Football Officiating

We have all done more than a little complaining about NFL officiating this season – – and a lot of it is driven by compelling visual evidence that the officials “got it wrong”.  Instant replay was supposed to cure all those problems; to put it simply, it has not.  We have to come to grips with a sporting parallel to Al Gore’s screed,

  • An Inconvenient Truth.

Take a deep breath; put yourself in your happy place; take a sip of coffee and absorb these next two statements:

  1. Many of the worst officiating mistakes – and the decisions not to overturn those mistakes upon review – result from basic human error.
  2. It is not possible to remove the spectre of human error from any endeavor that involves humans.

College football provided an example of fundamental human error on the part of officials earlier this season.  In the Washington State/Cal game, officials threw a flag for “hands to the face” on a return play.  They enforced the penalty and the teams ran the next play.  Here is the problem:

  • The officials enforced the penalty on the wrong team.  [That resulted in a 57-yard swing in field position.]
  • The officials realized their mistake after the next play had been run – meaning that, by rule, there was no going back and correcting the mistake.
  • The officials informed the Washington State bench of the error during the game.

That is about as bad as it gets – – and there is no way to guarantee that it will never happen again so long as human beings are used as officials and as the replay overseers for the games.

The referee in the game – the crew chief – was suspended by the PAC-12 for a game and the other members of that crew were “downgraded” by the Conference for whatever that is worth.  I have no problem with the discipline there.

This season at the NFL level, there have been too many examples of missed calls and decisions not to overturn said missed calls to list them here.  Those mistakes have led to multiple cries for the NFL to dip into its $15B revenue tsunami to come up with fixes for these “gaffes”.  At some point, the weeping and gnashing of teeth will be sufficiently loud that the NFL and the NFLPA will have to make some revisions in how the game is officiated.  Be very wary when that time comes if they tell you that whatever they propose to do will “fix things”.  Sadly, it will not.

There are three officiating improvement suggestions that have been voiced so many times as to become trite.  They will come to the surface again at the end of this season when reports emerge about the deliberations of the NFL Competition Committee.  Let me list them here and comment:

  1. Microchips in the ball
  2. Sky Judges
  3. Full Time NFL officials

In principle, putting microchips in the balls would assist with ball placement and measurements for first downs and touchdowns – – did that ball break the plane before the knee was down?  It could also be used to determine if a field goal or PAT that goes higher than the goal post upright is good or not.  There is only one way to find out if this technology offers sufficient benefits to justify the cost and maintenance of the systems and that is to try it out in game conditions.

  • Memo to the NFL:  If you think this is even a marginally good idea, try it out in a bunch of those meaningless Exhibition Games that you continue to foist off on fans.

A “sky judge” is a fancy way to describe another official (another human official) in the “press box” who has a link to the referee so that the “press box official” can buzz the referee on the field and tell the official on the field that the last play needs to be reviewed.  Sounds good on the surface…  Here is how I view a “sky judge”:

  • He/She is one more person who can challenge a call on the field – – except the “sky judge” has an infinite number of challenges, not just two.  Perhaps this will improve the accuracy of officiating; certainly, it will make the games run longer and have a choppier rhythm.  And most importantly, the “sky judge” is subject to human error as are the officials on the field.

Related to the possible existence of a person with an unlimited number of replay challenges, please consider this observation on replay challenges from syndicated columnist, Norman Chad:

“The day synchronized swimming incorporates replay challenges, I’ll know it’s all but over.”

The idea of “full-time officials” for the NFL has been around for at least 25 years that I can recall.  The problem with implementing that solution to the problem is that it does not put in place any means to provide those newly hired full-time-officials with what they need most to improve their performance.  Having officiated sports (mostly basketball) and having tried to teach young folks how to officiate games, there is no substitute for active participation in real games played at the speed of real games.

Full-time officials can spend hours upon hours studying the rulebook; at the end of two years on the job full time, I would expect that some of the officials could recite the rule book with less than three prompts.  That familiarity is a plus – no doubt about that.

Full-time officials can spend hours reviewing film and working on officiating mechanics that are developed for the purpose of putting officials in the right place to make the calls they need to make.  Mechanics deal with where the officials should be during a play and what areas of the field each one is responsible to monitor.  It would do no good at all to have all 7 officials focused on something on the near sideline as a play proceeds down the far sideline; officials need to practice where to be and how to look for rules violations during live action.  Full-time officials can practice these mechanics over and over until they are “hard-wired” into their collective brains.

As you think about those last two paragraphs, remember that full-time officials will be “on the job” for 8 hours a day and about 230 days a year.  (I am being generous in the amount of vacation time allowed here.)  In that time, there will be 20 days wherein the full-time officials will be actually officiating NFL games for about 4 hours.  [The best of those officials will do more work in the playoffs; 20 games are the baseline for all the full-time officials.]

Therein is my problem with full-time officials.  What they need to be doing more than 20 times a year – remembering that only the 4 Exhibition Games are practice for those full-time officials – is unavailable to them.  Let me now present you with

  • An Inconvenient Truth 2

The thing that will do the most good in terms of improving on-field officiating is a chimera; it does not exist.  NFL officials need to officiate games involving real players who are playing at real speed and with real intensity.  It helps if they “officiate” scrimmages at practice; it helps if they officiate XFL games.  But the real stuff – what they must be able to handle – is not available to them in any imaginable practice/rehearsal setting.

Let me suggest here that all prospective solutions to this “problem” be subjected to the criterion suggested in the beginning of the Hippocratic Oath:

  • First, do no harm…

Try the microchips in the balls during Exhibition Games; the only “harm” I can see there is that it might be a costly experiment that shows little likelihood of being worth further pursuit.

Try a “sky judge” in the Exhibition Games while you are at it.  The added cost is minimal; it would be a small sample way to test the benefits derived and the unintended consequences incurred.

Before hiring full-time officials – – and necessarily fire those current officials who do not choose to accept full time employment by the NFL – – find out for sure what the loss of experience/competence is going to be.  We have seen what “replacement refs” look like and it is not pretty.  Currently, the NFL has a roster of 122 officials; 23 of those officials (19% of the roster) have been officiating NFL games for 20 years or more.  I would surely want to know that I would not lose all or most of that experience by mandating full time employment for NFL officials.

There is no doubt that officiating football in college and in the NFL can be improved – but it can never be perfect.  When considering changes to the way games are officiated, it is important not to believe that there is a silver bullet out there to kill off all the demons and turn football officiating to an uplifting place such as might exist in a Disney princess movie.

Finally, since I have stated that perfection is not possible in sports officiating, let me close with a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Perfectionist:  The worst kind of boss; the best kind of sex partner.”

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

 

 

Oddball Stuff Here…

Today is World Toilet Day.  It is a day sponsored by the United Nations every year that intends to inspire “action to tackle the global sanitation crisis and help attain Sustainable Development Goal 6, which promises sanitation for all by 2030.”  According to the website dedicated to this event, 4.2 billion people live “without safely managed sanitation”.  That is approximately 55% of the people on the planet – and the UN thinks this will be resolved by 2030.  Good luck with that.

Oh, by the way, the “theme” for this year appears to be:

  • No one left behind.

Seriously…

There is an international sports story percolating at the moment.  Rick Maese had a report in the Washington Post recently about some conflict that exists between the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the US Anti-Doping Agency.  This story has more than a few threads that have gone beyond “interwoven” and have arrived at the stage of “entangled”.  At issue is a bill introduced into the US Congress that would allow the US to apply fraud and racketeering laws to conspiracies to dope athletes.  For a thorough explanation of the issues, here is a link.

I am of two minds on this matter.

  1. The IOC and WADA oppose the legislation saying it goes too far.  The IOC and WADA are not the most trustworthy entities on the planet, and I am loath to align myself with their positions on any matter more nuanced than the rising of the sun in the east.
  2. Enacting broad legislation into law in the US opens the door to prosecutorial zeal and over-reach – neither of which is beneficial to society.

The fact is that doping exists; the doping-cheaters are always one step ahead of the doping-authorities and people who believe that situation is going to be changed by legislation are simply dopes.

OJ Simpson is back in the news.  Don’t get excited, he has not yet found the real killers; this is about a totally different matter.  TMZ reports that OJ has filed suit against The Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas over an incident from several years ago.  According to the lawsuit, the hotel escorted OJ off the premises and presented him with a note saying that he was banned from the hotel for life due to drunken and disorderly conduct in the hotel.  Evidently, word of this incident and banishment got out and OJ now claims that he was defamed by the hotel because he was neither drunk nor disorderly in the casino.

Given the interactions of OJ Simpson and the US system of jurisprudence over almost the last 25 years, I personally think it would be extremely difficult to defame his character over a matter of inebriation.  According to a report ion the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the suit seeks at least $30K plus undetermined punitive damages and attorney’s fees.  Maybe – given the amount of time he has spent there – OJ Simpson has come to like being in a court room…  Hopefully, this matter will go away quietly because – truth be told – this really does not matter.

The Super Bowl halftime show next February will feature Shakira and Jenifer Lopez as the headline acts.  Knowing that these next comments will bring scorn and derision upon me, I’ll state them anyway:

  • I would not know Shakira from Shaquille O’Neal – – except for the fact that I know why Shaquille O’Neal is famous.
  • Until I did a Google check about two minutes ago, I had no idea that Jenifer Lopez was a singer.  I thought she was an actress and a celebrity who was engaged to Alex Rodriguez.

Given those two admissions of ignorance, you can safely deduce that I will not be magnetically drawn to the TV set to watch his extravaganza while the coaches and players are cooling their heels in the locker rooms.  Here is my perception of Super bowl halftime:

  • It is a 30-minute break in the reason everyone has tuned into this telecast in the first place and it has nothing to do with that basic reason.
  • It is a time for the audience to take a bathroom break – – assuming that all of us are watching in a place where toilets and sanitation facilities are not only readily available but are also properly functional – – and then to grab another beer to recharge one’s kidneys.

Admit it; until 30 seconds ago, you did not think there was a linkage between World Toilet Day and the Super Bowl halftime show…

Finally, in keeping with today’s celebration of World Toilet Day plus my personal perception of the real purpose of halftime during the Super Bowl, it seems appropriate to close with a focused definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

“Toilet:  A type of chair without which many people would never get any reading done.”

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

 

 

A Down Day …

I know you have seen and read about the Myles Garrett/Mason Rudolph incident in abundance by now.  Much of what I have heard and read has fallen into one of three buckets:

  1. Condemnation of Garrett:  What he did was criminal in any other setting and he is lucky he did not maim or even kill Rudolph by his actions.
  2. Attempted mind reading:  What action(s) by either party caused this scene to spin so far out of the norm.
  3. Seeking a precedent:  Rehashing the John Roseboro/Juan Marichal free-for-all from the 1960s

Rather than add to any of that, let me point you to a column written by Jerry Brewer in the Washington Post.  It is a bit different than anything that falls into any of the categories above and it is extremely well written.  Here is the link; I recommend you read it in its entirety.

Reacting to the revelations that the Houston Astros were stealing signals during the 2017 season – and post-season – Dwight Perry offered suggestions for remakes of some of the classic movies about baseball over the weekend in the Seattle Times:

“Cameras in the Outfield”

“2017*”

“Phoneyball”

“Bang the Can Slowly”

To which, might I add:

  • A Cabal of their Own
  • Bullpen of Spies
  • The Shame of the Astros

Another story that has gotten a ton of exposure recently involves the NCAA and Memphis’ prize recruit James Wiseman.  The NCAA ruling is that Wiseman is ineligible because his family got $11,500 to help fund their move to Memphis while Wiseman was still in high school.  If indeed that happened without any other circumstances surrounding the “transaction”, the NCAA’s ruling is certainly consistent with its rules governing recruitment of athletes.  However, there is an aspect to this story that doesn’t ring true to me; someone needs to explain this to me:

  • The allegation is that the $11,500 money-transfer came to the Wiseman family from Penny Hardaway, who – wait for it – is the head basketball coach at Memphis University.

So, riddle me this…  If there is sufficient evidence of this improper transfer of money to support an NCAA finding that James Wiseman is ineligible, why is Penny Hardaway not doubly to blame here?  After all, Hardaway is an adult and presumably recognizes the impropriety here.  I simply do not understand this one…

In yesterday’s Washington Post, there was a report that the ESPN program, High Noon, “faces an uncertain future at the evolving network.  High Noon is high brow discussion of sports issues; it is the antithesis of First Take; on an intellectual scale, it is 5 levels above Get Up!  The hosts are Pablo S. Torre and Bomani Jones; you can listen to either of them in settings other than their own program and you will conclude immediately that they come at whatever the topic may be from a different starting point than most other commentators.  Here is my analogy:

  • Two of ESPN’s college basketball voices are Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas.  How long do you have to listen to them to reach the conclusion that these guys are “different from each other”?

According to the report in the Post, both Torre and Jones have contract renewals coming up next year and of the quartet of sports “debate” shows offered by ESPN in the late afternoon, High Noon draws the smallest audience.  [Aside:  The other three programs in question here are “Highly Questionable”, “Around the Horn” and “Pardon the Interruption”.]

Let me go on record here saying that I think High Noon is second only to Pardon the Interruption in that quartet of ESPN shows and I would miss it if it were to disappear.  For the record, I would not even notice if Highly Questionable went the way of My Mother the Car.  Moreover, if the poohbahs at ESPN even begin to wonder if Pardon the Interruption belongs on their airwaves, that will mean that the clan consisting of the likes of Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless and Michael Irvin have won the day.  Should that become evident, I would have to scale back my consumption of sports on TV and restrict it to watching live games and replays of live games.

Finally, here is a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Despair:  An utter loss of hope; a feeling of uselessness.  Often brought on through contact with a greeter at Walmart.

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

 

 

Football Friday 11/15/19

The arrow of time – the macroscopic sense that time flows in a single dimension – has advanced a period that we call “seven days” since the last Football Friday.  So, you know what that means…

Let me begin with some foreshadowing.  If there is a Football Friday next week, it will be a brief one.  We have houseguests visiting next week and we will be traveling late in the week.  The next week is Thanksgiving Week.  I suspect that the next full-blown Football Friday will be on December 6, 2019.  That assumes, of course, that the arrow of time does not reverse itself between now and then.

Last week, the Six-Pack resulted in 4 wins, 1 loss and 1 push.  Here is the cumulative record for the Six-Pack to date:

  • Overall:  26-15-1
  • College games:  14-4
  • NFL games:  12-11-1

 

College Football Commentary:

 

The Linfield College Wildcats went on the road and beat the Whitworth Pirates last week 38-31 in overtime in an important Northwest Conference Game.  Whitworth led 31-21 at the end of three quarters but the Wildcats came back to force overtime.  The game winning touchdown was a pass from QB Wyatt Smith to his younger brother, Colton Smith.  This win assures Linfield of the Northwest Conference title for 2019; they have been conference champions in 10 of the last 11 seasons.  This week, Linfield hosts the George Fox University Bruins in their final regular season game.  The Bruins are 5-4 for the season and bring a 3-game win streak to the contest.  Go Wildcats!

Based on LSU beating Alabama last week in Tuscaloosa, the Tigers have moved into the top spot in the CFP ranking.  The undefeated Tigers have played a far more difficult schedule than any of the other unbeaten teams – – Baylor, Clemson, Minnesota and Ohio State – and strength of schedule deserves to be cited here as the reason for the ranking

This is Nick Saban’s 13th season as the head coach at Alabama.  His record there is 149-22 with 5 national championships.  Impressive, no?  Well, here is something else to consider:

  • In almost 13 full seasons, Saban’s teams have lost only 5 games in Tuscaloosa.
  • LSU owns two of those home defeats for Alabama since 2007.

Minnesota beat Penn State last week in a battle of undefeated Big-10 teams.  Minnesota has a pretty clear path to the Big-10 West championship and a slot in the Big-10 Championship Game on December 7 in Indy.  They are not a mathematical certainty to be there, but a win this week will all but nail that down for the Gophers.  Their opponent there remains to be determined.

Minnesota is 9-0 so far this year.  The last time a Minnesota football team was 9-0 was back in 1904.  Here are six happenings in 1904:

  1. The Russo-Japanese War began.
  2. The US bought the Panama Canal Zone for $10M and construction of the canal began.
  3. The first line of the NYC Subway system opened.
  4. Teddy Roosevelt won re-election as President.
  5. Dr Seuss was born.
  6. Anton Chekov died.

Minnesota coach, PJ Fleck deserves serious consideration as the Coach of the Year.  Fleck took over a Western Michigan program that was not a powerhouse in the MAC.  His first year there in 2013 was a miserable 1-11 experience.  However, his teams went 15-9 in regular seasons in the next two years and that got him hired at Minnesota starting in the 2017 season.

For the 7 seasons prior to his arrival at Minnesota, the Gophers’ regular season record was a cumulative 40-37; it was not horrible nor was it laudatory.  In his first two seasons there, Fleck’s teams were 11-13 in the regular season – – and now this year they are 9-0.

As a result of another embarrassing loss last week, Arkansas fired head coach Chad Morris.  Last week, I said in Football Friday that if Arkansas lost to Western Kentucky, Arkansas would be a SHOE Tournament candidate.  Well, the powers that be in Fayetteville decided that they had seen enough and chose to move on from Coach Morris.

Arkansas used to be a top-shelf football program back in the days of the Southwest Conference; Texas and Arkansas played one another as the #1 versus #2 team in the country at one point.  That has not been the Arkansas football status recently.  Last week, Arkansas not only lost to Western Kentucky – – a C-USA team no less – – but here is some of the embarrassment:

  • Kentucky led at the half 35-7
  • Final score was 45-19
  • Arkansas was held to 68 yards passing
  • W Kentucky outgained Arkansas 478-321

That gave the Athletic Director cover to fire the coach and buy him out.  That action is not going to make Arkansas football in 2019 any better – – but it does allow the AD and the boosters at Arkansas to think they have “taken action”.  There was plenty of reason to fire Morris a week or two before this game; consider his record at Arkansas:

  • Arkansas was 4-18 in almost 2 full seasons under Morris
  • None of the 4 wins were over SEC opponents
  • Arkansas record in 2017 – leading to the firing of that coach and the hiring of Morris was better than now.  Team then was 4-8 overall and 1-7 in the SEC.
  •             Somewhere in the cosmos, Frank Broyles is gulping down Rolaids to ease his agita

With Chad Morris out at Arkansas, that makes two Power 5 schools who have fired their coach in mid-season this year.  Willie Taggert got a pink slip from Florida state two weeks ago.  So, are there other Power 5 coaches in trouble?

  • Mark Dantonio (Michigan State) after suffering a hugely embarrassing loss at home last week (see below)?
  • Clay Helton (USC) who is always the target of USC fans’ scorn?
  • Kevin Sumlin (Arizona) who lost to Oregon State two weeks ago giving up 56 points to the Beavers?
  • Jeremy Pruitt (Tennessee) who probably needs to get a bowl bid this year to keep his job?

Let me explain what happened to Michigan State last week in East Lansing.  The Spartans led by 25 points at one point in the game and held a comfortable 31-10 lead at the end of 3 quarters against Illinois.  Fans in the stands were thinking about victory parties and kegs at that point; the big money alums noted that the Spartans were comfortably covering the spread which had closed at 14.5 points.  All was well – – and then:

  • Illinois scored 27 points in the 4th quarter to win the game 37-34 without the need for overtime.

[Aside: And that rally made one of my Six-Pack picks a winner too]

What looked like a Saturday night full of fun and frolic in East Lansing – along with the cashing of some nice wagers on the Spartans – turned into a giant turdburger.  Sparty is 4-5 at this point in the season with the following opponents:

  • At Michigan
  • At Rutgers
  • At Maryland

I think Mark Dantonio’s job would be in serious jeopardy if he lost to either Rutgers or Maryland; I think he will definitely be out of a job if he loses to both Rutgers and Maryland.

Cincy is 8-1 in the AAC along with SMU and Memphis.   It is interesting to compare the losses for those three teams:

  • SMU lost to Memphis
  • Memphis lost to Temple
  • Cincy lost to Ohio State
  • Hmmm…

Boise St. is another team in a “lesser conference” with only one loss.  They won last week but it took OT for the Broncos to subdue Wyoming.  Boise St. won despite playing without its starting QB who missed the game due to an injury suffered the week before.  The Broncos seem to have a breather this week in case their starting QB cannot go again; they host New Mexico – a team that was a SHOE Tournament candidate last week.

Speaking of teams that were missing a top player last week, Ohio State seemed not to miss DE, Chase Young, all that much.  The Buckeyes strolled to a 73-14 win over Maryland.

Wisconsin beat Iowa 24-22 thereby keeping alive their mathematical shot at the big 10 West title.  Here is what has to happen:

  • Wisconsin must win out beating Nebraska this week Purdue next week and then Minnesota on November 30.  The first two games are clearly winnable; the game against Minnesota will be difficult.
  • Meanwhile, Minnesota has to lose to Iowa this week or SHOE candidate Northwestern next week prior to losing to Wisconsin on November 30.  This week’s game against Iowa – at Iowa – is a BIG game in the Big 10.

Last week, Florida State rallied under its interim coach and beat BC on the road 38-31.  That leave both teams with 5-5 records.  Florida State will get its 6th win this week against Alabama State before facing Florida in a season finale on November 30.  Meanwhile, BC will need a win over either Notre Dame (next week) or Pitt (on November 30) to be bowl eligible.

Texas beat K-State last week 27-24 on a field goal as time expired.

Oklahoma squeaked by Iowa State 42-41 last week.  With a loss to K-State already on its record, that is not the sort of outcome that Oklahoma needs to gain favor with the CFP Selection Committee.  The Sooners take on Baylor this week – – another BIG game but this time in the Big-12

Southern Mississippi beat UAB 37-2 last week.  UAB is 6-3 on the season’ they are not a doormat.  Nonetheless, they got steamrollered here…

USC beat Arizona State 31-26.  The Trojans scored 28 points in the first quarter and then went into hibernation offensively.  But a win is a win, right?

 

The Shoe Tournament Candidates:

 

As with last week, I will present 12 teams in alphabetical order that I believe deserve consideration for the imaginary SHOE Tournament this year and I will provide the result of their game from last week:

  • Akron:  They had the week off; their record is 0-10.
  • Arkansas:  They lost to W. Kentucky 45-19 (see above); their record is 2-8.
  • Georgia Tech: They lost to Virginia 33-28; their record is 2-7
  • New Mexico State:  They lost to Ole Miss 41-3; their record is 0-9.
  • Northwestern:  They lost to Purdue 24-22; their record is1-8.
  • Old Dominion:  They lost to Texas-San Antonio 24-23; their record is 1-9
  • Rice:  They had the week off; their record is 0-9.
  • Rutgers:  They had the week off; their record is 2-7
  • South Alabama:  They lost to Texas State 30-28; their record is 1-8.
  • UConn:  They lost to Cincy 48-3; their record is 2-8
  • UMass:  They lost to Army 63-7; their record is 1-9.
  • UTEP:  They lost to Charlotte 28-21; their record is 1-8.

 

College Games This Week:

 

Before listing individual games of interest for this week, did you happen to notice that Navy is 7-1 this year?  Annapolis is not far from Washington DC and I did not have the Midshipmen on my radar until this week.  Their only loss was on the road against Memphis who is 8-1 for the season.

 

VA Tech – 6.5 at Georgia Tech (51):  SHOE Tournament interest…

Indiana at Penn State – 14.5 (55):  Penn State can still make it to the Big 10 Championship Game, but it must win this game to keep that door open.

Ohio State – 52.5 at Rutgers (61.5):  Oh, and Chase Young will be ineligible for this game too.  Challenge for Rutgers here will be to score twice…

Minnesota at Iowa – 3 (45):  Minnesota continues to get no respect from the oddsmakers.  I know Iowa is tough at home, but this will be a low scoring game won in the trenches.  I’ll put Minnesota plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack.

Wake Forest at Clemson – 34 (59.5):  This is what passes for a “stiff conference test” for Clemson in the ACC…

UMass at Northwestern – 41.5 (57.5):  Folks, Northwestern scores an average of only 11.1 points per game – – and they are a 41-point favorite here.  That is because UMass gives up an average of 53.1 points per game.  This game is the moveable object facing the trivial force…  I’ll put this game to stay UNDER in this week’s Six-Pack.

New Mexico at Boise St. – 27.5 (59):  Possible SHOE Tournament interest here…

UCLA at Utah – 21.5 (52):  UCLA had last week off and is riding a 3-game win streak.  The oddsmaker is unimpressed…

Navy at Notre Dame – 7 (54):  Not the best game of the week – – but it could be fun to watch…

Arizona at Oregon – 27 (68):  Oregon is looking toward the PAC-12 Championship game; Arizona could wind up with a fired coach at the end of this season…

UTEP at UAB – 17 (44):  SHOE interest…

Georgia – 3 at Auburn (40.5):  Georgia needs this game to keep its path clear to the SEC Championship Game, but the Auburn defense is very good.  Georgia is ranked #4 this week in the CFP rankings; some folks think that is too lofty a position for the Dawgs.  This is the best game on this list so far…  The Total Line opened the week at 45 points and has dropped quickly to this level reflecting the two good defenses here.  [Auburn is at home, getting points with a really good defense so, I’ll put Auburn plus the Points in this week’s Six-Pack.]

Oklahoma – 10.5 at Baylor (67.5):  Oklahoma has 1 loss in the Big 12 and Baylor is undefeated for the season.  This is a very important game for both teams and for the Big-12 conference, so I’ll anoint it as the Game of the Week.

Michigan State at Michigan – 13.5 (44.5):  Mark Dantonio has had plenty of success against Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan team in the past.

Rice at Middle Tenn. State – 14.5 (47.5):  SHOE Tournament interest here…

Alabama – 17.5 at Mississippi State (61):  Bama cannot afford another loss; the Bulldogs are tough at home – – but not that tough.

Wisconsin – 14.5 at Nebraska (50.5):  The Badgers need this one badly…

LSU – 21 at Ole Miss (66.5):  I don’t expect any let down from LSU.  I do expect the Tigers to throw the ball at will against an Ole Miss defense that gives up 275 yards per game.  I’ll put LSU to win and cover in this week’s Six-Pack.

Incarnate Word at New Mexico State – 7.5 (60):  A loss here for the Aggies will guarantee a very high seeding in the SHOE Tournament.

 

NFL Commentary:

 

The Raiders beat the Chargers 26-24 last Thursday night.  That win coupled with a Chiefs’ loss last week (more on that later) puts the Raiders only a half-game behind the Chiefs in the AFC West race.  Earlier this season, the Raiders have had a two-game losing streak followed by a two-game wining streak followed by a two-game losing streak followed by a two-game winning streak.  Last week’s win was the second of the last two-game winning streak, but the future looks favorable for the Raiders here.  The next two games are bunnies if the raiders maintain focus:

  • Vs. Bengals
  • At Jets

The Raiders look to have a real shot to be part of the playoffs come January 2020…

Greg Cote had a comment about the Chargers – and their rumored move to London – in the Miami Herald last week:

“Forget the tree falling in the forest. If the Chargers moved to London, would anybody miss them?”

In what was the biggest upset of the week – – and maybe the biggest upset of the season so far – – the Falcons beat the Saints 26-9.  The Falcons defense which had been as effective as a screen door on a submarine sacked Drew Brees 6 times and held the Saints to single digits in scoring.  This is the second loss for the Saints in 2019 and they only scored 9 points in both losses.  Here is a comparison of the rushing stats for the game:

  • Saints ran the ball 11 times for 50 yards.
  • Falcons ran the ball 34 times for 143 yards.

The unanswered question coming out of this game was:

  • Is this an awakening of the Falcons team or was this a one-off effective performance?

The Ravens beat the Bengals 49-13 last week.  For a moment there, I had flashbacks to the beat-down that the Ravens put on the Dolphins in Week 1 of this year.  That game produced a score of 59-10.  Ryan Finley’s first NFL start for the Bengals did not go swimmingly.  He threw a 90-yard Pick Six AND he lost a fumble that produced a scoop-and-score later in the game.  Yowza!

The Browns beat the Bills 19-16 in a game where the Bills’ kicker, Stephen Hauschka, missed two field goals.  Also, the Browns ran the ball 26 times for 147 yards.  The Bills’ run defense has been exposed as a significant weakness over the last couple of weeks ever since the Eagles ran wild on the Bills’ defense.

The Jets beat the Giants 34-27 in an exciting game between two pretty bad teams.  Daniel Jones threw for 308 yards and 4 TDs, but that was not enough given the Giants’ miserable defense.  Meanwhile the Jets’ defense played well enough to win.  The Jets completely shut down Saquon Barkley, sacked Daniel Jones 6 times and provided the margin of victory when Jamal Adams stole the ball from Daniel Jones and ran it in for a TD.

The Bears beat the Lions 20-13 in what is best described as a soporific event.  If you a devotee of the punting game and/or punt coverage techniques, this was the game for you.  The Bears punted 9 times and the Lions punted 6 times.  Be still my heart …  The Lions held Mitchell Trubisky to 147 yards passing and sacked him 5 times, and they still came out on the losing end of this game.  The Lions will be the Lions…

Matthew Stafford did not play for the Lions; reports say he has “broken bones in his back” which sounds awfully serious to me but must not be dire because he may be back in a couple of weeks.  [Aside:  This is the first game Stafford has missed since 2010.]  Jeff Driskel took over as the Lions’ QB and did not embarrass himself with this stat line:

  • 27 of 46 for 269 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT
  • Driskel also ran 5 times for 37 yards in the game.

The Bears snapped a 4-game losing streak here; meanwhile the Lions have now lost 5 of their last 6 games – – and don’t know when Matthew Stafford will be back.

The Bucs beat the Cards 30-27; the Bucs negated the Cards’ run offense holding the Cards to 37 yards on 15 run attempts.  Given that information, you should not be surprised to learn that the Bucs dominated time of possession holding the ball for more than 36 minutes in the game.  Also, the Cards turned the ball over twice inside the Bucs’ 20-yardline.  Given all that information, you have to wonder how this wound up as a 3-point game…

The Titans beat the Chiefs 35-32 as – once again – the Titans played up to the level of their opponent.  Patrick Mahomes was back for the Chiefs and he played very well (446 yards passing plus 3 TDs) but the Chiefs’ defense was a no-show.  Derrick Henry gained 188 yards on smashmouth running and he scored 3 TDs.  The Chiefs’ special teams had a hand in the loss too.  They botched a field goal try in the 4th quarter and had another field goal attempt blocked in the final seconds of the game.

Here are data that are interesting in juxtaposition:

  • Andy Reid’s career coaching record in the regular season is 130-93-1
  • Andy Reid’s career coaching record against the Titans is 1-8

The Packers beat the Panthers 24-17.  It took a goal line stand at the 1 yardline at the end of the game to lock down this win for the packers.  Even though the Panthers’ lost, Kyle Allen played VERY well.

The Steelers beat the Rams 17-12 even though the Rams’ defense held the Steelers to 42 yards rushing in the game (on 27 carries no less).  Here are some of the reasons why the Rams lost the game:

  • The Rams faced 14 third down situations and converted only 1 of them.
  • The Rams turned the ball over 4 times – one of them was a scoop-and-score that provided the margin of victory here.

The Rams now have 4 losses for the year.  That puts them 3 down in the loss column to the Niners and 2 down in the loss column to the Seahawks in the NFC West.  That will not be a deficit that is easy to overcome.  I’m not ready to pronounce the Rams dead in the water, but their margin for error in the NFC is minuscule.

The Dolphins beat the Colts 16-12.  The Dolphins are now riding a 2-game win streak.  This outcome certainly does not aid the Colts’ efforts to win the AFC South.   Brian Hoyer – – in for Jacoby Brissett – – threw 3 INTs in the game.  The Dolphins came to the game giving up 32 points per game and held the Colts to 12 points.  On any given Sunday …

The Vikes beat the Cowboys 28-24.  Kirk Cousins won a prime-time game against a team with a winning record on the road; perhaps that will get those monkeys off his back?  The Vikes dominated time of possession by running the ball 36 times for 153 yards and held Ezekiel Elliott in check (47 yards on 20 carries).  Dak Prescott threw for 393 yards in the game, but he was always playing in “catch-up mode”.  The Cowboys’ run defense looked awfully suspect in this game.

The Seahawks beat the Niners 27-24 with the game-winning field goal coming as time expired in OT.  If you did not like this game, you are either:

  • Employed by the Niners
  • Are a blood relative of someone employed by the Niners
  • Bet heavily on the Niners
  • Are a blood relative of Oscar the Grouch.

The Niners did not have George Kittle for the entire game and then Emmanuel Sanders left the game in the first half never to return.  This does not excuse the loss, but the fact is that Niners’ receivers dropped 3 or 4 important passes that hit the receiver on both hands.  Kittle and Sanders tend to catch anything that hits them on both hands.  Meanwhile, Jadeveon Clowney ran wild over the Niners; OL all night long.  He returned a fumble for a TD and he had 5 QB hits on Jimmy Garoppolo in the game.

Last night, the Browns beat the Steelers 21-7 but that is not the story of the game.  In the waning seconds of the game, Browns’ DE, Myles Garrett, leveled Steelers QB, Mason Rudolph and then for reasons only known to Garrett and mind readers everywhere, Garrett ripped off Rudolph’s helmet and swung it at Rudolph’s exposed head.  As you may expect a “melee” ensued and three players were ejected – – big deal, the game was over anyhow – – and it took more time than it should to re-establish order.

The NFL must hand down suspensions for this mess after reviewing the tapes to see who did what during the incident.  Those suspensions have to be significant; that sort of thing only has a place in pro ‘rassling; it cannot be condoned in pro football.  When that happens, the NFLPA will exercise its obligation to represent the suspended players in whatever grievance process exists in the CBA.  Before that happens, I think that Mason Rudolph should sit down with DeMaurice Smith to ask how he – as a member of the NFLPA – is being represented since he was the one who could well have been the recipient of the ripped off helmet.

 

Breaking News:  The NFL has suspended Myles Garrett indefinitely and without pay.  According to reports, his case will not be reviewed before the end of the 2019 season.  In addition, Steelers’ center, Maurkice Pouncey, has been suspended 3 games without pay and has been fined by the league for his part in the melee.  And, Browns’ DT, Larry Ogunjobi was suspended for 1 game without pay and has been fined by the league for his participation.  The players and/or the NFLPA have 3 business days to appeal the fines and suspensions.

 

NFL Games This Week:

 

Dallas – 3.5 at Detroit (51):  This game presents the Cowboys with a way to re-establish a lead in the NFC West as a favorite in this game and with the Eagles as an underdog this week.  The Lions will need to run the ball well here to stay in the game because the Cowboys’ defense can and will rush the passer relentlessly.  Last week, it was Dak Prescott versus the world; the Cowboys’ run game must give him some help here.  Consider this:

  • Lions are not likely to play Matthew Stafford here
  • Lions are mediocre with Stafford and not that good without him
  • Cowboys need the game much more than the Lions do
  • Game is in Detroit

Given all that; can the Cowboys simply take care of business here?  If not, there are real problems in Dallas…

New Orleans – 6 at Tampa Bay (50):  Was that just a stinker last week from the Saints or is there an offensive problem surfacing?  Even assuming the Bucs can shut down the Saint’s run game, isn’t Drew Brees going to feast on a Bucs’ pass defense that yields 298.9 yards per game (worst average in the NFL)?  I’ll wait before backing the Saints again…

Atlanta at Carolina – 4 (49):  Has a sleeping giant awakened in Atlanta – – or was last week a one-off?  The Panthers are playing solid football and need a win to keep pace in the NFC wildcard chase.  Too many question marks in this game to make a pick including these trends that point in opposite directions:

  • Falcons are 5-16 against the spread in their last 21 road games
  • Panthers are 3-8 against the spread playing teams with a losing record.

Jax at Indy – 2.5 (43.5):  The Jags are coming to this game off a BYE Week.  This game will see the return of Nick Foles (for sure) and the return of Jacoby Brissett (hopefully, if you are a Colts’ fan).  If I were certain that Brian Hoyer would play here, I would take the points, but we will not know that until game time.  Leonard Fournette should have a good game against a mediocre Colts’ run defense.

Denver at Minnesota – 10.5 (41.5):  The Broncos had two weeks to prepare for this game.  The Vikes return home after a very big win against the Cowboys in Dallas last week.  The Vikes are undefeated at home this year and are only 1 game behind the Packers for the NFC North lead.  Although the Broncos have a Top 5 defense overall, their run defense is in the middle of the pack; that is important because the Vikes love to run the ball and Dalvin Cook is a really good RB.

Jets at Washington – 2.5 (38.5):  This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week, and I will not listen to any arguments to the contrary.  The combined record of these teams is 3-15; both will start “struggling” young QBs.  I will be force-fed this game on Sunday; if you live anywhere other than DC or NYC, let your network affiliate know you want some other game in your area this week.  I am tempted to take this game to stay UNDER because neither offense is any good, but I really do not want to have any reason to pay attention to this stink-bomb.  If you pick a side in this game, remember these trends:

  • Jets are 3-8-1 against the spread in their last 12 games
  • Skins are 2-6 against the spread in their last 8 games

Buffalo – 6.5 at Miami (40):  In case you had not realized, the Dolphins 2-game win streak is the longest winning streak in the AFC East.  The Bills’ offense is “spotty” to put it kindly but this week it faces a Dolphins’ defense that ranks 29th in the NFL giving up an average of 391 yards per game.

Houston at Baltimore – 4 (50.5):  This is the Game of the Week and it will likely be the most entertaining game of the week.  Deshaun Watson versus Lamar Alexander; do you need anything else?  If you do, this game could have seeding implications for the AFC Playoffs because both teams lead their divisions at the moment.  I’ll put this game to go OVER in this week’s Six-Pack.]

Arizona at SF – 11 (45):  Time to test the Niners’ resilience after a close and emotionally draining loss last week.  Having the Cards come visit would seem to be a good way for the Niners to get rolling again.  Here are problem areas for the Niners:

  • Will they have to play without George Kittle and Emmanuel Sanders here?
  • Can they contain Kyler Murray’s running?  They did not do so well last week containing Russell Wilson.
  • Will they “look past” the Cards to see the Packers coming up next?

Given all the questions around the Niners in this game, I think that line is fat.  I’ll put the Cards plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack.]

New England – 3.5 at Philly (45):  Both teams had last week off for some rest and recuperation.  The Pats have a 2-game lead in the AFC East; the Eagles are tied with the Cowboys atop the NFC East – but the Eagles have this game followed by a trip to Seattle on the schedule.  This game is much bigger for the Eagles than it is for the Pats.  Eagles must establish the run against a Pats’ defense that was vulnerable to the run in the loss to the Ravens.

Cincy at Oakland – 11.5 (49):  A Raiders’ win here coupled with a Chief’s loss on Monday night would put the Raiders in first place in the AFC West.  Look for Josh Jacobs to have a big game against the Bengals front seven…

(Sun Nite) Chicago at Rams – 6.5 (40):  The spread started the week at 8 points and has sunk below 7 points here.  That is significant; the books do not like to be exposed on both sides of a 7-point spread because that is the value of a touchdown – plus a PAT – and that means bettors can try to get a middle on the game.  There must have been a lot of “Bears money” showing up when the spread was at 8 and then at 7.5 and then at 7 points.  Back in August, this game looked as if it might be a preview of the NFC Championship game in January 2020.  Even with a month and a half left in the regular season, I feel comfortable saying that ain’t gonna happen.

(Mon Nite: KC – 3.5 vs. Chargers (52) [Game is in Mexico City]:  Here are two inconsistent teams playing in a strange place at altitude.  The Chiefs need this game to keep the Raiders at bay; the Chargers need the game to stay playoff relevant – sort of.

Let me review this week’s Six-Pack:

  • Minnesota +3 at Iowa
  • UMass/Northwestern UNDER 57.5
  • Auburn +3 versus Georgia
  • LSU – 21 over Ole Miss
  • Texans/Ravens OVER 50.5
  • Cardinals +11 at Niners

Yes, I know; there are 4 college games and 2 NFL games in the Six-Pack this week.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this NFL related observation in the Seattle Times a few weeks ago:

“The worst city in the US to drive around in, according to a WalletHub.com survey is Detroit.

“Unless, that is, you happen to be at Ford Field driving against the Lions’ defense.”

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

 

 

MLB Ventures Into Uncharted Territory

All change is not for the good.  Technological advances in image capture and recording have had lots of positive influences in society; now we hear that the Houston Astros may have used cameras and video links in 2017 to steal signals from opposing teams.  Major League Baseball has “launched an investigation”.  The basis of these charges comes from a player on the 2017 Astros team that won the World Series and three other unidentified people who were/are with the team.  That would seem like a lot of damning evidence right there.

Opposing teams have reacted in very predictable ways; if you read reports about how other teams view this matter, please do not expect to be surprised.  Spoiler Alert: None of the opponents likes the idea.  Of course, MLB will investigate; but I wonder if there is a viable endgame to such an investigation.  There is no direct precedent for MLB to draw on here.  Let me assume that all the allegations are provably correct, what happens then?

  • For the last big “cheating event” in baseball – the Black Sox scandal in 1919 – punishments went to the players and not the team.  That punishment was lifetime banishment from baseball – – but once you get past the “cheating” aspect of the two cases, there are not a ton of parallels.
  • The team had to be involved in the activities that are alleged here and not just the players.  How does MLB punish a team meaningfully?  Put an asterisk next to that World Series championship.  Oooh, there’s a deterrent against future malefactors…

Once this is proven to have happened to the satisfaction of MLB, the problem has only just begun because the “penalty phase” of this saga has no blazed trail or mapped coordinates for the poohbahs to follow.  I know there needs to be punishment here and it must be something more than a slap on the wrist.  But what it should be and to whom or what it should be applied will provide interesting reading down the line…

There is a current rule on the books as of Feb 2019 making it illegal in baseball to use technology to steal signs.  The allegations here are from the 2017 season so that rule was not on the books then.  One of the cornerstones of US jurisprudence is that one cannot be punished by an ex post facto law…

Given the presence of the new rule for baseball, it seems to say that stealing signs is OK if you do it visually or audibly, but not OK if you use any sort of tech gadgetry in the process.  Notwithstanding any of the allegations here, does that make sense to you?  The “sin” in sign stealing is in the technique and not the act itself?

Shifting gears…  Week 16 of the NFL season got a makeover from the NFL yesterday when the league announced a change in the scheduled times of 3 games.  There will be a triple header on Saturday December 21st:

  • 1:00PM EST:  Texans at Bucs
  • 4:30PM EST:  Bills at Patriots
  • 8:00PM EST:  Rams at Niners

These three games will be telecast on NFL Network and that makes this switch a bit surprising.

  • Except for the Bucs, the other 5 teams involved in these games would seem to have playoff possibilities even at that late stage of the season.  That means the NFL has taken 3 meaningful games off broadcast TV where there are a lot of eyeballs to drive ratings and put those games on NFLN which has a smaller and limited audience as a premium cable channel.
  • I can’t imagine that the NFL’s “broadcast partners” are happy to lose these three games and to be left with the likes of Bengals/Dolphins or Jags/Falcons or Giants/Skins.

Maybe it was that scintillating 34-27 win over the NY Giants last week that prompted Christopher Johnson to declare that Adam Gase will not only finish out the 2019 season as the head coach of the NY Jets; in addition, Gase will be the Jets’ head coach in 2020.  There had been more than a little speculation in the NY tabloids that Gase could be “one-and-done” in NY; that is put to rest.

The Jets’ owner – Woody Johnson – is not part of the team for the moment; he is “otherwise engaged” as the US Ambassador to the UK; that is why his brother, Christopher, is in charge and it was Christopher who made this proclamation.  As part of the announcement, Johnson said of Adam Gase:

“He’s a good man; he’s a good coach.”

Let me unpack that statement:

  • I have no idea if Adam Gase is a good man.  For all I know, he could be the male equivalent of Mother Teresa – – or he could be a reincarnation of Jeffrey Dahmer.  It is not likely that I will ever know enough about him as a man to place him on that spectrum.
  • Here is what I do know.  Adam Gase is 25-32 as an NFL head coach and Adam Gase is 2-7 as the head coach of the NY Jets.
  • He had a mediocre roster in Miami and produced mediocre results there – – 23 wins and 25 losses.  Ho-hum…
  • He has a very thin roster in NY this year and the team is taking its lumps at 2-7.
  • It is probably too soon to know if Adam Gase is a “good coach”; he has never had the team resources to manage in a way that would shed light on that issue.

Finally, let me leave you with a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

“Choked up:  To be stricken with an onrush of tearful emotion that is just barely kept at bay.  A condition used to great effect by lying scumbags who want people to think they are actually repentant when being interviewed by 60 Minutes.”

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

 

 

An Early Upset…

College basketball has seen its first major upset of the 2019/2020 season – – and Thanksgiving is still a week and a half in the future.  Kentucky won its first two games of the season and one of those wins came over Michigan State – the team that had been ranked #1 in the pre-season polls.  The Wildcats moved up to #1 on the basis of that win and followed up with a glorified scrimmage at home against Eastern Kentucky that produced a 42-point win.  Next on the menu was Evansville and here is what went down:

  1. Evansville had lost its last 33 games on the road against Top 25 teams.
  2. Kentucky had won its last 39 games at home against unranked out-of-conference opponents.
  3. The last time Kentucky lost to an unranked team from one of the small-time conferences while ranked #1 in the country was way back in December 1950.
  4. Last night, Evansville beat Kentucky in Kentucky 67-64.

I did a rant recently about young NFL QBs and I want to follow up on that topic this morning with a few specific observations.  Lamar Jackson (Ravens) has demonstrated his commitment to professional football and none of it has to do with his performances in games so far this year.  Here is why I make that statement:

  • Do a Google Images search for “Lamar Jackson Louisville” and look at his arms and legs in photos before he left to join the NFL in 2018.
  • Compare the musculature on his arms and legs then and now.
  • Mr. Jackson has spent a significant amount of time in the weight room preparing his body for the profession of “NFL QB”.  He has added plenty of lean muscle to his upper body and to his legs.

Then next young QB on my list for this morning is Ryan Finley of the Bengals.  He got his first start of his NFL career with Andy Dalton taking to the sidelines and to clipboard and baseball cap duties.  Finley did not have an auspicious beginning; he gave up a Pick-Six and lost a fumble that resulted in a Scoop-and-Score.  Those two turnovers led to 14 points for the Ravens and that was enough to win the game right there; the Ryan Finley led offense for the Bengals could only score 13 points last Sunday.

Now I want to explain why the Bengals did the smart thing in starting Ryan Finley last week.  The Bengals are 0-9 they are on track to have the overall #1 pick in the draft – – or certainly one of the top 5 picks.  There are more than a few decent QB prospects in this year’s eligible draft class and that means the Bengals need to know what they have in Ryan Finley as a young QB who might be their team leader somewhere down the road.  That means that the Bengals’ braintrust must come to a conclusion about Ryan Finley’s long-term prospects as an NFL QB prior to the completion of the 2019 season.

Finley started last week, and the Bengals have 7 game remaining after that one.  That sample will have to suffice for the Bengals to make their decision as to whether they draft a QB next year or possibly take Chase Young – the standout defensive player in the draft.  The Bengals as a team need a significant make-over; it would be foolhardy for ownership and the Front Office there to think that a single off-season is going to turn this roster into a playoff team.  So, it is imperative for them to try to understand Ryan Finley’s long-term viability as an NFL QB.

There is another nugget of information contained in last week’s decision by the Bengals to bench Andy Dalton in favor of Ryan Finley:

  • Memo to Bengals’ Fans:  It wasn’t Andy Dalton’s fault that the team was 0-8.

While on the subject of Bengals’ fans, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Scientists are experimenting with psychedelic drugs in an effort to erase bad memories and thus prevent the triggering of depression.

“Rumor has it they plan to test it out on Bengals fans.”

Meanwhile in DC, the Skins announced that Dwayne Haskins will start the remaining 7 games of the 2019 season for the team.  The Skins now hold the #2 pick in the 2020 Draft and their situation is precisely what is facing the Bengals.  They took a QB in the first round last year; he showed that he was not ready to be a starter in 2019 but the team has to have enough film in the can to decide if he is the QB of the future – – or not.  This decision could well be clouded by the reports that the “football people” in the organization did not want Haskins in the first place but that the “owner” demanded the team take Haskins.

Without referring to my college football notes from TV viewing so far this year, here are the QBs available off the top of my head in alphabetical order for those teams at or near the top of the NFL Draft:

  • Joe Burrow – LSU
  • Sam Ehlinger – Texas
  • Jake Fromm – Georgia
  • Justin Herbert – Oregon
  • Jalen Hurts – Oklahoma
  • Kellen Mond – Texas A&M
  • Tua Tagovailoa – Alabama

Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“O.J. McDuffie, Roberto Luongo and Tamara James are newest inductees into the Broward Sports Hall of Fame. If I have to explain who they are, they probably shouldn’t be in.”

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

 

 

NBA Happenings Today …

A little more than 10% of the seemingly interminable NBA regular season is in the past and while it is way too early to make any sort of definitive projections for the season, there have been some interesting NBA happenings already.  First, the opening instance of “load management” took place before 10 games had been played by the LA Clippers.  Kawhi Leonard sat out a game against the Milwaukee Bucks; it was first game in a back-back scheduling situation.

I don’t want to rehash the “load management” debate both pro and con.  I will say that the folks who might put the arm on the NBA and the NBPA to do something about this are the execs at ESPN.  The network pays a tidy sum to the league for TV rights; if star players sit out nationally televised games, that is going to affect ratings; if those lower ratings bring in less ad revenue to the network, that could be a problem in the near-term and will certainly be a problem the next time negotiations commence between the network and the league.

Yes, I acknowledge the plight of the fans in Milwaukee who bought tix for that game hoping to see Kawhi Leonard vs Giannis Antetokounmpo – – but the fact of the matter is that the league and the players’ union do not give a fig for fans in that circumstance.  Reality bites…

Down in Miami, the Heat are off to a good start winning 6 of their first 9 games.  However, some drama just descended on the team as they have suspended – without pay – guard Dion Waiters.  The suspension is for 10 games and the reason is “conduct detrimental to the team”.  According to reports, here is the conduct detrimental…

  • Waiters reportedly suffered a panic attack on the team plane late last week.
  • Supposedly, the panic attack was brought on by Waiters’ consumption of gumballs that contained THC compounds.

Up in Boston, it seems that the basketball gods want to punish Gordon Hayward for signing there as a free agent.  Recall his gruesome leg injury early in his first season in Boston which had him out for all that season and limited his effectiveness for last year as he recovered from that injury.  At the start of this season, he looked to be back to his Utah Jazz form – – the form that made him a top-shelf free agent in the first place.  And then the basketball gods struck again…

Gordon Hayward broke his hand over the weekend.  Early reports say he will be out for 6 weeks after undergoing surgery to repair the break.  The only part of this report that might be considered “good news” is that the broken hand is his left hand.  The Celtics have the best record in the NBA Eastern Conference this morning.  If you assume that Hayward will be back in 6 weeks and “back-in-form” in 8 weeks, that means the Celtics will have to play on without him until early to mid-January.  I doubt that the injury will cripple the team for that period, but they will have their work cut out for them to stay at the very top of the NBA East.

Now, all those happenings are merely the warm-up act for the latest episode in the New York soap opera known as the New York Knickerbockers.  The Knicks are at the other end of the NBA Eastern Conference standings this morning relative to the Celtics; the Knicks are dead-last with a record of 2-8.  That situation is not all that surprising when you look at the rosters of the two teams.  However, while the Celtics go about their business in a reasonable and rational manner, the Knicks invent ways to make the team look like a horse’s ass.

Last weekend, the Knicks lost to the Cavs – – another bottom feeder team – – by 21 points; it was a dispirited effort.  Rather than re-grouping and trying to figure out how to get blood from a turnip – – win half of your games with that roster – – the Knicks chose to take a different path.  They called an impromptu news conference featuring team president, Steve Mills, and Knicks’ GM, Scott Perry.  [Aside: Team news conferences need to be orchestrated events; impromptu news conferences are accidents waiting to happen.]

These gentlemen announced to the world that they believed that the team was not playing up to its capabilities.  The cynic in me finds that hard to believe since these are the two guys who assembled this roster and they are both reputed to be NBA-savvy execs.  Here are some of their comments:

“We think the team’s not performing to the level we anticipated or expected, and it’s something we think we collectively have to do a better job of delivering the product on the floor that we said we would do at the start of the season.”

And …

“We’ve seen glimpses of how we can play as a team when everything comes together, but we’ve got to find a way to play complete games at the level we expect our team to play at. That’s a responsibility we take collectively, but I also think it’s important for us to communicate to our fans that we’re not happy where we are right now. … We have to, as a group, come together and be more consistent in terms of how we play.”

They wove into their narrative the dreaded vote of confidence for their coaching staff although the NY papers say that Mills is setting the table to fire coach David Fizdale once he convinces owner James Dolan that is the right thing to do.  Fizdale signed a 4-year contract worth $22M last year; that means he has about $16M left in the contract.  Let me be clear, David Fizdale is not the reason the Knicks are not winning games; that roster is going to struggle to win 30 games for the season and could well find themselves with fewer than 25 wins next April.

Coach Fizdale did not help his cause much in the aftermath of that poor showing against the Cavs.  He threw this irrelevancy into the mix:

  • We are only 2 games behind for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in his column Sideline Chatter in the Seattle Times a while ago.  It shows that every time you go to see a baseball game, you stand the chance of seeing something you have never seen before:

“Astros minor-leaguer Miguelangel Sierra lost a home run playing for the Fayetteville Woodpeckers because … he failed to touch home plate.”

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

 

 

Sports On TV…

As I was grazing through the sports channels on my cable box over the weekend, I came across one of the myriad college football studio shows where a bunch of people sit in a semi-circle and “chat with one another”.  One of the participants – speaking about a college football player I was not tuned in early enough to hear his name – said that the player needed to “focus on football” and to “realize that his future is ahead of him”.

I will spot the roundtable participant the point that “focusing on football” is important if a player hopes to make professional football his career pursuit.  In fact, that is so important that it need not be said.  However, I have a question for the speaker here:

  • Where else – besides ahead of him – might this college football player look for his future?

Last Saturday as college football games were happening around the country, Brad Dickson tweeted this:

“The first-ever college football game – Princeton vs. Rutgers – was played 150 years ago this week. That was also the same day the Rutgers football program peaked.”

Late last week, there were reports that Cris Carter and FOX Sports have parted company.  Many reports said that Carter was unhappy that he was not assigned to the Thursday Night Football pregame show on FOX and the NY Post reported that there were other issues involved in this parting of the ways.  Obviously, I can shed no light on those sorts of things…

FOX Sports did say that its early morning sports gab-fest on FS1 – – First Things First – – would stay on the air.  Nick Wright and Jenna Wolfe would remain, and Chris Canty had been filling in for Carter on an immediate basis.  I mention this because the latest ratings have First Things First drawing a minimal audience – about 25% of the audience tuned into rival ESPN’s morning sports gab-fest – – Get Up!

I tried watching First Things First for a while but tired of two things:

  1. The pseudo-debate topics became repetitive and therefore uninteresting.
  2. I never “warmed to” Nick Wright.

I will tune in periodically to see who the new co-host will be and to see if that new co-host can help me over the two “problems” listed above.  Morning sports gab-fests are not compelling TV for me; I watch it about once a week or so for a segment or two unless they tease an interesting guest coming up later in the program.  With that as the preface, my preferred morning sports gab-fest has become Get Up! which is a program I really did not like at all when it first aired.

I think I like Get Up! much more now because ESPN did an addition by subtraction – – they took Michelle Beadle off the program.  Back when Colin Cowherd was with ESPN, he did an afternoon show with Michelle Beadle that I enjoyed but I thought she was a wet blanket on Get Up!  I particularly like when the show does segments with Marcus Spears and/or Ryan Clark both of whom I think are very good.

I got an e-mail from a reader who is an avid fan of SEC sports with a link to an article in the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report.  The reader wanted to know if I had any knowledge of this.  Skipping to the bottom like, the answer is ‘No”, but the information in the article is interesting.

According to this report, the Athletic Department has been providing funds to the university at-large for the past 7 years to the tune of about $70M.  The Athletic Department is going to change the way it does that money transfer starting next year.  In the past, the money generated by athletics went to the university’s “general fund” and it was done because the legislature in Louisiana had cut funding to the university drastically.

Evidently, LSU’s state funding has increased in recent years and now the Athletic Department is going to transfer funds to the university in a more targeted fashion – – say to help with a new building.  Reading this report generated two thoughts:

  1. The Athletic Department stepped up and did “the right thing” in helping LSU academics during a funding crisis.  Kudos to Joe Alleva – the AD at LSU 7 years ago who made the decision to do that.
  2. The fact that the Athletic Department gave money to the university at large suggests to me that those two entities can be considered as separate ones as well as conjoined ones.  And if one looks at them as separate entities, then explain to me why that Athletic Department – – as well as others – – is considered to be tax exempt.

Finally, Dwight Perry posed this interesting question recently in the Seattle Times:

“The NFL fined Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill $10,527 for giving a trailing Broncos defender the peace sign en route to a 57-yard touchdown.

“So, it would’ve been $5,263.50 if he’d only used just one finger?”

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

 

 

Football Friday 11/8/19

It’s been a while.  I hope I haven’t forgotten how to do one of these.  It’s Friday and I have been home for the entire week and that means there needs to be a Football Friday.

Here is the status of the Six-Packs as of the last pickings on 25 October:

  • Overall record:  22-14
  • College record:  11-4
  • NFL record:  11-10

The Linfield College Wildcats travel to Spokane WA this week to play the Whitworth Pirates in a Northwest Conference game.  Linfield is 6-1 for the season and 5-0 in the conference.  Whitworth is 5-2 for the season and 4-1 in conference games.  The outcome here could determine the conference champion.  Whitworth’s only conference loss was against Puget Sound – – a team that Linfield beat 77-22.  Go Wildcats!

 

College Football Comments:

 

Breaking news this morning…  There are reports that Ohio State defensive end, Chase Young, has been suspended indefinitely related to some sort of “NCAA violation” in 2018.  I have not seen any specifics on what that violation might be, but this is important news because:

  • Chase Young is an outstanding player.  Barring amputation of a limb or incarceration without parole, Young will be drafted in the top five of next year’s draft.
  • This is the first “irregularity” that has surfaced during Ryan Day’s tenure at Ohio State.
  • Young’s absence this week against Maryland is not going to affect the outcome of that game and it has not even changed the spread as of this moment.
  • Young’s absence will not affect the outcome of next week’s game against Rutgers either.
  • However, on 23 November Ohio State plays Penn State and on 30 November Ohio State plays Michigan.  If this is not resolved favorably before those games, Young’s absence could affect the outcome(s).

The CFP Selection Committee put out its first rankings this week and put Clemson out of the Top 4.  You might have thought that the Committee had desecrated the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with spray paint given the shrieks emanating from South Carolina.  Let me try to offer some sound reasoning as to why the committee did that – – and NONE of the reasoning will have anything to do with Clemson’s on-field capabilities.  I believe the Selection Committee is signaling here…

  • Clemson needs to beef up its opponents a bit.  The ACC is not a conference deep in strong football teams – and it has been that way for a while.  There is no reason to have Wofford on the schedule in November; since playing Texas A&M in early September, Clemson has played a string of mediocre teams.
  • The signal sent to Clemson will heal itself so long as Clemson wins its next two ACC games and its rivalry game against South Carolina.  LSU and Alabama play each other this week; the loser will drop out of the Top 4 leaving an opening. Ohio State and Penn State meet down the road; assuming that Penn State handles Minnesota this week, either of those two teams will lose and open another slot in the Top 4.
  • There is room at the top – – so to speak – – in the way the Committee structured its first rankings and aspiring schools in addition to Clemson might want to acknowledge the signal being sent here.  [Aside:  New Mexico State and Western Carolina do not belong on Alabama’s schedule.]

I have not seen as much college football this season as I normally would by this point in the season.  However, if I had to pick my Top 4 teams from what I have seen on TV, here is my list in alphabetical order:

  • Alabama
  • Clemson
  • LSU
  • Ohio State

Minnesota is 8-0 this year and leads the Big 10 West.  Since I mentioned scheduling above, let me point out that the Gophers have not yet played the meat of their schedule.  Their conference wins have come at the expense of teams at or below .500 and their out-of-conference opponents have not been eye-popping.  Here is how the rest of the season looks for Minnesota:

  • Penn State – also 8-0 this year
  • At Iowa – always a difficult place to play
  • At Northwestern – another weak conference foe
  • Wisconsin – could decide the Big 10 West champ.

Two weeks ago, LSU beat Auburn 23-20.  Given that LSU had been averaging 48 points per game prior to that encounter, I think we can conclude that Auburn’s defense is more that merely good.  Up until that game, LSU had never been held under 36 points.

Two weeks ago, Michigan knocked Notre Dame out of contention for a CFP slot with a 45-14 shellacking.  Granted, both of Notre Dame’s losses this year have come against solid opponents (Georgia was the other loss) but the magnitude of this defeat takes the Irish off the CFP radar.

UCLA has won 3 games in a row and has a PAC-12 record of 4-2.  Talk about a team that is “under the radar”, I thought the Bruins were dead and buried a month ago.  The team has this week off with three challenging games remaining:

  • At Utah
  • At USC
  • Cal

If the PAC-12 Championship game matches Oregon and Utah – each with only 1 loss – then the winner of that game could be a serious contender for a CFP slot.  We shall see…

When K-State beat Oklahoma, that did significant damage to the Big-12’s CFP aspirations.  The only undefeated team in the conference today is Baylor and the CFP Committee has Baylor ranked 3 slots behind Oklahoma despite the Sooner’s loss.  I think this is another “strength of schedule signal” from the CFP Committee.  Baylor’s out-of-conference opponents are Stephen F. Austin, Texas-San Antonio and Rice.  For shame …

Georgia’s win over Florida gives it a shot at the CFP if it wins the SEC East and then wins the SEC Championship Game.  The SEC West champion will likely be the winner of this week’s LSU/Alabama game.

SMU lost to Memphis 54-48 in a “defense-optional game”.  That leaves 3 AAC teams with only 1 loss this year – – Cincy, Memphis and SMU.  Should one of them get the “New Year’s Day Bowl bid” this year over Boise St.?  You make the call…

Appalachian St. also lost its first game of the year last week; Georgia Southern beat Appalachian St. 24-21 when a late rally that produced 2 TDs ran out of time.

Here is a stunning statistical circumstance for this season:

  • Maryland is 3-6 this year.
  • The Terps won the first two games of the season scoring 142 points in those 2 games.
  • In the 7 games that followed the 2 opening games, Maryland has scored a total of only 130 points despite scoring 48 points in one of those 7 games.
  • If you ignore the Maryland/Rutgers game – – won by the Terps 48-7 – the cumulative score for the other Big 10 games is Opponents 223 – – Maryland 59.

Boston College is not a fearsome offensive juggernaut.  Nonetheless, against Syracuse last week, the Eagles ran up 496 yards on offense and won the game 58-26.  Syracuse is ranked 92nd in the country in scoring defense as of this morning.

Florida State has 4 wins this year; they need 6 to avoid bowl ineligibility for the second consecutive season.  Next weekend, they have a “gimme game” on the schedule when they host the Alabama State Hornets – a team that is 4-4 playing the likes of Tuskegee and Mississippi Valley State.  Here are the other two games on Florida State’s schedule:

  • At Boston College – – this week.  State is a 2-point underdog
  • At Florida – – Nov. 30.  State will be a significant underdog there

 

The SHOE Tournament Candidates:

 

I explained the concept here last week; the idea is to find the worst team in the nation.  I will end up with 8 teams in an imaginary bracketed tournament – – but for now I will list the “Dirty Dozen” – – those teams that appear to be ready for the shame of being in the SHOE Tournament.  In alphabetical order:

  • Akron:  The Zips have won zero games this season.  Only one of those losses was a one-score game.  The Zips score only 10.2 points per game – – 129th in the nation.
  • New Mexico:  The Lobos are 2-7; one of those wins was over New Mexico St.  The “Land of Enchantment” is clearly not the “Land of College Football” in 2019.
  • New Mexico St.:  The Aggies are 0-8.  The next two games offer a glimmer of hope; they are home games against Incarnate Word and then UTEP.  The Aggies give up 42.4 points per game; only UMass gives up more.
  • Northwestern:  The record is 1-7.  The reason they must be on this list is that they are the worst scoring team in the country averaging a mere 9.8 points per game.
  • Old Dominion:  The Monarchs are 1-8; the lone victory was over Norfolk State.  The problem here is scoring; ODU scores 14.8 points per game.
  • Rice:  The Owls are 0-9.  The problem here is not the defense; it gives up only 28.1 points per game (ranked 70th in the nation).  The problem is the offense which scores only 14.9 points per game (ranked 125th in the nation).
  • Rutgers:  The Scarlet Knights are 2-7 beating UMass and Liberty.  Rutgers ranks 127th in the country in scoring offense (14.7 points per game) and 124th in the country in scoring defense (36.7 points per game).
  • South Alabama:  The Jaguars are 1-7 with the win coming at the expense of Jackson State.  They score an average of 14.6 points per game.
  • UConn:  The Huskies are 2-7.  Those 2 wins came against Wagner College and UMass.  Yuck!
  • UMass:  The Minutemen have won 1 game this year; they beat Akron by 8 points.  UMass has the worst scoring defense in the country yielding 52 points per game.  Note that UMass has lost to several of the teams listed here.  Hmmm…
  • UTEP:  The Miners are 1-7 and the win was a 2-point victory over Houston Baptist.  UTEP plays New Mexico St. and Rice later this year so they could have a significant impact on the SHOE Tournament participants and seedings.
  • Vandy:  The Commodores are 2-7.  They are here because the other team I had on my consideration list was UNLV – – and UNLV beat Vandy by 24 points last month.

 

College Games This Week:

 

Clemson – 32.5 at NC State (53.5):  I assume that the Tigers will come out with the intention to show the CFP Committee that they belong in the Top 4 and they will pound the snot out of NC State – – the team that happens to be on the schedule the week after the Committee sent its signal.  NC State is collateral damage here.

Florida State at BC – 2.5 (63):  The Seminoles need to win this one a lot more than the Eagles do.  It will be interesting to see how Florida State plays for its interim coach…

Notre Dame – 8 at Duke (51):  The Irish needed a late rally to beat VA Tech by one point last week.  Nonetheless, I don’t think Duke can keep up with Notre Dame for 4 quarters.

Maryland at Ohio State – 43.5 (65):  That is a ton of points – – and I would not touch them with a fork.  Maryland has played 3 Big 10 teams ranked in the Top 25 (Penn State, Michigan and Minnesota); the cumulative score in those 3 games is Opponents 149 and Maryland 17.

UMass at Army – 35 (62):  Think about it; Army is a 3-win team and they are a 5-touchdown favorite over UMass.

Illinois at Michigan St. – 15 (45):  Both teams are 5-4; who saw that coming back in August?  Sparty does not score a lot (21.8 points per game/110th in the country).  That seems like a ton of points to me.  I’ll put Illinois plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack.

Penn State – 6.5 at Minnesota (47.5):  Were it not for LSU/Alabama, this would be the Game of the Week.  Both teams are undefeated, and both need a win here.  As noted above, the Gophers have not played a tough schedule yet – – but neither has Penn State.

Vandy at Florida – 27 (49):  If you like playing underdogs, here is one getting a lot of points.  The question here is not who will win the game; the question is how much of a hangover will the Gators suffer after coming up short against Georgia last week?

Purdue at Northwestern – 2 (39):  My SHOE candidate team is favored at home here…

Texas-San Antonio at Old Dominion – 4 (43):  My SHOE candidate team is favored at home here…

Charlotte – 13.5 at UTEP (57.5):  My SHOE candidate team is a big underdog at home here…

Baylor – 2.5 at TCU (48):  Baylor is 8-0 this year; TCU is 4-4.  The spread is only 2.5 points?  Maybe that is because TCU beat Texas in its last home game?  Last time Baylor beat TCU in Fort Worth was back in 2013…

South Alabama at Texas State – 7 (42):  Ho-hum…

LSU at Alabama – 6.5 (63):  This is clearly the Game of the Week.  I think the line is fat.  I’ll put LSU plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack.

New Mexico St. at Ole Miss – 28.5 (63.5):  The Aggies can’t hang with a bottom-feeder in the SEC…

Kentucky at Arkansas – 1 (52.5): If Arkansas loses here, they might be a SHOE candidate next week…

Iowa State at Oklahoma – 14 (66):  If the Sooners lose again, they might be relegated to one of the minor bowl games this year; is that sufficiently motivating?  Meanwhile the coach at Iowa St. has been mentioned as a potential hire by Florida State; is that motivating – or demotivating – for his Cyclones here?

Tennessee at Kentucky – 1 (42):  Both teams have 4 wins and need 2 more for bowl eligibility.  Other than that, there is nothing to see here…

Missouri at Georgia – 16 (48):  Georgia can see its way to the SEC Championship game; that should be enough motivation here; they already lost one conference home game this year and are not about to repeat that performance.

K-State at Texas – 7 (58):  K-State has won 4 in a row beating Texas and TCU in that stretch.  Texas is tough at home…

Iowa at Wisconsin – 9.5 (38.5):  Wisconsin has lost 2 in a row and needs to win here – – and then beat Minnesota down the line – – to have a shot at the Big 10 Championship Game.  Wisconsin averages 216.4 yards per game rushing.  Iowa gives up only 87.7 yards per game rushing (8th best in the country).  I’ll put Iowa plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack.

Washington State – 7.5 at Cal (51):  Check out these opposing stats:

  • Cougars score 42 points per game; Bears allow fewer than 19 points per game
  • Cougars allow 38 points per game; Bears only score 17.4 points per game.

Nevada at San Diego St. – 17 (39):  San Diego State is 7-1 this year and they are winning with defense.  They rank 110th in the country in scoring offense (21.8 ppg) but they are the 8th best scoring defense in the country (14.1 ppg).  The Aztecs single loss this year was to Utah State by a score of 23-17; that is the most points allowed by the Aztecs all season.

 

NFL Comments:

 

What goes around, comes around.  Consider the varying and various intersections of Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots and the Cleveland Browns:

  • Belichick’s first win as a head coach was a win by the Browns over the Patriots.
  • Belichick is the last Browns’ coach to win a playoff game.
  • Two weeks ago, the Pats beat the Browns giving Belichick his 300th NFL victory.

The Antonio Brown saga took a new turn this week.  Recall that Brown “retired from the NFL” after the Pats released him to focus on clearing his name and reputation in the wake of allegations of sexual assault (as yet unproven/unverified).  Then he sued a variety of folks seeking payments he claims he is due based on his contracts with the Raiders and then the Patriots (no rulings forthcoming to date).  He filed some sort of grievance with the NFLPA against the league and I won’t pretend to understand the nuances of that business.  And now…

  • Antonio Brown says that he wants to play in the NFL again and he wants to “make my way back to the NFL asap”.

I have no idea where this is headed or when it might even begin to come back together as a single-threaded issue.  If it makes sense to you, please offer a comment below.

Another NFL saga might be on the verge of resolution.  Trent Williams vowed that he would never play for the Skins again because he claims that the team medical staff misdiagnosed a cancerous growth on his skull that has since been removed.  He has two years left on his contract and he did not report until about a week ago meaning that he could get credit for fulfilling this year on his contract.  He did not pass a physical and did not play last week.

Meanwhile, Skins’ GM, Bruce Allen, has been playing chicken with this matter claiming at first that this is merely a misunderstanding between Williams, the Front Office and the team medics and then that all of this is merely a ploy for Williams to get a lucrative contract extension.  Obviously, all these claims can be true simultaneously just as most of them can be “fabricated”.  The one issue that is objectively provable is that Williams has had that cancerous growth removed from his skull.

I said this may be in the verge of resolution because the Skins chose to put Williams on the “Non-football Injury List”.  That means he can’t be activated to play – which avoids any confrontation between Williams and the coaching staff and the team and the league and the union – – and the Tri-Lateral Commission and Starfleet Command…  It is now at a point where we will find out just how much all of this has been about “saving face” or “showing the other guy who’s the boss”.

  • The Skins could claim that Williams never fulfilled his contract in good faith this season and could try to “toll the contract” – – which is legalese for saying he still has two years of obligation to play for the Skins – – or – –
  • The Skins could treat this as a player hold-out and finish the season with Williams ineligible to play with the ability then to trade Trent Williams in the off-season.

Trent Williams has clearly demonstrated “resolve” in this matter to date.  Bruce Allen has come off as clueless (this was more than a misunderstanding and there have been no contract extension negotiations over the past 6 months).  Both sides can “get what they want/need here” if the Skins choose to play out the season and then trade Trent Williams to the team making the best offer.  It seems to me that the only thing standing in the way is Bruce Allen’s ego…

Some brief comments on games over the past two weeks:

  • The return of Drew Brees was a hit.  He threw for 373 yards and 3 TDs against the Cards.  He looked as if he had not taken even a day off from work.
  • When Chargers beat the Bears 17-16, the ineptitude of the Bears’ offense was on full display.  They had the ball inside the Chargers’ 10-yardline three times and got no TDs.  They had 5 Red Zone possessions and got only 1 TD.  After that game, the Bears ranked 30th in the NFL in yards gained per offensive play.
  • In the Jags 29-15 win over the Jets, Sam Darnold was sacked 8 times.  Those were not ghosts hitting him…
  • The Texans squeaked by the Raiders by 3 points but lost JJ Watt for the season.  DeAndre Hopkins had a great game with 11 catches for 129 yards.
  • Dwayne Haskins got his first NFL start for the Skins against the Bills.  Based on what I saw, former coach Jay Gruden was totally right; Haskins is not yet ready to be an NFL QB; he has the physical gifts but needs a lot of tutelage.  Haskins only attempted 1 pass more than 15 yards downfield and it was incomplete.  The Skins have now gone 13 straight quarters without scoring a TD…
  • The Dolphins beat the Jets.  Actually, the Jets lost to a team that is constructed to lose; think about that.
  • After the Eagles beat the Bears, is it fair to ask if the Bears are even more disappointing this year than the Browns?  The Bears had 9 yards total offense in the first half of that game and only 164 yards of offense for the whole game.
  • The Chiefs beat the Vikes 26-23 without Patrick Mahomes…
  • The Seahawks beat the Bucs in OT.  The theme of this game was “Jameis Winston giveth and Jameis Winston taketh away.”  Winston threw for 335 yards and 2 TDs here.  He also fumbled the ball away in the 4th quarter giving the Seahawks a chance to send the game to OT.  Russell Wilson merely threw for 5 TDs in the game…
  • The Chargers dominated the Packers.  It looked as if Green Bay was sleepwalking through the game.  Total offense for the Packers was a measly 184 yards.
  • The Ravens handed the Pats their first loss of the season and did it by running the ball for 210 yards.  Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram had the Pats’ defense on its heels for the entire game.

 

NFL Games

 

This is the biggest BYE Week of the season; six teams will get some R&R this weekend:

  1. Denver will try to find its offensive rhythm; the defense is coming together.
  2. Houston holds a half-game lead over Indy – – but the Colts play the Dolphins this week and should tie the Texans for the AFC South lead by Sunday night.
  3. Jax will work to adjust to the return of Nick Foles from his injury.
  4. New England will figure out what went wrong last week as it gets ready for Philly next week.
  5. Philly will spend the time focusing on New England’s visit to the Linc next week.
  6. Washington will try to decide who will start at QB next week – – Dwayne Haskins or Case Keenum?

KC – 6 at Tennessee (47.5):  If I knew that Patrick Mahomes was going to play at 90% efficiency, I’d take the Chiefs here – – but I don’t know that.  The game surely means more to the Chiefs than it does to the Titans – – but the titans have this annoying habit of playing up to – and down to – the level of the opponent.

Buffalo at Cleveland – 3 (40):  I know that the Bills have played a pillow-soft schedule and that the Eagles ran the ball down their throats two weeks ago.  I also know that Kareem Hunt is back and eligible for the Browns – – but is that an unmitigated plus?  The Browns have had “issues” with how many times various players get to touch the ball and now they have another competent guy in the huddle who will want – and who will merit – his share of touches.  Here is an interesting circumstance for this game:

  • Browns are 0-3 at home so far this year – – and – –
  • Bills are 3-0 on the road so far this year.

In a game dominated by defensive units, I like to take points, so I’ll put the Bills plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack.

Arizona at Tampa – 4.5 (52): The Bucs are a hot mess; the Cards are nothing special, but they haven’t come apart at the seams.  The Bucs have the league-leading run defense – – but that is a mirage since it is so easy to throw the ball against them.  One of the characteristics of mature NFL QBs is consistency; Jameis Winston is consistent in finding ways to turn the ball over to the opponent.  Just to clarify, that is not a good thing.  I’ll put the Cards plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack.

Giants – 2.5 at Jets (44.5):  This is clearly the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  The NYC tabloids are going to have a feast on Monday jumping all over the loser here.  Neither team is any good, but I can see a lot more sparks in the Giants than I can in the Jets.  For the first time, I will put a “Dog-Breath Game of the Week” in the Six-Pack and take the Giants to win and cover.

Atlanta at New Orleans – 13.5 (51):  The Falcons’ defense is AWOL and the availability and efficiency of their starting QB is in question.  Avert your eyes here…

Baltimore – 10 at Cincy (44.5):  Perhaps the Bengals will win a game this year – but it won’t be this one even if the Ravens suffer an emotional let-down after trouncing the patriots last week.  Andy Dalton goes to the bench in favor of Ryan Finley.  The Bengals rank dead last in the NFL in rushing meaning Finley is likely to have to throw the ball a lot here.  Hey, this has been the Year of the Backup QB so far, right?  Saving you the time to Google it, Finley was the Bengals’ 4th round pick in the 2019 draft; he played college ball at NC State.

Carolina at Green Bay – 5.5 (47):  I can’t believe that Aaron Rodgers will stink out the joint two weeks in a row.  I also believe that Christian McCaffrey will have a big day here.

Detroit at Chicago – 2.5 (41.5):  Taking the Lions is so tempting here because their defense should hold Mitchell Trubisky in check.  But the Lions are just not a reliable road team and have not been so for a long time.

Miami at Indy – 11.5 (44):  I don’t know who will be the QB for the Colts here.  I do know who the straight up winner is going to be here.  Here are some very conflicted trends for anyone sufficiently unhinged to wager on this game:

  • Dolphins are 14-5 to go UNDER in their last 19 games in Week 10 – – BUT – –
  • Colts are 14-6 to go OVER in their last 20 games in Week 10.

And …

  • Dolphins are 9-4 to go OVER in their last 13 games in November – – BUT – –
  • Colts are 7-2 to go UNDER in their last 9 games in November.

Rams – 3.5 at Pittsburgh (44):  The Rams cannot afford to lose here; if they do, they will have 4 losses on the year.  The Steelers somehow have gotten themselves back to .500 but still trail the Ravens by 2 full games.

(Sun Nite) Minnesota at Dallas – 3 (48):  Kirk Cousins does not play well in prime-time games.  Kirk Cousins’ performance with the Vikes has been skewed toward dominating teams with losing records.  If I have counted properly:

  • Cousins and the Vikes against teams with losing records are 12-1
  • Cousins and the Vikes against teams with winning records are 3-8-1

This is a prime-time game against a team with a winning record.

(Mon Nite) Seattle at SF – 6 (48):  This is the Game of the Week.  Given the Niners’ defensive pass rush, I expect Russell Wilson to be scrambling for his life most of the evening – – but that is often when he is the most dangerous.  The Seahawks’ pass defense had better show up more effectively than it has in the past couple of games or the Niners will torch them.  I was sorely tempted to take the OVER in this game for the Six-Pack.

Finally, since I spent so much time talking about the CFP Selection Committee, let me close with this definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

“Committee:  A group of supremely uninteresting people whose sole purpose is to gather together and make sure that nothing of note is ever accomplished.”

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

 

 

Young NFL QBs

This year, there is an abundance of young QBs getting a lot of playing time for NFL teams.  This week’s starters could include:

  1. Brandon Allen
  2. Josh Allen
  3. Kyle Allen
  4. Jacoby Brisset – – maybe
  5. Sam Darnold
  6. Jared Goff
  7. Dwayne Haskins – – Skins are on BYE Week
  8. Lamar Jackson
  9. Daniel Jones
  10. Patrick Mahomes – – maybe
  11. Baker Mayfield
  12. Gardner Minshew – – maybe
  13. Kyler Murray
  14. Dak Prescott
  15. Mason Rudolph
  16. Mitchell Trubisky
  17. Deshaun Watson
  18. Carson Wentz – – Eagles are on BYE Week

That means more than half of the NFL teams will be starting a QB who is under 26 years old and 10 of these young QBs entered the league in either 2018 or 2019.  The four “old hands” on the list above – Brisset, Goff, Prescott and Wentz – have shown me enough to say that they should provide their teams with lots of serviceable years down the road.  As for the others, I’ll anoint Jackson, Mahomes and Watson as three more NFL lifers barring injuries despite a smallish sample from which to make such a judgment.  As for the others…?

When I think about what distinguishes a “franchise QB” from a “flash in the pan”, there are more dimensions to consider beyond physical skills.  Of course, a successful NFL QB must have physical talents in sufficient measure to make the athletic moves needed in the job.  Those are the things that one can measure; those are the things that I look at when I see college QBs who aspire to “move up”.  However, those skills are insufficient to make a “QB” into a “franchise QB”.  There is a mental, an emotional, a prudent and a dedicated axis on which a young QB must reach a minimum score to make that jump.

A successful NFL QB  has to be intelligent enough to know the playbook and know the game plan; if that level of mental gymnastics is too difficult, it does not matter if the guy can throw the ball 75 yards in the air and drop it into a rain barrel.  Moreover, a successful NFL QB must be analytical to the point that he can see one thing happening in front of him and recognize what is the most likely thing to happen next.  That analytical thinking is referred to as

  • Being on the same page as his receiver – – or – –
  • Reading the defense – – or – –
  • Having the game slow down for him.

Predicting a young QBs “score” on that dimension is not much more than guesswork; I need to see live action on a field to begin to sense the capability – or the limitation – here.  I believe that if you gave truth serum to coaches, they would say the same thing.

A successful NFL QB must have his emotions in check.  Everyone deals with emotions in a personal way and some folks allow their emotions to dictate their behaviors in ways that are not constructive.  An NFL QB will experience emotional highs and lows during the progress of a game and a season.  He has to be able to prevent the highs from getting too high and the lows from getting too low.  When a receiver drops a pass that hits him in both hands when the receiver is in the end zone with no defender closer than 10 yards, the QB cannot sink into depression or get so angry that the anger becomes destructive.

It is perfectly OK for a QB to “wear his emotions on his sleeve” if that is part of his persona all the time.  The key element there is that he has a governor on those emotions to assure that the swings do not wander off into areas of dysfunction.  Often I hear analysts talk about the leadership skills of franchise QBs; I believe that one of the important elements of those intangible leadership skills is the emotional control that the QB has on himself such that he can project a constructive level of emotion onto those around him.

The “prudence dimension” involves things that do not happen on the field.  Sixty years ago, a very successful NFL QB named Bobby Layne reportedly showed up at game time hung over from the night before on a semi-regular basis.  The game was different then; that sort of behavior will not work for an NFL QB in 2019.  Joe Namath cultivated a playboy persona 50 years ago; it worked for him, but it is not likely to work for many other young QBs.

Notwithstanding the potential negativity involved in such off-field behaviors – – things that breed those dreadful distractions, don’t you know – – young QBs have free time, plenty of money and are recognizable.  Call it “common sense” or call it “maturation” or call it whatever you want; a young QB who aspires to be a franchise QB has to be able to deal with that sort of tempting environment in a way that does not become destructive.

The “dedicated dimension” is another one that has changed over the years.  Sixty years ago, a less than physically fit QB named Sonny Jurgensen played well enough to get him into the Hall of Fame.  When Vince Lombardi arrived in Washington as his coach, Jurgensen said it was the only time he played without his gut spilling over his uniform.  Those days are long gone; successful NFL QBs today need not be bodybuilders or fitness fanatics, but they must stay in condition 12 months of the year and prepare their bodies for the rigors of a 16-game regular season all during the off-season.

I said above that there are 7 of the young QBs on this week’s “starters list” I am confident will make the grade as franchise QBs over the long term.  All of them have shown basic physical skills on the field and all of them appear to score well on the four dimensions discussed here.  Their actions and behaviors cause their teams to win games as opposed to a situation where the team wins games with the QB merely along for the ride.

As for the other 11 young starters on this week’s list, I would make no judgment regarding 8 of them simply because they have not been in enough situations to allow for any sort of rational judgment.  I will say, however, that 3 of this week’s young starters have some visible red flags.

  1. Sam Darnold:  He is not as good this year as he was at the end of last year.  It does not seem as if the “game is slowing down for him”.  He is showing his emotional down cycles during the games.  This is a new offensive system for him in his second year in the NFL with new coaches.  Are those changes significant factors in his regression?
  2. Baker Mayfield:  He is not nearly as good this year as he was at the end of last year.  His ‘analytical” skills seem not to have advanced; and in terms of dedication, he appears to be as dedicated to developing his brand and appearing in commercials as he is to developing as a QB.  As a cautionary note here, that is a similar behavioral path to the one taken by the young RG3…
  3. Mitchell Trubisky:  He is not as good this year as he was at the end of last year.  It appears as if the game is “speeding up for him” instead of slowing down and even his coach has criticized his “body language” during the game – a potential detriment to his leadership skill.

Finally, in keeping with today’s theme of young QBs who may or may not ripen into franchise QBs, I want to be sure that this news item does not pass you by.  It did not make banner headlines; you may have missed it; it is relevant to the topic of the day:

  • Brock Osweiler retired from the NFL after a 7-year career.

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