There were no Mythical Picks last week; however, the Mythical Picks from two weeks ago were en fuego. Three weeks ago, I had the best week of Mythical Picking” this year at 12-4-0; two weeks ago, was even better with a record of 12-3-0. That brings the cumulative record for the season to 127-116-5 which is solidly above .500 and very close to being mythically profitable against a 10% vig.
The Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol was 1-0-0 two weeks ago. For the season, The Coin did exactly what one might expect from a flipped coin. The season record for the coin – and presumably there will be no coin-flip games in the playoffs – stands at 17-17-1.
The “Best Picks” from two weeks ago were taking the Falcons +7 and seeing them win outright against the Panthers and taking the Rams +13 and seeing them beat the Seahawks straight up.
The “Worst Pick” from two weeks ago was taking the Steelers minus 10 points against the Ravens and having the Ravens win the game.
Notwithstanding the hot streak shown in the last two versions of Mythical Picking, no one should consider anything written here as authoritative or informed with regard to the outcome of playoff games this week – or in future weeks for that matter. One would have to be pretty stupid to use these musings as the basis for making a real wager on a real game involving real money. How stupid?
You would probably sprinkle sugar on your pillows to ensure sweet dreams.
The NFL owners will meet next week in an attempt to resolve the “LA Situation”. The problem here is very simple; you learned about the principle in ninth-grade science class:
Two bits of matter cannot occupy the same space at the same time.
The problem the NFL owners need to resolve is this one:
They want to put a maximum of 2 teams in the LA market – and perhaps only 1.
The problem is that 3 teams want to move there.
That is akin to the difficulty of putting 10 lbs of horsesh*t in a 5-lb bag.
The NFL bylaws say that any proposal to move a team requires the affirmative vote of 24 owners. Now, the fact that the impending meeting has not allowed any of the reporters who follow the league closely to report how things are going to turn out tells me that the league does not know how things are going to turn out. The national reporters who cover the NFL are very good at working their sources; by this time, I would have expected to read at least a half dozen reports on what was going to happen at next week’s meeting with only minor variants among the reports. What I have seen is dead silence…
The only recent pronouncement of note was a comment in a report issued by Stan Kroenke – owner of the St. Louis Rams. He said that any team that is in St. Louis – or moves to St. Louis – is on the path to “financial ruin” and that ruination would be bad for the NFL as a whole. Here is a link to a CBSSports.com report on Kroenke’s remarks and his proposal to the NFL for moving the Rams to LA.
The tone of his remarks would lead me to conclude:
If Stan Kroenke were running for mayor of St. Louis against Satan, the polls would likely have the race as “too close to call”.
What the NFL seems to need is leadership – by the Commish or an owner or two – to broker a compromise deal. If all three of the owners who want to move have cobbled together a solid group of 8 other owners who will back their position and no other position, this is NFL gridlock that could be more restrictive than Congressional gridlock – and that is not an easy situation to obtain. Stand by for some sort of temporizing move by the league next week…
The Cleveland Browns hired Paul DePodesta to be their strategic leader that will take the Browns from their status of “adrift at sea” to “relevant in the NFL”. The unusual thing is that the Browns hired DePodesta away from the NY Mets of MLB. Time will tell if this was innovative or just plain stupid…
DePodesta replaces Ray Farmer as the guiding light. Farmer demonstrated rather clearly that he had no clue how to create a draft board that yielded productive players for the team; the roster is significantly low on talent. Farmer’s claim to fame for this tenure in Cleveland is that he was suspended for 4 games for sending text messages from his perch in the stadium to one of the assistant coaches on the sideline during a game. With that record, let me just say that DePodesta does not have a tough act to follow.
The move from MLB to the NFL is sort of a mirror-image of the move made by Bo Schembechler who went from Head Coach and Athletic Director at Michigan to be the President of the Detroit Tigers in the early 90s. Schembechler lasted about 2 years in the job and his signature achievement was to fire Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell, who was rehired by the Tigers about as soon as Schembechler was shown the door. If that is another yardstick by which DePodesta is to be measured, it does not provide him a daunting task.
Probably the biggest obstacle to DePodesta being successful is the mercurial owner of the Browns, Jimmy Haslem, who seems to have the patience and attention span of a kitten. Here is what Haslem had to say about this new hire:
“We are fortunate to bring in Paul, an extremely talented, highly respected sports executive who will add a critical dimension to our front office. His approach and ambition to find the best pathways for organizational success transcend one specific sport and his experience as a high-level sports executive make him a terrific addition to the Cleveland Browns.”
If history is any guide, DePodesta will have 24-36 months to find those pathways to organizational success and to traverse them into the realm of success. Or else – back to baseball…
Here is what I think is the most important aspect of DePodesta going from the Mets to the Browns:
Will the Mets retaliate by trying to sign Johnny Manziel and anointing him as “Johnny Baseball”?
Indy Colts’ owner, Jim Irsay, announced that the Colts will keep both Coach Chuck Pagano and GM Ryan Grigson for next season. Given all of the reports of turmoil and strife amongst those three folks over the last year or so, that was an unexpected move. Here is the deal; the Colts underachieved last year for three reasons – and two of the reasons are intimately related:
1. Andrew Luck got hurt
2. The OL stunk and could not protect Luck or his replacements
3. The defense stunk; they gave up 51 points to Jax for Heaven’s sake.
Now, how did those situations obtain?
Is this a result of coaching malfeasance/incompetence?
Is this a result of roster-building malfeasance/incompetence?
The answer here cannot be “Neither!”
For the 2013 and 2014 seasons, the Colts record was 22-10 – an enviable record on the surface. However, there is a hidden factor at work there. The Colts are in the AFC south with the Jags, Texans and Titans; in 2013 and 2014, those three teams stunk and the colts record against them was 12-0. Against the rest of the NFL, the Colts went a mediocre 10-10. Moreover, the Colts were dispatched from the playoffs in both 2-13 and 2014 by losing blowout games to the Patriots. There is a “smoke-and-mirrors” aspect to that gaudy 22-10 regular season record…
I cannot read minds but it seems to me that keeping everyone in place means that Jim Irsay thinks that the Colts are serious championship contenders in the very near future and he does not want to “piss in the soup” so to speak. If my conclusion is correct here, then I have to say that I do not share Jim Irsay’s rosy view of the team. Yes, the colts have a very good young QB and yes, they have talent at the offensive “skill positions”. However, I do not think they are a player or two away from greatness or a mere “tweak of the scheme” away from elite status in the league.
I said in a rant earlier this week that I was surprised to see the Eagles fire Chip Kelly – not because I think Kelly is a great coach but because Jeffrey Lurie had shown lots of patience in terms of making coaching changes in the past. The never-to-be-labeled “shy” fans in Philly had a vehement faction that wanted Kelly tarred and feathered prior to being ushered out of town. There was a similar venting of spleen in Philly 3 years ago regarding Andy Reid and his ability to find his ass with either hand. And so, I ask Eagles’ fans this rhetorical question:
Are the Eagles a better team today than they were when Andy Reid was fired and Chip Kelly took over?
Before we get to the picks for the week, here are my thoughts on NFL awards for the regular season:
MVP: Cam Newton – with Carson Palmer running a close second.
Offensive Player of the Year: Carson Palmer – only 1 award per player.
Defensive Player of the Year: JJ Watt – with Josh Norman a close second.
Rookie of the Year: Amari Cooper – with Todd Gurley and Jameis Winston getting consideration.
Coach of the Year: Ron Rivera – with a tip of the hat to Bruce Arians, Todd Bowles and Andy Reid.
Here are the four teams with Bye Weeks:
Broncos: Peyton Manning saved the top-seed slot for the team with a second-half comeback last week. To the surprise of no one outside the Brock Osweiler household, the Broncos announced that Manning will start next week. The team will use the two-week interval to allow Manning to “sharpen his game” hopefully without aggravating his physical condition.
Patriots: Given the number of injuries to the pats’ OL, I would not be surprised to learn that the team has signed two guys to the roster who have been employed as piano movers in the Boston area for the last 5 years.
Panthers: The Panthers are loose and cocky at 15-1 for the season. Their challenge is not to become the first team with that kind of record to lose their first playoff game.
Cardinals: Are they rooting for the Seahawks to be their opponent next week to avenge that 36-6 drubbing they absorbed only a week ago? Or are they rooting for anyone else to come to town?
(Sat. 4:35 PM EST) KC – 3.5 at Houston (40.5): There is an eerie similarity between these two teams. The Chiefs started out 1-5 having lost their best offensive weapon – RB Jamaal Charles. The Texans started out 2-5 and lost their best running back, Arian Foster. The Chiefs rallied to win 10 in a row finishing 11-5 but could not catch the Broncos who built a huge lead in the early part of the season. The Texans rallied to finish with 7 wins in their last 9 games; that was good enough to get them the AFC South title and hence the venue for this game. If you like historical trends, consider these:
The Texans are 2-0 at home in playoff games.
The Chiefs have not won a playoff game on the road since 1993.
Both teams win with defense leading the way. The Chiefs allow only 17.9 points per game; the Texans allow only 19.3 points per game. The Chiefs enjoy a 4 points per game advantage on offense but neither squad will be confused with offensive juggernauts such as Carolina, Arizona or New England. Absent 2 scores by defensive units and/or special team units, I like this game to stay UNDER.
(Sat. 8:15 PM EST) Pittsburgh – 3 at Cincy (45.5): According to reports, Andy Dalton did not practice on Wednesday. Since he has not thrown a pass in anger in about a month, my guess is that means he will not play and AJ McCarron will. That might be comforting to Bengals’ fans in the sense that Dalton cannot lose this playoff game for them as has been his custom for the last several years. According to reports, DeAngelo Williams did not practice for the Steelers on Wednesday and reportedly was “wearing a boot” on Wednesday nursing his leg/ankle injury. That would seem to indicate an even higher dose of Ben Roethlisberger throwing the football on Saturday than is normal – and the Steelers throw the ball a lot. Here are a few trend stats for you:
The last Bengals’ playoff win was in 1990. Sam Wyche was the coach then.
Marvin Lewis is 0-6 in playoff games with the Bengals.
Ben Roethlisberger is 11-2 against the Bengals in Cincy for his career.
The much-maligned Steelers defense gives up lots of yards per game (363.1); they rank 21st in the NFL in that category. However, that same defense does not give up as many points per game as one might expect (19.9); they rank 11th in the league in that category. The Bengals’ defense ranks 2nd in the NFL in points allowed (17.4 points per game). I surely prefer Ben Roethlisberger over AJ McCarron here in a playoff atmosphere. I’ll take the Steelers to win and cover on the road.
(Sun. 1:05 PM EST) Seattle – 5 at Minnesota (39.5): The Total Line for this game opened at 42.5 and has dropped to this level probably due to folks hearing about where the mercury will drop to come game time. The Vikes play outdoors until their new playpen is finished and the forecast for Sunday calls for the high temperature to be 3 degrees and the low temperature from Saturday night to be minus-10 degrees. Add the forecast of 12 mph winds and you can pretty much figure out that Jerry Lee Lewis could do a halftime show featuring the song:
Whole Lotta Shiverin’ Goin’ On
A month ago, the Seahawks beat the Vikes in Minnesota 38-7; the score that day accurately reflected the better team on the field. Somehow, I do not think the Vikes are “climatically advantaged” over the Seahawks to the point that it would compensate for a 31-point butt-stomping. Oh, and in case you had not noticed, the Seahawks have won 5 consecutive road games going all the way back to October 11. I’ll take the Seahawks and lay the points here.
(Sun. 4:40 PM EST) Green Bay at Washington – 1 (45): This game opened as a “pick ‘em” game. You can still find it that way at 2 Internet sportsbooks. You can also find the game with the Packers as a 1-point favorite at 1 Internet sportsbook. The majority of venues have the game with the Skins as the single-point favorite. The Skins won 9 games this year including their last 4 in a row. That is the good news. Here is the bad news. The Skins did not beat a single team that posted a winning record for the 2015 season. In fact, the Skins only played 3 games against teams with a winning record and here were the outcomes:
Oct 18: Jets 34 Skins 20
Nov 8: Pats 27 Skins 10
Nov 22: Panthers 44 Skins 16
For the record, the Packers are 10-6 this season.
Do not get carried away with a case of “Packer euphoria” just yet. The Packers are a flawed team; their wide receivers do not stretch the field; they are only a mediocre running team and their offensive line is injured to the point of marginal competence. The Packers’ defense allows 3.5 points per game fewer than the Skins’ defense does and 33 fewer yards per game than the Skins’ defense. Nonetheless, the Packers are not going to win this game by shutting down the Skins’ offense; if the Packers’ defense is to be the “star of the game” it will have to do it by creating a few turnovers. I make this a venue call; I’ll take the Skins to win and cover at home.
Finally, here is my wish for this week – or for the remainder of the playoff games for that matter:
Let there be no officiating blunders that directly affect the outcome of any of the games regardless of which team benefits from said blundering.
There have been far too many blunders this year even with the intervention of replay. I hope we all have seen the full quota of such events for the season; we do not need any more.
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………