are much more easily done away from a stadium packed cheek to jowl with screaming football fans.

    If you think I am exaggerating here, consider that more than a couple of schools are investing a lot of money to upgrade the capacity and the speed of the Wi-Fi system/cell phone coverage in their stadiums. They are not doing that for the comfort and convenience of the guys in the press box; they are doing that to accommodate people who come to the games and are not interested merely in watching what is going on down on the field.

In last week’s Sports Illustrated, here is an item from the Scorecard section:

“Attendance at college football games has remained relatively flat since 2009 but the average has dropped 7.1% among students according to a 2014 WSJ study. So many students show up late or leave early – or both – that in 2013 one coach publically prodded ticket holders to arrive on time and stay for the duration. That coach? Nick Saban at Alabama.”

So long as TV networks can sell ads for college football, the system in place can stabilize. But there are economic threats to TV networks too and if advertisers ever get the idea that too many folks are watching games on TV but skipping through the commercials, the amount they will be willing to pay for ad space will go down. That will be an economic blow to college football that will be seismic – because major programs have become addicted to TV money.

So, later this year when you see that two MAC teams will be playing a game on a Tuesday nite in cold weather at one of the MAC venues, tune in and check the stands. If they are 25% full, consider that it must be a big game in the MAC. At the same time, file away in the back of your head that the sponsors of that telecast are worrying about the fundamental interest in that game. They do not see “interest” in the number of fannies in the seats.

When ESPN and Colin Cowherd parted company, it left ESPN Radio with a 3-hour hole to fill in the late-morning/noontime slot. Cowherd took over that time slot from Tony Kornheiser back when TK went to do MNF and while Cowherd can be repetitious at times and definitely trolls listeners to generate controversies, he was a solid presence in that time slot. The new inhabitant will be Dan LeBetard whose program used to be in drive time and that is not a good time for national network programming. [Aside: If you have not heard, you can pick up Colin Cowherd on Fox Sports Radio these days.]

Generally, I like LeBetard but he has the same proclivity that Tony Kornheiser had for doing/saying things on the air that can run crosswise with the suits at ESPN HQs in Bristol. I will tune in to hear if he has “toned down” his act any now that he is in a bigger time slot.

Finally, there have been reports that the NBA is considering putting small sponsor logos on the fronts of team uniforms in the future to add new revenue streams to the teams and the league. Estimates of the size of the new revenue streams vary widely but any increase is better than no increase. Here is what I want to see:

    I want to see the logo for Oscar Meyer Hot Dogs on a team jersey worn by Nick Young.

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

RIP Moses Malone And Darryl Dawkins

Moses Malone died over the weekend. A couple of weeks ago, Darryl Dawkins died. The last couple of weeks have not been kind to former centers for the Philadelphia 76ers. If I were Harvey Catchings, I would schedule an appointment for a check-up.

Rest in peace Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins.

When Serena Williams lost in the semi-finals of the US Open to Roberta Vinci, it was a huge upset. I did some checking and the money line for Serena that day was minus- 2450. Let me remind some of you what that means:

    If you were to bet on Serena to have won that match, you would need to wager $2450 in order to win $100.

    Since she lost, you would have been “out” $2450.

My mind started thinking of comparable longshots in various sports and came up with this list:

    Arcangue winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic at 133 to 1.

    Dark Star beating Native Dancer in the Kentucky Derby in 1953.

    Buster Douglas knocking Mike Tyson out.

    NC State beating “Phi Slamma Jamma” in the NCAA Finals.

    Villanova beating Georgetown in the NCAA Finals

.

I am sure that other sporting events will come to your mind now that I have you thinking of things like that.

The NBA announced that it will seed teams in the playoffs from now on based on the team’s season long record. No longer will Division Winners get the top three seedings in the playoffs; in fact, the Division Winners are not guaranteed any place in the playoffs should it be the case that one of the division winners had the ninth best record in its conference. That is hardly a likely outcome but it is surely a mathematical possibility and one must heed the old adage:

    Low probability events happen every day.

Some argue that this renders the NBA Divisions meaningless other than the fact that a few teams will be float banners in their arenas pronouncing division championships that no longer mean anything. Point taken… So, if I were to “tweak” the new NBA system slightly I would populate the playoffs in this way:

    All Division Champions in each Conference will be in the playoffs provided that the Division Champions have a record of more than .500. If a Division winner has a record of 41-41 or worse and if there are 8 teams in that conference with superior records, that Division winner will not be in the playoffs.

    Seeding of teams in the playoffs will be done on the basis of regular season records and nothing else.

Please note that if the NFL would adopt either the new NBA system or my “tweak” on the new NBA system, there would not have been a team in the playoffs last year with a record of 7-8-1. Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot is clearly in the camp that wants the NFL to change its playoff seedings:

“Streamlined: By seeding its conference playoff teams solely by record, the NBA has reduced – possibly obliterated – the relevancy of divisions. Is the NFL next? It should be.”

Last Thursday night, the coaches’ headsets malfunctioned in Foxboro and Steelers’ coach Mike Tomlin was none too pleased. He stopped short of accusing specific Patriots’ employees of causing the malfunction but he did not stop far short of that mark. Well, the NFL took the Pats off the hook for the moment pointing out that it is the league and not the home team that manages the coaches’ communications at the games. That would seem to put this to rest – except:

    The NFL will investigate the problem and their equipment to find the cause and to remedy the situation.

Sounds like a good idea until you think for a moment about the efficiency and effectiveness of NFL investigations.

    Think about the Ray Rice investigation when the NFL could not figure a way to get hold of the elevator video tape.

    Think about The Wells Report which cost between $3M and $5M depending on the report you read and would have gotten a D+ in Criminology 101.

The conclusion you might draw here is that this investigation will discover that the technology in use is inadequate and needs to be upgraded beyond the level of two tin cans and a taut string. Then it will assess why the current situations obtains and will find that there is a dark hand involved here – perhaps the Elders of Zion or the Trilateral Commission?

Yesterday, Dwight Perry wrote the 3500th iteration of Sideline Chatter in the Seattle Times. That is a whole lot of puns and plays on words. He began writing these columns in December 1999 – 189 months ago. That averages out to about 18 columns a month; that kind of output is prodigious by itself. When you add the quality of the humor and snark to the sheer number of columns, this is a noteworthy milestone indeed. Onward to 4000 columns, good sir…

Finally, to commemorate Dwight Perry’s milestone, here are two items from yesterday’s column and one from “a while ago”…

“Chin up, football widows and widowers: The next Sunday without NFL football falls on Valentine’s Day.”

And …

“If Mariners ace pitcher Felix Hernandez is The King, what does that make their best outfielder — Lord of the Flies?”

And …

“A former corrections officer was arrested after throwing two footballs stuffed with drugs and contraband into the prison yard at the Richland (Ohio) Correctional Institution, the Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum reported.

Prosecutors can’t decide whether to charge her with drug trafficking or detentional grounding.”

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