Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend Of 10/31/15

Last week’s Mythical Picks were about as exciting as a plate of day-old mashed potatoes. The record for last weekend was 7-7-0 making the season cumulative record 62-59-4.

The “Best Pick” from last week was taking Oklahoma – 14 points; the Sooners crushed Texas Tech.

The “Worst Pick” from last week was taking Alabama – 15 points. ‘Bama did beat Tennessee but it was nip and tuck to the end.

Nothing in the 3 paragraphs above ought to inspire anyone to use anything here to influence a decision as to which side to back in any sort of real wager on a real NCAA football game involving real money. You would have to be this dumb to do so:

    You think Tiger Woods is an Asian forest.

General Comments:

The Linfield College Wildcats extended their season record to 6-0 last week with a 52-10 win over Whitworth who brought their own 6-0 record to the game. Until last week, Whitworth had not given up more than 20 points in any game. The win puts Linfield on top of the Northwest Conference standings undefeated in conference play. This week the Wildcats take a short journey to play George Fox College in another conference game. George Fox is 1-3 in the conference games and 3-4 overall. Go Wildcats!

Last week, I wrote a “Memo to Self” here to check out Memphis QB, Paxton Lynch. Memphis played a Friday night game last week against Tulsa and I got to see it on the BIG screen at a sportsbook in Las Vegas. Here is the bottom line:

    The kid can play. He can throw long and short. His mechanics need some fine tuning but he can play. He is big (6’7” and 245 lbs) and he moves very well for his size. I think he could be the 2nd QB taken in the draft based on what I have seen so far this year.

About a month ago, I mentioned in one of these Mythical Picks commentaries that fans at Mississippi State had set a record acknowledged in the Guinness Book of Records for the most people ringing cowbells at the same time. I guess the participants at the time are proud to be in that book and are glad to have taken the time to set that prestigious record. Last week, I ran across another Guinness record that seems marginally interesting as we approach Halloween this weekend:

    A man in Taunton, MA took an 817-pound pumpkin; hollowed it out into a “boat”, paddled it on the Taunton River for 3 miles and set the world record for “longest journey in a pumpkin boat (paddling)”. Here is the link

Before anyone asks, I will not be checking the book out to find out how this record differs from whatever record may exist for “longest journey in a pumpkin boat (motorized).”

Vandy beat Missouri 10-3 last week. The Total Line for the game was a ridiculously low 34.5 points and these two teams never came close to threatening to take the game OVER that line. Somewhere in the cosmos, Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes nodded in approval. Missouri has played 4 games in the month of October prior to this weekend. Back on October 3, they beat South Carolina 24-10 and they scored TDs in that game not 8 field goals to get to 24 points. I mention that because those are the only TDs Missouri has scored this month. In their last three games – all losses to be sure – here is the scoring output:

    3 points against Florida
    6 points against Georgia
    3 points against Vandy

Starting QB, Maty Mauk has been suspended from the team for breaking unspecified team rules. Rather obviously, the backup QB still has a few things to learn. Mauk has been reinstated this week and “might start” against Mississippi St. on 5 November. Even if he has “lost his edge” or is a “tad rusty” he has to be able to do better than this, no?

Back in August when polls ranked the teams in the country before anyone had taken a real snap from center, lots of folks thought Auburn would be “a contenda” in the SEC. Surprisingly, Auburn is in last place in the SEC West as of this morning with a 1-3 record in the conference.

The most bizarre ending to a football game last weekend had to be the way Georgia Tech beat Florida State. With the score tied and only a few seconds left on the clock, Florida State lined up for a 56-yard field goal. Tech blocked the kick and a Tech defender chased the ball down as it bounced on the field of play; he then ran around and through the Florida State kicking team for a TD and the game was over. Nick Saban knows the feeling…

These sort of “Kick Six” situations are not as surprising as they are exciting. On a kicking team, you have the kicker and the holder who are generally not the best athletes/football players on the team. Usually, the other 9 guys are large offensive lineman there to keep the kicker safe while he sends the ball through the uprights – hopefully. Big offensive linemen are not the folks you want out there chasing down – or trying to chase down – a speedy “return guy”. That is what happened to Alabama last year and to Florida State last week…

Last weekend was a bad weekend for football in Utah. First, Utah State laid an egg in losing to San Diego St. by 34 points. This loss in conference puts Utah State in a three-way tie for first in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference. Utah State, Air Force and Boise St. are all 3-1 in conference. In the West Division, San Diego State leads with a 4-0 conference record and all the other teams there have at least 2 conference losses.

Later, Utah suffered their first loss of the year to USC. Utah still leads the PAC-12 South by a full game over USC and UCLA but with their loss to USC, they lose out in a tie-breaker with the Trojans. However, Utah holds the advantage over UCLA. Therefore, you can be sure that Utah will be rooting for UCLA to beat USC when those two teams meet down the road.

Stanford dominates the PAC-12 North with a 5-0 conference record. Surprisingly, Washington State is second in the PAC-12 North with a 3-1 conference record and those two teams meet in Pullman WA this weekend. Last week Stanford beat Washington 31-14; that score was reflective of the game on the field. Two questions:

    How did Stanford lose to Northwestern in the first game of the year and only score 6 points? In the 6 games since that opening loss, Stanford has scored 256 points – just a tad over 42 points per game.

    What defense in the upcoming games might hold Stanford under 30 points? Here are Stanford’s opponents:

      Washington State – unlikely
      Colorado – unlikely
      Oregon – unlikely
      Cal – unlikely but at least this is a big rivalry game
      Notre Dame – could happen…

If a time-traveler from the 1970s arrived here this morning and saw that Northwestern beat Nebraska last week giving Northwestern a 6-2 record for the year while dropping Nebraska to 3-5, he might wonder if his time machine had malfunctioned and sent him to a planet in another galaxy as well as to a different point on the time continuum…

Last week, Oklahoma pounded Texas Tech winning by 36 points and looking as if they were at least that much better than Tech. Meanwhile Oklahoma St. pummeled Kansas into submission by a score of 58-10. Oklahoma is 6-1 for the year; Oklahoma St. is 7-0 for the year; neither team is considered one of the top two teams in the Big 12.

Since I mentioned Kansas above, the team is in the midst of yet another miserable season. Demonstrating the Fundamental Premise of the Malevolent Universe – – no matter how bad things are, they can always be worse – – here is a disheartening reality for Kansas football fans, assuming of course that there are still some of that species around:

    Kansas University is still paying off Charlie Weis on his contract.

Michigan St. beat Indiana 52-26 last week and just looking at the final score one might think this was a cake walk for State. It was not. At the end of the 3rd quarter, State led 28-26 and the game was still in doubt.

UMass led Toledo 14-3 after the first quarter and led 28-10 at the half. UMass was a 12.5 point underdog so folks who took the points had to be feeling pretty good at that point. Unfortunately, Toledo won the second half in a rout 41-7. That gave Toledo a 51-35 win and gave UMass backers a loss in a game they thought they had in the bag.

Speaking of wagering, Old Dominion University is 0-7 against the spread so far this year. From a wagering perspective, that can just as valuable as a team that is 7-0 – so long as the bettor has been regularly backing ODU’s opponents.

Bowling Green beat Kent St. 48-0. I am not at all surprised that Bowling Green scored 48 points here; they are a team that focuses on playing up-tempo offense. What does surprise me is that Bowling Green could shut out any Division 1-A team.

Temple came from behind to beat E. Carolina last week raising their record to 7-0 for the season. Temple has been winning by playing strong defense; the Owls rank 112th in the country in total offense. This week, Temple steps up in class from opponents such as E. Carolina, Cincy and UMass. This week the Owls host Notre Dame at Lincoln Financial Field in Philly. ESPN Game Day will be in Philly and the game will be nationally televised. Remember that time-traveler from the 1970s I conjured up earlier? This game and the focus on this game would convince him that he was somewhere on a planet in the Xygork Nebula…

I read a piece – – cannot find the reference now – – that said it was possible that Temple would play Marshall in the Miami Beach Bowl sometime before Christmas this year. Bowl projections in October are about as useless as pre-season rankings from polls but I do have two things to say about that projection:

    1. If – I said IF – Temple were to beat Notre Dame this weekend, you may be certain that they will be playing in a more prestigious bowl game than the Miami Beach Bowl and that their game will not be before Christmas.

    2. If the Miami Beach Bowl features Temple and Marshall in the week before Christmas, the stands will be at most 30% full.

We are coming up to the point in the season where college football gets verrrrry interesting. [/ Arte Johnson] Coming up soon:

    Ohio State has to play Michigan State and Michigan. Those games should be a lot more interesting and exciting than the Ohio State/Rutgers game was.

    Baylor and TCU will meet and the winner will definitely be in consideration for the College Football Playoff. Baylor will have to make a go of it without starting QB, Seth Russell who broke a bone in his neck last week.

    LSU and Alabama both take this week off to prepare for their game next week.

    The Florida State/Clemson game next week will likely decide the ACC Atlantic Division champion.

    Duke/UNC – a major rivalry game in any year – could decide the ACC Coastal Division champion.

Add to all of those game the bit rivalry games that happen all over the country in the late stages of the year. This is the time when college football fans get their adrenaline flowing.

Since I mentioned the Temple Notre Dame game above, here are some player names you might hear during that game:

    Jager Gardner – RB – Temple (wish his middle name was “Meister”)

    Cole Luke – CB – Notre Dame (wish his middle name was “Hand”)

    Praise Martin-Oguike – DL – Temple (wish his middle name was “The Lord”)

    Prosper Mekoba – DL – Temple (live long, my man)

    Equanimeous St. Brown – WR – Notre Dame (seriously…)

    Drue Tranquill – S – Notre Dame (a big hit could be “The Tranquilizer”)

The Ponderosa Games:

Last week there were 6 Ponderosa Games. The record for favorites covering in those games was 1-4-1 bringing the season total for favorites covering to 24-32-1. I know the season is not over, but that is more “out-of-balance” than I recall seeing this late in most seasons.

Oklahoma State covered.

Baylor, Boise St., Marshall and W. Michigan did not cover.

N. Illinois played to a “push”.

This week, we have 8 Ponderosa Games.

(Fri Nite) Wyoming at Utah State – 26 (49): The spread here opened the week at 23.5 points and has climbed steadily to this level during the week. Wyoming is a bad team; Utah State is a good team but not a consistent team.

Troy at Appalachian St. – 24 (55): The spread here opened the week at 22 points and has climbed steadily to this level during the week. Troy is a bad team. Appalachian St. is a good team that is not widely recognized as such; they rank 5th in the country in total defense as of today.

Oklahoma – 39.5 at Kansas (61): The total Line here opened the week at 66.5 points and dropped quickly to 62 points and has continued easing down as the week progresses. Kansas ranks 123rd in the country in total defense and 102nd in the country in total offense. Yowza!!

Oregon St. at Utah – 24 (54): Utah needs the game to stay atop the PAC-12 South; they should be “upset” at their performance last week and Oregon St. is not very good…

UCF at Cincy – 27.5 (60): The spread here opened the week at 23.5 points and has risen steadily to this level. UCF is winless this year; if you think this is the week for them to get their first win you can find them at +2600 on the Money Line.

W. Kentucky – 24 at Old Dominion (66): Old Dominion is 0-7 ATS this year (see above)…

UTEP at So. Mississippi – 25.5 (58): So. Miss is 9th in the country in total offense averaging 506 yards per game. UTEP is 104th in the country in total defense allowing 477 yards per game. Ka-beesh…?

Tulane at Memphis – 32 (63): Tulane gives up about 240 yards per game passing. Memphis loves to throw the football averaging 358 yards per game. My guess is Memphis throws for 350 yards here.

The SHOE Teams:

As the season progresses, the fetid aromas wafting from various football teams gets stronger and more nauseating. Here are some highly odoriferous teams:

    E. Michigan: 1-8: That win came against Wyoming

    Kansas: 0-7: Losing by an average of 31.2 points per game.

    Miami (Oh): 1-7: 125th in the country on defense giving up 444 yards per game

    La-Monroe: 1-6: Losing by an average of 26.7 points per game

    New Mexico St.: 0-7: Losing by an average of 26.6 points per game.

    North Texas: 0-7: 111th in the country on offense and 118th in the country on defense.

    Tulane: 2-5: Losing by 27.0 points per game

    UCF: 0-8: Last in the country in total offense (258 yards per game)

    Wyoming: 1-7: Lost to e. Michigan; 99th in the country in total defense.

These are merely 9 bad teams; there are others that I will omit here for the sake of brevity…

Games of Interest:

(Fri Nite) Louisville – 11 at Wake Forest (43): This game is interesting because it would appear to be a low-scoring defensive game. Wake plays solid defense; Louisville and BC slugged it out in a low scoring game last week. That is a fat line indeed. I like Wake Forest plus the points.

Clemson – 10 at NC State (51): Some folks think Clemson will be a tough out in the College Football Playoff come January – – assuming they beat Florida State next week. I do not know if I agree with that optimistic outlook, but I do think they are significantly better than NC State. I like Clemson to win and cover.

Maryland at Iowa – 17 (53): Iowa has its eye on the Big 10 Championship Game; Maryland has its eye on the sewer drain the season is rushing down. Maryland loses by an average of 15.3 points per game; Iowa is +17.7 in scoring margin. I like Iowa to win and cover.

Ole Miss – 7.5 at Auburn (57.5): Ole Miss needs the game to stay in contention for the SEC West title and a slot in the SEC Championship Game. Auburn needs the game just because they need a win badly. I think there will be plenty of scoring here so I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Arizona at Washington – 5 (58): Washington is 120th in the country on offense averaging only 334 yards per game. Arizona is 116th in the country on defense allowing 452 yards per game. With apologies to Frank Sinatra, Something’s Gotta Give here. I have no idea what will happen so I’ll just watch for general interest.

Stanford – 10.5 at Washington State (61): Lots of line movement here… The spread opened the week at 13.5 points; the Total Line opened the week at 66 points. Washington State has been a pleasant surprise for folks on the Palouse this year but I think Stanford is a couple of steps higher on the ladder than State. I like Stanford to win and cover here and I like this game to go OVER.

Georgia vs Florida – 2 (46) [Game is in Jax]: Without Nick Chubb, the Georgia offense went from a shotgun to a pop-gun. Florida has a solid defense and I have not seen QB play from any of the Georgia QBs that makes me think they can do business against the Florida defense. I’ll take Florida to win and cover.

USC – 5.5 at Cal (59.5): If USC can play this week the way they played against Utah last week, they will win this game handily. If the Trojans lose here, they can pretty much kiss any PAC-121 championship aspirations goodbye. I’ll take USC and lay the points.

Notre Dame – 11 at Temple (50): Temple is 9th in the country on defense allowing only 308 yards per game. However Notre Dame gains an average of 499 yards per game. Looking at this from the other end of the telescope, Notre Dame’s defense allows 370 yards per game while Temple’s offense generates only 346 yards per game (112th in the country). I think Temple is outclassed here. I’ll take Notre Dame to win and cover.

Ga Tech – 6 at UVa (54): Tech should run the ball well and score on Virginia; Virginia should score on a really mediocre Tech defense. I like the game to go OVER.

Oklahoma St. – 3 at Texas Tech (79): Texas Tech is a bad defensive football team ranking 127th in the country giving up an average of 562 yards per game. Tech can score so I think this game will end up with a score that resembles an NBA halftime score. I like this game to go OVER.

Tennessee – 9 at Kentucky (57): I think Tennessee left a lot on the field last week against Alabama and Kentucky’s defense is pretty good. Make this a venue call; I like Kentucky plus the points.

Texas-San Antonio – 7 at North Texas (56): Game is interesting because both teams are bad…

Idaho – 7 at New Mexico State (63.5): Game is interesting because both teams are bad…

Va Tech – 2 at BC (38): Game is interesting because neither team has a propensity to score but both play good defense. I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Miami (FL) at Duke – 13 (48.5): With a new coach in Miami, I think the team rebounds enough here to cover that fat line. I’ll take Miami plus the points.

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend OF 11/1/15

Last week continued the vanilla flavor of Mythical Picks for this season. Last week, the Mythical picks record was 8-8-0 bringing the season record to 55-55-3. The Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip games did not do as well; last week the coin flip games were 1-2-0 dropping the season record to a sub-.500 record of 6-7-0.

The “Best Pick” of the week was picking the Raiders/Chargers OVER 47. The game went comfortably over.

The “Worst Pick of the week was the Colts/Saints game. I picked the game to go OVER 52 (It did not.) and I took the Colts – 4.5 (They lost the game outright.)

No one should use any information here as the basis for making a wager involving real money on an actual NFL game this weekend – or any other weekend for that matter. To do that, here is how stupid you would have to be:

    If your computer “freezes up”, you think the proper remedy is to put it in the microwave.

General Comments:

I will try to be brief this week; there is a lot on my plate at the moment…

Kudos to Dan Campbell for getting the Dolphins to play hard and to play well in the last two weeks. Clearly the team has responded to his gung-ho/tough-guy message as the coach. The cautionary note here is that the opponents for the dolphins in the last two weeks have been the Titans and the Texans who have a combined record of 3-10. Those are not elite NFL squads.

At one point in the game last week, the Texans trailed the Dolphins 41-0; I thought that had to be the nadir of the season for them. A friend said that he thought the Texans had been behind the Falcons by that much earlier this year and so I went and looked. My friend was wrong; the Texans trailed the Falcons 42-0 earlier this year. The Texans lost Arian Foster for the year with an Achilles tendon injury; at age 29, that might be career ending for Foster. I am not wishing that for him, but many RBs reach their “sell by date” at age 29 without an injury that significant.

The Colts lost to the Saints and the Indy fans booed Andrew Luck in the first half of the game. Luck had a bad game and he has not played well much of the year. However, Colts’ fans really need to think about that booing; Luck has had the team in the playoffs for 3 straight years and the Colts were in the AFC Championship Game last year. You may recall that game; it is the one that introduced the word “Deflategate” to the sports vocabulary.

The Colts’ problems reside in their OL and DL; those were team weaknesses last year. In the offseason, management did little or nothing to strengthen those weaknesses and that is not Andrew Luck’s fault nor the fault of the veteran “skill position players” the Colts did sign in free agency. Consider that the Colts defense gave up more than 10 yards per carry to Mark Ingram in the loss last week (14 carries 143 yards) and allowed the Saints to hold the ball for more than 38 minutes.

The Colts continue to lead the AFC South simply because the other teams there are beneath mediocre. With the weaknesses of the Colts on display for all teams to see and with Andrew Luck still coming back from a shoulder injury, it would not be a surprise to see the Colts at .500 for the year. And that ought to win the AFC South comfortably…

The Bills continue to underachieve. Not only did they lose to the Jags in London last week, they lost because their defense gave up a game winning drive in the final moments and that put the Jags over 30 points for the game. The Bills have a Bye Week this week and that should get them back to their #1 QB, Tyrod Taylor.

    That is sort of a frightening thought. Tyrod Taylor as your starting QB is considered a gift from the gods…

As is often the case, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle sees things differently than most other folks. Here is his question in the wake of the Bills Jags game in London:

“Checking out the massive logistics and cost of taking two NFL teams to London for a game, wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier to bring 70,000 London fans to America instead?”

In training camp, the Bills had Matt Cassel as part of their QB mix and then they cut him to go with EJ Manuel as the backup. Manuel has been “less than mediocre” in two starts but before Bills’ fans lament that personnel decision back in August, consider that Matt Cassel started for the Cowboys last week against the Giants and the Cowboys lost by a TD. Cassel threw 3 INTs in the second half and one was a Pick Six. In 2015, neither QB is anything more than a stop-gap.

The Giants beat the Cowboys but surely did not look dominant in doing so. The Giants lead the NFC East and – like the Colts in the AFC – they do not look nearly as competent/dominating as the other division leaders in the NFC.

The Jets played the Pats even for 3 quarters; in fact, they led 17-16 at the end of the 3rd quarter. No one seems to have caught this on videotape, but somehow Tom Brady found a phone booth between quarters and came out as Superman in the 4th quarter. Here is his stat line for the 4th quarter:

    14-17 for 150 yards and 2 TDs with 0 INTs

Those would be phenomenal stats for many QBs for a half game.

Oh, by the way, Brady led the pats in rushing for the game carrying 4 times for 15 yards. Clearly, the Pats determined that they would do little business trying to run on the Jets’ DL and so they did something else; they threw the ball all over the field.

The Jets are playing very well this year because they are running the ball well and they are playing sound defense. They give up only 17.5 points per game – second only to the Broncos who give up 17.0 points per game. They are getting sound if not stirring QB play from Ryan Fitzpatrick and capitalizing on the totality of their game to be in second place in the AFC East a game ahead of the Dolphins.

The Raiders demolished the Chargers 37-29. It was not nearly that close:

    Early in the 4th quarter, the score was 37-6. The Raiders put the game on cruise control at that point and the Chargers scored 3 meaningless TDs to make it appear as if the game might have been in doubt at some point in the second half. It was not.

    Amari Cooper is the real deal at WR. He caught a TD pass last week and for the season he has 33 catches and is averaging over 16 yards per catch.

The Chiefs beat the Steelers last week but did not look inspiring in doing so. They beat the Steelers’ #3 QB and in that game Landry Jones showed why he is the #3 QB. He lost a fumble and threw 2 INTs putting the Steelers 3 games behind the Bengals in the loss column in the AFC North. The Chiefs raised their record to 2-5.

In the AFC West, the Raiders look as they are the most likely team to pick up the pieces if the Broncos come apart at the seams down the line. Both the Chargers and the Chiefs have looked awful this year – and the Chiefs have lost their best offensive weapon for the rest of the season. I am not trying to say that the Raiders are a good team yet; they are improved over last year and they are young enough to expect improvement next year. However, if abject misfortune befalls the Broncos, I think the Raiders are the least worst of the other teams in the AFC west.

Speaking of good young WRs as I was above, Stefon Diggs may be the main man in Minnesota. He made a highlight reel TD catch against the Lions last week that NFL Films will probably use for the next 5 years. Yes, I know; it was against the Lions last week. Nevertheless, Diggs was impressive.

The Lions led by 2 scores early in the game and then seemed lost at sea for the rest of the game. The Lions are the only team in the NFL to have won only 1 game this year. Sadly for Lions’ fans – there are probably still a few of them around somewhere – they are playing as if they deserve that record and that opprobrium.

Here is the fundamental reason the Falcons beat the Titans 10-7 last week:

    The Titans were even more incompetent than the Falcons were.

In the NFC West, I think the Rams are for real because they have an elite defense and they have discovered that Todd Gurley is indeed a fine NFL caliber RB. Last week against the Browns, he carried 19 times for 128 yards and 2 TDs. Here is what the Rams’ defense did:

    Forced four fumbles
    Recovered all four of the forced fumbles
    Ran back one of the recovered forced fumbles for a TD
    Sacked the QB four times.

Josh McCown suffered a shoulder injury in the game after running into the stadium wall. It may not be such a burden for the Browns should they have to turn to Johnny Manziel to play QB. Josh McCown is 36 years old; Father Time has determined that he is not going to be the franchise QB for any team in the league. The Browns at some point probably want to find out if Manziel can play the position well enough to be the starter – or the long term backup. It may tell them if they need to go and find one QB or two QBs.

The Panthers beat the Eagles despite the fact that Cam Newton threw 3 INTs. Other than those 3 plays, Newton played a very good game and Jonathan Stewart fan for 100+ yards. The Eagles have a problem on offense – and it is not just their QB.

The Eagles cannot or will not – makes no difference which is the case – throw the ball downfield 20 yards or more. That allows the safeties to “play up” and that limits the yards after the catch by receivers in the short passing game.

I have said for the last year or so that the best QB on the Skins’ roster to play in Jay Gruden’s offensive system is Kirk Cousins. After the Bucs jumped out to a 24-0 lead last week, Cousins led the Skins back to win the game 31-30 including a game winning 80-yard drive in the final moments. He threw for 300+ yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs in the game; oh, and he ran for the Skins’ fourth TD.

The Bucs meanwhile played a miserable second half of football. Not only did they surrender a generous lead; they were called for 16 penalties in the game. I realize that Lovie Smith is a darling of the football media but consider:

    He is an anointed defensive genius and master of the “Tampa 2 defense”. The Skins torched that defense in their comeback.

    Stupid penalties are partially attributable to bad coaching.

The Bucs had the overall #1 pick in the draft last year and they are 2-4 this year.

The Games:

Here are the teams with Bye Weeks:

    Bills will take 2 weeks to contemplate how they can be as good as their coach proclaims them to be and yet be at the bottom of the AFC East.

    Eagles will take 2 weeks to figure out how to stretch the field just a bit so that defenses play them honestly.

    Jags will take 2 weeks to bask in the glory of being tied for second place in the AFC South; that is rarefied air for the Jags.

    Skins will take 2 weeks to analyze what they fed kirk Cousins for his pre-game meal last week so that they can duplicate it next time they play.

(Thurs Nite) Miami at New England – 8 (51): Not only is this a division game; this is a game in which the Dolphins will demonstrate if the “Dan Campbell Turnaround” is for real. Here is what I have seen from the Dolphins over the past two weeks:

    They are playing much harder.
    They are playing smarter.
    They are playing a more open offense.

Does that mean they will beat the Pats here? I doubt it, but they are more likely to do so tonight than they were to do so four weeks ago. If you like the Dolphins to win straight up, you can find them at +340 at several sportsbooks. I think this will be an offensive game on both sides and so I like the game to go OVER.

Detroit vs KC – 5 (46) [Game is in London]: The spread here opened at 3.5 points and expanded to this level quickly. The Committee of One (me) who selects the Dog-Breath Game of the Week thought long and hard about this one since the teams bring a combined 3-11 record to the coin toss. However, there is another game below to which that “honor” will fall. Neither team in this game is even marginally relevant for 2015. Matthew Stafford will be the superior QB on the field but to say that he can be erratic is to say that Jeffrey Dahmer was not a nice man. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game – to a large extent because I do not care enough about this game to waste any synapse firings over it – and the coin says to take the Lions plus the points.

Minnesota at Chicago “pick ‘em” (42): Look, in a “pick ‘em” game, my inclination is to go with the team that I consider to be the superior side. Therefore, I’ll take the Vikings to win the game.

Tampa at Atlanta – 7 (48.5): If I were only to consider this game off of last week’s performances, this would clearly be the Dog-Breath Game of the Week but the Falcons have shown better in previous weeks than they did last week. It will be interesting to see how the Bucs coaching staff gets their young team to forget the come-from-WAAY-ahead loss and to focus on this division rival. I think this is the week the Falcons shake off the fog they have been playing in for the past 2 weeks and come back to life. I’ll take the Falcons at home and lay the points. After making that pick, I ran across these two meaningless trends that seem to support the pick:

    In the last 29 meetings head-to-head, the favorite is 20-8-1 ATS.
    In the last 8 meetings head-to-head, the home team is 5-2-1 ATS

Giants at New Orleans – 3 (48.5): The Saints have won 2 games in a row over the Falcons and the Colts; the Giants come off an important win over the Cowboys in which they got a Pick Six and a kickoff return for a TD as they scored a grand total of 27 points. The Saints are not likely to offer up the same level of largesse here but by the same token, the Giants’ OL is not likely to allow the same level of pressure to Eli Manning that the Colts OL allowed the Saints to apply to Andrew Luck. More importantly, Mark Ingram will not be running for an average of 10 yards per carry against the Giants. I think the wrong team is favored here; I’ll take the Giants plus the points.

SF at St. Louis – 8 (39): In games I think will be low-scoring, I usually want to take the points – particularly if there are more than a TD’s worth of points on the table. However, I am loathe to do that here because the Rams’ defense just might hold the Niners to single digits in this game. The Rams’ defense should feast on Colin Kaepernick once they shut down the threat of Carlos Hyde running the ball. The Rams offense is not fearsome, but against the Niners’ defense, it should have a decent day. I like the Rams to win and cover here. Not counting defensive/special teams scores or scores coming from ridiculously short fields, I will not be surprised to see this game wind up 20-6.

Arizona – 4.5 at Cleveland (46.5): The Cardinals fly way to the east to play a non-conference opponent. That is not the stuff of adrenaline and emotion. Fortunately for the Cardinals, that non-conference opponent is the sorry-assed Browns. The Cards are 86 yards per game better on offense and 30 yards per game better on defense. That should translate to a Cardinals’ win but a 4.5-point spread often translates into a need to win by a TD. That scares me enough to opt to take the game to go OVER.

Cincy at Pittsburgh – 1 (48): This spread opened with the Bengals as a 3-point favorite; what we see here represents a 4-point swing in the spread and that is a lot. Ben Roethlisberger practiced this week and is “probable” for this game. After watching Landry Jones play last week and Michael Vick play the two weeks before that, I think Ben Roethlisberger playing on a crutch would be an upgrade at QB. The Bengals are playoff bound; they have 6 wins already and at least 4 easy games on the schedule after this one. The Steelers are sitting at 4-3 but they have all 3 of their losses in conference. That will not help in wild-card tiebreakers. I will assume that Roethlisberger will play here. I will take the Steelers and lay the point and I will take the game to go OVER.

San Diego at Baltimore – 3 (50): Here is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. The Ravens started the season looking at getting a bye week in the playoffs; they are now 1-6 overall and 0-2 at home. The Chargers were the “sexy pick” in the AFC West to dethrone the Broncos; they are now 2-5 overall and 0-3 on the road. I am turning the game over immediately to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol just to get out of the stench here. The coin says to take the Chargers plus the points.

Tennessee at Houston (no lines): If there were lines up for this game it would have been the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Now I – and you too – have a perfectly good reason to ignore it and pretend it does not exist…

Jets – 2.5 at Oakland (45): This is not the best game on the card by far but it is a game that ought to be interesting. The Raiders are not going to run away and hide with a 31-point lead over the Jets; their offense is improved to be sure but not that much improved. Both teams have running games that could exploit the opposing defense but the Jets’ pass defense is much better than the Raiders’ pass defense. That is a long way to travel for those Jets and they did have a hard-fought game in New England that went down to the final moments. Make this a venue call; I’ll take the Raiders plus the points.

Seattle – 6 at Dallas (41): With apologies to Rick Pitino from his days with the Celtics:

“Look, Tony Romo isn’t walking in through that door – – and if he does, he will still have his arm in a sling.”

The Cowboys’ defense will pressure Russell Wilson all day long but he will still make fewer mistakes than either Matt Cassel or Brandon Weeden or Jason Garrett should he put on a uniform and hit the field to play QB. Darren McFadden ran well last week but he does not have a history of stringing together excellent games. Both teams are in dire straits when it comes to their playoff aspirations this year. The Seahawks are 1-3 on the road this year; the Cowboys are 1-2 at home this year; that does not seem to be much of a venue advantage. Out comes the Curmudgeon Central Coin for the Coin Flip Protocol and the coin says to take the Seahawks and lay the points.

(Sun Nite) Green Bay – 3 at Denver (46): Here you have the Game of the Week; two undefeated teams took last week off to prep for this game; two outstanding QBs face off against each other. We have a dinner engagement on Sunday evening, but you may be certain that I will record this game and watch it in its entirety after our guests depart. At this moment, Aaron Rodgers is the better QB; at this moment the Denver defense is the better defensive unit. Rodgers and the Packers have not faced a defense nearly this good all year long; their toughest opposing defense was the Rams. At the same time, the Broncos have not faced an offense – and a QB – as potent as the Packers are; there toughest opposing offense was the Chiefs back with they had a healthy Jamaal Charles on the field. The Packers run the ball better than the Broncos by 1 yard per carry; however the Broncos run defense is better than the Packers run defense by 1.1 yards per carry. I like the Packers to win and cover on the road.

(Mon Nite) Indy at Carolina – 7 (47): If I am correct about the Packers winning on Sunday night, that will set up the Game of the Week next week when the Packers meet the Panthers because I think the Panthers are going to win this game handily. I like the Panthers at home to win and cover.

Finally, here is an NFL observation from Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“The NFL Network did a quick apology after accidentally showing nude Cincinnati players in the background of a locker room interview.

“But with a 6-0 record, the Bengals are having a tough time proving they’ve been exposed in any way this year.”

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

RIP Flip Saunders…

Flip Saunders, coach and GM of the Minnesota Timberwolves, died over the weekend of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The commentary of people on his passing sounded to me more authentic than is typical in situations like this one. It sounded to me as if the person on the screen reading the copy related to this passing genuinely wanted me to know that Flip Saunders was a good person. In addition, NBA coaches will wear a lapel pin honoring and remembering him all season long. That sort of tribute does not obtain for everyone.

Rest in peace, Flip Saunders…

Unless you are a Mets’ fan or a bettor who took the Mets to win Game 1 of the World Series, you had to like last night’s game. If you are into omens, you got one in the bottom of the first inning with an inside the park home run; the last time that happened was in 1929.

    [Aside: The last inside the park home run in a World Series game happened in October 1929 and the stock market crashed on October 29, 1929. Since tomorrow is October 29, we shall have to hope that last night’s “omen” was only related to an exciting baseball series and not to world financial conditions.]

Then the momentum swung back and forth between the teams sending the game into extra innings becoming on the third World Series game ever to go to the 14th inning. The game featured some solid pitching, “normal” home runs and manufactured runs. If you watched last night’s game and could not find something to fit your taste, you just do not like baseball – and there is nothing wrong with that. For baseball fans, however, last night’s game was a great game played well by two good teams. We baseball fans will be happy to see six more just the same…

One interesting stat emerged from last night’s game. Mets’ outfielder, Michael Conforto drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. That is a pretty ordinary play except …

    Conforto is the only player ever to drive in a run in the Little League World Series, the College World Series and the MLB World Series.

How cool is that?

I appreciate the value of free speech in the US and I accept the fact that guaranteeing free speech to everyone requires that I must hear from time to time things that I find reprehensible and vile. Frequently, such utterances come from the folks in charge of the Westboro Baptist Church. To anyone who pays attention to the news, it is obvious that members of that congregation believe that homosexuality is an abomination and that sin will be the downfall of mankind. Whether or not you or I agree with that creed is immaterial; that is their belief and they must be free to practice it and to preach it.

Having said that, I would greatly prefer if they would find venues for their free expression that do not make me cringe. Last weekend, a driver plunged a car into the Oklahoma State Homecoming Parade in Stillwater, OK. Four people including a toddler were killed and dozens had to be treated at local hospitals for serious injuries. The driver of the car allegedly was driving under the influence and could face charges of murder for the event. The families of the victims here seem to have suffered enough since they and their loved ones did nothing to incur the wrath of anyone else.

Not so, say the leaders of the Westboro Baptist Church. The congregation plans to picket the funerals of these victims; and if they do, their behavior can only add to the suffering of the mourners. I understand that the Church members believe they are doing God’s work; at the same time, I wonder if they derive some sort of perverse enjoyment from inflicting their extra measure of suffering to victims’ families at funeral services. If indeed any of them do derive such enjoyment, that perversion ought to be at least as great an abomination as the sin that they decry so loudly…

With Al Golden’s firing as the head coach at Miami, there are already three major college coaching openings available and the season is not over yet. Maryland, South Carolina, Southern Cal and Miami are the big schools we know will be looking for new hires at the end of the season and there will surely be more come December as final records for 2015 are written in India ink. I bring this up because of a report that I read yesterday regarding the Houston Texans.

According to that report, QB Ryan Mallett missed the team charter flight to Miami and had to catch a commercial flight to get to the game. Evidently, this is not the first time that Mallett has not been on time for team events and coach Bill O’Brien wanted to release Mallett but he was over-ruled by the GM. On the assumption that report is accurate, that tells me that O’Brien is not in charge of the team and most coaches are not going to be happy with that state of affairs for very long. Football coaches are control freaks.

Bill O’Brien got the job in Houston because of the exceptional job he did in keeping the Penn State football program from going into the sewer in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky miasma. If I were an Athletic Director at one of those major schools that needed a coach, I would quietly contact O’Brien’s agent to inquire if – perhaps – he might be interested in returning to the college ranks where “higher ups” would not question his decisions regarding who is on the team and who is not on the team. After all, it is not as if the Texans are bound for any sort of football glory this season – and perhaps the next few also…

Finally, here is a comment from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot regarding the team the Mets eliminated from post-season play:

“Futurewatch: Traumatized Cubs fans can take comfort in believing that with so much young talent on the roster, their team’s championship prospects should be even better next season. Of course, that’s what everybody said about the Washington Nationals two years ago.”

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

Finally – The World Series…

The World Series starts tonight. Back in Spring Training, folks could have imagined seeing the Royals appear here for a second year in a row. They were surprises last year but made it to the Series and showed well there; an encore performance was not out of the question. The Mets, on the other hand, were not considered seriously in any World Series discussions outside of Queens, Brooklyn and towns along the Long Island Expressway. Nevertheless, here they are. One of the wonderful things about the World Series is that teams that make it to the Series are not “flukes”. Grinding through a 162-game season followed by at least two elimination usually assures that the teams there are worthy of their status.

The Mets’ young pitching staff will face a challenge in the Royals – the team that struck out the fewest times last season. The Mets’ pitchers have averaged 10 strikeouts per game in the playoffs this year; the Royals as a team only struck out 15.5% of the time for the season. In a game with 40 plate appearances, that equates to only 6 strikeouts. Just watching that will be interesting.

When we left Las Vegas, the oddsmakers had the Series as a “pick ‘em” proposition. Here are two key questions:

    Assuming the Daniel Murphy will revert to mild-mannered Clark Kent and become a newspaper reporter in place of a superhero, is there another Met who will assume the mantle of superhero?

    With regard to Johnny Cueto, will Johnny be good or will Johnny be bad?

I have no particular rooting interest in this Series and did not make a wager on it last weekend. My prediction is that the Royals will win in the end.

Since the World Series will end the baseball season, let me insert a Quick Quiz here that relates to MLB. What is more inconsistently called?

    A. The strike zone in MLB …

    B. Pass interference in the NFL.

Fifty words or less…

The NBA regular season also starts tonight. Three games are on the schedule and TNT will air two of them. I do love to watch basketball, but the only moments of those games that I will watch will be when the World Series game is between innings or when a relief pitcher is responding to a summons – from the manager and not a judge. Here are some predictions regarding what we will see from the NBA next April when the interesting part of their season begins:

    The Cleveland Cavaliers will dominate the Eastern Conference. They made it to the NBA Finals last year with two of their three best players on the injured list. Assuming they are back and uninjured, the Cavs will dominate again.

    The only serious competition for the Cavaliers in the East will be the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat. The Bulls need Derrick Rose to play most of the year and not to be in street clothes when the playoffs come around. The Heat need to be “rested and ready” once the playoffs begin. Even if those things come to pass, the Cavaliers ought to prevail.

    The Knicks will be significantly improved this year. They might even be on the fringe of making the playoffs.

    The Orlando Magic and the Philadelphia 76ers will both stink.

    The far superior Western Conference will not be dominated by anyone; there are too many good teams there. I like the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder to play for the championship of the West.

    Las Vegas had the LA Lakers’ win total at 24.5 for the season. I do not think the Lakers are nearly a playoff team, but I think they will do better than that.

    I think the New Orleans Pelicans with Anthony Davis may be the most fun team to watch this year.

    The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Portland Trail Blazers will have the worst records in the West but will not be nearly as bad as the Magic or the Sixers. Their bad records will be more a function of the fact that they have to play a lot more games against the large number of very good teams in the West as opposed to the mediocre teams in the East.

So let it be written; so let it be done… [/ Pharaoh Yul Brynner]

After Clemson disemboweled Miami 58-0 last weekend, Miami Coach, Al Golden got the axe. Golden arrived at Miami just as the NCAA dropped the hammer on the program in the wake of the Nevin Shapiro “untidiness”. He lived under the punishments imposed because of the actions of others. Obviously, Miami’s football fortunes are not what they were in the 80s and 90s, but to say that Al Golden is the reason for that retreat is unfair and incorrect. Nevertheless, 57-0 is an embarrassment normally reserved for second-rate football programs and/or homecoming patsy opponents.

According to this morning, Ed Reed says that he and other former Miami players would like to be involved in the search for Golden’s permanent replacement at Miami. That is not a bad idea except that Reed seems to think that getting someone from the “Miami family tree” is important. Getting a competent coach and a good recruiter – now that the scholarship limitations from the NCAA are over – is far more important than being part of the “Miami family tree”.

Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald that is peripherally related to a competent college football coach:

“There is a new book out about Nick Saban by author Monte Burke. It is called Saban: The Making Of A Coach. Because, evidently, all of the even worse book titles already were taken.”

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

Brief Admin Note

I am off to Las Vegas for the weekend. The NFL and NCAA Mythical Picks are posted earlier in the week than usual. Scroll down to see them.

I’ll be back on the air next Tuesday.

Stay well, all…

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

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

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

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

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

    Fleetwood Mac is not a new breakfast sandwich at McDonalds.

General Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Fresno St.
    New Mexico St.

Here are the teams Ole Miss has lost to:


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

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

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

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

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

Nonetheless, Alabama won the game handily…

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

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

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

Looking at the schedule and results to date:

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

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

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

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

    At Arizona, at UCLA, at Washington

    Home against Stanford, Arizona State and Colorado.

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

The Ponderosa Games:

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

Toledo covered.

Georgia Southern, Texas Tech and Wisconsin did not cover.

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

This week we have 6 Ponderosa Games:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The SHOE Teams:

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

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

Games of Interest:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How low can you go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Comments:

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

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

    A member of Chuck Pagano’s nuclear family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Games:

Teams that will take the week off are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pure Hedonism…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More On Daily Fantasy Sports…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Do they offer soup or broth for sale there?

    What they do offer for sale there are …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Juggernaut Gets Bigger…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And …

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

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

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