Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend of 10/3/15

Last week’s Mythical Picks were not mythically profitable at 6-7-2 but it was hardly the worst weekend ever for college Mythical Picks. Overall for the season, the record now stands at 27-27-3. That record reminds me of a comment made by Gene Mauch when he was the manager of the Phillies back in the dearly 1960s. After splitting a Sunday doubleheader – millennials can Google this term to find out what they were – a reporter asked him something along the lines of how he felt about the split. Mauch replied something like this:

    It is sort of like kissing your sister through a screen door.

The “Best Pick” from last week taking the Mississippi State/Auburn game UNDER 58 and seeing it end with only 26 points on the board. The “Worst Pick” from last week has two entries:

    On Friday nite I took UVa +2.5 against Boise St. and UVa lost by 42. On Saturday morning, I thought it could not possibly get worse than that. After all, I was off by 39.5 points…

    Then, on Saturday, I took Oregon to beat Utah by 11 or more. Well, Oregon lost that game and it was not close; Oregon lost by 42 to Utah and the score reflected the way the game ought to have turned out. So. I was off by 53.5 points in the game meaning it was even worse than the Friday nite embarrassment.

No one ought to consider any of the information here as sufficiently authoritative such that one would consider it as a basis for making a real wager involving real money on a college football game this weekend.

    Anyone stupid enough to do that also thinks that ambassadors do not get sick because they have diplomatic immunity.

General Comments:

I must apologize; I misspoke last week. Linfield had the week off and did not visit Lewis and Clark in Portland last week. Instead, they will play that game this weekend. Linfield’s record remains at 2-0 as they embark on their conference schedule for the season and as they continue to keep alive their streak of winning seasons in football that started back in 1956.

Finlandia did indeed play its scheduled game against Wisconsin-Stevens Point. In keeping with the disastrous season for the Finlandia Lions they lost the game; moreover they lost big. The score was 77-6. That means that Finlandia now has a record of 0-4 and the cumulative score against them is 272-9.

I happened upon Finlandia because someone chided me for reveling in the success of Linfield and my search for a team at the other end of the stick was brief and ended as soon as I found Finlandia. I did not do any research other than the current record early in this season and so I did not notice the twist in the schedule for Finlandia that begins this week:

    Maranatha Baptist College comes to visit Finlandia this week. Maranatha is 0-4 on the season and it has been outscored by a cumulative 193-27. There is no line on this game, but consider the possibility that Maranatha might be a favorite in the game on the road. Would you like to back them…?

    Moreover, Finlandia and Maranatha will meet again this year on October 31. That is correct; these teams will play on Halloween; you cannot make this kind of stuff up. In any event, this provides at least two chances for Finlandia to win a game over a disastrously bad opponent – – just as it provides the same pair of opportunities for Maranatha. I will have to track the fate of the loser in this week’s contest…

Dabo Sweeney – head coach at Clemson – said in a press conference this week that he fills out his coaches’ poll ballot every week and he thinks it is a meaningless exercise this early in the season. Kudos to Dabo Sweeney for candor!!!

Oh, by the way, any coach who did not give Utah a vote in the Top Ten this week – irrespective of whether or not Utah is going to be one of the 10 best teams in the country come December – should have his voting privileges revoked. If coaches are going to do this kind of nonsense, they ought to spend enough time and energy to check the realities of the season and not merely the reputations of the schools on the ballots.

Utah’s defense is excellent. In the opening game of the year they completely stifled Michigan and the Wolverines have gone on to win their last three games convincingly. Last week, Utah shut down Oregon – a team that normally thinks scoring only 45 points in a game is a bad day at the office. Oregon only gained a smidge over 5 yards per snap; often they average over 11 yards per snap. Utah’s defensive line can play the run and it can pressure the QB. The Utes will be a tough out for opponents this season.

Utah won the game 62-20; it was an old fashioned ass-kicking. In the second quarter, Utah led 20-13 and it was still a game. From that point until the middle of the 4thquarter, Utah ran off 42 straight points before Oregon scored a meaningless TD at the end.

In another PAC-12 game, UCLA dominated Arizona and won by 26 points. I thought that UCLA freshman QB, Josh Rosen, might be uncomfortable with his first real road game against a real opponent with really rabid fans in the stands. The verdict is in:

    He was not even remotely uncomfortable.

    UCLA scored 42 points in the first half.

Speaking of Michigan above, the Wolverines shut out BYU last week 31-0. The Michigan defense held BYU to 50 yards rushing and 55 yards passing for the game. Before your disregard that accomplishment by Michigan, consider that BYU had beaten Nebraska and Boise St. and lost to UCLA by a single point coming into that game. Yes, the game was in Ann Arbor, but nonetheless…

Arkansas lost to Texas A&M by 7 points in OT last week. If I have counted correctly, that means that Arkansas teams under Bret Bielema are now 0-11 in games decided by 10 points or less. Just to be clear, that is not a good thing… Consider these stats:

    Arkansas held the Aggies to 2-9 on third down conversions.

    Arkansas held the ball for more than 40 minutes.

    Arkansas still managed to lose the game.

LSU beat Syracuse by 10 points in Syracuse. The Orange played tough throughout the game but they really did not have an answer for Leonard Fournette who gained 244 yards and scored 2 TDs in the game. Zack Mahoney started at QB for Syracuse. If you do not recognize the name, you can be excused because back in the days of Spring Practice, Mahoney was listed at #5 on the QB depth chart. He threw 3 TD passes in the game which is more than adequate for a “fifth-stringer”…

Florida beat Tennessee 28-27. The story of the game is not how close the score was; the story here is that Tennessee had a 13-point lead in the 4th quarter and managed to lose the game. That happened to Tennessee earlier this year against Oklahoma when the Vols blew another double-digit lead to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Last week, Florida came up with a 63-yard pass play in the final two minutes to take the lead and hold on for the win.

At kickoff time last week, Missouri was ranked #25 in the country in those less-than-meaningful polls. They traveled to Kentucky – hardly a traditional football powerhouse – and managed to lose the game 21-13. So, I hear some of you saying that Kentucky is a pretty good defensive team and this ought not to be so embarrassing. Well, it might not be except for the fact that Mizzou managed to score a grand total of 9 points against UConn just two weeks ago. All three of UConn’s other opponents scored more than 9 points this year and those three juggernauts were :


Missouri carries a 3-1 record so far this year but the upcoming SEC schedule will provide a higher level of competition than the Tigers have seen fit to schedule so far. Florida, Georgia, Mississippi St and BYU – along with other SEC opponents await Mizzou…

Bowling Green beat Purdue 35-28. That is the second win of the year for Bowling Green over a Big 10 team; they beat Maryland earlier in the season. Bowling Green is one of those teams that plays offense at a frenetic pace; they ran off 92 plays last week; they were 11-16 on third down conversions and they gained 39 first downs in the game. Bowling Green loves to throw the football; the passing stat line for the game was 43-59 with 1 INT producing 402 yards though the air.

Maryland could not handle the pace of Bowling Green earlier this year; last week, they faced West Virginia who also plays the game at breakneck speed. The Terps lost to the Mountaineers by 45-6. This appears to be a bad omen for Maryland. If any of the “lower-tier” Big 10 teams can play at such a pace, the Terps could be in trouble because you can be sure that the “top-tier” Big 10 teams are going to play smash-mouth football against the Terps and beat them with that style of play.

TCU and Texas Tech played what is coming to be known as a “Typical Big 12 Game”; the final score was TCU 55 and Texas Tech 52. TCU caught a tipped pass in the end zone in the final minute of the game to come from behind and win the game. The two teams combined to produce 107 points, 70 first downs, 187 offensive plays and 1357 yards of offense. About 50 years ago, Jerry Lee Lewis sang:

Whole lot of shakin’ going on…

It is safe to say that in the TCU/Texas game:

Not a whole lot of tacklin’ going on…

For Texas last week it was déjà vu; special teams undid the Longhorns for the second week in a row; Texas lost its last two games by a total of 4 points. Two weeks ago, Texas lost when they missed an extra point that would have tied the game in the final moments. Last week with the score tied, the punter flubbed the snap from center and could only get off a kick that reached the original line of scrimmage around the Texas 25 yardline late in the 4th quarter. From there Oklahoma State kicked a game-winning field goal with less than 10 seconds left to produce yet one more stain on the Longhorns’ record for the season. Let me put this in perspective for you:

    Texas is 1-3 so far this year.

    The last time Texas started 1-3 was back in 1956.

Kansas State must be recruiting their football players with an eye toward having them bond together and share in the same major. Consider:

    Potential linguistics majors include DL Bryce English and OL Scott Frantz

    Potential forestry majors include OL Will Ash and DL Tanner Wood.

The Ponderosa Games:

Last week, the favorites in Ponderosa Games covered in 4 of the 9 contests. That brings the cumulative record for favorites covering in Ponderosa Games to 19-20-0.

Baylor, Iowa, Notre Dame and Wisconsin covered.

Alabama, LSU, Michigan St. Mississippi and Ohio State did not cover.

This week, we have only 4 Ponderosa Games;

Army at Penn State – 25 (47.5): These teams last played each other in 1979. Notwithstanding the lack of any semblance of a “traditional rivalry”, I read a report that said the game was sold out and the crowd in State College was expected to be 107,000.

Wyoming at Appalachian St – 25 (53.5): I do not recall ever seeing Appalachian St. as a Ponderosa favorite.

Hawaii at Boise St. – 24.5 (53.5): The weather forecast for Boise this Saturday is partly sunny with a high of 71 degrees. Better for Hawaii to be there for a game in September than in the last week of November…

E. Michigan at LSU – 44.5 (59.5): Here are the money line odds for this game:

    E. Michigan is plus-71,500
    LSU is minus-165,000

Enjoy the game…

Games of Interest:

(Fri Nite) Temple – 22 at UNC-Charlotte (44): My first reaction here was surprise that Temple was a 22-point favorite over any other Div 1-A school. Then I recognized that this is UNC-Charlotte’s first year as a Div 1-A school and that Temple had already beaten Penn state and Cincy this year. I am not happy about taking Temple on the road with that big a spread so I’ll just take the game to go OVER.

(Fri Nite) UConn at BYU – 18.5 (44): After starting the season with Nebraska, Boise St. UCLA and Michigan and splitting that strong quartet, BYU gets a softer opponent to come to their house. The question is if the team can get up for this game or if it will take the outcome for granted. With E. Carolina coming up on the schedule next, there is not a lot of reason to look ahead to a tough opponent next week. I’ll take BYU at home and lay the points.

UNC at Georgia Tech – 7.5 (62): The spread here opened the week at 10 points but it has settled here for the last couple of days. UNC is a yo-yo team; Georgia Tech is a one-trick pony. My guess is that one of these teams is going to make that spread look silly – but I have no idea which one. I will watch the game to see the outcome with the hope of learning something for a game down the line but no pick is coming here.

Bowling Green – 8 at Buffalo (68): If a pair of lower-tier Big 10 teams cannot stop Bowling Green, why should I think Buffalo can. This is the University of Buffalo not the Buffalo Bills. I’ll take Bowling Green and lay the points.

Kansas at Iowa St – 16 (59): Iowa State is not a good football team and I am not trying to say that it is. Nevertheless, I think Kansas is potentially a truly awful team and they are on the road here. I will take Iowa St. at home and lay the points.

Minnesota at Northwestern – 4 (40): Minnesota has a good defense and so does Northwestern. Neither team has an offense that will strike fear into the heart of an opposing defensive coordinator. This game should be very low scoring (as the Total Line would indicate) and so, I’ll take Minnesota plus the points.

West Virginia at Oklahoma – 7 (58.5): I think West Virginia can score points here and I do not think that West Virginia can hold the OU offense in check and off the board. I like this game to go OVER.

Iowa at Wisconsin – 7 (46): Here is the game within the game:

    Wisconsin can and will run the ball effectively against just about anyone.
    Iowa has not yielded a rushing TD yet this year.

In 4 games Iowa has only given up a total of 336 yards on the ground. That sounds really good until I tell you that in 4 games, Wisconsin has only given up a total of 331 yards on the ground. I think this is a game where two teams try to bludgeon each other into submission and neither is going to succeed. In a low scoring game, I’ll take Iowa plus the points.

Mississippi St. at Texas A&M – 7 (61.5): The Total Line for this game opened the week at 56.5 but spent very little time at that level. I know that the Aggies can move the ball and score but I also have seen Mississippi St. hold LSU’s offense in check. I like Mississippi St. plus the points here and I like the game to stay UNDER.

Kansas St. at Oklahoma St – 8 (49): This may not be the best Kansas State team Bill Snyder ever put on the field, but I am not all that enamored by Oklahoma St. either. That line looks fat to me so I’ll take Kansas St. plus the points.

Arizona St at UCLA – 13.5 (60): Arizona St. had enough talent that many folks had them as a dark horse to win the South Division of the PAC-12. They have not played that way so far – but if the talent was there I guess it is still there. I will not make a pick here but I will watch the outcome here to see if Arizona St. is a team worthy of backing somewhere down the line.

Arizona at Stanford – 14 (63.5): Arizona may not be a great team, but it is a competent team. I do not trust the Stanford offense to score enough to cover 2 full TDs against a competent team. I’ll take Arizona plus the points here.

Texas at TCU – 14.5 (71): I think TCU can score points on anybody and I am not confident that Texas can score a lot on the TCU defense – even though TCU has injury problems there. I like TCU at home to win and cover.

Air Force at Navy – 5 (51): There will be no malingerers on the field in this game. More than likely, this game will go down to the wire so I am not inclined to guess which team will do whatever near the end to determine the outcome. Rather, I think that these guys will both be successful on offense and so I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Alabama at Georgia – 2 (55): Alabama is an underdog for the first time in 73 games. The last time Alabama got points was in the 2009 SEC Championship Game against Florida. This will one of the top 3 games of the weekend. Georgia features Nick Chubb running the ball; after you finish talking about Leonard Fourchette at LSU, the next RB you want to rave about is Nick Chubb. Simple question:

    Can the Alabama defense hold Chubb in check?

My guess is that they can and in so doing the Alabama defense will keep the game UNDER. My pick here is UNDER.

Mississippi – 7 at Florida (52): This should be a great game and it is an important game within the SEC. Neither team has a loss this year. Florida has beaten SEC foes Kentucky and Tennessee by a total of 5 points; the Gators know what it means to be in a close game down to the end. Ole Miss has beaten Alabama by 6 points and has toyed with its other 3 opponents. Florida has a good defense and a mediocre offense so I’ll take this game to stay UNDER.

Texas Tech at Baylor – 17 (88): Tech stayed within a field goal of TCU last week and they are a three score dog here. That has to mean that most folks think that Tech left everything on the field last week and have nothing left for this game. The Total Line opened here at 85.5 and has risen slowly to this level. I think that any “great defensive play” that occurs in this game will be an accident. I will just watch this game and see of Texas Tech can take the Total over 100 points for a second week in a row…

Oregon – 7 at Colorado (70): I know that Oregon got waxed last week by Utah and the game was in Eugene. Moreover, I know that this game is in Boulder. However, please to not confuse Colorado with Utah. Also, know that Oregon has beaten Colorado by 30 or more points in each of the last 4 seasons no matter the venue. Assuming that the entire Oregon squad is not comatose at kickoff time, I think Oregon rolls here. I’ll take Oregon to win and cover on the road.

Washington St. at Cal – 19 (70): Cal can score points here; they put 46 on the board against Texas. Washington St should score here too because Cal’s defense is not exactly potent. I’ll take this game will go OVER – and it would not shock me to see it go OVER by the end of the 3rd quarter.

Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee St – 2 (50): I do not understand this line at all. Vandy has played Mississippi and Georgia this year; while they did not win either game, they kept it close and made the other guys work for the win. Here they play Middle Tennessee St. and they are the underdog? Here is a golden rule of sports wagering:

    Oddsmakers do not play favorites and oddsmakers do not have their heads up their asses.

Because that line is so confusing to me, I will simply pass on it and move on…

South Carolina at Missouri – 2 (41): Here are two hugely disappointing teams so far in 2015. S. Carolina lost its QB to injury; Missouri will go to its backup QB due to a suspension for the starter. Both teams have already lost to Kentucky this year. Totally as a venue call, I’ll take Mizzou and lay the points at home.

Arkansas at Tennessee – 6.5 (56): This game is interesting only to see which team will find a way to lose in the final minutes. Instead of betting the game, take your money and go put it all on “BLACK” for a spin of the roulette wheel.

Notre Dame at Clemson “pick ‘em” (54): Here is the last of the top 3 games of the weekend. The oddsmaker wants me to just pick the winner here. OK, I think Notre Dame is the better team so I’ll take Notre Dame to win here. Plain and simple…

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 10/4/15

Last week, the Mythical Picks were mythically profitable with a record of 9-7-0. That makes the cumulative record for the season stand at 25-23-1. Some of you may choose to look at that cumulative record and note that a person flipping a coin can expect to have a record as good as that one. Moreover, you would be absolutely correct in taking that position. However, the Curmudgeon Central Coin is doing much better than chance at the moment. Last week the Coin correctly predicted the Raiders/Cleveland game would go OVER 44.5. That brings the season record for Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games to 4-1-0. The sample size is small to be sure, but the record is impressive so far; that is an 80% success record if you please…

The “Best Pick” from last week was taking the Bills +3 points when the Bills went out and shellacked the Dolphins by 27 points. The “Worst Pick” from last week was taking the Colts – 3 points and watching them win the game by only 2 points.

No one should think of using any information here as the basis for making a real wager involving real money on any NFL game this weekend. None of these picks are 50-Star Mortal-Lock Bet-The-Mortgage-Money Picks of the Decade. They are here for fun and amusement only.

    Anyone stupid enough to take these picks seriously is also dumb enough to rip the case off of his/her computer to find the cookies that are stored inside.

General Comments:

There are 7 undefeated teams in the NFL after 3 weeks. Here in Curmudgeon Central, we tend to focus on the other end of the spectrum and so, it is more appropriate to begin this week with the fact that there are still 4 winless teams in the standings:

    Baltimore Ravens: This franchise has never started a season 0-3 until now. They played the Broncos and the Bengals tough – and both the Broncos and Bengals are among the 7 undefeated teams. However, they also gave up almost 40 points to the Raiders… The Ravens’ defense is not what we have come to expect from that franchise and Steve Smith Sr. (age 36 by the way) is their “home-run threat” on offense. It may be a long season indeed in Baltimore.

    Chicago Bears: The entire fanbase for that team owes Jay Cutler a huge apology. The offense last week with Cutler on the sidelines for the entire game was an embarrassment to the Bears as a franchise – and that franchise has been around for almost a century now. The defense is not as bad as the offense – – but it is still not nearly good. The Bears are losing by almost 20 points per game!

    Detroit Lions: They have looked “blah” on offense and they have looked “blah” on defense. Other than that, all is well…

    New Orleans Saints: The Saints do not look as if they are ready to return to their Bizarro-world persona as the Aint’s, but they surely have not looked good this year at home or on the road.

There are too many teams that are 1-2 to go through them individually here but I do want to point to the SF 49ers as a team with a 1-2 record that might well be as bad or worse than half the teams on the “Winless List” above. After winning their opening game, the Niners have lost the next two and they have yielded 40+ points in each of those losses. The Niners’ offense has not looked good in either game but it would not really have mattered all that much; when you give up 40 points in an NFL game, the odds are overwhelming that you are going to lose.

The Niners front office found it necessary to fire Jim Harbaugh at the end of last year. The team did not perform nearly as well last year as it had in previous years under Harbaugh and there were hints that his intensity had worn thin on the players. Whether that was true or not, it was as obvious as the fact that night follows day that his continued existence in SF had worn thin with the GM and the Team President – who happens to be the son of the majority owner. In the offseason, the team lost to free agency/retirement a whole passel of good players on both offense and defense. And they turned over the coaching reins of the reconstructed team to Jim Tomsula.

Tomsula is a heartwarming story. He has been a football lifer coaching at every level imaginable including being a line coach in the NFL. He has never been a coordinator nor a head coach, but this was the team’s bold move in replacing Harbaugh. Let me be clear about a couple of things here:

    1. I am not a Jim Harbaugh fanboy. He has been a successful – if not a long-term – coach in several places. His manic levels of intensity are sort of fun to watch from afar but could easily become frightening or at least annoying if I had to live with them.

    2. I am not a Jim Tomsula fanboy. If he succeeds, some will make him out to be a Horatio Alger character; there is neither harm nor glory in that. If he fails, there will be tons of folks out there who will claim to have “told you so”.

    3. As of this moment, Jim Tomsula is in a compromising position. The roster has turned over and has been restructured the way his bosses want it. He is the guy who is supposed to produce the results on Sundays. If the team plays the way it has the last two weeks, the team will not win many more games and will be embarrassed more than a couple of times. So, who is more likely to take the fall for that?

      The Horatio Alger character of a coach – – or – –

      The Team President – son of the majority owner – and his BFF the GM.

      You make the call…

Last week against the Cardinals, the Niners offered nothing more than token resistance; the analogy might be the French Army along the Maginot Line at the beginning of WW II. I have already admitted that I was wrong about the Cards in my pre-season predictions; barring a catastrophe, they are surely going to win more than the 7 games I gave them in those predictions. I was also wrong about the Niners; I thought the Niners would also win 7 games; and after seeing them in the first 3 games, I am not sure they can win 5 games. Colin Kaepernick threw two INTs for TDs early in the game last week and that did two things:

    1. It sealed the fate of the game right there and then. Importantly, the Niners did not fight to keep the game close; basically they sat back and absorbed a 40-point bludgeoning.

    2. It indicated that Colin Kaepernick continues to regress as a QB. There were two INTs after the early ones, but the 4 INTs only tell part of the story here. For the day, Kaepernick was 9-19 (hardly acceptable) for a total of 67 yards passing. That is only 3.5 yards per pass attempt; that is a level of production that is unacceptable for a high school QB.

As pathetic as the Niners were in losing by 40 to the Cards, the Bears looked worse in their 26-0 loss to the Seahawks. Getting shut out is never a good thing but the way the Bears lost is another whole ‘nother level of bad:

    A. The Bears had 10 possessions. They punted at the end of every possession.

    B. Six of those 10 punts came after three-and-out possessions.

    C. Jimmy Claussen was 9-17 passing for 67 yards.

Going into this game, Claussen had a career record of 1-10 as a starter in the NFL and that win came over a team with John Skelton at QB back in 2010. As of this morning he is 1-11 as a starter…

Tyler Lockett – rookie WR and return man from Kansas State – returned the second half kickoff for the Seahawks 105 yards for a TD. Lockett already has two returns for TDs this year (the other was a punt return) and the Seahawks ought to find a way to give him a few snaps at the WR position too. Since I have mentioned how wrong I was in some of my pre-season predictions, allow me to direct your attention to the fact that I specifically said Lockett would be a positive addition to the team.

After seeing how bad the Bears and Niners have been to this point in the season, one might think that it is a good thing they are not in the same division so they do not have to play each other. Not so fast, my friend… The schedule mavens in the NFL have set up the Niners to travel to Chicago on 6 December. Moreover, the Bears play the Lions twice, the Skins and the Bucs. Fans in Chicago will have plenty of time on Sundays this year to catch up on their needlepoint projects…

Speaking of the Lions, they too stink. They are not going to be “0-16 bad” as they were just a few years ago, but they are not a good football team. The offense is mediocre and the defense does not make plays that set up that mediocre offense in ways that the offense can cash in. Last week against the Broncos, Peyton Manning threw for 324 yards and Demaryius Thomas caught 9 balls for 92 yards. However, it was the Broncos’ defense that was most impressive in the game; those guys are good…

The Panthers beat the Saints 27-22. The Saints played with backup QB, Luke McCown at the controls so that 5-point margin of victory is not all that impressive. If the Saints’ fans want to look for something positive here, they lost their first game by 12 points and their second game by 7 points and their third game by only 5 points. There are still a half-dozen games on the schedule against opponents that are far below “fearsome”. However, the Saints’ defense just has to get a lot better if they are going to win games… For the Panthers, it sure looks to me as though Cam Newton is the mirror image of Colin Kaepernick. Newton seems to understand how to run a passing attack at the NFL level; when the defense gives you an open tight end, the idea is to deliver the ball there as soon as you see it. Last week, he and Greg Olsen hooked up so often that people were wondering if they needed to get a room; Olsen caught 11 passes for 134 yards and 2 TDs.

The Giants had a double-digit lead in the 4th quarter against the Skins last Thursday night and so it was perfectly appropriate to think of how the Giants would squander that lead. Well, they did not do that in this game partly because the Skins are not nearly as good as the Cowboys or the Falcons who had closed on the Giants in the first two games. Coming into the game, the Skins had the #1 rushing offense in the league and the Giants shut it down; the Skins’ leading rusher on Sunday was Matt Jones with 38 yards on 11 carries. For some reason, Alfred Morris was a rare sight on the field in the game even when it became clear that the Giants were ready for anything Jones might throw at them.

The Bills pounded the Dolphins into submission on Sunday winning 41-14 after leading 27-0 at the half and coming home on cruise control. The Dolphins had legitimate playoff aspirations this year but their only win came over a truly mediocre Skins’ team by 7 points – and the margin of victory was provided by a punt return for a TD. Jim Tomsula will get the benefit of the doubt for a while if the Niners crash and burn this year; Joe Philbin will not. Whatever happened to the nominally dominant Miami defense with the addition of Ndamukong Suh; it got pushed around once again…? The Bills’ have gotten excellent play from young QB, Tyrod Taylor. Last week Taylor was 21-29 for 277 yards. Those are not “Brady Numbers” nor “Rodgers Numbers”, but they are satisfactory numbers for a team that also plays sound defense.

The Raiders beat the Browns 27-20 to go 2-1 for the season with the Bears up next on the schedule. There may indeed be a ray of light out there in “The Black Hole”. There are 3 second year QBs in the NFL at the moment and Derek Carr has been the most impressive of the three to date. He has thrown 5 TDs and only 1 INT so far. Those are not stratospheric stats, but the ratio is very positive. As flawed as the stat is, Carr also has a QB Rating of 104.2 and you cannot play poorly and still get that kind of a rating.

The Raiders’ win was the first win for the team in the Eastern Time Zone since December 2009 – not quite 6 years. The Raiders’ last road win was all the way back in November 2013 and the last time the Raiders had a 2-game winning streak was in 2012. I am not yet ready to pencil them in for a playoff slot, but this year’s Raiders’ team is competitive and you would not have said that without giggling about the Raiders over the last several years.

Meanwhile, Josh McCown continues to show the Browns’ fans why he has been a career backup QB. Coach Mike Pettine says he is not going to change QBs and put Johnny Manziel under center for this week; I really wonder how long he will be able to do that and not get a phone call from upstairs telling him who the starting QB will be – with or without Pettine on the sidelines as the coach.

The Texans beat the Bucs 19-9 last Sunday. Note that is a 10-point margin of victory; and then, consider the day that Bucs’ kicker Kyle Brindza had:

    He missed makeable field goals of 41 and 33 yards.

    He missed a gargantuan field goal try at 57 yards.

    AND he missed an extra point.

There you have 10 points left on the field. Bucs’ coach Lovie Smith said that Brindza had an “off day”. I think that what he meant was that if Brindza has another day like that he will be “off” the team.

For the first 10 minutes of the game, it looked as if the Cowboys were going to beat the Falcons by a minimum of 5 TDs; they were pushing the Falcons’ defense around and stopping the Falcons’ offense effectively. The score at the half was 28-17 and it looked as if Brandon Weeden was large and in charge. I do not know what kind of talk the Falcons listened to in the locker room at halftime or what adjustments were made, but it was a totally different game in the second half. The Cowboys did not score a point and the Falcons – paced by Julio Jones catching a key pass every time the team needed it and Devonta Freeman gashing the Cowboys’ defense for a total of 141 yards and 3 TDs – won the game 39-28. There are three things to note about the Falcons after this game:

    1. The Falcons are 3-0 and all of the wins came over teams from the NFC East. Too bad they do not play in the NFC East…

    2. The next 6 games on the Falcons schedule are pretty soft with three home games against the Texans, Skins and Bucs plus three road games at the Saints, Titans and Niners.

    3. A 9-0 start to the season might be a lot to ask here but a 7-2 start looks very attainable.

The Vikes beat the Chargers 31-14 last week. The Vikes are a pretty good team when they feature Adrian Peterson as they did here when he gained 126 yards on 20 carries. The Vikes’ offensive coordinator is Norv Turner and he has built offenses around really good RBs in the past – e.g. in Dallas with Emmitt Smith and later in San Diego with LaDanian Tomlinson. Now he can do it one more time with the Vikes. The Chargers are not a bad team, but they are not a good road team.

The Pats beat the Jags 51-17. The only thing to say about that game is “Hi-ho!”

The Jets’ defense had taken the ball away from opposing offenses 5 times in each of the first two games – both of which the Jets won. Last week, the worm turned. This time the Jets turned the ball over to the Eagles 4 times and – surprise – the Jets lost 24-17. The game was a tale of two halves; the Eagles won the first half 24-0; the Jets won the second half 17-0. I mentioned above that 3.5 yards per pass attempt is unsatisfactory; well, at one point in the 2nd quarter, Ryan Fitzpatrick was 11-15 passing for a total of 44 yards. For the record:

    4 yards per pass completion is worse than 3.5 yards per pass attempt in just about any circumstance.

    Fitzpatrick’s yards per pass attempt was just a tad under 3.0.

Geno Smith was on the sidelines for the game and I imagined a thought-bubble over his head with something like this:

“If Fitz throws 3 INTs in the next game and we blow the one after that, my chances of coming back as soon as my jaw is healed are real good…”

The Colts came back from a 13-point deficit at the end of the 3rd quarter to beat the Titans 35-33. Andrew Luck continued to throw INTs here and the Colts’ OL continued to stink in spades. I know there had to have been at least a hundred bloggers ready to write the “Andrew Luck is Overrated” story at the end of the 3rd quarter on Sunday. Those draft blog postings went the way of the delete key because Luck was 11-13 in the fourth quarter for 144 yards and 2 TDs. Note that several QBs cited above did not come close to that output over the course of an entire game. Colts’ DB, Dwight Lowery, is the other hero in the game; he had 2 INTs and one was a Pick Six.

The Steelers beat the Rams 12-6 but they have lost Ben Roethlisberger at QB for at least several weeks. If you Google “Pyrrhic Victory”, you may come to understand what the Steelers accomplished last Sunday. Michael Vick takes over in Pittsburgh. When the Steelers signed him, plenty of fans expressed huge displeasure at having him on the team due to his previous criminal actions. The question to ask those fans – not the Steelers’ fans in general but the ones who were so adamantly vocal about all of this:

    Would you rather be riding with Michael Vick now or might you prefer:

      Case Keenum – or –
      Blaine Gabbert – or
      Dan Orlovsky – or –

    I can go on here for a while…

Meanwhile, the Rams are an unbalanced team. They have a better-than-average defense but their offense has been AWOL for two of their three games. Last week, the Rams were 2-10 on third down conversions against a Steelers’ defense that entered the game ranked 25th in the NFL. What’s up with that…?

The Bengals beat the Ravens 28-24 but the unusual thing here was that the Ravens had the lead twice in the 4th quarter and surrendered that lead both times. That is not “Ravens’ football” as we have come to know it. Andy Dalton threw for 383 yards but that is not the most stunning stat from the passing game last week. Against the Ravens’ defense, AJ Green caught 10 passes for 227 yards and 2 TDs. Most impressive… Here is what was not impressive. The game was so littered with penalty flags that it looked as if the leaves had fallen off the trees early. With 12:27 still to play in the 2nd quarter, there had already been 10 penalties assessed and a couple that were declined.

In the Monday night game, Aaron Rodgers picked the Chiefs’ defense as clean as a carcass out on the Serengeti plain. He threw 5 TD passes and spent much of the evening with a huge smile on his face and a chuckle in his gut. The absence of Jordy Nelson at WR would likely have derailed most teams but with Rodgers throwing the ball, James Jones and Randall Cobb have emerged as top-drawer receivers. Maybe the constant factor here is the guy throwing the ball to those catchers…?

Before we get to the games for this week, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle has observed the new “buzz phrase” that game analysts are using regarding quarterbacks. Here is his interpretation:

“The Hot New Thing every quarterback has to have: eye discipline. How do QBs develop that? I don’t know. Take their wives to the beach?”

The Games:

The Patriots and the Titans get the week off as the Bye Week Season commences in the NFL.

    The Pats will spend the week prepping for a visit to Dallas when they get back to action.

    The Titans were at home last week and will spend their off week at home. After that the schedule mavens have them home for the next three games meaning the team will have been at home in Tennessee for significantly more than a month.

(Thurs Nite) Baltimore – 2.5 at Pittsburgh (43.5): No team has ever started a season at 0-3 and made it to the Super Bowl; the Ravens are 0-3 and a loss here could turn what was a promising season into a raging disaster. For the Ravens, this is a “must win game”. The Steelers on the other hand are 2-1 and still have the division-leading Bengals in sight. However, they have to navigate a series of games without Ben Roethlisberger including 4 games prior to a meeting with the as yet undefeated Bengals. Here is what the three games after this one and before the one against the Bengals look like for the Steelers:

    At San Diego – a five hour flight to the game and a Chargers’ team that is much better at home than on the road.

    Home against Arizona – a hot team that scores lots of points with a head coach who was once run out of town in Pittsburgh

    At KC – a team with a legit shot at the playoffs who plays well at home.

Frankly, this is almost as much of a “must win” game for the Steelers as it is for the Ravens. I will break out the Curmudgeon Central coin for a Coin Flip game right at the outset this week. The coin says to take the Steelers plus the points at home. Hey, the coin has been picking at 80% so far this year…

(Sun 9:30 AM EDT) Jets – 1.5 vs Miami (41) [London Game]: If this is a “must see game” for you, be sure to set your alarm clock and hope that the sermon in church this week is not one of those that lasts 90 minutes. The Jets came back to Earth last week; it is not reasonable to expect a defense to produce 5 takeaways every game.

    [Aside: 5 takeaways per game would lead to 80 takeaways for the regular season. The NFL record for most takeaways in a season is only 66 and that record has stood for 63 years. The record belongs to the 1961 San Diego Chargers and it was accomplished in a 14-game season.]

The Dolphins have underachieved expectations by a wide margin to date; and in at least two of their games, they seemed to be doing not much more than going through the motions. More often than not, the winner of a London Game is the team that shows up ready to play and without any jet lag. In this game, the Jets may suffer some jet lag but the Dolphins could match that malady with nonchalance. I like the Jets to win and cover here.

Jax at Indy – 9 (47): Both teams are 1-2, as are all the teams in the AFC South meaning that the winner here will be in the lead in the division on Sunday night. Notwithstanding that level of importance, this game holds no interest for me at all. The Jags are a bad team and the Colts have dominated them for a while now. The Colts’ can only beat teams handily if the opponent is ordinary or worse along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Both QBs turn the ball over more than a lot. Looking at trends offers little to no help here:

    Jax is 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games after losing straight up
    Jax is 0-6 ATS in their last 6 games after giving up 30 points or more.

    Indy is 4-0 ATS at home against teams with losing records.
    Indy is 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games against AFC opponents.

You guessed it. This is another Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game. The coin says to take the game to go OVER.

Houston at Atlanta – 6.5 (47): The Falcons are undefeated and are tied atop the NFC South with the Panthers. The Texans are another of those 1-2 teams in the AFC South. I have no idea what kind of magic potion the Falcons are using in their Gatorade, but it is working. Despite shutting out the Cowboys in the second half last week, I am not anywhere near ready to anoint the Falcons’ defense as an elite unit; however, the Texans are bringing a meager offense to the party here. I like the Falcons at home to win and cover. I think the Falcons are on a roll…

Carolina – 3 at Tampa (40): If I am correct about the Falcons game above, then the Panthers will need to win here to keep pace in the NFC South race. The Bucs left points on the field last week (see above) and points will be at a premium in this game; neither team can allow that to happen here. I can foresee two scenarios for this game:

    Panthers look past this “lowly opponent” in anticipation of their Bye Week next week and lose the game outright.

    Panthers realize they will have 2 weeks of hell-to-pay if they lose to the Bucs in Tampa where the Bucs have lost 10 in a row and they go out and squash the Bucs.

I will lean toward the latter scenario and I’ll take the Panthers to win and cover on the road.

Giants at Buffalo – 5.5 (47): Victor Cruz says he will play this weekend in Buffalo. Rex Ryan loves to fashion his defense to stop the other team’s big threat; and for the Giants, that would be Odell Beckham, Jr. Without Cruz on the field, that would make life difficult for Eli Manning and the Giants who are not a great rushing team. However, with Victor Cruz in the lineup, doubling Beckham Jr, on every play might not be as productive a defensive stratagem as it might have been in the past. I like the Giants here plus the points. However, I must admit that I am concerned that the Giants will not put the kind of pressure on Tyrod Taylor that teams seek to put on inexperienced QBs…

Oakland – 3 at Chicago (44.5): The Bears are a hot mess (see above). Jay Cutler is listed as “Out” in the injury report meaning another week of Jimmy Claussen and/or David Fales. Oh, Alshon Jeffrey is also listed as “Questionable” for the game with a hamstring injury. The Raiders broke their road jinx last week but this is a second straight week with travel of a significant distance to play a game – and as a field goal favorite no less. I’ll take the Raiders and lay the points even on the road; this selection is a statement of how bad I think the Bears are and not how good the Raiders are.

Philly – 3 at Washington (46.5): If the Eagles’ offense continues to play poorly and if the Skins play to their normal level of competence, this could be the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. However, I have a hunch that both teams will play well here because it is a division game and there is a real rivalry between the clubs. However, there is the possibility of so much rain in the DC area [thanks to Hurricane Joaquin] that the game may need to be rescheduled. If they do play on such a soggy turf, I like this game to stay Under.

KC at Cincy – 4 (44.5): The Chiefs get a short week to prep for a game against an undefeated rival in the undefeated rival’s home park. That sounds as if this is an easy pick except for two things:

    The Chiefs are a good road team – and –

    The Chiefs’ defense is a good unit.

In big games, the knock on Andy Dalton is that he folds under pressure and turns the ball over a lot. Well, this is not a playoff game to be sure; but he is going to feel pressure from the Chiefs’ front seven. I think there will be scoring by both sides here so I’ll take this game to go OVER.

Cleveland at San Diego – 7.5 (45): The spread opened the week at 10 points and dropped to this level almost instantly. You can still find the game at 8 points at several Internet sportsbooks if you go looking. I know that the Chargers were handled rudely by the Vikes last week in Minnesota but this time they are at home and their opponent has had the big trip. Purely a venue call; I’ll take the Chargers and lay the points. Actually there is another factor in the selection. The Chargers start Philip Rivers at QB and the Browns start Josh McCown at QB.

Green Bay – 9 at SF (48.5): The Niners have given up 43 points to the Steelers and 47 points to the Cardinals in the last two games. Yes, both games were on the road and this one is at home. However, the opponent is a team that has been known to score a few points itself. This looks like a game where a porous defense has to try to contain a top-shelf QB and passing attack. That same porous defense has not been able to do that for the last two weeks. I like the Packers to win and cover here and I like the game to go OVER.

Minnesota at Denver – 7 (43): These are both good defensive teams and Minnesota will try to control the clock with its running game. That makes it seem as if this will be a low-scoring game and that makes the line look fat to me. I’ll take the Vikes plus the points.

St. Louis at Arizona – 7 (42.5): The Cards are going to score points even on a good Rams’ defense. The unknown here is what the Rams will do on offense – or in other ways – to score points. The Cards have beaten 3 opponents this year that are not nearly as good defensively as the Rams (Saints, Bears, Niners) so the question is to what extent their output will diminish here; so far, they have been held under 40 points only once and in that game they scored 31 points. The other question here is if the Rams can score with their mediocre offense against a Cards’ defense that has not been stressed yet this year. I like the Rams plus the points and I like the game to go OVER.

(Sun Nite) Dallas at New Orleans (no lines): This could also be the Dog-Breath Game of the Week if Drew Brees and Tony Romo watch the game from the sidelines with injuries to their throwing arms. That is not normally the case for a Sunday Night Football game. Brees is officially “Questionable” for the game: Romo was still in a sling last week on the sidelines so I can safely figure that he will not be playing this week. Should a line emerge here and if you have to make a bet on the game because you are watching it, let me offer two pieces of advice:

    1. Get yourself some addiction counseling very quickly – and –

    2. Take whomever is the dog plus the points.

(Mon Nite) Detroit at Seattle – 9.5 (43): The game has a ton of meaning for the Seahawks and the Lions are about two weeks removed from “playing for pride” during the rest of the 2015 season. Marshawn Lynch is said to be “50/50” to play here due to a hamstring injury.

    Memo to Pete Carroll: Lynch is your “bell cow”. Call Keith Jackson if you need an explanation here. If you cannot beat the sorry-assed Lions without Lynch, you are not going anywhere near the Super Bowl this year anyhow. Give the dude an extra week to get himself a bit closer to “right”.

I really do hate to lay double-digit spreads in the NFL – and 9.5 points in the moral equivalent of a double-digit spread – but I do not see how the Lions are going to generate enough offense to stress the Seahawks defense or how the Lions’ defense is going to throttle the Seahawks’ offense whether or not Marshawn Lynch is in the game or in pajamas on the sideline. I’ll take the Seahawks at home and lay the points.

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