The Fix Is Not In…

Last evening, around halftime of the Eagles/Seahawks game, I went to check my emails and found one from a former colleague.  He was irate to say the least; I believe that if someone had offered him Roger Goodell’s head on a plate he would have accepted the trophy, fastened it to the end of a pole and planted that pole in his front yard.  My intention this morning is not to convince him that Roger Goodell and he ought to be “besties”, but I do think that he is being much harsher on The Commish than he should be.

Let me clean up the language in his email and do some paraphrasing.  After all, we have standards to uphold here in Curmudgeon Central; they may not be lofty standards, but they are standards.

  • The fix is in for the Baltimore Ravens.  The NFL wants them in the playoffs and will get them there “by any means necessary”.
  • Someone on the Ravens broke the NFL’s COVID-19 protocol and the team became a hotspot all within itself.  They get do-overs on their schedule to avoid having the Ravens lose a third game in a row.  [Aside: In one of the less virulent figures of speech in the email, my former colleague said that the NFL had moved the Ravens/Steelers game around “more than a knight on a chessboard.”]
  • When the Broncos had a similar problem and could not play a game with an eligible QB, the NFL made them play the Saints anyway.  [Aside:  My former colleague did not assert that the NFL had the fix in such that the Saints were guaranteed a playoff slot; his focus was purely on the Ravens.]
  • Do not be surprised if the NFL rehires Walt Coleman to call Ravens games all the way to January.

Let me explain that last paraphrase.  My former colleague continues to believe that Walt Coleman was acting on orders from on high when he made the “Tuck Rule call” in a Patriots/Raiders playoff game about two decades ago.  For the record, I know for sure that he does NOT believe in the Illuminati, the Trilateral Commission or the Deep State.  However, he will die on the hill that defends the position that every once in a while, the NFL overlords put their thumb on the scale of fair play to the benefit of specific teams.  And in 2020, he is convinced that the “teacher’s pet” in the NFL would be the Baltimore Ravens.

He concluded with this statement – – again I have edited it to make it comply with the community standards of Curmudgeon Central:

  • If he (The Commish) doesn’t bleeping make the Ravens bleeping forfeit the game against the Steelers, I hope he and all the bleepers at NFL HQs rot in hell.

That concluding statement is the easiest one to start with when it comes to reducing the level of acrimony  here.  No one wants to forfeit that game including the Pittsburgh Steelers’ players.  According to the CBA in place, if a game is forfeited, the players lose a payday.  So, if a player on the Steelers has a base salary in 2020 of $2M, he would lose approximately 1/16th of that salary if a game were forfeited.  That player would lose $125K.  Sure, the imaginary player in this example would still be financially secure but losing out on $125K when the player involved did nothing wrong is a sour deal for that player.  Ergo, I believe that the NFL – – and most importantly, the NFLPA – – will endure almost any sort of schedule contortion imaginable to avoid a forfeited game.

I think the latest scheduling change – and it is not guaranteed to be the final change – proves my assertion here.  The game is now scheduled for 3:30 PM on Wednesday December 2nd.  That is a strange time indeed for an NFL game; it is a workday and the game will begin on the West Coast at 12:30 PM; that pretty much assures low TV ratings which the NFL abhors.  The NFL – and its “broadcasting partner” NBC – have agreed to put a game that would have drawn a huge audience under normal circumstances into a time slot where it might be one of the lowest games of the year in terms of TV ratings.

Enough about a forfeit; that is a last resort; it is “the final solution” only to be invoked when there are no other options.  The other aspect of this situation is to examine the motivation(s) that the league – via The Commish – might have so that they are treating the Ravens under a special set of scheduling rules.  I spent time over my morning coffee today trying to come up with said motivations and cannot think of any that  might stand up to scrutiny in an unagitated set of circumstances.

  • Baltimore is not a huge TV market; in fact, it is only the third largest market among AFC North teams; Pittsburgh is a larger TV market than Baltimore.
  • The Ravens do not have “NFL history” as a motivator.  Surely the Steelers and Browns have “deeper NFL roots” than the Ravens do.
  • The Ravens’ owner, Steve Bisciotti, is certainly no more influential or a greater part of the NFL inner circle than are the Rooneys who own the Steelers.

The fix is not in; if the Ravens right their ship and make it to the playoffs it will be a result of just that; the Ravens righted their ship and got to the playoffs on the basis of their record.

Moreover, it is time to give Walt Coleman some respite and allow him to enjoy his retirement.  He was not a marionette dancing on strings pulled by higher-ups in the NFL back in 2002 when he invoked the Tuck Rule.  You may continue to disagree with that ruling; you may continue to think that Walt Coleman made the single worst call in the history of officials making calls.  But there is no evidence that Walt Coleman is the poster child for any sort of manipulation from NFL HQs when it comes to favoritism for certain teams.

Finally, I made reference to “the final solution” above; that phrase will always be part of the history of Nazi Germany; “the final solution” refers to Hitler’s all-out effort to eliminate Jews completely from Germany.  With that in mind, let me close with this entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Hitler, Adolph:  Perhaps the world’s biggest butthole, whose prudent decision to blow his own brains out ensured there would be no intellectual-property ownership issues around the hundreds of hours of stock footage of him needed to keep the History Channel in business.”

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

 

 

A New Form Of NFL Mimicry?

The NFL is clearly a copycat league; if one of the teams were to win a couple of games with an “outrageous tactic” – – such as never punting no matter what the field position, score or time left in the half or the game – – you would expect some other coach to try a variant on that tactic.  The NFL owners have been known to copy other owners too.  For example:

  • In 1954, the Baltimore Colts added cheerleaders to the team’s marching band.  Marching bands ceased to be “a thing” in the NFL but cheerleading squads proliferated.
  • In 2020, thirty of the thirty-two teams in the NFL have cheerleading squads; only the Cleveland Browns and NY Giants rely on their fans to figure out when to cheer and when not to cheer.

Perhaps, NFL owners are in copycat mode along another axis in 2020.  On Wall Street they say that when something happens, it is an event; when it happens twice, it is a coincidence; when something happens three times, it is a trend.  By that yardstick, we have a trend starting in the NFL:

  1. Four weeks into this season, the Houston Texans’ owner fired Bill O’Brien who was at the time the head coach and the GM of the team.
  2. Five weeks into this season, the Atlanta Falcons’ owner fired Dan Quinn who was the head coach and Thomas Dimitroff who was the GM of the team.
  3. Eleven weeks into this season, the Detroit Lions’ owner fired Matt Patricia who was the head coach and Bob Quinn who was the GM of the team.
  4. Twelve weeks into the season, the Jacksonville Jaguars fired GM Dave Caldwell but retained coach Doug Marrone – – at least for the time being.

Might it be the case that owners have figured out that a losing team may not be uniquely the fault of the head coach and that the roster presented to that unsuccessful head coach might have been substandard?  It seems to me that was the case in the Texans and Falcons situations; while I am not yet ready to declare that the Lions roster is overflowing with talent, I think there might be a larger measure of blame to put on the head coach in that case.  The entire situation in Jax appears to me to be a sh*tburger.

When the Lions hired Matt Patricia in 2018, they had posted a 9-7 record in the 2 years prior to his arrival; Matt Patricia inherited a winning team from his predecessor; that is not a luxury every new NFL coach can enjoy.  Since coming to Detroit, Patricia’s Lions have posted a record of 13-29-1.  Even if you prefer to quibble about the margin of the “winning record” Patricia inherited, you must concede that 13-29-1 is nowhere near a winning record.  And that bleak record looks even worse considering:

  • In 2019, the Lions started the season at 2-0-1.  Then they lost 12 of the last 13 games in that season finishing at 3-12-1.
  • In 2020, the Lions were 4-7 under Patricia.
  • Ergo, in his last 24 games with Matt Patricia as the Lions’ head coach, the team record was 5-19.

Whoever gets the GM job in Detroit – – or in any other NFL city with a losing team – – will face a special challenge this year.  The NFL salary cap in 2020 is $198.2M; since the cap is calculated based on the league’s “football revenue” from the previous year, the cap is likely to take a hit during free agency cone February 2021.  I saw one projection that said the cap could be as low as $175M for 2021.  Forget the exact number for a moment; the NFL salary cap is going to go down.

The first thing that comes to mind regarding that situation is that this is not a good year to be a free agent looking for a big payday.  The bean-counters should be less likely to hand out such deals in an environment where the cap is contracting.  At the same time, a new GM taking over a team that needs a “roster reshuffling” has to deal with the reality that he does not have nearly as much money to wave around to attract free agents that might have a positive impact on the team’s fortunes.  I think NFL GMs – new ones and carryovers alike – are going to earn their salaries once the free agent season commences.

Switching gears …  When I listen to football analysts on telecasts or on a studio show, some of them assert that the key to gaining yardage is to “run downhill”.  Other experts tell me that the key to gaining yardage is to “run north and south”.  Let me ignore the reality that football fields are crowned in the middle of the field and sloped to the sidelines; that allows for water runoff when it rains.  That fact means that “running downhill” would quickly get the guy with the ball out of bounds.  What I would like is for these analyst/experts to clarify their metaphors because here is what I interpret from them:

  • If both metaphors are appropriate, they can only be simultaneously achieved if the player is on the top of a mountain ridge that runs due east/west.  In that case he can run downhill north and south toward either goal and would need only to recognize which goal he was seeking to get to.
  • BTW, NFL football venues are not located at the tops of mountain ridges…

Moving on …  Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot was dead solid perfect <Hat Tip to Dan Jenkins> with this overview of the recently begun college basketball season:

“Risky behavior: Five of the original eight teams in the men’s basketball Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic — with a name like that, it must be a classic — backed out because of rising cases of coronavirus in South Dakota. What, then, was VCU thinking when it leapt at the chance to be a last-minute replacement for Wichita State in Sioux Falls? Desperate and reckless are two of the kinder words I’d associate with the school’s decision. Same for the other schools that sent athletes there. Given the circumstances, why is this tournament even being held?

“Patience: The giddiness at the opening of a college basketball season featuring the usual low-wattage, often lopsided games — diminished even further when played in empty gyms — is nuttier than usual given the health crisis. Colleges shouldn’t be in such a hurry. Non-conference play in risky times should not be a priority. Safeguarding the integrity of league schedules should be.”

Finally, consider this Tweet from humorist Brad Dickson as an example of TMI:

“When I attended UNL I played on an intramural basketball team called The Loose Stools. To my surprise the Daily Nebraskan printed scores of our games. You don’t wanna know the rejected names we came up with.”

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

 

 

Football Friday 11/27/20

I presume that everyone had a safe and sound Thanksgiving yesterday and that the tryptophan-induced “’coma” has passed.  That means  you are ready for Football Friday.  As usual, I shall begin with a review of last week’s Six-Pack.

It was another embarrassingly bad week for my selections.  If you recall, I picked eight games; two were not played and the other six were all incorrect.  [Aside:  If I were being dishonest with my accountings here, I could claim both cancelled games as wins because I took the UNDER in one of them and I took the underdog in the other game.  But we do not do weasel-like things here in Curmudgeon Central.] So, here are the damages:

  • College:  0-2-0
  • NFL:  0-4-0
  • Combined:  0-6-0

That drops the season record to these embarring depths:

  • College:  9-15-1
  • NFL:  16-23-1
  • Combined:  25-38-2

 

College Football Commentary:

 

Am I the only one to notice that more than a few college football games now take close to 4 hours from start to finish?  Somehow the adoption of hurry-up offenses has managed to slow down the typical game.  Actually, I think there are two other factors that have a bigger time-stretching effect on college football games:

  • Stopping the clock on every first down until the chains are reset
  • Very inefficient replay reviews.

I wish the “Rules Mavens” would make adjustments there…

Bob Molinaro made this interesting point in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week:

Fun fact: Since 2016, Florida State has had more NBA first-rounders (five) than NFL first-rounders (three).”

A couple of years ago when Tennessee last went looking for a football coach, their first pick was Greg Schiano – – but there was an uproar and a revolt when the name was put forth because of unsubstantiated rumors that Schiano might have been involved in helping to cover up Jerry Sandusky’s heinous activities with underage boys at Penn State.  The key element here is that those rumors were unsubstantiated in 2017 and remain unsubstantiated today.

Tennessee hired Jeremy Pruitt and the results after two-and-a-half seasons are not particularly exciting.  The Vols have posted a 9-14 record in SEC games and a 15-17 record overall.  With a fanbase that thinks its team should be a CFP contender, that is serious underachievement.

Schiano was hired to return to Rutgers as the head football coach last December.  In his first incarnation there, Rutgers went to a minor bowl game 6 times in 11 seasons.  When he left; the program collapsed.  In his first year back at Rutgers the record is 1-4 – – but the program is respectable and not a gridiron embarrassment.  Playing a Big-10 schedule, it would be miraculous for Rutgers to win 10 games in a season, but Schiano has shown that he is a solid college football coach.  Meanwhile back in Knoxville, there is a hot seat warming up under Jeremy Pruitt…

Tennessee is similar to Rutgers in that the Vols are in a division and conference that makes it very difficult for them to be a 10-game winner in a season – – and the fan base there wants to be part of the CFP decision process.  The big difference is that Jeremy Pruitt is likely to be fired for failure to make Tennessee relevant while Greg Schiano is probably going to polish his résumé just making Rutgers into something other than a joke.

Tennessee has now lost 5 consecutive games by double digits – – something that has never happened before to the Vols and they have been playing football since 1891.

Before I present you with a news item I ran across last week, let me pose a rhetorical question and let you provide your own answer:

  • Question:  Why move it and not cancel it?

Here is the news item:

“NEWS: Due to current state guidelines in New Mexico regarding college athletics and travel, the 2020 New Mexico Bowl will be staged in Frisco, Texas, at Toyota Stadium, on Thursday, Dec. 24, at 3:30 p.m. ET.”

To save you the time it would take to go and look it up. the tradition of the New Mexico Bowl goes all the way back to 2006.

Speaking about “cancellation”, the Minnesota/Wisconsin game this week has been canceled and this will be the first time since 1906 that the two teams have not met to play a football game.  They had played 100 games before the first New Mexico Bowl game took place…

Back in the summer, UMass canceled its football season – – and then decided to reinstate it for some unknown reason.  The Minutemen’s record is now 0-3 and that is a particularly ignominious version of an 0-3 record.  Consider:

  • GA Southern  41  UMass 0
  • Marshall  51  UMass 10
  • Florida Atlantic  24  UMass 2

Three games and the offense has produced 10 points.  They have played 12 quarters of football and scored a total of 12 points.  The Minutemen have one game left on the schedule against Liberty University today.  I am sure there was a rock-solid reason to reinstate this abbreviated football season – – but I do not know what it was.

Speaking of Liberty University, NC State beat Liberty 15-14.  That is the first loss of the season for Liberty.  The Wolfpack scored a safety late in the third quarter and that provided the margin of victory.  The stat sheet is a true reflection of how closely contested the game was.  The biggest differences were:

  • Penalties:  Liberty had 7 for 45 yards; NC State had 14 for 123 yards
  • Turnovers:  Liberty turned the ball over 3 times; NC State 1 time.

LSU beat Arkansas 27-24.  The Tigers scored with 4 minutes left in the game to secure the victory.  The game was as close statistically as it was on the scoreboard; LSU had 419 yards on offense and Arkansas had 443.  The biggest difference was that LSU converted 11 of 22 third-down situations while Arkansas was 0 of 10 in third down situations.

Ohio State beat Indiana 42-35.  The Buckeyes led 42-21 after 3 quarters but two quick TDs early in the 4th quarter put the game in doubt, but the Buckeyes held on to that lead through the final whistle.  Indiana WR, Ty Fryfogle had another huge game here catching 7 passes for 218 yards and 3 TDs.  [Aside:  Fryfogle is the first player in Big Ten history to have back-to-back games with 200 yards receiving.  Last week against Michigan State, he had 200 yards receiving on 11 receptions.]  Ohio State dominated the rest of the stat sheet gaining 607 yards on offense with 307 of those yards coming via the ground game.  The Ohio State defense held Indiana to minus-1 yard rushing for the day on 14 attempts.

Illinois beat Nebraska 41-23.   The last time Illinois beat Nebraska in Lincoln NE was back in 1924 when the halfback for the Illini was a guy named Red Grange. Huskers QB, Luke McCaffrey was the leading rusher for the Big Red last week.  When the QB is a team’s leading rusher, that is a stat that can indicate a big win or a big loss.  For this game, it was the latter.  The Huskers turned the ball over 5 times in the game; McCaffrey was the reason for 4 of those 5 errors losing a fumble and throwing 3 INTs.

Northwestern beat Wisconsin 17-7.  With this win, Northwestern takes the lead in the Big-10 West.  This was a defensive struggle; Northwestern gained only 263 yards on offense and got the win; Wisconsin only managed 366 yards for the game.  Northwestern forced five turnovers – four in the first half – and sacked Wisconsin QB, Graham Mertz three times.  Defense was truly the order of the day; there were 17 punts in the game because Wisconsin was 3 for 16 on third down situations while Northwestern was 2 for 15.

Northwestern is 5-0 on the season and this is the rest of their schedule:

  • At Michigan State
  • At Minnesota
  • Vs. Illinois

Other than an opening week blowout win over Maryland, the next four wins for Northwestern have been close.  The four games have been decided by a total of 26 points.

Iowa beat Penn State 41-21.  Penn State is 0-5 for the season; Penn State has been playing football for 134 years; this is the first time it has lost its first 5 games in a season.    Iowa led 31-7 midway through the third quarter .  then Penn State QB Sean Clifford completed a pair of touchdown passes for 96 yards in a 3:54 span that cut Iowa’s lead to 10 with just over a quarter left.  It made the game appear respectable.

Michigan beat Rutgers 48-42 in triple OT.  The game was tied at 35 at the end of regulation; neither team scored in the first OT; both scored in the second OT; Michigan prevailed in the third OT.  The stat sheet was as even as the scoring; Michigan offense was 497 yards; Rutgers offense was 482 yards.

In SEC action, Alabama beat Kentucky 63-3.  The score was 7-3 at the end of the first quarter.  That is as good as it got for the Wildcats last week.  The Alabama defense stifled Kentucky over the course of the game allowing only 179 yards of offense, 2 of 13 third-down conversions and only 3.1 yards per offensive play for the game.

Georgia beat Mississippi St.  31-24.  If you like to see a running attack, this was not a game you wanted to see.  Georgia managed all of 8 yards rushing for the day; Mississippi State was not much better gaining a total of 22 yards on the ground.  This was a back-and-forth game all the way; the biggest lead either way was 7 points.

In the Big-12, Iowa State beat K- State 45-0.  Iowa State sits atop the Big-12 race as of now with a record of 6-1 in conference and 6-2 overall.  As expected from that score, the stat sheet is very lopsided; K- State managed only 149 yards on offense for the game.

Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State 41-13.  Oklahoma gained exactly twice the number of  yards as compared to Oklahoma State in the game.  The Sooners scored 3 TDs in the first 9 minutes and never looked back.  Sooner QB, Shane Rattler posted this stat line:

  • 17 of 24 for 301 yards with 4 TDs and 0 INTs.

As a result of this game, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas are all chasing Iowa State in the Big-12; all three schools have 2 losses in conference.  The Big-12 Championship will be decided by a playoff between the two top finishers.  In terms of tiebreakers, Oklahoma has beaten both Oklahoma State and Texas while Texas has lost to both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.  Texas hosts Iowa State this week in a very important Big-12 contest.

In other college football action, BYU beat North Alabama 66-14.  No shock here; BYU was a 47.5-point favorite at kickoff time, and they covered.  The Cougars are now 9-0 with one game left on their schedule against San Diego State on December 12th.

Cincy beat UCF 36-33.  Cincy remains unbeaten and should have a prominent placement in a New Year’s Day bowl game.  Maybe Cincy vs BYU?  Why not?  Potentially a battle of undefeated teams…

Oregon beat UCLA 38-35.  Maybe Oregon is a good team; maybe not.  The reason this game is worth mentioning is that UCLA turned the ball over 4 times (2 INTs and 2 lost fumbles) and all four of those turnovers became TDs for the Ducks.  In the first 10 minutes of the game, Oregon posted 2 TDs on drives of 19 yards and 32 yards.  Just before halftime, the Bruins gifted the Ducks a Pick-Six.  It turns out that UCLA has been sort of the football version of a Secret Santa in its 3 games so far this year.  They have turned the ball over 9 times in those 3 games 7 of those 9 turnovers have produced TDs for the opposition.

 

College Football Games of Interest:

 

If I have counted correctly, there have been 19 games either cancelled or postponed this weekend.  19 games off the card; COVID-19; yes, there is a connection there…

The Apple Cup game between Washington State and Washington will not be played this year. It was scheduled for today at Washington State, but according to a statement from the Pac-12, the decision to cancel the game was made because Washington State would not have the minimum required number of scholarship players available for the game based on positive COVID tests and contact tracing.

 

Kentucky at Florida – 25.5 (60):  Florida has not gotten a lot of attention as a CFP team but their offense is really good and it will be very interesting to watch it go up against Alabama’s defense in the SEC Championship Game – – should that be the pairing.  Kentucky began the year playing good defense, but it shriveled against Alabama (see above) and it yielded 35 points to Vandy.  Florida’s defense is not great either so this should be a scoring-fest; I’ll take the OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Pitt at Clemson – 22.5 (55.5):  I wonder if Dabo Swinney’s blood pressure will have receded to something like 190/155 by game time.  I shudder to think about what might happen if this game had to be canceled at the last minute like last week’s game against Florida State.

Northwestern – 12 at Michigan State (42):  That looks like a big number for Northwestern to cover (see above).  On the other hand, Michigan State has 3 losses for the season by an average of 25.7 points per game.

Penn State at Michigan – 1 (58):  The spread opened the week with Michigan a 3-point favorite.  This morning you can find the game at this number AND you can find it at 2 sportsbooks with Penn State favored by 1 point.  Given the records and performances by these two teams, call this the Disappointment Bowl.

Duke at Ga Tech “pick ‘em” (58):  Here is another game where the line varies significantly from sportsbook to sportsbook.  I found it with Tech as a 1.5-point favorite this morning and I found it with Duke as a 1-point favorite.

Maryland at Indiana – 12 (65):  The Total Line opened the week at 59 points and has risen steadily through the week.  Maryland has not played since November 7th; will they be rested or rusty?  Indiana still has a longshot for the Big-10 title game should Ohio State stumble; I think they recover from last week’s loss to the Buckeyes and beat up on Maryland here.  Give me the Hoosiers to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.

Arizona at UCLA – 10 (69):  Given UCLA’s proclivities to turn over the ball (see above), the oddsmaker must not think highly of Arizona at all…

Texas Tech at Oklahoma State – 10.5 (54):  This is a must-win for Oklahoma State if they are to keep hope alive for a Big-12 Championship.

Auburn at Alabama – 24.5 (63):  Even when oddsmakers think this will be a blowout game, the Iron Bowl is a game of interest.  Nick Saban will not be at the game because he tested positive for COVID-19; Steve Sarkisian will be “at the helm” for this weekend.

LSU at Texas A&M – 15 (63):  LSU has been a disappointment this season; the Aggies have been quietly over-performing expectations – – sort of like Florida and the Aggies have beaten Florida this year.

Mississippi State at Ole Miss – 9 (69):  Like the Iron Bowl game, the Egg Bowl game is always interesting.  Which version of the Mississippi State offense will show up here?  I think it will be the potent version mostly because the Ole Miss defense has been paper thin all year long.  I have no doubt that Ole Miss will bring a high-octane offense.  I like this game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Stanford – 2 at Cal (51):  This is The Game.  Neither team has been impressive, but they will put forth best efforts here.

Oregon – 12 at Oregon State (65):  This game has been called the Civil War for years but now that name is considered to be much too outrageous for the sensitivities of some.  They can call it whatever they want, I like the idea of calling it the Civil War.

 

NFL Commentary:

 

The NFL has decided to take over an empty sports date on Saturday December 19th.  Two games scheduled for Sunday have been moved up a day giving the NFL Network two “national telecasts”.  The Bills/Broncos game will happen at 4:30 PM EST on Saturday December 19th and then the Panthers/Packers game will happen at 8:15 PM.  When I saw the announcement, I wondered why those two games were chosen to get a “national focus”; neither game appeared to me to be compelling.

Here is a link to the Week 15 schedule for the NFL.  There is not a plethora of games on tap for that weekend that appear all that “compelling” other than the Chiefs at the Saints.

Last weekend, The Panthers beat the Lions 20-0.  The Lions have not been a highly successful franchise over the last decade, but this is the first time they have been shut out in a game since 2009.  Last week, they never got to the Red Zone at all; they never threatened to make a game of it.  Meanwhile former XFL QB, PJ Walker, showed that he is a competent backup-QB for an NFL team throwing for 258 yards and 2 TDs.  The Panthers’ defense sacked Matthew Stafford 5 times and held the Lions to only 185 yards on offense.

The Saints beat the Falcons 24-9.  Sean Payton chose to go with Taysom Hill at QB instead of Jameis Winston and it worked out just fine.  Hill was 18 of 23 for 233 yards passing, 51 yards rushing, and he scored 2 TDs. The Saints’ defense must have made some magical halftime adjustments because the Falcons never crossed the 50 yardline in the second half until the final minutes when the game was on ice.  Matt Ryan suffered 8 sacks and threw 2 INTs facing that Saints’ defense.

The Saints’ QB situation here bears an eerie similarity to the situation with Pats about 20 years ago.  Drew Bledsoe – – THE man in town – – suffered a chest injury.  A “new guy” named Brady came in and played well enough that when Bledsoe had healed, Belichick stayed with the “new guy”.  Now we have Drew Brees on the shelf with a chest injury and a “new guy” named Taysom Hill who played REALLY well in one game as a sub – – and Brees has supposed to be out for at least 3 weeks because he is on IR.

As a sub-plot to that sort of QB intrigue is the status of Jameis Winston who signed on with the Saints to put a shine on his résumé but he is consigned to the bench when the “main man” cannot play.  That is not a good look…

The WTFs beat the Bengals 20-9.  The loss of Joe Burrow for the rest of the year is far more devastating to the Bengals than the loss of this game. Once he left, any pretense the Bengals may have had regarding “offense” was exposed as a sham.

The Browns beat the Eagles 22-17.  The Eagles are leading the NFC East – – for now – – and still present themselves as a hot mess.  Carson Wentz was under severe pressure every time he dropped back to pass – – even getting sacked in the end zone for a safety one time.  The Eagles running game was working early in the game and then the play calling abandoned it.  The Browns had a Pick Six in the first half and did just enough to win this game, but it was not pretty.  Nick Chubb is back and that is a big plus for Browns’ fans.

The Cowboys beat the Vikes 31-28.  This was a back-and-forth game; the Cowboys were in charge early on; the Vikes had the momentum in the second half.  The return of Andy Dalton to play QB for the Cowboys was obviously a plus but the biggest factor was that for the first half of the game, the Cowboys managed to make Dalvin Cook look like a run-of-the-mill running back.

The Titans beat the Ravens 30-24 in OT.  The Ravens’ offense looked good at times and inept at other times.  When the Ravens won the toss in OT and got the ball, the “inept offense” showed up and it was three-and-out.  The Titans took the ball and marched down the field until handing it to Derrick Henry who took it 30 yards to the end zone for the winning score.  The Ravens’ offense needs work and so does the Titans’ defense if they are to be meaningful participants in the playoffs.

The Steelers beat the Jags 27-3.  Jags’ QB, Jake Luton was under heavy pressure all day long forcing him to throw 4 INTs.  By comparison, Ben Roethlisberger had a leisurely time looking over the defense when he was back to pass.  The score pretty much summarizes the nature of this game.

The Texans beat the Patriots 27-20.  Going into this game the Texans had the worst run defense in the NFL and the Pats strength was their power running game.  So, naturally you understand how the Pats only managed 86 yards rushing in the game.  Sorry, I cannot…

The Broncos beat the Dolphins 20-13.  Tua Tagovailoa had a mediocre game at best and was pulled after 3 quarters.  Maybe Coach Flores was trying to protect his long-term investment in Tua because he had been sacked 6 times while in the game.  Ryan Fitzpatrick tried to work some late game magic, but his magic wand seems to have been in need of a recharge.  The Broncos did not play particularly well but they made the plays they needed to make to keep the Dolphins’ offense in check.

The Colts beat the Packers 34-31 in OT.  The Packers lost 3 fumbles in this game including one in OT that set up the winning score.  The Packers’ defense was on its heels for most of the game surrendering 411 yards to the Colts’ offense; the Colts’ defense did not stifle the Packers but did just enough late in the 4th quarter to get the game to OT.  The Packers had the ball first and goal at the Colts’ 8 yardline trailing 31-28 but could not get the ball into the end zone.

The Chargers beat the Jets 34-28.  The Chargers led 24-6 at halftime; the Jets had them just where they wanted them.  As is their wont, the Chargers gave back that dominant lead and the Jets made a game of it late.  Justin Herbert is the real deal, folks; he threw 3 TDs in this game and amassed 366 yards passing.  Yes, that was against the Jets’ defense, but he made some beautiful throws here.  Keenan Allen caught 16 passes for 145 of those passing yards.

The Chiefs beat the Raiders 35-31.  Derek Carr played Patrick Mahomes to a stand-off in this game; it was a tight and entertaining game from start to finish.  The final scoring drive of the game was vintage KC Chiefs.  With a minute-and-a-half to play, the Chiefs trailed by a field goal with the ball at their own 25 yardline and 1 timeout.  They proceeded to march down the field, score a TD and left about 30 seconds on the clock for the Raiders to play with.  An INT with about 10 seconds remaining on the clock gives you the final score.

The Rams beat the Bucs 27-24.    The Rams dominated on offense 413 yards to 251 yards; neither team ran the ball effectively with the Rams gaining a total of 42 yards and the Bucs only 37 yards.  Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp combined for 23 receptions for 275 yards in the game.

In NFL results from Thanksgiving Day, 41 is obviously the “Magic Number…

The Texans beat Lions 41-25.  Deshaun Watson picked the Lions’ defense apart all day long ; JJ Watt contributed a Pick-6; this game was not really in doubt much beyond the first quarter.  Both teams are now 4-7; in the AFC, that record is not nearly “playoff relevant”; in the NFC, that record is only “playoff relevant” in the NFC East – – but the Lions are in the NFC North. If any Lions’ fans continue to harbor playoff thoughts, there is probably a “support group” out there for you…

The WTFs beat the Cowboys 41– 16.  On one hand, the WTFs did not dominate the game to the extent the score might indicate.  On the other hand, if the Cowboys continue to call plays as stupidly as they did in this game, then the WTFs are indeed more than twice as good.  Consider these play choices by the Cowboys:

  • 4th and 1 at about the Cowboys 29.  Go for it?  OK.  It is only a yard and you have a running back that you are paying $90M over 6 years.  You will never get to find out if that $90M running back can get you that critical yard because someone decided to throw a pass that was incomplete.
  • 4th and long in your own territory and you decide to try a fake punt.  OK, maybe we can catch them by surprise.  It was not even close; the WTFs had TWO players on defense in position and ready to stop the fake punt for a loss of a yard.  No surprise at all…
  • 1st and goal at the 4 yardline with it still a one score game and the Cowboys trot out a reverse and fake pass by a WR to someone somewhere.  That play never had a chance and lost enough yards that it mandated a field goal try. On 4th down.

Mike McCarthy and Co. own this loss – – and they own it big time.

 

NFL Games:

 

There are no BYE Weeks; everyone gets to play this weekend – – even the Ravens and Steelers who were supposed to play last night but saw the game pushed back to Sunday afternoon due to COVID tests among the Ravens.

 

Las Vegas – 3 at Atlanta (52.5):  This game opened the week as a “pick ‘em” game but it did not stay at that line very long.  The Raiders and Derek Carr played well in a loss to the Chiefs last week; they are still in playoff contention, so they need to bring that level of play with them on the flight to Atlanta.  The Raiders’ pass defense is not very good, so it is not hard to imagine the Falcons moving the ball efficiently here.  I smell a shootout here where the loser is at or near 30 points; I’ll take the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Arizona – 1 at New England (49):  It will be interesting to see what sort of defensive ploy the Pats use to try to contain Kyler Murray.  Neither team can afford to lose this game in terms of their playoff aspirations.

Giants – 6 at Bengals (44):  Even though the Giants could wind up leading the NFC East (by a tie-breaker) at the end of this game, I still have to call it the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  Ryan Finley was over-matched when he came in for Joe Burrow last week; did he get enough reps in practice to make it appear as if he belongs in a game at this level?  Here are his NFL stats:

  • 3 of 10 for 30 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT

The Giants’ defense is improving; I think they can win this handily.

Cleveland – 7 at Jax (49):  Do not look now, but the Browns are 7-3 and have their eyes on a playoff slot in 2020.  The Jags are not any good; if the Browns avoid complacency and continue to run the ball as their primary offensive weapon, they will prevail here.

Carolina at Minnesota – 3 (52):  this game is a must-win for the Vikes if they want to play relevant games in last December/early January.  The Panthers are not going to the playoffs, but they have been playing hard for new coach Matt Ruhle.  The key to this game is the same key to every Vikes game:

  • How effective will Dalvin Cook be in the running game?

Tennessee at Indy – 3 (51.5):  I dub this game as the Game of the Week.  Both teams are 7-3 in the AFC South race but the Colts beat the Titans earlier this month so another win for the colts would give them the equivalent of a 1.5-game lead in the division with 5 games to play.  Both teams played well last week winning in OT.  This game may not be flashy, but it should be a really good one…

Chargers at Buffalo – 5 (53):  The Total Line opened at 50 points and has been climbing slowly all week.  Josh Allen versus Justin Herbert portends a lot of passing yards and a lot of big plays.  The game is important to the Bills and their playoff push; the Chargers are not going to the playoffs.  I checked weather.com because it is almost December and this game is in Buffalo.  The forecast for Sunday is 50 degrees with only a 10% chance of rain and 15 mph winds.  With that weather, I like this game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Miami – 7 at Jets (44):  The Jets have played better in the last couple of weeks and the Dolphins threw in a real stinker last week against the Broncos.  I am not calling for the Jets to win their first game of the year here, but I want to note the Money Line odds on a Jets’ win are +260 this morning.  That is a lot lower than those Money Line odds have been for the Jets in quite a while…

New Orleans at Denver – 7 (46):  The Saints’ defense has been excellent of late and the Broncos’ offense has been nothing better than OK.  I don’t think the Broncos can score much more than 10 points here, so I like this game to stay UNDER; put it in the Six-Pack.

SF at Rams – 6.5 (44.5):  It is a short week for the Rams, and this is a rivalry game.  Picking this game is like picking a coin toss…

KC – 3 at Tampa Bay (56):  I am sure some folks wonder how this cannot be the Game of the Week.  Well, the Chiefs lead in their division is secure and the Bucs are 1.5 games behind the Saints in their division; such is not the case with Tennessee/Indy.  The Bucs’ run defense is very good  (tops in the NFL), but their pass defense is not nearly as good yielding 237.5 yards per game.  A porous pass defense is not a good thing to bring to a game against Patrick Mahomes…

(Sun Nite) Chicago at Green Bay – 8.5 (45):  One sportsbook has this game at 10 points this morning, but all the other sportsbooks have the game at this level.  No, I cannot tell you why that is the case.  What we have here is a study in contrasts.

  • The Packers have a prolific offense that is ranked 3rd in the NFL in scoring at 30.8 points per game.  Meanwhile the Bears’ defense ranks 6th in the NFL allowing only 20.9 points per game.
  • The Packers have a defense that allows 25.8 points per game.  However, the Bears’ offense is a mess ranking 31st in the NFL scoring only 19.1 points per game.  [Aside: Only the Jets score fewer points per game than the Bears do; the Jets’ average is an embarrassing 14.9 points per game.]

Baltimore at Pittsburgh – 4.5 (45):  Given the extent of the COVID-19 testing results on Ravens’ players, I have no idea who will be eligible to play and who will not.  Obviously, this game has more pragmatic meaning to the Ravens who arrive with a record of 6-4 and reside in 3rd place in the AFC North.  Yes, the Steelers will want to preserve their undefeated record – – but that is more of an emotional thing than a pragmatic thing.

(Mon Nite) Seattle – 5 at Philly (50):  Before you look at this game and think that it is a long journey for the Seahawks go get to Philly for the game, recall that the Seahawks went to Philly twice last year (once in the playoffs) and won both games by a score of 17-9.

So, let me review the Six-Pack for this week:

  • Kentucky/Florida OVER 60
  • Indiana – 12 over Maryland
  • Mississippi State/Ole Miss OVER 69
  • Raiders/Falcons OVER 52.5
  • Chargers/Bills OVER 53
  • Saints/Broncos UNDER 46

Finally, with Thanksgiving dinner in our recent memories, let me close with a quotation ascribed to Benjamin Disraeli regarding gratitude:

“I feel a very unusual sensation – if it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude.”

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

 

 

As Thanksgiving Day Approaches…

Today, the college basketball season begins.  There are 357 schools in Division 1 college basketball; even in a shortened season and even with games having to be cancelled, there will be a large number of college basketball games before the NCAA Tournament begins whenever and wherever it begins in what form.  We are not out of the woods here with regard to the pandemic, but the pharmaceutical industry – you know, those guys who are only out to make obscene profits at your expense – seem to be closing in on a way to make COVID-19 into a minor concern.  The season will have its fits and starts; teams will experience outbreaks and then more normal circumstances.  From my perch here in Curmudgeon Central, these are my three hopes for the season that begins today:

  1. All COVID-19 cases that befall players, coaches, officials and team staff are mild cases and leave no long-term deleterious effects.
  2. The NCAA exhibits foresight and flexibility when it comes to scheduling for its tournament because that flexibility will allow for schedule disruptions for teams to be more readily accommodated.
  3. The media covering college basketball refrain from nonsensical pieces such as “Bracketology” and “Mock NBA Drafts” until at least Valentine’s Day.

I will give genuine thanks if Number 1 above comes to pass.  I will be shocked and amazed if Number 2 happens and the NCAA acts like a rational adult.  As far as Number 3 is concerned, that will happen only after Sisyphus gets that rock securely to the top of that hill.

Tomorrow we will experience Thanksgiving Day Football.  There will be three NFL games and two college games on tap for tomorrow.  Long ago, there were plenty of college games on Thanksgiving Day and only one NFL game – the one in Detroit.  In fact, the first football game that I saw was on Thanksgiving Day in 1948.  My father took me to see Penn play Cornell at Franklin Field on the Penn campus; that was the traditional and final game of the season for both teams and it was always played at Franklin Field – – much the same as the Army/Navy game was and still is the traditional end to their football seasons.

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot has a view of Thanksgiving Day Football that is a bit less nostalgic than one might hope for:

No thanks: Grandma’s sweet potato casserole and collard greens haven’t given Thanksgiving Day revelers as much gas over the years as the Detroit Lions. Why must the NFL subject football-loving Americans to a Lions game — this year against the anemic Texans — each and every turkey day? Tradition? The only tradition worth recognizing here is the one that outlaws cruel and unusual punishment.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times seems to be equally unimpressed by what he is likely to see from this year’s Thanksgiving Day Football:

“Tryptophan might not be the only thing putting you to sleep on Thanksgiving Day.

“The first two games in the NFL’s Turkey Day lineup? Texans (4-5) at Lions (2-7) and Washington (2-7) at Dallas (2-7).”

Unaccustomed as I am to the role of cheerfully seeing the best in meager situations, let me try to adjust the perceptions of Messrs. Molinaro and Perry toward a more positive direction.

First, after sitting through what ought to be a meaningless and miserable early game (Lions/Texans), the second one is a rivalry game that often – not always but often – delivers interesting results.  So, if you ignore the records for a moment and consider that this game has serious playoff implications – as I outlined in yesterday’s rant – and that it will likely be “energetically contested”, there is reason for interest in the Cowboys/WTFs game.

Second, the night game will certainly be interesting between the Steelers and the Ravens.  It has been a long time since a game between these two teams was meaningless and the rivalry between the Steelers and Ravens is deep and intense.  This year, the Steelers show up in Baltimore as the only undefeated team in the league; the Ravens have been in a tailspin for about a month and need to recover from that condition tout de suite to save their season.

And finally, there is genuine reason to give thanks for one aspect of the meaningless and miserable Lions/Texans game that starts the day of Thanksgiving Day Football:

  • There will be no fans allowed in the stands in Detroit on Thanksgiving for the Lions’ game.  That is something Detroit fans can be genuinely thankful for.

There are things that these 9 NFL teams and their fans ought to be thankful for as we get into the final stages of this 2020 season:

  1. Bills:  When Sean McDermott took over in 2017, the Bills had not been in the playoffs since 1999.  Looking at the standings now, it appears as if the Bills will be in the playoffs again this year making it two of three years under McDermott.
  2. Bears:  They have 4 excellent linebackers – – I think they are the best linebacking unit in the NFL.  Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathian keep the Bears in games despite the anemic offense in Chicago.
  3. Browns:  Nick Chubb is an excellent running back worthy of thanks, but I think the thing fans in Cleveland should give thanks for is Kevin Stefanski.  Finally, there seems to be adult supervision on the sidelines in Cleveland.
  4. Cards:  These fans should be thankful for Bill O’Brien who gave the Cards DeAndre Hopkins in exchange for a bag of beans.
  5. Chargers:  If Charger fans do not embrace Justin Herbert and give thanks that he was available when the Chargers turn to draft came around, they should turn in their credentials as NFL fans.
  6. Dolphins:  As with the Browns, fans in South Florida should give thanks for coach Brian Flores who has brought organization and discipline back to that franchise.
  7. Raiders:  They should be thankful for Derek Carr.  He has been physically beaten up in previous years and has taken many slings and arrows of outrageous fortune from Raiders’ fans too.  Derek Carr is the reason the Raiders are in playoff contention this year.
  8. Steelers:  Look at the way the Steelers played last year with Ben Roethlisberger on the shelf and compare to how the Steelers are playing now with him at the reins.  He may not be around all that much longer so fans in Pittsburgh need to give thanks for his 2020 season.
  9. Vikes:  Fans in Minnesota must give thanks for Dalvin Cook; he is the best running back in the NFL now.  I do not want to debate that issue.

Finally, as we approach Thanksgiving Day, let me close with this entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Fear:  Anxiety or dread caused by the certainty that something terrible is about to happen such as when walking alone down a dark alley or heading home for Thanksgiving.”

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

 

 

Football Coaches Musical Chairs…

Last week, I mentioned that South Carolina fired Will Muschamp and paid him $13M as a buyout to his contract.  And so, the annual game of Football Coaches Musical Chairs begins in earnest.  [Technically the music began right after the first week of the season when the coach at Southern Mississippi resigned, but now there is an opening at an SEC school and that means there are more coaches interested in marching around to the music now.]  Rumors have begun about who is interested in taking the job and who is not; rumors have begun about who South Carolina is interested in and who it is not; lots of rumors and few facts.

South Carolina is either a great place to coach or a career-killer depending on how you look at it.  For a young upcoming coach seen as a successful guy at a smaller program – – think PJ Fleck back in 2016 going from W. Michigan  to Minnesota – – South Carolina could be a career killer.  The Gamecocks get the pleasure of playing Clemson, Georgia and Florida every year; then the luck of the draw can get them one or more of Alabama, LSU, Auburn and/or Texas A&M in any given year.  It is not easy to win 10 games in a season with that kind of schedule.

On the other hand, the expectations at South Carolina are not unrealistic.  Fans and boosters there do not expect the Gamecocks to be in the CFP every other year; in fact, some of them might be orgasmic if South Carolina ever got into CFP consideration.

The job at South Carolina seems to me to be a job that is perfect for an established coach who needs a “comeback job”.  Three names of that ilk are floating around:

  1. Hugh Freeze was let go at Ole Miss after some pretty sleazy NCAA recruiting and personal conduct issues there; he is now at Liberty University cleaning up his reputation and may be ready to return to a bigger program.  Liberty is 8-1 this year and its only loss was by one point to NC State.
  2. Steve Sarkisian flamed out at USC  over “alcohol-related incidents” and he is now the OC at Alabama.  Spending time with Nick Saban has proven to be a cleanser for “troubled coaches” in the past – – think Lane Kiffin – – and perhaps Sarkissian is now “sufficiently presentable” to be a head coach once again.  Prior to the flame out at USC, Sarkissian had been successful in starting a major rebuilding of the football program at Washington.
  3. Bill O’Brien wore out his welcome with the Houston Texans where he was the coach and the GM.  However, O’Brien has won the Big-10 Coach of the Year and the “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award in the past.  He may be unorthodox in his methods – and he certainly was a bad NFL GM – but might he or another defrocked NFL coach be interested in a college job at an SEC school?

Moving on…  With the passage of every weekend, the likelihood grows that the winner of the NFC East will have a losing record.  Here we are in Thanksgiving week and the division leader has 6 losses and 1 tie while the other three teams all have 7 losses.  All the teams have 6 games to play; do the math and you will see that the division winner needs to win either 4 or 5 of the remaining games to avoid a losing record for 2020.  Yes, these teams play one another over the next 6 weeks meaning one of them could rise up among these flawed teams and soar to a winning record – – if it can win an out-of-division game or two also.  And there is the rub; as of this morning, the NFC East teams are a combined 4-19-1 against teams not in the NFC East.

There is precedent for a division winner to have a losing record:

  • In 2010, the Seahawks finished the regular season at 7-9 and made the playoffs.  They hosted a wildcard game in the playoffs and won that game.
  • In 2014, the Panthers finished the regular season at 7-8-1 and made the playoffs.  They hosted a wildcard game in the playoffs and won that game.
  • The NFC East winner this year – whoever it is – will host a wildcard game in the playoffs and …
  • For the record, home teams’ combined record so far this year is 86-73-1.

Looking at the remaining schedules for the four teams:

  • Cowboys:  WTFs, at Ravens, at Bengals, Niners, Eagles, at Giants.  3 home games and 3 away games.  Combined record of opponents = 21-37-2.
  • Eagles:  Seahawks, at Packers, Saints, at Cards, at Cowboys, WTFs.  3 home games and 3 away games.  Combined record of opponents = 34-26-0.
  • Giants:  at Bengals, at Seahawks, Cards, Browns, at Ravens, Cowboys.  3 home games and 3 away games.  Combined record of opponents = 31-28-1.
  • WTFs:  at Cowboys, at Steelers, at Niners, Seahawks, Panthers, at Eagles.  2 home games and 4 away games.  Combined record of opponents = 31-28-1.

From this vantage point, the Cowboys would appear to be shoo-ins based on the current record of their opponents; the fly in that ointment is that they play division opponents 3 times and the Cowboys have the worst in-division record of all these flawed teams.  The return to health of Andy Dalton leads me to suggest that the Cowboys will win the NFC East at 7-9.

From this vantage point, the Eagles would appear to be doomed.  Perhaps they will be favored at home in the final game of the season against the WTFs, but they will be significant underdogs in their next 4 games.  The “good news” here is that the Eagles could finish the year 3-12-1 giving them a shot at a “Top 5” pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Finally, here is an entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Hunting:  A sport that satisfies men’s innate desire to wear earflaps and a tartan jacket while freezing their testicles off by remaining largely motionless for several hours so that every so often they may get the chance to kill something.”

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

 

 

Lots Of Little Stuff Today

The Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for 2021 was released about a week ago; there are 25 names on this year’s list.  Here is a link to that list and to the career stats for those 25 players.

I think voters this year will be challenged to come up with an induction class for 2021 that is “appropriate”.  I do not see many worthy candidates on this list, nor do I see any single player who deserves to have the stage to himself as the “one-and-only member of the class of 2021.”  There is precedent for an “Empty Year”; that happened in 2013; no one on the ballot then received the requisite 75% of the votes cast to make it into the Hall of Fame.

If I had a vote – which I most certainly do not – I would vote for these three nominees:

  1. Jeff Kent
  2. Curt Schilling
  3. Billy Wagner

I would listen with an open mind to someone advocating for these three players on the ballot:

  1. Tim Hudson
  2. Gary Sheffield
  3. Omar Vizquel

The results of the voting will be announced on January 26, 2021 so that leaves 9 weeks for debates/predictions/accusations and etc.…

I read last week that the TV ratings for The Masters tanked this year; the estimated number of viewers for the “Autumn-version” of The Masters was fewer than in any year since 1996.  I think there is a simple explanation here.  In US sports, the Fall belongs to football.  At its normal position in the sporting calendar, The Masters need only compete with the NFL Draft for attention and with the end of the NBA regular season and early season MLB for eyeballs on a TV set.  In 2021, the two weekend rounds of The Masters saw dozens of college football games televised by competing networks/channels on Saturday and a full slate of NFL games on Sunday.  Case closed…

When I become aware of a fashion trend or some sort of new social custom, it normally means that it is time for everyone to move on and find something new to obsess over.  What I am about to describe has probably been ongoing for a while, but I only noticed it consciously this weekend.  Several players in various football games – – college and NFL games – – wore eye black under their left eye only.

I reject the hypothesis that the players I saw in this fashion statement all suffer from a condition wherein they all need extra photons entering their right eyeball in order to have proper vision to play football. Hence my question:

  • What is the significance of eye black applied under the left eye only?

The Clemson/Florida State football game on Saturday was postponed at the last minute; the Clemson team and staff were already in Tallahassee when an issue arose.  One of the Clemson players who had traveled with the team to Florida tested positive on a Friday test whose results were reported on Saturday; that player had previously tested negative twice during the prior week.  This positive test result caused some anxiety at Florida State about playing the game and when the two camps could not agree on how to handle the matter, the game was postponed.

Clemson coach, Dabo Swinney, is not exactly a “COVID-denier” but he is also someone whose statements have made it clear that he thinks football is sufficiently essential to life that COVID needs to take a back seat to football games and practices and the like.  As you might expect, Swinney was not pleased by the postponement and had this to say on a conference call with reporters:

“If the standard to play was zero positive tests, then we would have never had a season.  This game was not canceled because of COVID. COVID was just an excuse to cancel the game. To be honest with you, I don’t think it has anything to do with their players. I have no doubt that their players wanted to play and would have played. Same with the coaches. To me, the Florida State administration forfeited the game.”

Just in case that statement does not convince you that Swinney is more than merely miffed at what went down over the weekend, he also said that if Florida State wants to find a date to make up the game from Saturday, Swinney said that as far as he is concerned, the Seminoles can come to Clemson to play the game or they can pay all of Clemson’s travel expenses to make another sojourn to Tallahassee.

Dwight Perry had this pertinent observation in his column in the Seattle Times last week:

“The No. 19 who made the biggest impact in pro-football history was:

  • Unitas
  • Alworth
  • COVID”

Finally, Bob Molinaro had this item in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot a couple of weeks ago:

Regular Joe: Football, like life, takes funny turns. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, the Heisman Trophy winner from LSU, already has one hand on the Rookie of the Year trophy, while the guy who beat him out at Ohio State is a missing person. Can we get a search party to find Dwayne Haskins?”

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

 

 

Football Friday 11/20/20

The sun has risen 7 times since the last Football Friday.  That astronomical sequence of events inexorably leads us to yet one more Football Friday and the first thing on the agenda as usual is to review last week’s Six-Pack.

  • College:  0-0-0
  • NFL:  2-4-0
  • Combined:  2-4-0

Those results lead to this set of season totals:

  • College:  9-13-1
  • NFL:  16-19-1
  • Combined:  25-32-2

 

College Football Commentary:

 

Tommy Tuberville was the head football coach at four schools (Ole Miss, Auburn, Texas Tech and Cincy) over a 20-year period.  Earlier this month, he was elected to the US Senate by the voters in Alabama.  I have believed for years that football coaches and politicians are people who have a common skill that makes them successful:

  • Neither football coaches nor politicians are truthtellers.

Obviously, after being declared the winner in his senatorial election, Tuberville was interviewed.  Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times summarized perfectly the most important news nugget from that interview:

“Tommy Tuberville — the former Auburn football coach and newly elected senator from Alabama — rattled off the three branches of the federal government as ‘the House, the Senate and executive.’

“At least he didn’t say offense, defense and special teams.”

Last week, Notre Dame avoided a potential let-down game and beat BC 45-31.  Once again, the Irish rolled out a dominant running game gaining 285 yards on the ground.  Notre Dame still has UNC and Wake Forest on the schedule but last week’s game between those two teams does not indicate that either of them has a defense capable of stopping the Irish.

UNC beat Wake Forest 59-53.  The UNC “defense” held Wake Forest to a meager 606 yards of offense in the game while the Demon Deacons’ “defense” yielded 742 yards in the game.  That’s right, the two teams combined for 1348 yards of offense.  Tar Heels’ QB, Sam Howell posted this stat line for the game:

  • 32 of 45 for 550 yards with 6 TDs and 1 INT

To summarize the UNC/Wake Forest game in two words:

  • “Tackling Optional”.

NC State beat Florida St. 38-22.  The score was 28-3 halfway through the third quarter.  Two meaningless 4th quarter TDs by the Seminoles made this score seem a lot closer than the game was.

Nebraska beat Penn State 30-23.  This is the first time since 2001 that the Nittany Lions have opened a season at 0-4.  Penn State won the stat battle gaining 501 yards while only allowing 298 yards to the Huskers.  Penn State had two drives into the Red Zone in the final 5 minutes of the game but turned the ball over on downs both times.  Therein lies the reason for the result here.

Illinois came from behind to beat Rutgers 23-20.  Rutgers led 20-10 halfway through the 3rd quarter but could not hold on for a win.  The Illini ran the ball for 338 yards in the game.

Northwestern beat Purdue 27-20.  The Wildcats remain undefeated for the year at 4-0.  Purdue’s ground game was non-existent here gaining a total of 2 yards on 17 carries.

Indiana beat Michigan State 24-0.  The Spartans managed only 191 yards total offense for the game and only managed 9 first downs in the game.  Adding insult to injury, the Spartans turned the ball over  4 times.  Indiana WR, Ty Fryfogle, caught 10 passes for 200 yards and 2 TDs.  He gained more yardage than the entire Michigan State team did.

Wisconsin beat Michigan 49-11.  I think the jury has reached its verdict and that verdict is that Michigan is not a good football team.  The Wolverines only managed a total of 219 yards of total offense here and only 47 yards rushing on 19 carries.  The score at halftime was 28-0; there was no drama involved in this game.

Florida beat Arkansas 63-35.  Gators’ QB, Kyle Trask had his way with the Arkansas defense; here is his stat line:

  • 23 of 29 for 356 yards with 6 TDs and 0 INTs

Ole Miss beat S. Carolina 59-42.  This was another game where defense took a day off.  Ole Miss amassed 708 yards on offense; S. Carolina gained a meager 548 yards.  The Gamecocks dominated on the ground gaining 318 yards (8.2 yards per carry); normally that wins the game for you.  However, the Ole Miss passing game gained 513 yards (14.2 yards per attempt) and that trumped the S. Carolina run game.  South Carolina is now 2-5 for the season and in the aftermath of this loss – the third in a row – they fired head coach Will Muschamp and set about the task of hiring his replacement.

Kentucky beat Vandy 38-35.  That result is a lot closer than most folks thought it would be; Vandy is 0-6.  The Commodores’ four remaining opponents are Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and Mizzou. They will be serious underdogs to Florida and Georgia and probably a touchdown underdog to Tennessee and Mizzou; things are looking bleak for Vandy. The Kentucky running game was potent in that game gaining 308 yards on 34 carries (9.1 yards per carry).

Boise St. beat Colorado state 52-21.  This was a nice bounce-back game for the Broncos after being beaten badly two weeks ago by BYU.  Two of the Boise St. TDs came on blocked kicks in the first quarter – – one was a blocked punt the other a blocked field goal attempt.  Another Broncos’ TD came on a second blocked punt in the second quarter.  The special teams coach deserves the game ball here.

Cincy beat East Carolina 55-17.  This was another dominant performance by the Bearcats’ defense.  Cincy is 7-0 on the season and looks to be the best team in the so-called Group of 5 conferences.

 

College Games of Interest:

 

            If I have counted correctly, there are 16 college football games either cancelled or postponed this weekend.

Iowa – 2 at Penn St. (47):  Back when the season started, who saw the possibility that Penn State might open its season with 5 straight losses?  I certainly did not…

Cincy – 5.5 at UCF (63.5):  The Cincy defense has allowed an average of 12.4 points per game in the first 7 games of the 2020 season.  UCF’s defense allows 28.7 points per game.  On offense, both teams average just over 40 points per game.

Clemson – 35.5 at Florida State (63.5):  Trevor Lawrence has been cleared out COVID-19 protocol and is expected to start in this game.  The Seminoles’ defense ranks 101st in the country giving up 36.1 points per game.  This will be a rout but laying 5 TDs plus a hook is not going to happen here.  The more interesting possibility is that Clemson’s defense – – 12th in the country in total defense and 18th in the country in scoring defense – – might just shut down the Seminoles’ offense to the point where Florida St. does not get out of single digits.  In that scenario taking the UNDER here would make sense; I always try to make sense, so I’ll take the UNDER here; put it in the Six-Pack.

Missouri – 6.5 at South Carolina (57):  It might be interesting to see if interim coach Mike Bobo can change the fortunes of the Gamecocks in this game against a less-than-fearsome opponent.

Indiana at Ohio State – 21 (66):  Both teams arrive at the kickoff undefeated; the Hoosiers are ranked 10th in the country this week.  Nonetheless, Ohio State is a 3 TD favorite in this game.  I gave this one “Game of the Week” consideration.

Michigan – 10.5 at Rutgers (54.5):  Rutgers shocked Michigan State in the opening game back in late October but they have lost their last 3 games including a come-from-ahead loss to Illinois last week (see above).  Michigan opened the season with a big win over Minnesota, but they too have lost their last 3 games.  Michigan could not run the ball at all last week (see above) while Rutgers could not stop the run at all last week (see above).  Who knows what will happen here/

LSU – 1.5 at Arkansas (62.5):  Arkansas opened the week as a 1-point favorite over LSU.  I doubt many people saw that coming as the season got underway.  I am tempted to take this game to go OVER because the LSU defense is miserable giving up 33.6 points per game; it also ranks 112th in the country in total defense yielding 478.6 yards per game.  Chalk it up to a lack of willpower on my part; I will succumb to the temptation and take the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Kentucky at Alabama – 29 (58.5):  The Wildcats’ defense has allowed only 21.3 points per game in their first 7 games.  It will be interesting to see how it fares against Alabama this week.  I think Alabama will score between 35 and 40 points.  The key here is the Alabama defense which has been scary good recently; if they shut down the Kentucky running game, they might hold the Wildcats to single digits.  I like this game to stay UNDER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Mississippi State at Georgia – 24 (44.5):  I know that the Mississippi State offense has sputtered ever since the opening game and that Georgia has an elite defense.  Having said that, I am stunned that the oddsmakers think the Georgia offense is worthy of being a 24-point favorite over another SEC team.  Very puzzling…

Wisconsin – 7 at Northwestern (44):  Here is a meeting between two undefeated teams in the Big-10 West.  Because these teams are in the same division of the Big-10, I gave this “Game of the Week” consideration.

Oklahoma State at Oklahoma – 7 (59):  The Sooners are 4-2 in conference; the Cowboys are 4-1 in conference.  A loss for the Sooners probably eliminates them from consideration in the Big-12 conference championship game.  A win for the Cowboys points them toward that game because their two remaining opponents both have losing records.  Notwithstanding the two Big-10 games between undefeated teams, I think this one is the college Game of the Week.

K-State at Iowa State – 10.5 (46.5):  This matches the other two teams in the top 4 of the Big-12 conference as of this morning.

USC – 3 at Utah (57):  Here we are in mid-November and this is the first game of the year for Utah.

Washington State at Stanford – 3.5 (63):  I do not love Washington State by any means, but I cannot figure out why Stanford is favored here other than the game venue.  Stanford has not been a scoring machine and it has not shown a stout defense in losing both of its games for the season.  I like Wazzu to win the game outright; I’ll take them plus the points here; put it in the Six-Pack.

Boise State – 14 at Hawaii (57.5):  This is a long trip and a significant change in weather conditions for Boise St.

  • [Aside:  I notice now that I have already put 4 games in this week’s Six-Pack, and I know from glancing at NFL lines during the week that I like more than two “opportunities” there.  Ergo, this week’s “Six-Pack” is going to be numerically challenged.]

 

NFL Commentary:

 

The Cleveland Browns find themselves with a 6-3 record this morning and they are in serious contention for a playoff spot in the AFC.  The last time the Browns made the playoffs was in 2002; they lost in the wildcard round then to the Steelers.  The last time the Browns won a playoff game was in 1994; they won in the wildcard round that year.  Here is why I find that bit of trivia interesting:

  • The Browns’ coach for that last playoff win was Bill Belichick.
  • The Browns’ victim in that last playoff win was the New England Patriots.

Several weeks ago, the Seahawks’ defense had the potential to break the record for most yards allowed per game in NFL history. (440.1 yards per game – – Saints – – 2012)  Last week, the Seahawks’ defense played better; last night the Seahawks’ defense played well holding the Cardinals to 314 yards of offense – – only 57 of those yards on the ground.  In addition, the defense scored a safety to boot.  Carlos Dunlap was acquired in a trade with the Bengals a couple of weeks ago and he played very well last night registering 2 sacks.

I do not know if it was GM John Schneider or coach Pete Carroll or someone else in the organization that identified the need on defense and then matched Dunlop’s skills to that need. Whoever was the one to make that connection deserves a lot of praise from Seahawks’ fans this morning.

In last week’s action, the Bucs beat the Panthers 46-23.  The scoreboard operator had to be on his toes all the time here.  Teddy Bridgewater had to leave the game with a knee injury and the Bucs’ defense clamped down allowing only 20 yards net offense for the second half.  The Bucs produced 500 yards on offense; this game was never really in doubt.

The Browns beat the Texans 10-7.  The scoreboard operator could have been on Quaaludes for much of this game and no one would have noticed.  Field conditions and weather conditions were bleak; winds gusted to 52 mph during the game according to weather.com.  Nick Chubb returned to action for the Browns and averaged 6.6 yards per carry for the day.  Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined to carry the ball 38 times for 230 yards.

The Steelers beat the Bengals 36-10.  The Bengals could not run the ball consistently in the game and put the entire offensive responsibility on Joe Burrow to try to play catch-up.  That might work against a bad defense or a mediocre defense that is having a bad day; it did not work against the Steelers’ defense at all.  The Steelers did not run well gaining only 44 yards for the day – – but Ben Roethlisberger showed why he will be in the Hall of Fame one of these days by throwing for 333 yards and 4 TDs and controlling the game with short passes.

The Packers beat the Jags 24-20.  Before you conclude that the close score of this game at Lambeau Field indicates that Jake Luton has announced his presence in the NFL and everyone needs to take notice, look a bit deeper into the stats.  The Jags got a TD on a 90-yard punt return and got 10 points off two turnovers that gave the Jags a short field.  [The TD “drive” after one turnover was all of 16 yards.]  Total offense for the Jags was only 260 yards.

The Giants beat the Eagles 27-17.  The Eagles’ defense took the day off; the Giants arrived with a sputtering offense – – to put it mildly – – and that Eagles’ defense proceeded to give up almost 6 yards per play.  The Eagles’ offense was no great shakes here either; they were 0 for 9 on 3rd down conversions.  Daniel Jones led the Giants in rushing for the game.

The Lions beat the WTFs 30-27.  The Lions led this game 24-3 and tried their darndest to give it away.  Conventional wisdom around DC is that the WTFs’ defensive front is the strength of the team and the piece around which they will rebuild the franchise.  Of the 7 guys up front on defense, there are 5 first round picks.  Now here is a bit of harsh reality regarding that defensive front 7:

  • Rank 21st in the NFL in run defense allowing 126 yards per game
  • Allowed the Lions 105 yards on the ground – – Lions rank 25thin the NFL in rushing offense.

But it gets worse …  Last week, the WTFs tied the score at 27 all with 16 seconds to play in the game; they had all the momentum going into what simply had to be OT.  Here is the sequence of plays in the final 16 seconds of that game by that defense:

  1. Kickoff goes out of the end zone – – ball on the Lions’ 25 – – 16 seconds left
  2. Lions complete a 10-yard pass – – receiver runs out of bounds – – 12 seconds left
  3. Long pass is incomplete – – 6 seconds left – – EXCEPT one of those first round picks on the DL, Chase Young, roughs the passer – – ball placed at the 50 yardline.  [Aside:  Coach Ron Rivera tried to protect his rookie DE saying that the WTFs’ QB had been hit harder than that with no call made earlier in the game.  Fact is that Young took two full steps after the ball was out of Matthew Stafford’s hand before decking the QB.  It was a correct call by the officials, and it was a Meathead of the Week sort of play.]
  4. Lions complete a 9-yard pass – – 3 seconds left – – Time out Lions
  5. Matt Prater kicks a 59-yard field goal to win the game as the clock expires.

Only Wile E. Coyote could have ended the game in a more inept and frustrating fashion.

The Rams beat the Seahawks 23-16.  The Rams were efficient and effective on offense but not explosive.  They did not need to be here because the Rams’ defense played very well.  They did not allow Russell Wilson to throw a TD pass sacked him 6 times and intercepted 2 passes.  The Seahawks have now lost 3 of their last 4 games and have dropped to third place in the NFC West.  [Update:  Their win last night over the Cards puts them back atop the NFC West pending the outcome of the Rams/Bucs game on Monday night.]

The Cards beat the Bills 32-30.  Surely you have seen the replay of the Hall Mary pass that won the game for the Cards. Even without that play, this was an entertaining game to watch.  Two interceptions by the Cards in the second half kept the Bills within reach.  The Cards ran the ball for 217 yards in the game on 35 carries (6.2 yards per try).

The Dolphins beat the Chargers 29-21.  Yes, it was another one-possession loss for the Chargers – – but at least they did not lose after having a huge lead and squandering it.  Call that progress?  The Dolphins took the lead early by blocking a punt by the Chargers after their opening series went 3-and-out and then recovering the blocked punt at the Chargers’ 1-yardline.  Neither offense guided by highly regarded rookie QBs did much business here.  The Dolphins’ total offense was 280 yards; the Chargers’ total offense was 273 yards.

The Raiders beat the Broncos 37-12.  The Raiders intercepted 4 passes in the game including one where the Broncos had the ball inside the Raiders’ 5 yardline.  For good measure, they also recovered a Broncos’ fumble while their offense did not turn the ball over at all in the game.  The Raiders controlled the tempo and the game with a running attack that amassed 203 yards on 41 carries.

The Saints beat the Niners 27-13.  The differential here is 2 TDs.  The Niners fumbled away 2 punts in the game both recovered by the Saints and both led to touchdowns.  Ka-beesh?  The Saints’ offense was hampered by the absence of Drew Brees who left the game with a rib/chest injury and did not play at all in the second half.  Turns out that Brees has multiple broken ribs and a punctured lung.  He is listed as week-to-week; I suspect he will be out for a while.  As of this morning, the Saints have a half-game lead over the Bucs in the NFC South.  It is never a good time to have your first string QB out of action; but if there is a silver lining for Saints’ fans here, it lies in the remaining Saint’s schedule and the records – as of this morning – of the teams on that schedule:

  • Falcons  3-6-0
  • Broncos 3-6-0
  • Falcons  3-6-0
  • Eagles  3-5-1
  • Chiefs  8-1-0
  • Vikes  4-5-0
  • Panthers  3-7-0

The game against the Chiefs is clearly the toughest one left on the schedule and it is one month from today on December 20th.  If Drew Brees is really “week-to-week” he might be available for that one…

The Pats beat the Ravens 23-17.  The Pats only managed 135 yards passing in the game, but the air attack did produce 2 TD passes both caught by Rex Burkhead. Normally, that level of performance would indicate a loss.  However, that effort was bolstered by a running game that gained 173 yards on 39 carries.  That is not spectacular by any means – – but it was enough to keep the chains moving.  The Pats had 25 first downs to only 19 for the Ravens.  The Ravens are now 6-3 which puts them 3 games behind the Steelers in the AFC North plus the Steelers own the tie breaker as of now having beaten the Ravens earlier this year.

The Vikes beat the Bears 19-13 in one of the uglier NFL games of the year.  Kirk Cousins finally won a game on Monday night and Nick Foles had to be carted off the field in the final minute of the game with what is described as a “hip/leg injury’.  The Bears’ offense is non-existent; their only TD came on a 104-yard kickoff return to start the second half.  They could not run the ball (41 yards on 17 tries) and their passing game was nothing but check down stuff (31 pass attempts produced 124 yards).  The Bears’ defense is for real; it held Dalvin Cook in check (30 carries for 96 yards) and produced 2 turnovers in the game.  The Bears’ defense is like a single Mom with a deadbeat Dad…

The Bears have their BYE Week this week.  There is no official word on whether Foles can be back for next week’s encounter with the Packers.  Stay tuned…

 

NFL Games:

 

Four teams have a BYE Week this week:

  1. Bears:  They will spend the week figuring out which of the three QBs on the roster is the least worst so they can put him out there next week to throw the offense into neutral.
  2. Bills:  They get a whole week to keep the taste of that Hail Mary pass in their mouths.
  3. Giants:  They get to revel in the glory of their 2-game winning streak – – something no other NFC East team has accomplished this season.
  4. Niners:  In addition to getting time to heal, the Niners should try to figure out why they are 1-4 at home while going 3-2 on the road.

There are plenty of games on the card for this weekend that have significant playoff implications; last night’s Cards/Seahawks game was merely an appetizer.

Philly at Cleveland – 2.5 (47):  The Browns are 6-3 for the season.  In their 3 losses they have scored a total of 19 points (6.3 points per game).  In their 6 wins, they have scored a total of 197 points (32.7 points per game). Call theirs the Night and Day Offense…  The Eagles’ offense is far more predictable; it is never very good.  Sometimes, Carson Wentz & Co. are “mediocre” and on other days they are merely Meh!  The Browns are in the playoff hunt; the Eagles lead the pathetic NFC East for now.  Truth be told, this miserable game has playoff implications.

Atlanta at New Orleans – 3.5 (50):  The spread here opened at 7 points; that was before the extent of Drew Brees’ injury was known so the drop is explainable to something other than a flood of “Falcons’ money”.  Jameis Winston will be at QB for the Saints; if he avoids his bugbear – the INT – the Saints could control this game.  The Falcons have won 2 in a row; the Saints have won 6 in a row.  I think the Falcons are catching the Saints at the right time; the Falcons will have their offensive weapons healthy and in action; the Saints will have to adapt to Jameis Winston in place of Drew Brees – – and those two guys are very different QBs.  I like the Falcons plus the points here; put it in the Six-Pack.

Detroit at Carolina – 3 (47):  Teddy Bridgewater had to leave last week’s game with a right leg injury; he is questionable for this game.  If he cannot play, the next man up for the Panthers is PJ Walker or Will Grier.  Walker’s last playing experience was in the XFL last Spring; Grier was the Panthers’ third-round pick out of West Virginia last Spring.  On the other sideline, Matthew Stafford injured his throwing hand in last week’s win over the WTFs, but he finished that game and is expected to play here. (Chase Daniel would take over if Stafford could not go.)  This is one of the games this week with no playoff implications.  And – – until you know which QB will be playing for both teams, making a pick or a wager is akin to playing the lottery.

New England – 1 at Houston (49):  Watch out; the Pats are on a 2-game winning streak; they are not yet looming in the playoff hunt, but Bill Belichick’s teams tend to get better as the calendar turns to late November and December.  On the other side of the field, the Texans are toast; they are 2-7-0 and sit 4 full games behind both the Colts and the Titans in the AFC South.  I think the Pats will run the ball very effectively here; I’ll take the Pats to win and cover on the road; put it in the Six-Pack.

Pittsburgh – 10.5 at Jax (47):  The Steelers have yet to lose a game; the Jags are 1-8-0.  Last week, the Jags won the turnover battle and scored on a long punt return – – and still lost the game (see above).  If the Steelers do not sleepwalk through this one, they should win it easily.  Nevertheless, I will avoid that spread of two scores plus a hook.  Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel had an interesting take on this game:

“With the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers getting ready for a game against the 1-8 Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wanted to make it clear to the media that, ‘We are not a Big Ten team playing a MAC opponent this week.’ He’s right about that. The Steelers are an SEC team playing a MAC opponent.”

Green Bay at Indy – 2.5 (51):  This spread opened with the Packers as a 2-point favorite.  Lots of playoff importance here; the Colts are tied with the Titans for the lead in the AFC South; the Packers are comfortably in the lead in the NFC North and they are tied with the Saints for the #1 seed in the playoffs as of now.  The Packers had to rally to beat the Jags last week; I think they were looking ahead to this game and almost got beat.  The Colts’ defense is clearly the better defense here; the Packers’ QB is clearly the better QB here.  Therein lies the key to this game.  Here is Fun Fact:

  • The Packers have never beaten the Colts in Indy.

Cincy at Washington – 1 (47):  This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week and I do not want to see any finger-pointing by fans of the WTFs toward the Jets/Chargers game lower on the card.  These teams arrive with a combined record of 4-13-1; they both stink.  Alex Smith gives the WTFs a patina of competence as their QB; he is surrounded on offense by mediocrity save for Terry McLaurin who has emerged as a good WR.  The Bengals have a budding young QB who is leading the team in a positive direction – – but he too has little help around him.  I will certainly get this game in the early afternoon time slot here in the DC area; count your blessings if your CBS affiliate opts for something else.

Tennessee at Baltimore – 5 (49.5):  Lots of playoff hopes are in play here.  The Titans “trail” the Colts on the basis of a tie-breaker this morning; the Ravens are 3 games behind the Steelers and have the same 6-3 record as 5 other teams in the AFC so they are chasing a wildcard slot.  The Ravens’ offense has been missing any sort of flow or rhythm or continuity for the past several weeks; the Titans’ defense has been missing any sort of lockdown capability for all of 2020 giving up an average of 398.1 yards per game.  If that does not allow the Ravens’ offense to jumpstart, then there is serious trouble in Charm City.  Derrick Henry will surely test the Ravens’ run defense which is giving up 4.5 yards per carry to date.

Dallas at Minnesota – 7 (48):  The Vikes have won three games in a row – each of them over a divisional opponent; that does not have them squarely in the playoff race yet, but their schedule is “friendly”.  They have two tough games against the Saints and the Bucs (both on the road), but the other 4 games are definitely winnable.  That is why this week’s game is important to the Vikes’ playoff hopes down the road.  The Cowboys had a BYE Week last week and they got good news when they learned that Andy Dalton had cleared the concussion protocol.  Dalvin Cook has been spectacular this year; Ezekiel Elliott has not.  If Cook can have what for him is an average game, that will expose the Cowboys’ secondary to Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen and I do not see that secondary being able to withstand that.  I like the Vikes at home to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.

(Sun Nite) KC – 7.5 at Las Vegas (57):   Andy Reid coached teams are 18-3 coming off a BYE Week; the Chiefs had last week off.  This should be a high-scoring event.  The Raiders inflicted the only loss on the Chiefs’ record this year so maybe there is a “revenge factor” at work here?  Look for the Raiders to run effectively on the Chiefs’ defense and look for the Chiefs’ to move the ball through the air on the Raiders’ secondary which does not get a lot of help from the Raiders’ pass rushers who have registered only 11 sacks in 9 games this year.  Both teams are serious playoff contenders in the AFC.  I call this the Game of the Week.

Miami – 3.5 at Denver (45):  The Dolphins have realistic playoff aspirations; the Broncos – – not so much.  The Dolphins have shown that they can win high scoring games and they can win defensive games.  The Dolphins play and practice at sea level – almost literally – so the altitude will be a challenge for them.  Nonetheless, I like their defense and I have been impressed by Tua’s poise at QB over the last several games.  I like the Dolphins to win and cover even on the road; put it in the Six-Pack.

Jets at Chargers – 9.5 (46):  I know; this is not a good game.  Break out the Jim Mora rant about “Playoffs?” and you can have some fun with this one.  The Chargers are 2-7-0 but their point differential is only minus-19 points.  The Jets are 0-9 with a point differential of minus-147 points.  The Jets had a BYE Week last week, but they will still be without Sam Darnold at QB – – meaning another week of Joe Flacco dinking and dunking to a mediocre corps of pass catchers.

(Mon Nite) Rams at Bucs – 4 (48):  Plenty of playoff implications here…  A win for the Rams will tie them with the Seahawks for the lead in the NFC West; a win for the Bucs coupled with a loss by the Saints – would leave those teams tied in the NFC South.  Here is another game to be decided by defense.  Both teams can play explosive offense and both teams can have their offenses throttled down.  Which defense throttles down the opposing offense here will determine the winner.

So, let me review this week’s bloated Six-Pack (8 entries):

  1. Alabama/Kentucky UNDER 58.5
  2. LSU/Arkansas OVER 63
  3. Clemson/Florida State UNDER 63.5
  4. Washington St. +3.5 against Stanford
  5. Patriots – 1 over Texans
  6. Dolphins – 3.5 over Broncos
  7. Vikes – 7 over Cowboys
  8. Falcons +3.5 against Saints

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in the Seattle Times recently:

“A Thoroughbred named Belichick won the $400,000 Breeders Stakes, the final leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto.

“In keeping with the theme, Belichick’s jockey wore sleeveless silks.”

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

 

 

A Day Of Departures…

If today’s rant needed background music, the most appropriate song that comes to mind is Woody Guthrie’s creation, So Long, It’s Been Good To Know Ya.  The final line of that song goes:

“And I got to be driftin’ along.”

Also, for today, it is important to know how to say “Good-bye” in more than one language; today marks a time of multiple departures in the sports world.  So, let me begin by telling you that Theo Epstein has bid adios to the Chicago Cubs.  Epstein has resigned – the official statement says that he “stepped down” – as the Team President for the Cubs.  Epstein has been on the job for 9 years and he accomplished in Chicago the same thing he accomplished in Boston during his time with the Red Sox.  With Epstein at the top of the organization chart, both teams broke the two longest World Series droughts in MLB.  Quo vadis, Theo Epstein?

The NY Giants said auf wiedersehen  to offensive line coach Mark Colombo.  Early reports said that Colombo and head coach Joe Judge had a confrontation that led to fisticuffs between the two men; later reports said it was a “heated verbal exchange” but that no punches where thrown.  That does not really matter in the long run because Colombo is no longer in the employ of the NY Giants this morning.  The official account has it that Colombo did not appreciate the hiring of a “consultant” hired by the Giants related to the offensive line; that sparked the verbal confrontation; Joe Judge believed that Colombo was being insubordinate and so ends the tale.  Quo vadis, Mark Colombo?

MLB bid ciao to  Mets’ second-baseman, Robinson Cano, for the 2021 season.  Cano tested positive for a PED and this is his second PED violation.  [The first PED violation was in 2018 and Cano was suspended 80 games for that incident.]  Secondarily, Robinson Cano will say sayonara to the $24M in salary he was slated to earn for playing in 2021.  For the record, a third positive PED test would result in a lifetime banishment from baseball.  Quo vadis, Robinson Cano?

Wichita State said au revoir to head basketball coach, Gregg Marshall.  After a lengthy internal investigation, the school determined that Marshall’s record of 331-121 (along with a Final Four appearance) was not enough to keep him around in light of charges that he physically and verbally abused some of his players.  Three citations of abuse have been reported:

  1. Marshall allegedly physically struck at least one of his players during a practice session with a closed fist.  If the investigation determined that was an actual event, that should have been enough to have dismissed him; that behavior borders on criminal behavior.
  2. Marshall was allegedly verbally abusive to multiple players and managers.  I know that I would not be able to draw a bright line between “verbal abuse” and “hard coaching” when it comes to verbal interactions; so unless I could hear the verbal interactions in the context of the moment, I can only shrug my shoulders at this finding.
  3. Marshall’s verbal abuse in one specific case cited falls into “political incorrectitude” – – something that is horrific in 2020.  Marshall allegedly told one of his players – – of Native American heritage – – to “get back on his horse” while simulating an “Indian war cry.”  Please excuse me for failing to see the horror in that allegation; I am just not into virtue signaling this morning.

[Aside:  Based on a negotiated buy-out, Wichita State will pay Gregg Marshall $7.75M over the next 6 years not to coach their basketball team.  Quo vadis, Gregg Marshall?]

The University of South Carolina said slán to head football coach Will Muschamp; the Gamecocks are 2-5 in this topsy-turvy 2020 season.  The program trajectory over the past several seasons has not been positive; this year’s results were deemed to be intolerable; in the last three games – all losses – South Carolina has given up 159 points.  The contract buy-out is reported to be $13M; so, do not shed too many crocodile tears for Muschamp and his family today.  Quo vadis, Will Muschamp?

The NBA Draft came and went last night with lots of largely unknown players being selected and with lots of trade action exchanging picks to be used on other largely unknown players.  The more interesting NBA personnel story of the week is the rumor that James Harden might want out of Houston and that Russell Westbrook might want out too.

  • One hot rumor has it that Harden wants to be traded to Brooklyn to play with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving there.  Many folks have suggested that was not likely to be a happy time for those three players because each one needs the ball to be effective and there is only one basketball in use at any given moment.  I do not dispute that analysis at all, but I think there is another issue with such an alignment.  If those three players are on the court together playing defense, it might simulate a layup-line for the opposing team.
  • Another hot rumor is probably most interesting here in the DC area where it dominated sports talk radio yesterday.  That rumor has it that the Wizards and Rockets would make an even-up trade of Russell Westbrook for John Wall.  Wall will return next year after being sidelined with a major foot injury since December 2018.  Wall’s contract runs through the end of the 2022-2023 season and totals $133M over the next 3 seasons.  Given that he was not definitively better than Westbrook prior to that injury, the only reason I can see for the Rockets to make that deal is if they desperately want to say zay gezunt to Russell Westbrook.

Finally, today happens to be World Toilet Day.  Please do not leave a comment explaining how you plan to celebrate this annual event.  Having said that, let me use this occurrence to present a relevant entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm which relates to toilets and bidding farewell:

“Goldfish:  A creature specifically bred to provide young children early training in flushing something dead down the toilet.”

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

 

The Vincent Amendment To The Rooney Rule

The NFL’s Rooney Rule was put in effect in 2003; it requires a team that is seeking to hire a new head coach to interview at least one “diverse candidate”.  Over time, that requirement has been expanded to include hiring searches for GMs and for senior coordinator positions  and etc.  Later, it was expanded again to mandate the interview of more than a single “diverse candidate” in an attempt to avoid tokenism in the interview process.  The rule is well-intentioned, but it has not been acclaimed as being highly successful in achieving the goal of matching the proportion of “diverse players” in the league to the “diverse occupants” in those leadership jobs.

  • [Aside: I use the quotation marks around “diverse candidates” here because the reality is that the Rooney Rule and its modifications applies to Black candidates for the jobs and not any of the other populations that one might normally consider to be “diverse”.]

About a year ago, the NFL mavens tried to enhance the Rooney Rule again to get it to achieve hiring percentages closer to the NFL player population; the idea then was to award teams an extra draft choice if they hired a “diverse” candidate” for a head coaching or GM opening.  That proposal was like waving a white flag because:

  • Minority candidates for head coach and GM jobs did not want to have any “stigma” attached to them when/if they got hired.
  • They wanted to get the job on their merits and not because the team might secure an extra draft pick somewhere down the line tagged to their ethnicity.

That proposal died a natural death – – but to relate to a common storyline in horror movies – – no one put a wooden stake in the heart of that proposal.  For that reason, it came back to life last week in an announcement from NFL Senior VP for Player Engagement, Troy Vincent.  Here is the essence of the “Vincent Amendment” to the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” (the VARR):

  • The NFL will give two third-round compensatory draft picks to any team that has a “diverse candidate” hired away from them into head coaching or GM positions.

This is not a good idea on several levels:

  • First, it still links the hiring of a “diverse candidate” into one of those jobs with a draft day event.  Granted in this case, there is a reward to the team that “developed” the “diverse candidate” as opposed to the first scenario where there was a reward for the hiring team.   That is not an insignificant difference.  Nonetheless, it makes EVERY hiring of a “diverse candidate” subject to a level of scrutiny that is not necessarily going to happen if Caucasian Joe Flabeetz gets the job.
  • Second, if you buy into the idea that the NFL Draft is a semi-science wherein teams select the best fits for their team needs every time it is their turn to draft, this idea flies in the face of the fundamental reason to have a draft in the first place.  The draft is supposed to allow the weaker teams to get better in the draft at the expense of the stronger teams based on the order of selections.  The VARR will kick that concept in the head.
  • “Diverse candidates” will always be sought from the stronger teams than from the weaker teams.  Not a lot of coordinators from teams that just went 4-12 or worse are going to get serious interviews for head coaching jobs or GM positions.  Therefore, under the VARR, it is going to be the stronger teams who will be rewarded for having hired “diverse candidates” for those coordinator positions now that another team has poached them for a more senior position.
  • What is the need to reward the stronger teams with 2 extra third round picks?
  • How will the hiring of coordinators be influenced by the potential to harvest future third-round picks down the line if the hiring decision is successful?

This is another well-intentioned idea that is not a good idea.  This idea incentivizes the hiring of “diverse candidates” below the head coaching level such that the hiring decision MIGHT bring a draft pick bonanza down the road.  If “diverse candidates” did not like the idea of having a “price on their head” in the previous suggestion to award picks for their hiring, why should they like the same idea to be applied to the hiring decision to make them coordinators?

I have no reason or intention to trash Troy Vincent here; I am completely convinced that his intentions in this initiative – and in the previous one about a year ago – are pure as the driven snow.  However, the best way to achieve “color-blindness” in the senior hiring decisions in the NFL is NOT to attach a price to influence those decisions in either direction.  There are two shining examples as of this morning for NFL owners to examine and consider when/if they move to “take their franchise in a different direction”:

  1. Brian Flores:  He is a “diverse candidate” who got hired last year to a team that seemed to all in the outside world as a “tanking candidate”.  They won 5 games last  year and they are squarely in the playoff race in the AFC this year.
  2. Mike Tomlin:  He is a “diverse candidate” who got hired in 2007 and has never had a losing season with the Steelers since he arrived on the scene.

Not every “diverse candidate” will be a Brian Flores or a Mike Tomlin – – just as every “majority candidate” will not be a Bill Belichick nor a Richie Kotite.  Hiring a head coach or a GM – – or both – – is a crapshoot.  Some owners make good decisions; others make bad decisions.  AND some owners make choices that work out famously just by dumb luck.  For the NFL to put its thumb on the scale so to speak in that decision making process in any way does not conform with the idea that NFL football is a meritocracy where skill at one’s job augmented by dedicated hard work are the keys to success.

Dan Rooney created the Rooney Rule.  Dan Rooney died in 2017.  We can never know what he might think about the Vincent Amendment to the Rooney Rule as announced last week.  He may have thought it was a brilliant extension to his proposal – – or he might have thought it was a step backward.  I think it was the latter…

Finally, Alfred Adler was a psychotherapist who was the person responsible for identifying the concept of a human inferiority complex.  Here is what Dr. Adler had to say about humans and noble principles:

“It is easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them.”

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

 

 

Playing Hopscotch Today …

As I contemplate the structure of this morning’s rant, nothing coherent comes to mind.  So, I will just go to my clipboard and pick out an item or two and then wing it.  Hey, there won’t be any extra charge for all that excitement…

There was a headline on CBSSports.com last week that said:

“MLB Rumors:  10 teams in on Marcell Ozuna”

My reaction when reading that:

  • Only ten?  Does that mean there are 20 teams in MLB who think they have 3 outfielders who are better than Ozuna?

I said earlier this year that if Alex Smith made it to the field in an NFL game even if only to kneel out a game that he should be the Comeback Player of the Year.  Well, now he is the starting QB for the WTFs and he played very well in his first start last week; the loss to the Lions was certainly not Smith’s fault.  All that Smith had to overcome in his return to action was a gruesome leg fracture that took 17 surgeries to correct, a staph infection that put his life in jeopardy, and a nerve injury that gives him a condition known as “drop foot”.  So, how can anything top that sort of return to glory?

Well, here is one to keep track of; it comes from an observation by Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Recovery: Trey Mancini’s announcement that after missing 2020 to battle colon cancer he’s ready to report to Orioles’ spring training already is one of baseball’s best stories of 2021.”

If I had asked you back in September which NFL team had the worst QB situation in the league, plenty of folks would likely have answered the WTFs (Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen and maybe Alex Smith if he can actually suit up for a game) or possibly the Jets (Sam Darnold and Joe Flacco) or maybe even the Pats (a recovering Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer).  I probably would have argued that it was Jets, but now in November, the NFL team with the worst QB situation is the Chicago Bears.

  • Nick Foles – – assuming he is OK after being carted off the field last night – – cannot get anything done with that Bears’ offensive unit.  He needs a solid OL in front of him and some semblance of a running game to be effective and he has neither.  If you are into crystals and mystical powers, you might convince yourself that Foles has some sort of magical harmony with the latitude and longitude of Philadelphia.  He has had two productive stints there and has never been anything better than marginally competent anywhere else.
  • Mitchell Trubisky had a shining rookie year a winning record as a starting QB and led the Bears to the playoffs in 2018.  Even so, he only averages 202.5 yards per game for his career.  As the starter in 3 games this year, Trubisky threw 3 TDs and 6 INTs and averaged 186.7 yards per game.  I have no explanation as to why he is regressing as a QB, but I am certain that when the topic of “Boneheaded NFL Draft Decisions” comes up, the Bears trading up to take Trubisky ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson will be part of the conversation.  He has been out with a shoulder injury but is expected to be back in playing condition after the Bears take their BYE Week this weekend.
  • Tyler Bray is the third QB on the roster.  He was undrafted out of Tennessee in 2013.  Until last night, he had been in 1 NFL game (in 2017) where he threw 1 incomplete pass and ran the ball 1 time for 0 yards.  Last night he came into the game when Foles had to leave and threw 5 passes completing 1 for 18 yards.

If you are a Bears’ fan, you cannot be pleased with that roster situation and that led me to wonder about the status of Josh Rosen.  He was a hot property coming out of college in 2018 but had little success with the Cards in 2018 (the team was 3-13 on the season so no one had much success with them) and then made only a cameo appearance with the Dolphins last year.  I had lost track of Rosen until I went looking and found that he is on the practice squad with the Bucs.  On the main roster, the Bucs have 3 QBs – Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin – so there is just about no chance that Rosen is a key element in the Bucs’ playoff drive.  Why hasn’t anyone in Chicago picked up the phone and called Rosen’s agent?  Is he really that big a bust?

Rosen’s disappearance from public sight reminds me of a Mark Twain observation:

“Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion.”

The mention of Josh Rosen’s residence on the Bucs’ roster makes me think about the Bucs’ defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles.  He spent 4 years as the head coach of the Jets; the first year of that tenure was promising; the Jets finished 10-6-0.  Then the wheels came off the wagon; over the next three years, the cumulative record was 14-34-0.  However, even in the times when it was obvious to everyone – to include the Jets’ players and coaches – that the team was going nowhere, Bowles had the team playing hard.  I said then – and I still think – that he was fired because the roster given to him was guaranteed to fail.

Bowles’ performance in the job has been enhanced to a small degree by the performance of his successor, Adam Gase, which can only be described as nightmarish.  Meanwhile, Bowles has the Bucs’ total defense ranked 3rd in the NFL giving up only 300.3 yards per game and the Bucs rushing defense ranked first in the league yielding only 76.6 yards per game.  I continue to believe that he is a good coach and that he should get another shot at a head coaching job soon.

Finally, since I mentioned Mark Twain above, let me close with another of his pithy observations:

“There’s one way to find out if a man is honest; ask him; if he says yes, you know he is crooked.”

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