Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend of 9/17/16

Last week’s Mythical Picks were mythically profitable once again. Last week I made 14 picks and the record was 9-5-0. That brings the cumulative record for Mythical Picks this season to 19-12-0.

The Best Pick from last week was the UNC/Illinois game:

    I liked UNC – 7.5 and Carolina won by 25 points
    I liked UNC/Illinois OVER 58 and the total score was 71

The Worst Pick from last week was:

    I liked Duke – 4.5 over Wake Forest and Duke lost by 10 points

I shall set out to maintain the level of performance demonstrated in the first two weeks of the college football season – – but history here says that such a continuation is unlikely. Therefore, no one should use anything contained herein as the basis for making a real wager on a real college football game involving real money this weekend. Anyone stupid enough to do so also thinks this is true:

    You think “satisfactory” is a place to manufacture satis.

General Comments:

The Linfield College Wildcats began the 2016 season with a comfortable 48-14 victory over Chapman University. Since Division III schools play a 9 game regular season schedule, that win moves Linfield 20% of the way toward a winning season – and a winning season would be their 61st consecutive one.

This week, the Wildcats travel to Belton, TX – a town located between Waco and Austin – to play the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders. The Crusaders have played twice already this year and are 2-0 having scored 56 points in both games. This could be a “light up the scoreboard game”. Go Wildcats!

Before I review some of the things from last week’s games, let me comment on last night’s Houston/Cincinnati game. It is not a secret that I am rooting for Houston to go undefeated this year to see how the CFP Selection Committee treats them in early December. The Cougars ran their record to 3-0 last night beating Cincy 40-16 – – but the game was not nearly that close. I recorded this game while the Thursday Night Football game was on and then watch the recording until about 1:00 AM. Cincy led 16-12 early in the 4th quarter and Houston’s offense did not show up until the 4th quarter. It was the Houston defense that enabled this win.

Cincy is not a bottom-feeder team by any stretch of the imagination. At the same time, no one – not even the coaching staff there – believes in their hearts that the Bearcats are going to be part of the discussion when it comes to the College Football Playoff. As good as Houston looked beating Oklahoma two weeks ago, this performance dulls their résumé slightly. There may be no such things as moral victories, but this win was not a big win.

Let me start with the Tennessee/Va Tech game which was more of a gala than a football game at the Bristol Motor Speedway in front of about 150,000 fans. Tennessee won 45-24; Va Tech fumbled away the ball 5 times giving the Vols a short field most of the time. Tennessee accepted that largesse and waltzed to an easy win. I do wonder how many of the fans in the nosebleed seats at the track were able to see the ball on the ground for all of those fumbles – or even to see the number of the player who recovered one of them. Here is a comment from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot on this game:

“Football folderol: Relatively few fans – even with the use of high-powered binoculars – will be able to follow the action between Virginia Tech and Tennessee at the 150,000-seat Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday night. But that’s not the point, is it? As with outdoor NHL games and Final Fours played in indoor football stadiums, what attracts people to a gimmick like this is the chance to tell their friends they were there.”

Pitt beat Penn State 42-39 last week renewing a rivalry that had been dormant for about 15 years. I remember when games between these schools would end 17-13; times have changed. Pitt used turnovers to run out to a 28-7 lead and then Penn State mounted a comeback. Penn State has a running back you should keep an eye out for; Saquon Barkley can play football and will get paid to do so one of these days. It took an interception by Pitt in their end-zone to seal this win.

Penn State and Pitt have three more games scheduled meaning that this rivalry may just take hold again. I think that would be a good thing because a game like this is far more interesting to fans than seeing either team beat up on Fugue State.

Central Michigan “beat” Oklahoma State 30-27 last week but the reason for the “win” is that the officials misinterpreted the rulebook and gave C. Michigan a final play they should not have had. That led to a TD and to an Oklahoma State “loss”. By NCAA rules, once the referee declares the game to be over, there is no going back to correct anything at all. So, Oklahoma State is the “loser” here.

This week, Oklahoma State hosts Pitt. It will be an interesting coaching challenge for the staff in Stillwater. Will the team come out flat or will they come out ready to smack anything in front of them that moves? It will be a game to watch…

Northwestern lost to Illinois State (Division 1-AA) 9-7. This looks like it will be a “cover your eyes season” for Northwestern alums. In week 1, they lost to W. Michigan but this loss is even worse. The Wildcats only scored 7 points against a Division 1-AA team. Here are some stats that will explain Northwestern’s lack of scoring and will provide bad omens for Northwestern fans:

    Total yards of offense against a Division 1-AA opponent = 278 yards
    Passing stats were 17 for 41 for 191 yards
    Rushing stats were 31 carries for 87 yards

Speaking of teams that may be looking ahead to long and disastrous seasons, consider:

    Kent State lost in Week 1 to Penn State by 20 points. That is not such a bad loss until you realize the Kent State lost in Week 2 to North Carolina A&T (Division 1-AA) by a score of 39-36 in 4 OTs.

    Savannah State (Division 1-AA) lost to Georgia Southern in Week 1 by a score of 54-0. Last week, Savanna St. lost to So. Mississippi 56-0. I sure hope those folks got two nice paychecks from those Division 1-A schools to act as a punching bag…

    Ohio beat Kansas 37-21. Remember Kansas students stormed the field after the team beat a Division 1-AA opponent at home in Week 1. Well, Ohio University is not exactly a national powerhouse and they too went to Kansas for a game and came out with a dominant win. The Big 12 season has not begun for the Jayhawks…

    Duke lost to Wake Forest 24-14. Wake is not a good offensive football team so this is not a good showing by the Duke defense. Bad omen …

    Kentucky lost to Florida 45-7. That is not unexpected except for the magnitude of the loss and the fact that the Kentucky TD came in the 4th quarter when it did not matter at all. Recall in Week 1 that Kentucky lost the second half of its game to So. Miss 27-0 to seal a come-from-ahead defeat.

Michigan beat UCF 51-14. Last week, I said that if UCF really wants to be considered seriously by the Big 12, they could not lose this game by 50 points. Well, they succeeded in avoiding that ignominy; they only lost by 37. Michigan blocked 2 punts and 2 field goal tries in the game. Perhaps some special teams blocking drills would be in order in Orlando this week?

BC beat UMass 26-7. If BC cannot get to 30 points against UMass, I wonder if they will get to 30 points against anyone this year.

Nebraska beat Wyoming 52-17 which is not all that unexpected. Here is what was a tad surprising; at the start of the 4th quarter Nebraska only led 24-17.

Clemson was a 36.5-point Ponderosa favorite over Troy last week. Clemson won the game 30-24 which is not spectacular for a team that was considered as the #2 team in the country in the pre-season rankings. Oh, and it is not as if Troy scored late to make it look closer than it really was. At the start of the 4th quarter, Clemson led 13-10.

Notre Dame beat Nevada 39-10 – just covering a 28-point Ponderosa spread.

Alabama beat W. Kentucky 38-10 – just missing a cover on a 28.5-point Ponderosa spread.

Ohio State beat Tulsa 48-3. When the 1st quarter ended, the score was 3-3; then came the deluge. Ohio State pays a visit to Oklahoma this week …

Oklahoma manhandled La-Monroe 59-17 after losing in Week 1 to Houston. The score at halftime was 42-0.

There were some other “squash games” last week:

    Texas beat UTEP 41-7. I said that if Texas lost, Charlie Strong might need to hire a food taster in Austin. Texas took care of business.

    Washington beat Idaho 59-14. As I said last week, at least Idaho did not have to travel very far to get its ass kicked.

    Iowa beat Iowa St. 42-3. I can’t wait for that Big 12 Conference showdown between Iowa St. and Kansas.

Georgia scheduled Nicholls St (Division 1-AA) as a breather for Week 2 but was surprised at hard the win was. The Bulldogs only won 26-24. Just so you know, Nicholls St is not one of those Division 1-AA powerhouses that you might expect to sneak up on a big time school. Since 2010 the overall record for Nicholls St is 13-55…

Mississippi St beat S. Carolina 27-14 last week. This was a nice recovery for the Bulldogs after losing to S. Alabama in Week 1.

The LSU football cauldron came to a simmer last week. In the opening week loss to Wisconsin, the LSU offensive woes were obvious to most observers. This week, LSU hosted Jacksonville St (Division 1-AA) and once again they did not move the ball. Finally, the coaching staff removed starting QB, Brandon Harris and replaced him with Danny Etling who transferred to LSU from Purdue. Under Etling, LSU was able to move the ball against this Division 1-AA defense and ultimately won the game 34-13. I know that there are no “bad wins” in football, but LSU fans tend to expect more against Division 1-AA opponents.

Missouri beat E. Michigan 61-21. What surprised me here was that Missouri could score 61 points on anyone other than Comatose State. Is E. Michigan really that bad?

Utah beat BYU 20-19 in the renewal of The Holy War rivalry. BYU scored a late TD to get within a point and chose to go for 2 instead of going for a tie. The try failed and Utah won the game.

Boise St. beat Washington St. 31-28. The Cougars have dug themselves into an 0-2 hole before PAC-12 conference play begins. Not a good situation there …

San Diego St. beat Cal 45-40. The important outcome of this game was that Aztec running back, Donnell Pumphrey, broke Marshall Faulk’s school rushing record. Pumphrey rushed for 281 yards and 3 TDs against Cal and now has 4,651 yards rushing for his career at San Diego St.

Last week, I took the Texas Tech/Arizona St. game to stay UNDER 80 because I thought it was too early in the season for both offenses to be ready for that kind of output. Here is how wrong I was:

    Final score was Arizona St. 68 and Texas Tech 55
    Tech QB, Pat Mahomes, threw for 540 yards and 5 TDs – – and lost.
    Ariz St. RB, Kalen Balladge, scored 8 TDs (7 rushing and 1 receiving)

Texas Tech was a terrible defensive team last year and it would surely appear as if that is the case again this year. Twice last year, Texas Tech scored more than 50 points in a game and lost that game; they did it again last week. In 13 games last year, Tech surrendered a total of 567 points (43.6 points per game). There are 128 schools that play Division 1-A football; I am too lazy to look it up, but I would be shocked if there were 5 schools that allowed more points per game last year.

Army won again last week and has started the 2016 season at 2-0. It has been 20 years since that happened at West Point and looking at the schedule, it just might be that Army can get to 6 wins and be bowl eligible; there are some games there against weak programs. If you are a fan of the Cadets and you believe in omens, the last time Army started a season at 2-0, it went on to a record of 10-2…

Louisville beat Syracuse 62-28 last week and the Cardinals’ QB, Lamar Jackson, accounted for 610 yards of offense and 5 TDs by himself. Louisville has a big game coming up this weekend against Florida State in Louisville.

There are several other good games on the calendar for this weekend:

    Ohio State/Oklahoma: Surprisingly, this will be only the third time these schools have ever played one another.

    Alabama/Ole Miss: Alabama has lost the last two games against the Rebels; I suspect Nick Saban has reminded the team of that once or twice this week.

    Notre Dame/Michigan St.: Why did these schools stop scheduling one another in the first place?

    USC/Stanford: PAC-12 conference play starts with a key game.

    Oregon/Nebraska: This has the makings of a shoot-out.

You know that I like to find players with unusual names in sports. Today, let me introduce you to Equanimeous Tristan Imhotep J. St. Brown. He is a sophomore WR from Anaheim CA at Notre Dame. I wonder what it is like for him to fit his full name into the fixed boxes on a school application form…

The Ponderosa Games:

Last week there were 15 Ponderosa games. The record for favorites covering in those games was 9-6-0.

Miami, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio St., Texas, Washington and Wisconsin covered.

Alabama, Baylor, Clemson, Oklahoma, Oregon and UCLA did not cover.

That brings the season record for favorites covering in Ponderosa games to 14-10-0.

This week we have 11 Ponderosa Games:

(Fri Nite) Baylor – 31.5 at Rice (66): Another fine example of Baylor’s out-of-conference scheduling…

Iowa St at TCU – 24.5 (61.5): The oddsmaker must not like TCU’s offense here…

Georgia St. at Wisconsin – 35 (51): This game should cease to be interesting in the second quarter.

Florida Atlantic at K-State – 25.5 (48.5): More mediocrity in out-of-conference scheduling…

N. Texas at Florida – 36 (51.5): Oh please…

Texas St. at Arkansas – 30.5 (61): A glorified scrimmage?

Ohio at Tennessee – 27 (58): Ohio beat Kansas by 2 TDs last week; here is an idea of how good Ohio is.

La-Monroe at Georgia Southern – 26 (58): Put this game on TV and I wonder if it would draw an audience of a thousand viewers.

Old Dominion at NC State – 24 (59): One more tune-up for State before conference games begin.

Hawaii at Arizona – 24 (64): Hawaii has given up 150 points in 3 games so far this year.

Idaho at Washington St – 26.5 (68.5): These schools are about 10 miles apart. That is the only thing interesting about this game.

Games of Interest:

E. Michigan – 2.5 at UNC-Charlotte (66.5): I asked above if E. Michigan could be as bad as they looked giving up 61 points to Missouri. Well, Charlotte is definitely not very good and E. Michigan is only a 2.5-point favorite here. Ergo

Florida St. – 1 at Louisville (67): Louisville has averaged 66 points per game in its first two games this year; they are not going to do that against the Florida State defense. This game has CFP implications all over it – for these two schools and for Houston who has to face Louisville down the road apiece. Just a hunch, but I’ll take Florida State to win and cover on the road here.

Temple at Penn State – 8.5 (51.5): Penn State lost soundly to Temple last year; it was the first time that had happened to the Nittany Lions since Steamboat Willie introduced the world to Mickey Mouse. Temple this year seems to be a tad less than it was last year losing in Week 1 to Army; Penn State so far seems to be a better than average team. I like Penn State at home to win and cover.

Colorado at Michigan – 19 (55): Colorado must be improving because when I saw this game on the card, I expected Michigan to be about a 30-point favorite. I will have to pay more attention to Colorado…

New Mexico at Rutgers – 6.5 (57): This game is interesting because New Mexico lost to New Mexico St last week and Mew Mexico St is a bad football team. Here New Mexico has to travel about 2000 miles to play a “Big 10 team” and they are less than a full TD underdog. Cue Arte Johnson here:

    Verrrry interesting …

Florida International – 1 at UMass (47): This game has “SHOE Tournament” written all over it…

Army – 4 at UTEP (46.5): This is one of the Army opponents I referenced above that is not so fearsome. I’ll take Army to win and cover here and to get off to a 3-0 start for the season. Get on the Army bowl-eligibility bandwagon…

BC at Va Tech – 6 (41): It will be a low-scoring game so I will take BC plus the points here.

La Tech at Texas Tech – 10.5 (80): I am 100% certain that Tech will cover here.

New Mexico St. at Kentucky – 21 (67): Kentucky has been embarrassed twice already this year but the Aggies are not nearly as good as either So. Mississippi or Florida. Nonetheless, Kentucky cannot lose at home to this caliber of competition without risking banishment from the SEC. I like the game to stay UNDER because I do not think much of either team’s offense.

Oregon at Nebraska – 3 (74.5): I said above that this game has the makings of a shoot-out; the Total Line here says the oddsmakers agree with me. I’ll take the game to go OVER.

UCLA – 3 at BYU (49.5): In terms of emotion and intensity, this game has to be a come-down for BYU after playing Utah last week. However, that close loss and the way they lost (see above) might get the team fired up. I think this will be a defensive game so I’ll take it to say UNDER.

Miami (Fl) – 4 at Appalachian St (51.5): The Total Line here opened at 55 and dropped to this level almost immediately. Do not be shocked by the low spread here; App St. lost to Tennessee in Week 1 but the game went to OT. App St. is not a football blueblood but this team is pretty good. Miami rarely leaves the state to play an out-of-conference game like this one. Purely a hunch, but I’ll take Appalachian St plus the points at home.

Pitt at Oklahoma St. – 4.5 (61): I do think that the Cowboys will be ready to play here and will have put their “unfair loss” last week behind them. At the same time, I think Pitt will ready to play too after its big win over rival Penn State last week. I like this game to go OVER.

Michigan St. at Notre Dame – 7 (50): Michigan State took last week off; I suspect that they have been pointing to this game for a long time now. Notre Dame looks good on offense but the defense leaves something to be desired. I like Michigan St. plus the points here.

Duke at Northwestern – 3.5 (44.5): One – and possibly both – of these teams is going to have a bad year in 2016. Watch this game the way you would watch a hit-and-run accident…

Ohio St. – 1 at Oklahoma (63): If Florida St./Louisville is not the best game of the weekend, then this one is. If Oklahoma loses here, they are out of the CFP picture absent extraordinary circumstances. Ohio State has tuned up for this game against significantly inferior opponents; they will be challenged here very differently. I like Urban Meyer in this situation more than Bob Stoops; there is no other way to say that. I’ll take Ohio State here and lay the point and I like the game to go OVER.

Alabama – 11 at Ole Miss (55): This spread opened at 9 points and has crept up all week long. I think Alabama will run the ball down the Rebels’ throat here and I think the Alabama defense will make Ole Miss one-dimensional – they are not going to run on that defense. Yes, Ole Miss has beaten Alabama in each of the last two seasons, but I do not think that will come close to happening here. I like Alabama to win and cover here.

Mississippi State at LSU – 14 (45): I agree with the oddsmakers here; this is going to be a low-scoring game and that means this line is fat, Fat, FAT. I’ll take Mississippi St. plus the points here.

USC at Stanford – 9 (52): Short and sweet here, I like this game to go OVER.

Texas – 7 at Cal (81.5): Neither team will win because of its defense but the Cal defense is the one that bothers me more. I’ll take Texas here and lay the points.

Finally, Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel recalled the words of former Florida State coach, Bobby Bowden, discussing one of his “student-athletes”:

“That boy don’t know the meaning of the word fear. In fact, I just saw his grades, and that boy don’t know the meaning of a lot of words.”

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend of 9/18/16

The opening week of the 2016 Mythical Picks for NFL games was a roaring success. I made 17 picks and the record for the week was 13-4-0. That record was aided by the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol; the coin was asked to make 1 pick and its record was 1-0-0. If I were smart, I would stop here and come back next August claiming a documented 76.5% success rate for the 2016 season. No one ever figured that I would be smart…

The Best Pick from last week was:

    Eagles – 4 over Browns. Eagles won by 19; game was never in doubt.

The Worst Pick from last week was:

    Cards – 6 over Pats. Cards lost outright.

No one should be tempted to use any info here as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game this weekend involving real money. Nothing here is authoritative; there is not inside information here. You would have to be really stupid to do anything like this. In fact, you would be dumb enough …

    … to design a shirt with a back pocket on it.

General Comments:

The Texans beat the Bears last weekend and there was plenty of focus on the play of Brock Osweiler and Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney has been a “disappointment” since being the overall #1 pick in the draft in 2014 but the disappointment centers around his inability to avoid injuries. They have a saying in the NFL that the most important “ability” is “availability”; Clowney has not been “available” all that much of the time. The focus on Osweiler is different; he is the $72M QB who does not have a huge body of work to demonstrate that he is a quality starter in the NFL.

I think that the yardstick by which people will determine if Brock Osweiler is a “success” or a “failure” in Houston is clouded to a large degree by that contract. For example, he could have an average year and people could complain that he underperformed his contract. However, even if that were to happen consider this:

    1. That contract is the doing of the Front Office. I believe that Osweiler made $800K last year; the Texans’ Front Office put an offer in front of him with a total value of $72M; that kind of a raise is the stuff of dreams; what was he supposed to do? Not take it …?

    2. Brock Osweiler is replacing Brian Hoyer as the starting QB for the Texans. The first comparisons ought to be Osweiler vis a vis Hoyer because that is the position the Texans sought to upgrade. Secondarily, one can then assess if the Front Office made a proper decision with regard to acquiring a new QB.

The NFL season is young and the new NFL Pre-Game crew on ESPN made a splash right out of the gate. Charles Woodson said that he thinks Terrelle Pryor will have 1800 yards receiving this year. Let me give you the list of NFL receivers who have achieved that mark:

    Jerry Rice – – 1995 – – 1848 yards.

That’s it; that’s the list.

This prediction by Woodson is bold indeed. Pryor will need to average 112.5 yards per game to hit that mark. In Week 1 against the Eagles, he caught 3 passes for 68 yards. Wow…

The Kansas City Business Journal had a report recently indicating that NFL teams may be looking to emulate MLB teams at the concession stands in their stadia. In Arrowhead Stadium this year, Chiefs’ fans can avail themselves of:

    Chocolate Bacon Blitz Pizza.

This concoction features peanut butter, chocolate fudge, Reeses peanut butter cups and bacon. What more is there to say?

The Panthers lost to the Broncos in Denver last week and the storyline after the game was the head-hunting done by the Broncos’ defenders against Cam Newton. Last Friday, more than one writer and commentator on radio/TV said that the NFL had failed to protect Newton and that the concussion protocol – newly enhanced if you believe the pronouncements from the NFL and the NFLPA – had not been followed properly. The second half of that argument is probably correct; after one particularly bad hit late in the game, Newton was clearly wobbly but no one came onto the field to chick him out nor did he go to the sidelines for an “examination” but the unaffiliated neurological guru assigned to the game. Obviously, I cannot tell if he had been concussed on the previous play; I can also tell you that his condition reminded me of the one that obtained when Case Keenum was slammed on his head last year and was allowed to stay in the game. That was the incident that nominally led to the consideration of and the changes made to “enhance the concussion protocols”.

If that is “enhancement”, I am surely glad they did not relax the criteria for examinations…

I do not agree, however, that the league let Cam Newton down. I believe the fault here lies with the officials who just did not do what is supposed to be done when a defender launches himself and leads with his helmet for a head-shot. There is no policy or pronouncement from the NFL that can assure that officials call penalties for those sorts of hits. It is fun to blame Roger Goodell for him ham-handedness on lots of issues but this is not one of them. If you feel compelled to say that someone or someones let Cam Newton down last week, assign that onus to Gene Steratore’s officiating crew.

Lost in the furor created by that controversy is the fact that Trevor Siemian played well – and was very poised – against a very good and a highly motivated Panthers’ defense. It would be a huge over-reaction to take that one game and project from it that Trevor Siemian is a fully competent NFL QB. It was a very promising start to his career; nonetheless, his body of work needs expansion.

In another game last week featuring a QB starting his first NFL game, Jimmy Garoppolo played excellently. The Pats were more than 2000 miles from home; they did not have either Brady or Gronkowski available for the game; they were missing both starting offensive tackles. And, they won the game. Give credit to the coaching staff; also give credit to Garoppolo for executing efficiently and effectively. His stat line for his first game as a starter was 24-33 for 264 yards and 1 TD. Lest anyone misinterpret anything here let me say clearly:

    When Tom Brady is available to play, Jimmy Garoppolo will – and should – go to the bench.

In yet another game last week featuring a QB starting his first NFL game, Carson Wentz made the leap from Division 1-AA football to the NFL in Game 1 of his rookie year. Wentz was clearly the better QB on the field last week; he simply outplayed RG3. The Eagles won 29-10 and it was about as lopsided as the score looks. Wentz threw 2 TD passes and amassed 278 yards in the air. Not bad for a guy from North Dakota State who locked himself in a public restroom this summer…

One other QB started his first game ever last week. That would be Dak Prescott in Dallas and he did not win that game. I am not sure it was all his fault, however. The Cowboys chose not to stretch the field more than once or twice for the whole game. That allowed the Giants’ defense to stack the line of scrimmage and shut down Ezekiel Elliott late in the game; Prescott had far too many 2nd and long/3rd and long situations in his face. Elliott wound up the day with 51 yards on 20 carries; that is not impressive for someone considered the leader in the clubhouse for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Even so, it all came down to the final play where a Cowboys’ receiver should have gone out of bounds to give the Cowboys’ kicker a shot at a LONG field goal to win the game. That did not happen and time expired…

    By the way, Dez Bryant played the whole game and had 1 catch for all of 8 yards. That did not help Prescott to succeed.

The winning TD in the Giants/Cowboys game was a short pass pulled in by Victor Cruz who was playing in his first game in 23 months. If he is back to his old form, the Giants will have a potent passing game with Odell Beckham, Jr. on one side and Cruz on the other.

As mentioned above, the Texans beat the Bears 23-14. From the outside, it would seem that the Texans strategy in the off-season was to get themselves a QB (Brock Osweiler), a new running back (Lamarr Miller) and a speed receiver (draftee Wil Fuller). They focused on upgrading the offense because they figured that with Jadeveon Clowney on the mend and on the assumption that JJ Watt would play at his normal level of effectiveness, they could roll into the playoffs from the AFC South. Well, the offense looked better than it did last year. More importantly, even with JJ Watt not playing, the defense looked very good and Clowney looked very good.

The Bears have to be worried about one stat in particular from last week’s game. Jay Cutler was sacked 5 times in the game. The Bears’ offense is not going to be able to cope with that sort of thing every week. The protection has to get better.

The Bengals beat the Jets 23-22. There were two unusual things that came from this game:

    1. The Jets recorded 7 sacks in the game and still lost. Let me just say that does not happen often…

    2. AJ Green roasted and toasted Darrelle Revis. Green caught 12 passes for 180 yards and 1 TD. Perhaps someone has built a causeway to get from the mainland to Revis Island?

The Ravens beat the Bills 13-7. That looks as if the game was a titanic defensive struggle. The Ravens defense did hold the Bills to 160 yards of offense and a measly 4.2 yards per pass but the Ravens offense just did not score points. At least the game was close…

In another low scoring contest, the Seahawks needed a very late TD to come from behind and beat the Dolphins 12-10. I saw some of the replay of this game on NFL Network and the OL for the Seahawks looked very bad. The Seattle running game only averaged 3.5 yards per attempt and Russell Wilson threw the ball 43 times in the game – very un-Seattle-like. Wilson was sacked 3 times and hurried much of the day; on the final drive for the winning score, he had to convert two 4th down situations to keep things alive. There is work to do in the Great Northwest…

Meanwhile the Dolphins were supposed to be invigorated on offense with the arrival of Adam Gaze – the certified QB Whisperer – who was to energize Ryan Tannehill. Yes, it is only Week 1, but consider:

    Dolphins’ total offense was 222 yards
    Dolphins had 11 first downs
    Dolphins passing game was less than 5 yards per attempt
    Dolphins OL surrendered 4 sacks.

There is also work to do in the Great Southeast…

The Bucs beat the Falcons 31-24 and Jameis Winston had a big day. Let me be clear; the Falcons defense is not good; they do not tackle in the open field and they surely do not put the fear of God in QBs with their pass rush. Nevertheless, Winston threw 4 TDs – and 1 INT in the game. The Falcons’ running attack was rather anemic also averaging less than 2.5 yards per rush.

The Lions beat the Colts 39-36 and the score indicates the major storylines for the game:

    1. Andrew Luck is back; here is his stat line:

      31 for 47 with 4 TDs and 0 INTs.

    The Colts converted 9 of 16 third-down attempts and amassed 450 yards of offense; but still, they lost.

    2. The Colts’ defense still stinks. That ought not be a huge surprise since there were no major upgrades made to that unit in the offseason – – and it surely stunk last year. The Lions amassed 448 yards on offense, completed 79.5% of their pass attempts, and averaged 4.8 yards per rush. By the way, the Lions’ final drive that set up the winning field goal in the final seconds of the game covered 50 yards in 25 seconds.

The Vikes rallied from behind to beat the Titans 25-16. Shaun Hill’s stats were not grizzly but the Vikes scored precisely zero TDs on offense. The Vikes’ 2 TDs came on a 77-yard Pick Six and on a 24-yard Scoop and Score. The Titans actually gained 15 yards more offense for the day than did the Vikes. Look, the Vikes’ defense is very good but there is no way they are good enough to get through a season if the offense does not score TDs.

There is one other potential issue for the Vikings coming out of this game:

    Recall that kicker Blair Walsh missed that chip shot field goal at the end of the playoff game against Seattle last year. That would have won the game for the Vikings and had them advance to the next round of the playoffs.

    In this game, he missed 2 FGs and 1 PAT. Indeed, he did make 4 FGs and 1 PAT, but the question of some sort of “hangover” from last year’s final kick is out there…

The Raiders beat the Saints 35-34. Two years ago, Panthers’ coach, Ron Rivera, acquired the nickname, “Riverboat Ron”, for some of the risky calls he made in game situations. It might appear as if Raiders’ coach, Jack Del Rio, has been studying at the “Riverboat Ron School of Risk Taking.” On a late drive in the 4th quarter, the Raiders scored to make the score 34-33; instead of “playing for the tie on the road”, Del Rio called for a 2-point conversion that was successful and the Raiders won the game. Call him “BlackJack Del Rio”?

Other than the unusual ending, this game followed a normal script for the Saints. They scored 34 points; they had 507 yards of offense; they only punted twice in the game – – and still, they lost. The Raiders were rather typical too being penalized 14 times for 141 yards in the game.

The Packers beat the Jags 27-23. Let me be brief here:

    The Packers are for real.
    The Jags are for real too.

The Chiefs beat the Chargers 33-27 in OT. The Chargers led the game 21-3 but the Chiefs came back to dominate the second half of the game sending it to OT tied at 27-27. The Chargers lost WR, Keenan Allen, for the year and they do not have a comparable replacement for him. After he left the game, the Chargers pass offense totaled 60 yards; while he was there, he caught 63 yards of passes all by himself.

The MNF double-header produced two of the least interesting games of the weekend. The Steelers went to Washington and brought seemingly 15-20% of the audience with them from Pittsburgh. There were lots of Terrible Towels in every section of the stadium. The Steelers also dominated the Skins winning 38-16. Last week, I wrote that it would be interesting to watch Josh Norman (he of the $75M free agent contract) go up against Antonio Brown (possibly the best WR in the NFL at the moment). Well, that happened only rarely…

Norman lined up as the CB on the right side of the Steelers formation on every play; when the Steelers put Brown on the left side he matched up with Bashaud Breeland who – to be polite about it – was totally overmatched. After the game, the explanation for this was that this was the defensive game plan the coaches came up with and it would have been too complex to flip Norman around to go wherever Brown went. Let me assume for a moment that is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It is time for a new defensive game plan because:

    This week the Skins play the Cowboys and Breeland will be overmatched against Dez Bryant if he has to cover him for an entire game.

    Next week, the Skins play the Giants and Breeland will be overmatched against Odell Beckham, Jr. if he has to cover him for an entire game.

In the late MNF game, the Niners beat the Rams 28-0 and the Rams looked even worse than the Browns looked against the Eagles. The Rams did not run the ball well; their passing game plan was to throw 5-yard passes on just about every dropback; the defense did not dominate. Jared Goff was on the sidelines in street clothes for the game. The speculation was that the Rams did not want to have him deal with all the hoopla of a MNF opening game. That had better be the case because:

    If indeed, the coaching staff now recognizes that Goff cannot perform better on the field than Case Keenum – – and Sean Mannion behind Keenum – – then the resources they squandered to trade up to take Goff will cripple the franchise for the next 5 years.

    Goff cannot be THAT bad, can he?

Before I get to the games themselves, let me pose a rhetorical question here:

    If you watched the Rams soil themselves last Monday night, did you wonder about those fans in St. Louis that actually wanted to keep this team in that city?

The Games:

(Thurs Nite) Jets at Buffalo “pick ‘em” (41): Neither team looked good last week on offense but both defenses played well. Rather than pick the winner here in a game that will likely depend a lot on the emotional state of the winning squad, I prefer to believe that both defenses will continue to throttle the opposing offenses and so I will take the game to stay UNDER.

Tennessee at Detroit – 5.5 (47.5): This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. It puts one of the worst teams in the league (Titans) on the road in a non-conference game against a team (Lions) who aspire to mediocrity. The Titans have not been all that good on the field recently and in case you did not know it, they have been bad against the spread too:

    Titans are 15-36-4 against the spread in their last 55 games.

I’ll take the Lions at home and lay the points.

KC at Houston – 3 (43.5): The spread opened at 1 point and has been expanding slowly all week. I think the Chiefs are the better team here so I’ll take them plus the points even on the road.

Miami at New England – 6.5 (41.5): The rest of Tom Brady’s 4-game suspension finds the Pats playing in Foxboro. Did the Dolphins’ defense make the Seahawks OL look bad last week (see above) or is it that the Seahawks’ OL simply needs work? We should learn more about that this week. One other thing we will learn later this week is if Rob Gronkowski can play this week or if his leg needs some more time to heal. Here is an interesting trend involving games where these two teams play one another:

    The home team is 8-0 against the spread the last 8 times these teams met.

    This game is in New England.

Having nothing to do with that trend cited above, I like the Pats to win and cover here.

Baltimore – 6.5 at Cleveland (42.5): The AFC North is playing each other this week; this is the first of the two games. Based on what I saw last week, I am not sure that the Browns are a worse team with backup QB, Josh McCown, under center than with RG3 there. The Browns’ offense consists of marginal running, a mediocre short passing game and occasional heaves down the field on a wing and a prayer. Terrelle Pryor caught one long pass last week in triple coverage! The Ravens’ offense was dormant last week as well, but Joe Flacco should be able to do some business against a secondary that has Joe Haden and a bunch of other guys. I like the Ravens to win and cover.

Cincy at Pittsburgh – 3.5 (48.5): This is the more interesting NFC North divisional game this week. The Steelers will face a much better defense – particularly a better run defense – this week than they did last week in Washington. Antonio Brown will give the Bengals’ secondary fits; AJ Green will give the Steelers’ secondary fits. I think the Bengals would love to avenge their playoff loss last year to the Steelers particularly because that loss was completely a self-inflicted wound. I’ll take the Bengals plus the points here.

Dallas at Washington – 2.5 (45): The Cowboys are playing their second division game in a row to start the season. They hung in against the Giants last week and had a chance to win at the end (see above). Nevertheless, their offensive output was only 328 yards mostly because they never threw the ball downfield. The Skins on the other hand were overmatched by the Steelers last week. Here are the variables:

    How will the Skins defend Dez Bryant?
    How will the Skins’ DL play against a superior OL?
    Will the Cowboys open the offense up a little?
    How badly will the Skins’ receivers make the Cowboys’ secondary look?
    Can/will the Skins run the ball more than a dozen times?

On the assumption that the Cowboys will play something more than their vanilla-flavored offense, I think this game will produce points. I like the game to go OVER.

New Orleans at Giants – 4.5 (52): Both teams played “1-point games” last week; the Giants won and the Saints lost by a point. The Giants won last week scoring 20 points. That output will not get it done this week against the Saints. By the same token, the Saints are unlikely to hold the Giants down to 20 points this week because I am not sure that the Saints can hold any NFL team to 20 points unless the game is played outdoors in a monsoon. I like this game to go OVER.

SF at Carolina – 13 (45): The line opened at 11.5 points and jumped to this level very quickly. I hate double-digit spreads in NFL games. I also hate what the NFL schedule mavens did here. The Niners played on Monday night; the Panthers played last Thursday night. On the short work week, the Niners now get to fly about 2500 miles to play a team with far superior talent. Oh, and that team with the superior talent also lost last week and wants to get things going in a positive direction here. The Panthers saw the Chip Kelly offense in Philly last year; it should not be a mystery to them. I will do something here that I do not like to do and take the Panthers and lay that bushel-basket full of points.

Tampa Bay at Arizona – 7 (50): Let me cut to the chase here. I was impressed by the way Jameis Winston played last week. Yes, those were the Falcons and these are the Cardinals. Nevertheless, I think Tampa has a real shot to win this game straight up – and wouldn’t that make the AFC West race interesting – so I’ll take the Bucs plus the points.

Seattle – 3.5 at LA (no Total Line): There are only a few of the sportsbooks that have spreads posted for this game but no one has a Total Line up as of this morning. The reason is – probably – because it is not certain if Russell Wilson can play nor is it certain who will be the QB for the Rams. The Seahawks need to worry that their weak unit (OL) has to go directly up against the best part of the Rams’ team (DL). The Rams need to worry that their anemic offense that could do no business against the Niners last week now has to contend with a far better Seahawks unit. I think this will be a low scoring affair absent turnovers, Pick Sixes and punt returns for TDs. In low scoring games, I like to take the points; I will do that here and take the Rams and the points.

Indy at Denver – 6 (46): The Colts ran up 450 yards on offense and scored 36 points last week; they are not going to do that to the Broncos’ defense. The Broncos’ offense gained only 307 yards and scored 21 points last week; they should eclipse both of those marks against the Colts’ defense here. I like the Broncos to win and cover at home.

Atlanta at Oakland – 5 (50): Based on last week’s performances, I do not think either defense is going to impede the opposing offense to any great degree. I like the game to go OVER.

Jax at San Diego – 3 (47): Here is another short and sweet one. I think the Jags are going to win this game outright. Therefore, I will be happy to take them plus a field-goal’s worth of points.

(Sun Nite) Green Bay – 3 at Minnesota (43.5): The Vikings open their new playpen here against a division rival they need to beat if they want to win the NFC North. Here are conflicting trends for this game:

    Packers are 8-3 to go OVER in their last 11 Week 2 games
    Vikings are 14-2 to go UNDER in their last 16 Week 2 games.
    This is Week 2 …

I think this will be a low scoring game because the Vikes have a really good defense and because the Vikes are going to play Shaun Hill at QB on offense. Therefore, I will take the Vikings plus the points.

(Mon Nite) Philly at Chicago – 3 (43): The Bears led the Texans 14-10 at halftime last week and then were shut out in the second half. The Eagles dominated a bad Browns’ team for 4 quarters last week. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Eagles plus the points. Ok, then …

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times earlier this week regarding the outcome of the Packers/Jags game last week:

“At ‘Jags fall to Packers, 27-23, earn franchise’s 100th moral victory.’”

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

Dead Money In The NFL

Headlines this morning at several sports websites say something like this:

    Saints cut CJ Spiller
    Saints carrying $40M of dead money

Perhaps a short tutorial on “dead money” as it pertains to the NFL Salary Cap would be in order. Let me say from the outset, that I am not a “capologist” but I think I understand this one sufficiently to explain it.

Suppose a team signs a player – the ever-present Joe Flabeetz – to a deal that is announced as a 5-year contract worth $30M. That would be simple if indeed that contract called for the player to get $6M every year – – but none of them do that. To make my example simple, let us say that this contract breaks down this way:

    5 years of annual salary at $4M each year = $20M
    1 signing bonus paid immediately = $10M

To calculate the salary cap impact for Joe Flabeetz, the signing bonus is pro-rated over the life of the contract meaning he costs the team only $6M in the first year ($4m in annual salary + $2M in prorated signing bonus money) even though the team has shelled out $14M in that first year. Not to worry, in the final year of the contract, the team will shell out only $4M in salary, but the “cap hit” will still be $6M ($4M in annual salary + $2M in prorated signing bonus money). Not very complicated, right?

Well, what happens if the team cuts good old Joe Flabeetz just after the second year of the contract.

    Flabeetz keeps the $10M signing bonus and the $8M he earned for the first two seasons ($18M)

    The team does not owe him anything once he is cut because the contract is not guaranteed.

However, all of that prorated bonus money in Years 3,4 and 5 need to be accounted for. Those pro-rated bonus numbers total $6M and that “cost” all goes against the team’s salary cap for Year 3. Therefore, the team has cap money on their books in Year 3 but they will get no benefit from that money because Joe Flabeetz is not on the squad. Hence the term “dead money”.

CJ Spiller looked like a potential star coming out of college at Clemson; in his third year with the Bills, he gained over 1200 yards rushing. However, an injury in 2014 seems to have had a major impact on his performance. The Saints owe him a total of $9M beyond what he has been paid plus they just paid him a “roster bonus” of $1M which gets pro-rated over the life of his contract. By cutting him, all that money is counted against the Saints’ cap for 2016 and when you add Spiller’s “dead money” to other “dead money” the Saints have on their books, the total comes to $40M.

If you wonder why the Saints did not sign any top-shelf defensive free agents during the off-season, this could well be the explanation. It is not clear how the team got into this mess, but it surely seems as if someone has been asleep at the switch. Or perhaps there has been confusing oversight from a financial standpoint given the legal entanglements between factions within the family of Saints’ owner, Tom Benson. In any case, it is a mess…

Here is an item I ran across in Dwight Perry’s column, Sideline Chatter, in the Seattle Times:

“Sales of Colin Kaepernick No. 7 jerseys have skyrocketed since the 49ers QB started sitting in protest during the national anthem.

“In an odd twist, suppliers complain they’re getting inundated with standing orders.”

I mention that here because I think Kaepernick’s protest has hit a plateau. Let me restate my position on the protest for clarity purposes:

    I have no problem at all with the issue that he has identified as problematic to him.

    I acknowledge and defend his right to do what he is doing.

    On a personal level, I would have preferred that he choose a different method to manifest his protest; but that is my opinion and he is the one doing the protesting, not I.

The story started out as a big deal. It was the talk of sports radio and TV punditry in the world of sports and politics. Heck, even President Obama commented on his protest. Then a few other athletes joined in symbolic support of his protest. And that seems to be where things have stalled. Colin Kaepernick started something that is important to him – and certainly to other folks in the US. I think his challenge now is to find some way to move the discussion forward to something beyond “Which teammate and/or other athlete will join in his protest this week?” The answers to that question are interesting but not germane to resolving the core issue that Kaepernick raised in the first place.

I am not going to presume to tell Colin Kaepernick what to do next or how to take the next step in this protest. However, I do think that it has come to the point where he needs to take a next step in a positive direction.

Finally, let me go back to the Dwight Perry well one more time here:

“The hamlet of Endwell NY is all agog after its band of 12-year olds delivered the U.S. its first Little League World Series championship since 2011 with a 2-1 win over South Korea on Sunday.

“In other words, all’s well in … nah, too easy.”

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

Moon Big Papi?

The late Sunday afternoon game in my viewing area last weekend was the Giants at the Cowboys; since Joe Buck and Troy Aikman had the call, I presume that many of you also saw that game. Late in the game, the sun came through the glass wall of the Jerry-Dome such that a patch of the field was in the bright sun. Players running pass routes sometimes had to go from indoor lighting/shade into the “sun patch” and look back into the sun to try to find the ball. Under normal circumstances, if a pass hits Jason Witten in the hands, he catches it; Sunday, he looked like his hands were coated with WD-40 on a play where he found the sun patch just as the ball arrived.

You know the sun patch was an unusual feature of the game because it drew commentary from both Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. One of them wondered if it was worse for the QB to have the sun in his eyes as he threw the ball or for the receiver to have the sun in his eyes as he tried to locate/catch the ball. I wonder if Jerry Jones will contemplate buying a set of curtains for his playpen somewhere down the line.

If you saw the Browns/Eagles game as the “early game” on Sunday, you saw RG3 take a big hit on a scramble at the end of the game. He suffered a sprained shoulder from that hit and the Browns have put him on IR meaning that he will be out until Week 10 in November. So much for the “career reboot” he was going to have in Cleveland this year under Hue Jackson…

The Red Sox last game in Yankee Stadium this year will be on 29 September – barring circumstances that put a playoff game between the two teams there later in October. That will be David Ortiz’ final appearance in NYC; you can be sure that the Yankees will give him some sort of memorabilia to celebrate his career and his retirement. That has become standard fare for players who have announced their retirement at the end of a given season. However, the fans may have some other ideas…

Recall that Red Sox fans paid through the nose to see A-Rod play his final game(s) in Fenway Park just so they could boo him one more time. Well, Yankee fans do not have their hearts filled with love for Red Sox stars such as David Ortiz. And so, a website has been registered and is alive with the URL:

As you may imagine, the authors of this website are encouraging fans in attendance that night to pay their respects to David Ortiz with a display of buttocks. Their goal is to have “50,000 moons” as their farewell salute to Big Papi.

According to the website, fans who participate in this salute should hold their moons for “five to ten seconds signifying the span of time it takes Big Papi to run to first base.” The motivation call to Yankee fans says that all they need is “your fanny and five seconds.”

Do I believe that there will be 50,000 participants in such a demonstration? No. However, some fans will indeed indulge the website creators’ call for a faux salute of this type. And here is what ESPN producers hope happens:

    Enough “Mooners” – the name “Moonies” has already been assigned elsewhere – participate that it is caught on camera such that ESPN has to pixilate the video to show it on SportsCenter.

    Then, the next day, they will have “debate-fodder” for every ESPN Radio and TV program to reflect, dissect and analyze in excruciating detail.

I am already bored by that thought and the game is not for two more weeks…

The NCAA has decided to remove championship tournament events from the State of North Carolina due to the “Bathroom Bill” that is the law in that state. As usual, I am not going to get into the political, legal or societal ramifications of this law or the efforts to overturn it. Those actions belong to the residents of North Carolina and I am not one of them. The NCAA chose to take sides in the matter – as have the NFL and the NBA. With regard to pro sports, the impacts tend to be economic only; the site of the NBA All-Star Game does not really affect any of the playoff races in the league in any meaningful way. However, in college sports, the impact is both economic and possibly competitive too.

When the NCAA changes the venue for men’s basketball tournament from “somewhere in North Carolina” to “somewhere else”, two of the major NCAA basketball programs are affected. Duke and UNC are almost always in the tournament and are often prominently seeded in that event. Normally, one or the other gets to play early round games proximal to their campus which is an advantage for them. [Aside: I have suggested several times in the past that the NCAA not schedule any team to play in an arena closer than 150 miles from campus but of course that suggestion has not been considered.] So, you may ask what the schools think of the recent NCAA decision.

Almost immediately after the NCAA made its announcement, the ADs at both Duke and UNC issued statements saying that they supported the NCAA decision in full. On the heels of those statements by the Athletic Directors, John Swofford – Commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference – said that there would be discussions among the presidents of the institutions this week regarding ACC Championship events.

Finally, here is the analysis of a baseball trade from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“The Oakland A’s traded pitcher Mike Rzepczynski, explaining, ‘We got tired of trying to spell and pronounce his name.’”

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

Palermo = Soccer Instability

One of the teams in Serie A – the top soccer league in Italy – is Palermo. Last year, it escaped the relegation zone on the final day of the season but it has been a “team of turmoil” for a while now. The owner of the team is Maurizio Zamparini; in terms of patience and tranquility, he is sort of like George Steinbrenner, James Dolan and Danny Boy Snyder wrapped in one. Zamparini bought the team in 2002; since 2003, the team has had 34 head coaches; since January 2016, the team has had 7 head coaches. Now, there are reports that Zamparini is looking to sell the team.

Fans of Palermo might look at that news in a positive – even an encouraging – light. After all, the odds that any new owner might be as “unusual” as Zamparini has been would have to be rather long, right? Well, according to reports, the potential buyer is a gentleman named Frank Cascio who was a former friend, manager and confidante of Michael Jackson. Yes, that Michael Jackson…

The 2016 season for Serie A has just begun. Palermo has played 3 games; they have lost 2 of them and played to a draw. That record has them in the relegation zone in 18th place in the 20-team league. It looks like another year of stormy seas for fans of the team. If Zamparini keeps the team, it could easily have 5 new head coaches by Valentine’s Day 2017; if he sells the team …

The turmoil in Palermo has been going on for so long that fans there are probably used to it by now. There is something else ongoing in the world of international soccer that fans are starting to become used to:

    Investigations of FIFA officials for “improprieties”.

The FIFA Ethics Committee [Aside: I admit that I chuckle to myself every time I type those words in that sequence.] has within it something called the investigative chamber. The deputy chairman of that chamber, Djimbaraye Bourngar, announced that the chamber has begun a formal inquiry into actions taken by:

    Sepp Blatter – former President/head honcho of FIFA
    Marcus Kattner – former Director of Finance and Corporate Services of FIFA
    Jerome Valcke – former Secretary General of FIFA

Before anyone asks, no, I do not understand the hierarchy of FIFA sufficiently to explain the different authorities of FIFA’s President and FIFA’s Secretary General. However, the titles indicate that these gentlemen were people of influence within the governing body of international soccer. The just announced investigation involves possible violations of the FIFA bylaws that relate to things such as:

    Acceptance of gifts and other benefits
    General rules of conduct.

I realize that one might be tempted to think that an organization such as FIFA would expect its senior officers to exhibit “general rules of conduct” wherein they would always be “accepting gifts and other benefits” in the form of “bribery”. I suspect, however, that the investigative chamber of the Ethics Committee will be interpreting the bylaws in a different manner. Do I expect any bombshell revelations to come from this investigation? Not really. But I do think that it will be difficult for the Ethics Committee to find that all has been well with regard to whatever the FIFA Bylaws are intended to mean.

By the way, do not expect breaking news here any time soon. The Committee said that in order to preserve the presumption of innocence for all parties and to maintain confidentiality until the conclusion of the investigation, there would be no further announcements or acknowledgement of this investigation. I take that to mean that we will hear the outcome of all this sometime in 2020.

Last week we had reports that Tiger Woods wants to/plans to play in three PGA tournaments between now and Christmas. The important events on the PGA calendar are finished for the year; the top players tend to ignore any tournaments between now and Christmas; often, this is referred to as “The Silly Season” in golf. As you may imagine, the tournaments at this time of the year do not do well on TV having to go up against college football, NFL football and MLB playoffs/World Series. The tournaments get ratings that are better than infomercials – – but not a whole lot better.

The fact that this might be the start of a “comeback” for Tiger Woods and a return to the PGA Tour as a regular competitor in tour events makes any of these “Silly Season Tournaments” interesting if indeed Woods enters them. One of these tournaments is sponsored by Safeway supermarkets; if Tiger Woods enters their tournament, they will get a humongous bargain for the promotional dollars they put out for those sponsorship rights. If he does not enter, you can go yet one more year neglecting to notice that Safeway sponsors a PGA Tour event.

With football season in full swing, there is an upswing in the time-on-the-air for sideline reporters. As you know, I do not like sideline reporting because most of it is pabulum at best. Here is my fantasy sideline interview:

    An athlete in an individual sport – – say the jockey on the winner of the Kentucky Derby as an example – – meets up with the trackside interviewer. Here is the exchange I want to hear:

      Talking hair-do: Tell us what was going through your mind at the moment that you knew you had just won the Kentucky Derby.

      Athlete: Honestly, I was hoping that you would have a much more intelligent question to ask me after this big achievement in my life.

I am not holding my breath until I do hear anything like that …

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times that is tangentially related to the Tiger Woods reports above:

“And in fight memorabilia news, the boxing gloves worn by Muhammed Ali against Joe Frazier in the 1971 ‘Fight of the Century’ sold at auction for $606,375.

“Which makes one wonder what Elin Nordegren’s infamous nine-iron would have fetched.”

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

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend Of 9/10/16

Last week was a mythically profitable one for Mythical Picks. I made 17 selections and the record for Week 1 was 10-7-0.

The Best Pick for last week was:

    Wisconsin +10 vs. LSU. Wisconsin won the game.

The Worst Pick for last week was:

    Temple – 16 vs. Army. Temple lost by 15 points.

As they say in the TV ads for mutual funds, past performance is not an indicator of future performance. Therefore, I will smile and be happy to have had a good week of Mythical Picks last week – – and get down to the business of making good picks again this week. Assuming that I can …

In any event, no one ought to take anything written here as being informative or insightful with regard to college football games. Even more importantly, no one should use anything here as the basis for making an actual wager on an actual college football game involving real money. Anyone dumb enough to do that probably needs this reminder:

    Do not scratch your watch and wind your butt !

General Comments:

The Linfield College Wildcats begin their football season this weekend. At the moment, Linfield is riding a winning streak that goes all the way back to 1956. For the last 60 consecutive seasons, Linfield has had a winning record in football. Last season they finished the year at 11-1. That loss came in the quarterfinals of the Division III football tournament against St. Thomas (MN).

This week, Linfield will host the Panthers of Chapman University in McMinnville, OR. Last year, Chapman’s record was 4-5. Go Wildcats!

Last week, Clemson beat Auburn for the third consecutive time. It was hardly an artistic performance by either squad; the final score was 19-13. [Note: Clemson was a 7-point favorite and I took them as one of last week’s Mythical Picks. Arrgh…] Clemson lost a couple of defensive players to the NFL as early round selections. Not to worry, this year’s defense allowed only 3.7 yards per offensive play in this game. Clemson has two games on its schedule that could be seriously challenging:

    Clemson has to play Louisville later this year. Louisville opened its season against UNC-Charlotte and beat them 70-14. The score at the half was 56-0. The question here is this

      Is Charlotte that bad or is Louisville that good?
      Or both?

    Clemson has to play Florida State later this year. The Seminoles looked bad for the first 20 minutes against Ole Miss last week. The Seminoles trailed 28-6 in the second quarter and then ran off 30 unanswered points and won the game going away. Yes, Florida State is very good…

Wake Forest was a 17-point favorite against Tulane last week. Wake did win the game but by a score of 7-3. One ought not expect a lot from the Wake Forest offense this year; their longest play of the game was a 16-yard pass completion. Tulane, meanwhile, looked miserable. The Green Wave had the ball for 35 minutes in the game and gained a total of 280 yards.

For those who put any stock at all in “pre-season rankings”, please note that Tennessee was a Top Ten team before anyone teed up to kick off a real game. The Vols needed OT to beat Appalachian State and the Vols trailed at halftime by 10 points.

Vandy led S. Carolina 10-0 at the half and then Vandy coughed up a hairball in the second half as S. Carolina came back to win the game 13-10. It just might be a really long season for both teams here…

I mentioned the Temple/Army game above as my worst pick for last week. Army dominated the game; Army had the ball for 36 minutes; Army had 23 rushing first downs; Army ran the ball for a total of 329 yards. Looks as if the Temple players read too many press clippings from last season …

Florida International led Indiana 13-12 as the 4th quarter of the game began. Then, FIU pulled a disappearing act and lost the game 34-13.

In another El Foldo Game, Mississippi St. led South Alabama 20-7 at the start of the 4th quarter. Mississippi State was a Ponderosa favorite of 28 points in that game. Nonetheless, South Alabama came back and won the game 21-20. As if that were not sufficiently embarrassing, Mississippi State got into position for a chip shot field goal with seconds left to win the game – – and missed the kick. For the record, this is the first time in school history that South Alabama has beaten a team from the so-called “Power Five” conferences.

Northwestern (Big 10) lost at home to Western Michigan (MAC) by a point. Not a good omen there for Northwestern alums…

I said last week that it would be a LONG flight for Rutgers to take to play Washington in a game that would be uninteresting after the first 20 minutes. Well, the score at the half was 34-3 in favor of Washington and the final score was 48-13.

Plenty of Division 1-A teams started the season against Division 1-AA teams and the results were a mixed bag:

    Idaho beat Montana State (Div 1-AA) by a field goal. Hey, it’s a win and Idaho does not have that happen all that often…

    UConn beat Maine (Div 1-AA) by a field goal. For a team that aspires to be invited into the Big 12, that is not a good résumé entry…

    Kansas beat Rhode Island (Div 1-AA) 55-6 and the Kansas students stormed the field. That has to be the most embarrassing field-storming in the history of field-storming… Then again, the last time Kansas won a home football game was back in November of 2014 when they beat Iowa State. And speaking of Iowa State …

    Iowa State lost to Northern Iowa (Div 1-AA) 25-20. Maybe the Big 12 needs to invite 3 new schools into the conference and drop Iowa State?

    Washington St. lost to E. Washington (Div 1-AA) 45-42. This is the second year in a row that Washington St. opened the season with a loss to a Div 1-AA school. Last year, Portland State did the honors. Anyway, Washington St. pulled itself together last year and finished the year at 9-4.

    UVa lost to Richmond (Div 1-AA) 37-20. Yes, the game was as lopsided as the score indicates. Richmond had the ball for almost 40 minutes; Richmond had 524 yards on offense to Virginia’s 302 yards; Richmond held Virginia to 38 yards rushing for the game. UVa has a new coach in Bronco Mendenhall who was very successful at BYU taking them to 11 straight bowl games. This has to be a shock to his nervous system…

Arkansas beat La Tech at home by one point. That is not an impressive performance from an SEC West squad… Arkansas was a Ponderosa favorite of 26 points there.

So. Miss trailed Kentucky 35-17 in the first half. However, the Golden Eagles won the second half 27-0 for a comeback win.

Michigan beat Hawaii 63-3. Recall that the college season opened with a game in Australia where Cal beat Hawaii and scored 51 points in the process. That makes 114 points for opponents against Hawaii so far this year. Just a suggestion here, but maybe the coaches at Hawaii might want to do some tackling drills this week…

With just over 3 minutes to go in the first quarter, San Jose St. and Tulsa were tied 7-7. At the end of the first quarter, San Jose St. trailed 24-7 and the final score was Tulsa 45 and San Jose St. 10.

Penn State unveiled a hurry-up spread offense last week. That had to be a shock to the folks in Happy Valley. The Lions beat Kent State 33-13 which is no big deal. The test for Penn St. comes when Big 10 play commences. I had not realized this until I ran across these stats:

    Penn State lost to Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State by a combined score of 121–42 last year

    Coach, James Franklin, is 0–6 against those schools.

There were some important games in Week 1 matching good teams against one another. Wisconsin and LSU played in Lambeau Field and Wisconsin won the game by 2 points. Frankly, they looked like a much better team. Wisconsin ran 73 plays while LSU ran only 50; Wisconsin gained 349 yards and held LSU to 257. LSU continues to have QB “issues”; Brandon Harris was highly recruited out of high school but he has been erratic at best for LSU. Last week, he was 12-31 for 131 yards AND he threw 2 INTs. Recall last year that LSU “folks” wanted to fire Les Miles and buy him out. Do not be surprised to hear that chorus repeated later this year…

Dwight Perry had this comment about the Wisconsin/LSU game in the Seattle Times last weekend:

“Wisconsin emerged No. 1 in The Princeton Review’s annual rankings of the nation’s top party schools.

“And Badger students probably wrapped up the title for 2017, too, after Saturday’s 16-14 upset of fifth-ranked LSU.”

Georgia beat UNC comfortably but the story in that game was the return of Georgia RB, Nick Chubb. He had surgery to repair a horrific injury last year and spent a lot of time in rehab. People wondered how far back he might be for this season. Well, he carried the ball 32 times last week and gained 222 yards. Chubb is an excellent running back. In his 15 college football games, he has gained 100 yards or more in 14 of them. The one game he did not do that was the one where he suffered that knee injury last year on his first carry of the game.

Alabama looked discombobulated for the first 15-20 minutes of their game against USC. Make no mistake, USC has some good players and great athletes on its squad. However, once Alabama “found itself” the rout was on. The final score was 52-6 and this pair of stats is telling:

    USC ran the ball 30 times for 64 yards
    Alabama ran the ball 45 times for 242 yards

    Takeaways from this game: The game was not close and Alabama’s defense is really good once again.

Oh, I read a report that Joe Namath was “Live-Tweeting” the Alabama/USC game. Question:

    Are you even minimally sorry that you missed out on that commentary?

Brad Rock had this comment on the Alabama/USC game in the Deseret News earlier this week:

“From ‘Lane Kiffin helps Alabama destroy USC program previously destroyed by Lane Kiffin.’”

The Notre Dame/Texas game was about as entertaining a game as you could wish to see. It is a shame that either team had to lose. It took 2 OTs for Texas to prevail.

Ole Miss had a 22-point lead on Florida State and lost by double digits. Yes, Florida State is very good but here are a couple of things the Ole Miss team needs to think about:

    The Ole Miss defense relies on speed. The Ole Miss offense is a hurry-up/tempo offense. By the end of the game, the Ole Miss defenders were gassed. Ole Miss needs to do a bit of clock management when it has the ball.

    One way to do that might be to run the football once in a long while.

    On defense, Ole Miss needs to recruit some defensive backs who can cover opposing pass-catchers.

Florida State defensive lineman, DeMarcus Walker dominated the game with 4.5 sacks and innumerable hurries on the Ole Miss QB.

Oh, Houston went out and did it. They beat Oklahoma by double-digits despite being a 13-point underdog. The win was not a fluke; Houston was the better team on the field. They have an upcoming game against Louisville that will likely be a huge game for both schools. At least for the moment, Houston is in the College Football Playoff discussion.

There will be some interesting matchups and things to look for in the upcoming week.

    1. BC will play UMass. For some reason, UMass dropped out of the MAC to become an independent. I am sure that makes sense to someone at the school but it is not clear to me. BC is not going to run up big scoring totals this year – or just about any year under this coaching regime – but if they are ever going to do so, this is their opportunity.

    2. Penn State will travel to Pitt to renew an old – and bitter – rivalry that has been dormant ever since 2000. However, these schools do have a history; they have met 96 times and Penn State leads the series 50-42-4.

    3. Tennessee will try to look more like a “Top Ten Team” this week against VA Tech. The game will be held at Bristol Motor Speedway – for some reason – and they hope to see 150,000 fans in the seats.

    4. Utah and BYU will renew The Holy War. This is an intense rivalry that was on hiatus for a couple of years. Good to have it back… In the Las Vegas Bowl last year, Utah took a 35-0 lead early on and held on to win the game as BYU came back to make it 35-28. Should be a good game.

    5. Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Ole Miss suffered losses last week that had to hurt. Will these teams be primed to “take it out on someone” this week?

The Ponderosa Games:

There were 9 Ponderosa Games last week and the record for favorites covering was 5-4-0.

Louisville, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and Washington covered

Arkansas, Florida, Iowa and Mississippi State did not cover.

This week we have 15 Ponderosa Spread Games:

UCF at Michigan – 35.5 (53): UCF wants to join the Big 12. They do not want to lose this game by 50 points; that will not impress the Big 12 folks.

E. Michigan at Missouri – 25 (55.5): I saw a little of the Missouri/ W. Virginia game last week. E. Michigan has to be pretty bad to be a 25-point dog to Missouri.

La-Monroe at Oklahoma – 47 (65.5): The oddsmakers clearly think that the Sooners are going to be pissed and will take it out on whomever is in front of them. Remember, Oklahoma has Ohio State next on the schedule; at best this is a tune-up game; at worst, the Sooners may be looking past this game… Forty-seven points is a bushel basket full of points.

Akron at Wisconsin – 24 (47.5): Wisconsin has to avoid a letdown after an emotional win over LSU last week.

Tulsa at Ohio State – 29 (73): Ohio State is capable of scoring 73 points all by itself here.

Troy at Clemson – 36.5 (63): Granted Auburn is a better team than Troy, but Clemson did not look as if should be more than a 5 TD favorite over anyone last week.

UTEP at Texas – 30 (59.5): If Texas suffers a letdown and loses here, whatever Charlie Strong earned in terms of respect last week will be gone in a flash.

Nevada at Notre Dame – 28 (61): Notre Dame also wants to kick some butt this week…

Idaho at Washington – 37 (60): At least Idaho does not have to travel a great distance to get its ass kicked this week.

W. Kentucky at Alabama – 28.5 (61.5): W. Kentucky will put up a better fight than USC did last week.

UVa at Oregon – 24.5 (70.5): UVa lost to Richmond – handily – last week and now travels about 3000 miles to get stomped by Oregon. It is going to be a LONG year in Charlottesville.

Florida Atlantic at Miami (FL) – 24.5 (61.5): Miami is on the road back to elite status, right?

SMU at Baylor – 32 (76): Will the new Baylor coach run up the score the way the old Baylor coach liked to do?

Wyoming at Nebraska – 24.5 (58): Best thing you can say about this game is that it is a “border war”.

UNLV at UCLA – 26 (58.5): Maybe this game will be interesting to someone, somewhere…

Games of Interest:

BC – 16.6 at UMass (40): You will not see many Total Lines for college football as low as 40. So take a moment and look at it. Do not look at the game and do not bet on the game. Just look at that Total Line …

Arkansas at TCU – 7.5 (59.5): Arkansas did not impress last week but Arkansas is not a bad team. TCU is also a good team. This should be a good game. I think the defenses play well here so I’ll take this game to stay UNDER.

Ohio at Kansas – 3 (59.5): Can Kansas win back-to-back home games here? It is an interesting question – – but not interesting enough to get me to watch the game or bet on it.

Penn State at Pitt – 6 (48): The oddmakers think this will be a low scoring affair and I agree. As is my preference, that means I will take Penn State plus the points even on the road in a “rivalry renewal game.”

Northern Illinois at USF – 15 (57): N. Illinois opened the season flying west a long distance to play Wyoming. Next they fly southeast a long distance to play USF. Is the team sponsored by Travelocity?

Wake Forest at Duke – 4.5 (43.5): Wake had its hands full beating Tulane last week and Tulane just isn’t all that good. I like Duke to win and cover at home.

Kentucky at Florida – 16.5 (49): Kentucky got rolled by So. Mississippi last week. I do not think Florida is championship material but I think they are better than So. Miss. I’ll take Florida at home to win and cover.

S. Carolina at Mississippi St – 6.5 (45): It looks to me as if S. Carolina is in a program rebuilding phase. Mississippi State went through that phase several years ago. However, Mississippi State “screwed the pooch” last week against S. Alabama (see above). I think the Mississippi State coaches will have the team frothing at the mouth for this one and in the end talent will out. I’ll take Mississippi State and lay the points.

VA Tech vs Tennessee – 11 (54) Game to be played at Bristol Motor Speedway: This is season #1 for VA Tech in the “post-Frank-Beamer Era” and it may be too much to ask for them to take on a very talented Tennessee team even though Tennessee underwhelmed last week against Appalachian State (see above). I think the Vols’ offense will be primed to show what it can really do. I like this game to go OVER.

Iowa State at Iowa – 15.5 (52): This is always a big rivalry game and Iowa State has surprised the bigger program guys more than once in a while. I am leery about playing the spread here, but I do think that this game will stay UNDER the Total Line.

UNC – 7.5 at Illinois (58): Short and simple here. I think UNC is the better squad and will dominate here. I’ll take UNC on the road and lay the points. I also think this will be an offensive game. I’ll also take the game to go OVER.

BYU at Utah – 3.5 (45): I think this game will go down to the wire and that half-point hook on top of a field-goal spread makes me interested. I will not be shocked if BYU wins outright so I’ll take BYU plus the points here.

Washington St at Boise St – 10.5 (72.5): Time for Washington St. to wake up after another loss to a Div 1-AA team in the opener (see above). It looks as if the “Washington St. formula” is in place again this year – – passing offense, little defense. I know Boise St is tough at home, but that line looks fat to me. I’ll take Washington St plus the points. I also like the game to go OVER.

Texas Tech at Arizona St. – 3 (80): Going on last year’s form, neither team seemed to grasp the concept of “pass defense” and both teams loved to throw the football. However, it is still a bit early in the season to think that both offenses can be sufficiently dialed-in to reach that Total Line. I like the game to stay UNDER.

Cal at San Diego St. – 7 (61.5): If pre-season polls mean anything – – and they most certainly do not – – people think San Diego St. is going to be very good this year. Cal opened in Australia against Hawaii who also get their lunch handed to them by Michigan last week. Hawaii is clearly not going to be very good this year. I will allow the pollsters to influence my thinking here and take San Diego St. to win and cover at home.

Finally, I just admitted to being influenced by the pre-season polls in my last Mythical Pick. Notwithstanding that fact, I am not a fan of pre-season – or even early season – polls/rankings/whatevers. Steelers’ RB, LeVeon Bell seems to agree with me on that point given this recent Tweet of his:

“think in college football, it shouldn’t be anymore preseason ranks…I feel like teams should earn their spot based of the first 4-5 weeks”

Can I get an AMEN ??!!

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

Troy Aikman Vs. Skip Bayless …

I do not know how many of you are aware of the guttural dislike that exists between Troy Aikman and Skip Bayless. If you are in your 30s, you might wonder why either of these folks would even know one another let alone care enough about one another to dislike the other. Well, there is a history … and today both of these folks are now in the employ of FOX Sports.

The fact that both of these gentleman cash significant weekly checks from the same mega-bank account does not make them brothers in arms. Troy Aikman – quite simply – has no time for Skip Bayless. Here is what NBC Sports’ quoted Aikman as saying:

“To say I’m disappointed in the hiring of Skip Bayless would be an enormous understatement. Clearly, Jamie Horowitz [President of FOX Sports] and I have a difference of opinion when it comes to building a successful organization. I believe success is achieved by acquiring and developing talented, respected and credible individuals, none of which applies to Skip Bayless.

[Emphasis added]

Let’s rewind the tape – – so to speak. Back in the early 1990s – before Skip Bayless was the patron saint of the “Hot Take” – he was a columnist for the Dallas Morning News and Troy Aikman was the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. Sometime in that period of history, Skip Bayless wrote a book about the Cowboys and the inner sanctum of the team which implied VERY directly that Troy Aikman was gay. Even if one subscribes to the current narrative that such a sexual orientation does not matter a whit, it surely did in the early/mid-1990s. Troy Aikman did not appreciate those allegations then and he has not forgotten them in the intervening years.

Skip Bayless was hired away from ESPN by FOX Sports recently with the idea that Bayless would bring his Hot Takes to FOX Sports in a way that duplicated/mimicked/outshone the “debate-style formatting at ESPN that has been successful during the weekday daytime hours. Reports say that Bayless got multi-millions to make that jump; I have no way to know if those reports are true, but I am sure that Skip Bayless did not take a new job that payed him minimum wage.

Troy Aikman has been the lead analyst for FOX in their coverage of the NFL. He and Joe Buck are FOX’s answer to Jim Nantz/Phil Simms (CBS) and to Al Michaels/Cris Colinsworth (NBC). Troy Aikman’s words above demonstrate to me that the fact that he and Skip Bayless both draw VERY comfortable salaries’ from the same source does not mean that the hatchet is buried. In fact, what those words say to me is that the execs at FOX Sports need to assure that any time Skip Bayless and Troy Aikman are in the same room, there are no hatchets within reach of anyone.

I enjoy Troy Aikman’s work as a color analyst on NFL games. Most importantly, I do not give a fig if the analysis he provides comes from the mouth of a gay person, a straight person, a bisexual person or an asexual person. I find his commentary interesting and insightful. When I am watching an NFL game, that is the highest priority for me – – assuming that the words are not coming from someone whose credibility with regard to NFL football is questionable such as PeeWee Herman.

For the record, I find Skip Bayless tiresome. I did not like his ESPN show with Stephen A. Smith (First Take) and I really do not like his new program on FOX Sports with Shannon Sharpe (Whatever It Is Called). The only advice I might give to the mavens at FOX Sports is pretty basic:

    If you keep these two folks separate from one another, you can probably continue to make inroads into the existing ESPN audience. Mazel Tov with that…

    HOW-EVAH (channeling Bayless’ former co-host, Stephan A. Smith, here) if you ever have to choose between the two because having both of them in the same company is about to resemble the 21st Century version of the Gunfight At The OK Corral, keep Aikman and jettison Bayless. In my opinion, it is not even a close decision…

It is really good to have readers for these rants who can provide commentary here that is substantive and well beyond the level of the “Hot Take”. Here is a communique that I received yesterday from a reader here in the DC area regarding the NFL Mythical Picks from earlier this week:

“When was the last time that the teams who played in the Super Bowl opened the next season playing each other?

“It was 1970 – the first year of the full AFL-NFL merger, when the Minnesota Vikings defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 27-10.”

I am surprised that it took the NFL this long to provide such a match-up to start the new season. I realize that the NFL schedule is formulaic and that it is not always possible to have the Super Bowl teams play one another in the subsequent year. Nonetheless, I would have thought it would have happened at least once in the past 46 years…

I want to point you to a column written by Brad Rock in the Deseret News this week. The rivalry between BYU and Utah is an intense one; it may not be at the same level as Army/Navy – – but it is close. This column relates how such a rivalry can exist without the need to trash the opposing school’s coach or kidnapping the opposing school’s mascot.

    The rivalry is there.
    The intensity is there.
    AND the maturity is there too.

Sports are a part of life; sports do not equate to life nor do they have such meaning that they define life. Sports are important enough to me that I have been writing about them on the Internet 5-days a week for more than 15 years now. Nonetheless, sports are entertainment; they are not the core essence of my life and they ought not to be the core life of anyone else. This column is worth reading in its entirety…

Finally, consider this comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald regarding Usain Bolt’s performance in the Rio Olympics:

“Usain Bolt won his third straight Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters. My favorite point was at the 70-meter mark when he passed Secretariat.”

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 9/11/16

Last week, new readers got their introduction – indoctrination? – into the NCAA version of Mythical Picks. Similarly, for the rest of the football season, there will be a separate but equal presentation focused on NFL games. The format will be a bit simpler. Ultimately, the purpose will be for me to make a selection against the spread – or on the Total Line – for each of the 256 NFL regular season games. Let me make something very clear from the outset:

    I am highly unlikely to be able to make picks for every game because:

      1. There will be weeks where I cannot get to writing these things until Friday and there will have been a game on that Thursday night.

      2. Travel events and/or family events may preclude putting these pieces out for a given week.

    I will do the best that I can…

Each week will begin with a summary of how the picks did the week before along with a running total for the entire season. As I did with the NCAA version of Mythical Picks, let me emphasize a few important points:

    These are Mythical Picks. I am not going to make a wager on every NFL game and under no circumstances would I suggest that anyone else do anything like that.

    If you do bet on sporting events, money management is as important as making selections because there is no way that you are only going to make winning selections. Even the phony shills on the radio and TV who shriek in order to get you to buy their “service” do not claim 100% accuracy.

      [Aside: Be wary of people who claim a “documented 75% record” against the spread. There are handicapping contests in Las Vegas every year and the prize money is very significant; those contests are usually won by someone who hits a little under 60% of the picks made. If these radio/TV jokers could REALLY do 75%, they would have won the handicapping contests every year for the last decade. And none of them have or they would surely tell you that they did …]

After the review of the prior week, I will make some General Comments about the NFL about last week’s games and/or and the upcoming games and then I will get right down to the selections for the week. For the record, last year the Mythical Picks record was 134-121-5 which was ever so slightly profitable against the vig. I have been doing Mythical Picks against the spread for every game for 15 years now; this is only the second time I have had a “profitable” season.

Before I get to the General Comments, I do want to be sure that everyone understands that no one should use any information here as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game involving real money this week or any other week. Here is how dumb you would have to be to do such a thing:

    You think barium is that they do to chemists when they die.

General Comments:

There will be a few “new things” regarding the NFL this year. Some of them will be steps forward; others will be a “lateral arabesque” – – better known as The Great Leap Sideways. First of all, there will be more international games this year. There will be three “London Games” this year and in Week 11 there will be a game in Mexico City. Those games will be positive events for the NFL because they will represent high revenue events. I am not so sure that these games will be positive events for the fans of the teams involved or for the players. Clearly, fans and players are secondary matters here; this is all about the pursuit of revenue streams.

For 2016, there is a rule change that – theoretically – should lead to more players being ejected from games. Here is the new rule:

    A player who is penalized twice in one game for certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls will be disqualified. The types of fouls are:

      Throwing a punch or forearm, or kicking at an opponent, even if no contact is made

      Using abusive, threatening or insulting language or gestures toward opponents, teammates, officials or league representatives

      Using baiting or taunting acts or words that engender ill will between teams.

Note, the player would have to be penalized twice for such conduct to be ejected. So punching, kicking and taunting will result in penalties for the first infraction and penalties plus ejection for the second. Seems like a pretty wishy-washy rule to me.

There is a point of emphasis for the officials this season which means that the rule has not been altered but the Competition Committee wants the officials to enforce the existing rule a bit more strenuously than they did last year. [Aside: When I officiated basketball, I often thought that “Points of Emphasis” had a flavor of “shifting the blame to the officials” when the Rules Mavens chose not to change the wording of their sacred rules. But, clearly, I was biased in that viewpoint…]

    Game officials will monitor and strictly enforce the rules pertaining to illegal acts committed by the defensive team while trying to block field-goal and extra-point attempts during the 2016 season, including:

      Making forcible contact below the waist of offensive blockers.

      Grabbing an offensive blocker and pulling him to the side or toward the ground to create space or a gap for a teammate to rush through.

      Using the hands or other parts of the body to push off an offensive blocker to gain leverage in an effort to block the kick.

I am not sure what the defenders for PAT tries or field goals are now allowed to do. They cannot make contact below the waist; they cannot use any part of their body to push off a blocker as they try to block the kick. Other than spouting wings and flying over the offensive blockers, I am not sure what else they might do – legally – to block a kick.

There is another point of emphasis that will likely be ignored by all parties concerned. Basically, coaches are not allowed to leave the bench area except for very proscribed circumstances.

    Despite being a point of emphasis in previous seasons, the issue of coaches leaving the bench area to gain the attention of the game officials or entering the field of play for other reasons continues to be a widespread problem. [Aside: This means that a “Point of Emphasis” in the past did not work but they are going to try to make it another Point of Emphasis again rather than change the rule.] The Committee sees no other recourse than to direct game officials to penalize coaches who do not comply with the rule.

    A head coach can leave the bench area to get the attention of a game official when the snap takes place at a yard line not within the bench area and the coach is trying to call a team timeout or challenge an on-field ruling, and during an injury timeout to check the welfare of an injured player.

    A coach cannot leave the bench area to question a game official, and at no time is a coach allowed onto the field of play. At no time can an assistant coach leave the bench area, even during breaks after scoring plays. These rules remain in effect during any timeout. Only incoming substitutes, team attendants or trainers seeing to the welfare of a player may enter the field. Violations will result in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and the coach and/or the club may face additional discipline.

Please read that third paragraph above about who can and cannot leave the bench area. My guess is that just looking on TV you will see a half dozen violations of that rule and that point of emphasis in every half of every game this season.

Which head coach will be the one to get the first 15-yard penalty of the year for being improperly on the field?

    Rex Ryan?
    Bruce Arians?
    I think my money would be on Mike Tomlin…

The NFL also changed the rule on touchbacks on kickoffs. Now the ball will come out to the 25-yardline instead of the 20. The thinking here is that the extra 5 yards for “taking a knee” would result in fewer returns and therefore fewer injuries. We shall see…

If I were a special teams coach, I would look to have my kicker learn the kickoff version of a “pooch punt” which would go high in the air and come down around the opponent’s 10-yardline. Given enough hang time, that could create fair-catches for kickoffs or it could get the return guy creamed by kick cover guys. That might be the result of the Law of Unintended Consequences…

The Tampa Bay Bucs defied – – drumroll please – – conventional wisdom back in May when they used a pick in the 2nd round of the Draft to take – – gasp – – a kicker. Roberto Aguayo never missed a PAT in 3 years at Florida State and his field goal accuracy was 88.5%. Yes, I know that colleges kick the PAT from the 10 yardline and the NFL kicks the PAT from the 22 yardline. Nonetheless, Aguayo’s numbers are attractive; people just did not think a kicker should go in the 2nd round of the Draft. Then Aguayo struggled in training camp and in exhibition games. If Aguayo were to miss an extra point or a chip shot field goal that costs the Bucs a game this year, you can be sure that he will take his place in the Pantheon of Bad People.

The Games:

Note that the lines for the games on Sunday/Monday could change a lot from the ones cited here. These lines are current as of mid-morning on Wednesday.

(Thurs Nite) Carolina – 3 at Denver (42): Holy Super Bowl rematch, Batman … The spread opened as a “pick ‘em” game and has stretched out to this number. Perhaps oddsmakers thought Mark Sanchez would be the QB for Denver and bettors piled on Carolina when they learned that the starting QB for the Broncos would be a guy who has never thrown a pass in a real NFL game. Whatever, that is the situation at hand… If you would like to see some conflicting trends, consider these:

    Panthers are 7-1 against the spread in their last 8 games on grass.
    Broncos are 7-1 against the spread in their last 8 Thursday games.
    This is a Thursday game on a grass field…

I agree with the oddsmakers that this will be a low-scoring affair and in most cases, I prefer to take points in low scoring games. However, this time I think the Panthers are more than a field goal better than the Broncos. I’ll take the Panthers to win and cover on the road in the NFL season opener.

Cincy – 2.5 at Jets (41.5): This should also be a defense dominated game and this time I do like the underdog – especially at home. Please note that the game will be played on 9/11 in NYC and the home team is the Jets. If I were prone to make picks for oddball reasons, I would be taking the Jets here. Combining my slight preference for the Jets with this karmic coincidence means I will indeed take the Jets plus the points.

Cleveland at Philly – 4 (41.5): I think line movements here reflect the trade of Sam Bradford to the Vikes and the idea that the Eagles will start Carson Wentz “if he is healthy”. The line opened at Philly – 7 and the Total Line opened at 45. That is a lot of movement for NFL lines. Here you have two teams coming off bad enough seasons in 2015 that they fired their coaches. Hue Jackson takes over in Cleveland and tries to return RG3 to some semblance of his form as a rookie. Doug Pederson takes over in Philly as an offshoot of the Andy Reid coaching tree and hopes to last as long in Philly as Reid did (14 years). I think both teams will finish at the bottom their divisions but I do think the Eagles are the better overall squad. I’ll take the Eagles at home to win and cover.

Oakland at New Orleans – 1.5 (51): I know that the State of Louisiana suffered a ton of flood damage just a couple of weeks ago and that the Saints rallied that part of the world in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when it went on a run and won the Super Bowl a few years back. But I think the Raiders are the better team here and I think the Raiders are primed for a playoff berth. There are conflicting trends for this game too:

    Raiders are 6-2 against the spread in their last 8 games on field turf.
    Saints are 6-2 against the spread in their last 8 games in September.
    This game is on field turf in September.

I’ll take the Raiders plus the points.

Minnesota – 2 at Tennessee (41): Shaun Hill or Sam Bradford as the Vikings QB here? I’m not sure it makes much of a difference because I think the Vikings defense can dominate the game and Adrian Peterson can run the football. I like the Vikings to win and cover even on the road.

Tampa at Atlanta – 3 (47.5): Both teams represent mediocrity here. I am not thrilled by the prospect of taking the Falcons and laying points here; nor am I enthralled by the prospect of taking the Bucs on the road. And so I shall introduce the concept of the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game. When I do not like any of the choices for a game – but I need to make a pick – I have a coin flip protocol that goes like this:

    Coin Flip #1:

      Heads means play the spread
      Tails means play the Total Line

    Coin Flip #2

      Heads means take the favorite (spread) or the OVER (Total Line)
      Tails means take the underdog (spread) or the UNDER (Total Line)

This is the first Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game of the season and the coin says to take the Bucs plus the points. Why not?

Buffalo at Baltimore – 3 (44.5): Until and unless the injury bug visits the Ravens again this year, their defense will be improved over last year’s unit. The injury bug has already hit the Bills – particularly on the defensive side of the ball. I like the Ravens to win and cover at home.

Chicago at Houston – 6 (44): Will JJ Watt play? If so, is he really ready to play – not having played or practiced since last January? I know Brock Osweiler is going to make a ton of money this year but is he anywhere near worth it? We will not know the answers to those questions for a while but we do know this:

    The Bears are only mediocre at best.

I like this game to stay UNDER.

San Diego at KC – 7 (44.5): The Chiefs are the better team and the Chiefs are at home. But that line looks as fat as Andy Reid himself. I’ll take the Chargers plus the points.

Green Bay – 5.5 at Jax (48): This game will not get the same level of hype as some other matchups this weekend, but this could be a very good game. Might this game be the opportunity for the Jags to make a statement that they are going to be a factor in 2016? I think that is sufficiently possible that I will take the Jags at home plus the points.

Miami at Seattle – 11 (44): I hate double-digit spreads on NFL games. I cannot see the Dolphins winning this game but that line is awfully fat. I’ll take the Dolphins on the road plus the points. Notwithstanding that selection, there is a disturbing trend at work here:

    The Dolphins are 5-21 against the spread in their last 26 games.

Detroit at Indy – 4 (50.5): The return of Andrew Luck makes the Colts’ offense a lot better than it was last year. The Lions’ defense is nothing to write home about. Indeed, the Lions’ offense will miss Calvin Johnson but if there is a silver lining here it is that the Lions get to open against a defense that was not very good last year and seemingly made no major improvements. I like this game to go OVER.

Giants at Dallas “pick ’em” (46): Early in the week, these lines were all over the place. At one point on Monday evening, you could find the Cowboys as a 1-point underdog and just about every spread along the way to the Cowboys being a 3.5-point favorite. The Total Line was just as mysterious. It ranged from 45.5 to 49.5. What I have used here is where the majority of lines reside at the moment. Dak Prescott looked like a world-beater in the exhibition games – – but those were exhibition games. The real question here is this:

    Can the Giants stop/slow down the Cowboys run game?

I do not think they can do it sufficiently to keep the scoring down and so I will take the game to go OVER.

(Sun Nite) New England at Arizona – 6 (47): The Total Line opened at 51 but it has been at this level since Monday evening. I do not think that the Pats can overcome the insertion of Jimmy Garropolo for Tom Brady on the road against a team that I think will win 11 games this year. That is not a knock on the Pats or their coaching staff or Garropolo; I think the Cards are too good a team for the Pats to beat with those disadvantages in the first game out of the gate. I like the Cards at home to win and cover here.

(Early Mon Nite) Pittsburgh – 3 at Washington (50): An interesting thing to watch here will be Josh Norman in the defensive secondary for the Skins. Norman got a ton of money to sign here in the off-season and he was REALLY good last year. Some have said that he is not nearly as good as he looked last year because he played behind a fearsome front seven who gave opposing QBs little time to be comfortable in the pass game. Well, Norman is now behind a front seven that is not nearly as fearsome as the Panthers’ unit was last year. Oh, and the Steelers will bring Antonio Brown to the game … Speaking of defenses that will need to step up, the Steelers defense looks to be vulnerable again this year. I like the Skins plus the points at home and I like the game to go OVER.

(Late Mon Nite) LA – 2.5 at SF (44): The Niners’ offense is a “work in progress” to be polite and the Rams’ defense is very good. The Niners’ defense is not nearly as good but playing against Case Keenum as the opposing QB might make the Niners’ defense look better than it really is. I like this game to stay UNDER.

Finally, here is a comment from Mike Bianchi in the Orlando Sentinel. It has to do with the perversity of fantasy football:

“My first thought when Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater blew out his knee and was lost for the season earlier this week wasn’t sympathy for Bridgewater but concern about how it would affect Adrian Peterson’s production on my fantasy team. And this is why fantasy football makes you a sad, pathetic person.”

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

Predicting The 2016 NFL Season

The calendar has turned the page 12 times since last I set out to embarrass myself in public. Once again, it is time for me to do a team-by-team prediction for the NFL season that will start later this week. The outcome here will be my sense of the final record for all 32 teams come January 2017. This is not something that will mysteriously disappear from the website; I know from history – and just plain common sense – that there are going to be huge errors in these predictions. I will make then nonetheless; I will leave them here so people can mock me later on and I will even do a post-mortem sometime in January of February of next year and grade myself on what follows here.

Sometime during the season – or at the end – someone will stumble across these predictions and latch on to one of my glaring errors wherein I thought a team would go 4-12 and they actually went 10-6. Often, the fanboy who discovers such an error will accuse me of being a hater and will demand an apology from me on behalf of the team and all of its fans. I will not issue such an apology and one is not merited because:

    I do not “hate” – nor do I “love” – any NFL team. These predictions – call them guesses if that makes you feel better – come from a look at the team schedules and rosters and not much more than that. I do not engage in wishful thinking about any team in either a positive or negative sense.

    Apologies are associated with acts that are malicious in their intent or in their execution. There is no malice contained here and certainly no damage will be done to any team or fan by any prediction I make. Ergo, an apology would be irrelevant and out-of-place.

    What I do owe anyone and everyone who reads this stuff is an admission at the end of the season that some – many – of these predictions were downright wrong and that I was a dunderhead to have thought what I did before the season began. Read the post-mortem in early 2017; you will plenty of such admission(s).

Before I get to the teams and their projected records, let me identify 8 coaches who I believe are on a hot seat for the 2016 season. I am not hoping that these coaches get fired; I just think their employment situations are less stable than their peers. I will list them alphabetically lest someone think I have some preferential order in mind here:

    Gus Bradley (Jags): I had him on this list last year but the Jags showed definite improvement in 2015. I think that the Jags are a team on the rise and that Bradley will in fact be back next year. However, if I am dead wrong on that and the Jags regress to something like a 3-13 record, he will be toast. So, I put him on the list for the sake of completeness.

    Jim Caldwell (Lions): Last year, the team rallied to win 6 games in the second half of the season to finish 7-9. If you do the math there, that means the Lions were 1-7 in the first half of the season. Presumably, the Front Office saw the second half surge as a harbinger of good things for 2016. If that is the case and if the Lions do not build on that surge, I suspect that Jim Caldwell will be moving on at the end of the 2016 season.

    Jeff Fisher (Rams): The Rams underachieved last year and I thought that the Rams had not been “playoff relevant” for a while now, so I went and looked up Fisher’s record there. It is not pretty:

      He has been with the Rams for 4 seasons. The combined record is 27-36-1 and there have been no playoff appearances for the Rams.

      Moreover, his last winning season (with the Titans) was all the way back in 2008.

    Fisher signed a 5-year contract in 2012; this is his “contract year”. The Rams now play in LA where teams that contend for titles draw plenty of attention and adulation and where bad/mediocre teams fade into obscurity very quickly. Fisher and the Rams had better win this year.

    Jason Garrett (Cowboys): In no way would he be responsible for a bad year by the Cowboys. In fact, you might argue that he enters the season in the situation where he has brought a knife to a gunfight. But expectations were really high for the Cowboys this year; Jerry Jones has been hyping the 2016 season ever since the 2015 season ended. So, if the Cowboys really tank this year, Jerry Jones may need to do something symbolic to show his fanbase that he is doing more about “winning” than talking about “winning”. So, put Garrett on a hot seat even if he does not deserve to be there.

    Marvin Lewis (Bengals): I believe that Lewis is the coach – not named Belichick – with the longest tenure with his team in all of the NFL. Granted, he took over a dysfunctional team in a dysfunctional franchise and got everything headed in a positive direction. The Bengals owe him a lot for that.

      Some perspective here. Lewis has had the Bengals in the playoffs 7 times in 13 seasons. Prior to his arrival in Cincy, the Bengals had been in the playoffs a total of 7 times in 37 seasons.

      Before Lewis arrived, the team was not-so-affectionately known as “The Bungles” and they earned every morsel of that moniker.

    Here is the problem; the Bengals have not won a playoff game in the 13 years that Marvin Lewis has been the coach there. The team is 0-7 in playoff games and have lost in the opening round in each of the last 5 seasons. Last year’s loss was due to a total loss of focus/control/discipline on the part of two defensive players. That sort of “loss” falls under the heading of “coaching”. I think Marvin Lewis needs a playoff win this year…

    Mike McCoy (Chargers): This is his 4th season in San Diego. In his first year, the team went 9-7 and made the playoffs (and won a playoff game too). In his second year, the team went 9-7 again but missed out on the playoffs. Last year – under a blizzard of injuries – the Chargers were 4-12. McCoy is on a hot seat if the team goes 4-12 again. He does not have to win his division – I do not think the Chargers can do that – but they have to be better than getting the overall #3 pick in the draft once again.

    Mike Mularkey (Titans): He took over in mid-season last year and went 2-7 in his 9 games then. Management gave him a shot to move things forward this year but his coaching record is not one that inspires a lot of confidence. He has been a head coach for 3.5 seasons. Back in 2004 (with the Bills) he had a 9-7 record. Since then, his cumulative record is 9-32. Add to that negativity the fact that the Titans’ roster is “talent-challenged”. I think this hot seat will be ”Habanero Hot” come January 2017.

    Rex Ryan (Bills): Like Jason Garrett above, he may be looking at a season where a sterling record is highly improbable. Nonetheless, given the braggadocio and the setting of ultra-high expectations that is the hallmark of any Rex Ryan press conference, he might be out of a job come January if the team falls below .500. For the record, Ryan has an overall losing record as a head coach (54-58-0) and his last winning season was back in 2010.

I should point out that last year I listed 7 coaches who I thought were on a hot seat – whether or not I agreed that they should be there. At the end of the 2015 season 5 of those 7 coaches were out of work; 2 of the 5 did not make it to the end of the season with their teams. So there…

Now that the appetizer course has been consumed and the dishes cleared, it is time to get down to business. I shall begin in the AFC…

AFC East: I predict a total of 31 wins for the 4 teams in this division. That makes the AFC East the 5th strongest division in terms of total wins. Here is the breakdown:

    Patriots: I think they will win 11 games and win the division for the 8th consecutive season and do so comfortably. The schedule maker was not overly kind to the Pats; they open the season on the road in Arizona with Jimmy Garropolo at QB. The next 3 games are not nearly as fearsome since all of them are at home in Foxboro. I suspect Tom Brady will return to a team in Week 5 that is sitting on a 2-2 record. If – I said IF – the Pats are 4-0 at the end of 4 games, be prepared for Bill Belichick to extort an unusual price from some QB-hungry GM in the off-season. Here is an example of what I mean:

      When the Pats sent Chandler Jones to the Cards last offseason – see below – they got an offensive guard named Jonathon Cooper almost as a sweetener in the deal. Cooper was once a high first-round pick and as of this morning he is listed first on the depth chart for the Pats at right guard.

    Jets: I think they will win 8 games and that they will – once again – win those games thanks to their defense. If Ryan Fitzpatrick improves markedly over his performance last year, he will be the ultimate “late bloomer”. If he regresses to the mean, the Jets will finish 8-8. If last year was a fluke in the positive direction and the football gods decide to give him a fluke in the negative direction, the Jets are in real trouble. The schedule for the Jets from Week 1 through Week 7 is hardly a pushover:

      Vs Bengals
      At Bills
      At Chiefs
      Vs Seahawks
      At Steelers
      At Cardinals
      Vs Ravens

    Dolphins: I think they will win 6 games this year. Last year was supposed to be the year that Ryan Tannehill “took a big step forward” as a QB. That did not happen; the coach got fired and the team brought in a new regime where the head coach – Adam Gase – is a “Certified Quarterback Whisperer”. I think the past is prologue; Tannehill will continue to be mediocre; the Dolphins’ OL will do him no favors. The schedule in September is also daunting:

      At Seahawks
      At Patriots
      Vs Browns
      At Bengals

    In the off-season, it appears to me that the Dolphins let young free agents walk and then they signed older free agents. Usually teams that do that have the idea that this is the season to make a push for a deep playoff run. I just do not see that happening in Miami. For example, the Dolphins traded to acquire Byron Maxwell from the Eagles in the off-season. Maxwell played really well for the Seahawks two years ago; last year he stunk it out with the Eagles. The Dolphins inherited an expensive contract in this exchange (6 years and $63M in total) and they really need Maxwell to be the player he was in Seattle and not the player he was in Philly.

    Bills: I think they will win 6 games this year and that Rex Ryan will be collecting the rest of his contract money without having to freeze his butt off on the sidelines in Buffalo next December. There are myriad injuries on the defensive side of the ball – and Marcel Dareus will serve a suspension for missing a drug test. Rex’ brother, Rob, is the defensive coordinator this year; and to be polite, Rob’s defenses have not been good at all for the last several seasons. The Bills have a tough patch in the middle of their schedule. Between 2 October and 20 November, the Bills play seven games (and have their Bye Week); five of those seven games are on the road and three of those road opponents are the Pats, Seahawks and Bengals. Ouch…

AFC North: I predict a total of 32 wins for the 4 teams in this division. That makes the AFC North tied for 3rd as the strongest division in terms of total wins. Here is the breakdown:

    Steelers: I think they will win 11 games and win the division on the strength of their offense. Normally, one thinks of the Steelers as a defensive squad; not last year and not this year either. Look for Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Bryant and LeVeon Bell – when he gets back from suspension – to light up the scoreboard. If their defense is as porous as I suspect it will be, there may be plenty of chances to “Bet the OVER” in Steelers’ games this year.

    Bengals: I think they will 10 games this year and will be one of the two AFC Wild Card teams. If they do win 10 games, that will be the fifth year in a row that the Bengals have collected double-digit wins. As mentioned above, the Bengals may then need to win their first-round playoff game for Marvin Lewis to keep his job. The Bengals open the season with 4 of their first 6 games on the road. Adding a veteran like Karlos Dansby who is still productive to their defense may be what that defense needs in terms of “maintaining its composure”.

    Ravens: I think they will win 8 games and miss the playoffs again. Last year was an anomaly; the Ravens looked more like a M*A*S*H unit than an NFL team by the end of the season. Joe Flacco – even when he was completely healthy – had a horrible season last year; he is a better QB than he showed then. The Ravens are starting to show some age. Steve Smith Sr. is back; so is Terrell Suggs; both are still fine players and both of them are long-in-the-tooth.

    Browns: I think they will win 3 games but they will not have the overall #1 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. RG3 will show marked improvement playing for an offensive minded coach who has not yet made up his mind that Griffin simply cannot be an NFL QB. That was his status in Washington. There just is not sufficient talent on the squad for the team to resemble – even faintly – a .500 team in the NFL. Circle 16 October on your calendar.

      On that day, the Browns will travel about 500 miles to the southwest to play the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.

      That appears now to be the “Dog-Breath Game of the Year” on the 2016 NFL schedule.

AFC South: I predict a total of 29 wins for the 4 teams in this division. That makes the AFC South the 7th strongest division in terms of total wins. Or you could call it the 2nd weakest division if you prefer… Here is the breakdown:

    Jaguars: I think they will win 10 games and win the division. If they do that, you can surely take Gus Bradley off the coaching hot seat I described above and if they do that it will be the first winning season in Jax since 2007. The division title could well come down to the final game on New Year’s Day between the Jags and the Colts in Indy. Blake Bortles improved a lot last year; he needs to continue on that performance arc; a healthy Julius Thomas at TE and a returning Allen Robinson at WR will help him achieve that goal. TJ Yeldon was a good RB last year and this year he will get a breather now and then with Chris Ivory on the roster. The Jags’ defense is the question mark …

    Colts: I think they will 9 games and not make the playoffs. I understand that Andrew Luck is back and healthy and I know for sure that Andrew Luck is a really good QB. My issue with the Colts is that two of their weaknesses (mediocre OL and sub-standard defense) were on display all of last year and neither of them seems to be in a significantly different place this year.

    Texans: I think they will win 8 games this year. The Texans signed Brock Osweiler away from the Broncos in the off season and set up this circumstance:

      Brock Osweiler will take home $21M this year and that is more than Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Cam Newton will make. Seriously …

    The Texans have a top-shelf WR in DeAndre Hopkins; that will help Osweiler to show as a good – and hopefully for the Texans’ fans ‘better than average” – QB this season. Actually, the bigger question mark for the Texans involves JJ Watt who is the best defensive lineman in the game right now. He missed all of the exhibition games and was just cleared medically for practice. The team says he will play in Game 1; his performance level under those circumstances has to be in question. The Texans need him to be himself when he does play if they are going to get significant business done on defense.

    Titans: I think they will win 2 games this year and be on the clock with the #1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft as of 2 January 2017. By the way, winning only 2 games is not something that ought to stun the fanbase in Tennessee; this team has only won 5 games in the last two seasons combined. Marcus Mariotta showed promise as a developing QB talent last year; the team has DeMarco Murray and high draft pick Derrick Henry to run the football. The problem is that they have Manny, Moe and Jack to play WR. They signed Andre Johnson in the off-season; Johnson has been a really good WR in the past but he is running on fumes in terms of career and productivity in 2016.

AFC West: I predict a total of 36 wins for the 4 teams in this division. That makes the AFC West the strongest division in terms of total wins. Here is the breakdown:

    Raiders: I think they will win 11 games this year and win the division. If they do that it will be their first winning season since the team went 11-5 in 2002; that team went to the Super Bowl. The schedule sets up the Raiders for a fast start. Between September 11 and October 30, the Raiders play 8 games but only 1 of those opponents made the playoffs last year. Immediately after that opening half of the season, the Raiders have 4 consecutive home games on the schedule plus a Bye Week thrown in. That gets them all the way to the first week of December! Over the past several years, a serious shortcoming for the Raiders has been their OL. That unit showed improvement last year and if that continues, this team will be a tough out for anyone. Derek Carr, Latavius Murray, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are for real…

    Chiefs: I think they will win 10 games this year and make the playoffs as one of the AFC Wild Card teams. Last year, the Chiefs lost Jamaal Charles to injury and never missed a beat; in fact, they won 11 straight games after he went down. Make no mistake, if Charles is back at 90% of what he was prior to that injury, he will be a big plus to the Chiefs offensive flexibility. LB, Justin Houston, is on the PUP List meaning he cannot play for at least the first 6 games – and he may be out for the year. That will not help the Chiefs defense at all; Houston is a player. Two road games – at Pittsburgh and at Carolina – will be challenging for the Chiefs.

    Broncos: I think they will win 8 games this year and miss the playoffs. I understand that they won the Super Bowl on the strength of their defense last year and not because their offense was any good. However, that offense now lacks the cerebral/leadership aspects that the aging Peyton Manning brought to the huddle and that defense is missing a couple of good players (Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan) who decided to go elsewhere and “get paid”. The Broncos are not going to crater and join the Browns and Titans at the bottom rungs of the AFC, but they are not a playoff team in 2016.

    Chargers: I think they will win 7 games this year and miss the playoffs and that they will be in the market for a new coach in January 2017. [Aside: For the record, I do not think the team will win the referendum in November to get the needed public funding for their new stadium in San Diego either.] The team will not be as bad as they were last year but the porous OL and the lack of a sound running game does not auger well in this very tough division. Of course, last year’s first-round pick, RB Melvyn Gordon, might help out that anemic running game if he shows the form he did in college. Gordon’s rookie year was a borderline disaster; he carried the ball 185 times for a little less than 650 yards and zero TDS. To make that worse, he coughed the ball up 6 times…

So, let me summarize the AFC here. Their playoff bracket will be:

    #1 Seed: Steelers via tiebreakers
    #2 Seed: Pats via tiebreakers
    #3 Seed: Raiders via tiebreakers
    #4 Seed: Jags as “the other” division winner
    #5 Seed: Bengals via tiebreakers
    #6 Seed: Chiefs via tiebreakers

I have to admit that I took a short break here and indulged in an adult beverage in order to get set to move to the second half of this magnum opus. I shall now move on to the NFC…

NFC East: I predict a total of 28 wins for the 4 teams in this division. That makes the NFC East the weakest division in terms of total wins. Here is the breakdown:

    Skins: I think they will win 9 games this year and that will be sufficient to win this sorry-assed division. People say that Kirk Cousins needs to show that he can improve from last season. Excuse me; but he set a franchise record for passing yards last year and the franchise has been around since 1932. Kirk Cousins is playing for a long-term contract and it means a lot to him. He is playing under the “franchise tag” this year taking down a cool $19.2M. If he has another year similar to last year, his agent will use that number as the basis for opening the negotiations. It will not be a huge surprise if Cousins has some great stats because the Skins’ running game may not be nearly as good as it has been in recent years. The team let Alfred Morris walk; Matt Jones is a talented runner but he was hurt last year and got hurt again in the exhibition season. On defense, the question mark(s) are at safety where there are some good tacklers on the roster but none of them are “cover guys”.

    Cowboys: I think they will win 7 games this year. Before Tony Romo got hurt such that he will miss at least half of the season, I thought that the Cowboys had put together a balanced offense that would score enough points to overcome the porous Cowboys’ defense. Look, Dak Prescott may be this year’s version of Ben Roethlisberger as a rookie; it could happen. However, if he is something significantly below that, the Cowboys may be reduced to running an offense akin to the wishbone with Ezekiel Elliot and Alfred Morris carrying the ball because behind Prescott sits Mark Sanchez. Recognize that the Broncos cut Sanchez last week and handed the QB job to a guy who has never thrown a pass in a real NFL game. Oh, and as I mentioned, the Cowboys’ defense is not all that good…

    Giants: I think they will win 7 games this year. The reason the Giants faded last year – and cost Tom Coughlin his job – was that the defense just plain stunk. The team went out and spent money on defenders; but when I look at what they got, I just shrug my shoulders. Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon are nice players but that’s all they are. The return of a healthy Victor Cruz would be a nice addition for Eli Manning; Cruz has not been healthy enough to see the field since the early part of the 2014 season. Is he ready yet?

    Eagles: I think they will win 5 games this year as they start to clean out the mess that the Chip Kelly regime left behind. I do not know what caused Kelly to jettison the talented players that he did nor do I know why he acquired some of the marginal players that he did. What that roster needed – and still needs to some extent – is a thorough housecleaning. Trading Sam Bradford makes sense in the long term and I think it demonstrates that no one in the Eagles’ braintrust thinks this team is going anywhere this year. Fans will clamor to see Carson Wentz on the field; if the adults in charge of the team can put in some earplugs and not listen to the fans, Wentz will spend the year learning his craft on the sidelines and in the classroom and Chase Daniel will be the starting QB.

NFC North: I predict a total of 32 wins for the 4 teams in this division. That makes the NFC North tied for 3rd place as the strongest division in terms of total wins. Here is the breakdown:

    Packers: I think they will win 12 games this year and win their division handily. The return of Jordy Nelson from the DL and the presence of an Eddie Lacy who is no longer trying to emulate the body type of William “The Refrigerator” Perry assures that the Packers will have the dominant offense in the division. The defense played well last year and there is no reason to suspect that they will forget how to play this year. The Packers open with two games on the road and then 4 consecutive games at home in Lambeau Field. Strange scheduling …

    Vikings: I think they will win 10 games this year and will be an NFC Wild Card team. I had them winning 11 games before Teddy Bridgewater’s non-contact injury last week. With Shaun King – or eventually the recently acquired Sam Bradford – at QB, the presence of Adrian Peterson becomes even more important than normal. The problem for the Vikes’ offense is pretty simple; they have to have someone – anyone – at QB who can make the passing game into something more than a desperation move when they face 3rd and 13. Unless they do that, Peterson will look at 8-man fronts on 75% of the snaps. And remember, Peterson is 31 years old and has run the ball in the NFL 2,381 times in real games. He is an amazing physical specimen, but that sort of work history has to mean there is wear and tear on those tires… Mike Zimmer got the coaching job in Minnesota because of his defensive prowess. He will need that unit to play well for the team to contend this year.

    Lions: I think they will win 5 games this year and I think they will be shopping for a new coach come January. The departure of Calvin Johnson is hugely significant for a team that does not run the ball very well at all. Golden Tate has been a good #2 receiver for his career; now we shall see how he fares when “the guy on the other side of the field” does not draw most of the attention on 90% of the plays.

    Bears: I think they will win 5 games this year. I know that, historically, John Fox’s teams improve significantly in the second year of his tenure. I just do not think he has the roster to make that happen. Jay Cutler played with lots less drama than usual last year; can he continue to do that with a team that has a truly mediocre OL in front of him and a dearth of running backs behind him? I like John Fox as a coach; I think this rebuilding process in Chicago is going to take him a bit longer than previous ones took.

NFC South: I predict a total of 34 wins for the 4 teams in this division. That makes the NFC South tied for 2nd place as the strongest division in terms of total wins. Here is the breakdown:

    Panthers: I think they will win 13 games this year and win their division by a mile. That assessment takes into account the “hangover” that most teams that lose the Super Bowl face in the following season. The Panthers won 15 games last year without Kelvin Benjamin who is a really good WR and who is back this year. Back in 2014 before his injury, Benjamin caught 79 passes for 1005 yards. The schedule sets up nicely for the Panthers given that they should dominate their division opponents in those divisional games. For the final quarter of the season this is the lineup:

      Vs Chargers
      At Skins
      Vs Falcons
      At Bucs

    Bucs: I think they will win 7 games this year. Jameis Winston played very well last year and seemingly set aside any serious concerns people may have had about his maturity and his dedication to his craft. The Bucs lost 4 in a row at the end of last year and that is probably why there is a new coaching regime in Tampa. Lovie Smith was a “defense guy”; Dirk Koetter is an “offense guy”. Hey, it’s a change; sometimes change is good and necessary; sometimes change is merely … change.

    Falcons: I think they will win 7 games this. I like their signing of Mohamed Sanu to play WR on the side away from Julio Jones. Teams were totally focused on Jones on every play last year; he is a great receiver, but he needs a little breathing room. A healthy and productive Devonta Freeman at RB helps with that too. What the Falcons really need is some improvement on the defensive side of the ball. Head coach Dan Quinn is a “defense guy”; he and his staff need to make that happen…

    Saints: I think they will win 7 games this year. I know that Drew Brees is still there and that he and Sean Payton have a Vulcan mind-meld when it comes to offensive football. He is coming to the end of his career and I will not be surprised to see him put out a great statistical season. The problem here is the same as it has been in New Orleans for the past several years; the defense just plain stinks.

NFC West: I predict a total of 34 wins for the 4 teams in this division. That makes the NFC West tied for 2nd strongest division in terms of total wins. Here is the breakdown:

    Seahawks: I think they will win 11 games this year and will win the division in a tiebreaker with the Cardinals. The Seahawks have ridden their defense to 4 straight playoff appearances and it would surely seem as if they can do that one more time this year. Last year, the team had to deal with the “distractions” provided by Kam Chancellor and Marshawn Lynch. Chancellor is not holding out this year and Lynch is in retirement. I really enjoy watching Russell Wilson play QB. There are some real issues with the team:

      Russell Okung was their best OL – despite a history of injuries that made him miss games. He is now gone and playing for the Broncos.

      Jimmy Graham suffered a torn patella tendon last season. His return to the field is still up in the air as is his ability to recover his previous form once he is there. A torn patella tendon has basically shelved Victor Cruz for almost 2 years; some people never come back from that surgery.

    Cardinals: I think they will also win 11 games this year and they will be the first NFC Wild Card team in the playoffs. The Cards will score points this year; they may be the 2016 version of “The Greatest Show on Turf” – – so long as Carson Palmer stays healthy. [Aside: Also so long as Palmer forgets his last “real” NFL game where he threw 4 INTs and lost 2 fumbles in the playoffs against the Panthers last year.] Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown at WR present formidable challenges to any defense in the league. Jermaine Gresham is not exactly chopped liver as a TE. Can the Cards’ defense hold up its end of the bargain? The acquisition of Chandler Jones from the Pats is supposed to make that happen. One other question about the Cards has no simple answer:

      Is the door closing on this team for a major run in the playoffs/Super Bowl? Carson Palmer is 37 years old; if some intern in the Front Office there is drafting a 5-year plan for the team, he would be wise not to include Carson Palmer in there as the starting QB for all of the 2020 season. The window is not shut – – but it is not opening any wider either.

    Palmer is not a one-man team by any stretch of the imagination. However, recognize that the QBs behind him on the Cards’ depth chart as of this morning are Drew Stanton and Matt Barkley. If you were an opposing defensive coordinator, would either of those guys keep you awake at night to the same extent as Carson Palmer?

    Rams: I think they will 6 games this year, miss the playoffs and start hunting for a new coach in January 2017. This is a tough division to play in with a rookie QB – even a rookie taken with the overall #1 pick. When the Rams do win, it will usually be because their excellent defensive unit controlled the game.

    Niners: I think they will win 6 games this year, miss the playoffs and continue to have turmoil among the coaching staff, the GM and the owners’ suite. Look, I think Chip Kelly is a smart guy whose offensive system can work in the NFL. I also think he is stubborn to a fault. Meanwhile, the decision making tandem of Jed York and Trent Baalke has not shown itself to be anything more than marginally competent ever since they got into an ego-based showdown with Jim Harbaugh two years ago. The problem with the Niners is a talent deficiency and that will show itself more than a few times in the upcoming season.

So, let me summarize the NFC here. Their playoff bracket will be:

    #1 Seed: Panthers – in a walk
    #2 Seed: Packers – in a walk
    #3 Seed: Seahawks – via tiebreaker with Cards
    #4 Seed: Skins – the “other” division winner
    #5 Seed: Cards – via tiebreaker with the Seahawks
    #6 Seed: Vikings

Please note that my projected first round NFC Playoff pairings give us a rematch between the Vikings and the Seahawks from last year. You will recall that the Vikings lost that game when a chip shot field goal sailed about a mile to the left of the goal posts. That game was in Minnesota; this year’s game would be in Seattle. It might be interesting…

So let it be written; so let it be done.

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

The Vikings/Eagles Trade …

Happy Labor Day everyone. Since I do not consider writing these rants as “labor”, I do not feel that it would be proper for me to take the day off. And so, I press on…

Over the weekend, the Vikings and the Eagles consummated a trade involving a starting QB. Such deals – when they happen – usually happen in the off-season. In rare circumstances – one of which I will mention later – they happen in mid-season. I cannot recall a trade like this happening in the time between the final exhibition game and the first game of the season.

The Vikings acquired Sam Bradford clearly motivated to do so by the non-contact injury suffered by their starting QB, Terry Bridgewater in a recent practice session. The Eagles received the Vikings’ 2017 first-round draft pick plus a conditional 4th round pick in 2018. [Aside: I believe the “conditions” here are that if the Vikes make it to the NFC Conference Championship Game the pick becomes a third-round pick and if the Vikes make it to the Super Bowl, the pick becomes a second-round pick.]

In a way, this trade makes sense for both teams. The Vikings made the playoffs last year and were eliminated when they missed a chip shot (27-yard) field goal in the final seconds of their game with the Seahawks. They aspired to big things this year and then they lost their starting QB to a freak injury. Shaun Hill was the next man up on their depth chart with Taylor Heinicke behind Hill. In case Taylor Heinicke is not a name that comes immediately to mind, here is a short bio:

    Played QB for Old Dominion University; signed as an undrafted free agent with the Vikings after the 2015 Draft; no game experience; starting the 2016 season on the injured list due to a bizarre injury to his foot back in July.

The bottom line is that the Vikings needed to add a QB – or two – to play ahead of or behind Shaun Hill.

Meanwhile the Eagles’ braintrust clearly recognized that the team was not going anywhere in 2016. They had given up a lot to trade up to select Carson Wentz in the 2016 Draft and Sam Bradford at QB was a “holding action” at best. Hence the swap…

Usually, it takes a while for a QB to fit into an offense; that is the reason that teams have training camps and Organized Team Activities and the like. Bradford will have until Sunday – a total of 8 days – to blend into the Vikings system. I can only recall one situation where a team tried to make something like this happen and the results were not pretty.

About 5 years ago, the Oakland Raiders were playing well in the early part of the season when their starting QB, Jason Campbell, suffered a season-ending injury. Meanwhile, Carson Palmer and the Bengals were in a spitting contest; Palmer threatened to retire and would not play for or with the Bengals. The Raiders opted to trade for Palmer rather than go forward with Kyle Boller for the rest of the year. They game the Bengals a first-round pick and a second-round pick for Palmer.

Let me just say that the trade was a disaster for the Raiders. Palmer did not take hold of the system there and the draft picks lost hurt the team down the road. Clearly it was not all Palmer’s fault; after he found his way to the Arizona Cardinals, he has had plenty of success there. However, the Raiders missed the playoffs – and missed having a winning season – after the trade and then the Raiders tanked in the next year. This is the cautionary note for the Vikings…

Meanwhile, the Eagles now say they want to play Carson Wentz at QB right out of the gate. To that I say:

    What’s the hurry?

The predicate for all of this appears several paragraphs above. The Eagles are going nowhere in 2016 even if the ghost of John Unitas returns to Earth and leads the squad. The start of the NFL season is always a fun time; obviously, this year will be no exception in Minnesota and in Philly…

Oh, one more thing about the trade… The Eagles’ QB depth chart as of this morning has Carson Wentz and Chase Daniel as #1 and #2 in whichever order pleases you. They do not have a 3rd QB on the roster.

Since I mentioned the Vikings above, they will open this season in their new playpen – US Bank Stadium. The team has sold out the stadium for the year and it has sold out all of its suites and club level seats. In addition, they sold 50,000 PSLs ranging in price from $500 to $10K adding another $125M to the revenue stream. Fear not for the financial state of the NFL, the Minnesota Vikings or Zygi Wilf…

Noting that the real NFL season has yet to begin, consider that there is joy among the networks that have television rights to NFL games. Before the season begins, the networks have reportedly sold a little more than $2.5B in advertising slots for the upcoming games. Each network with this sort of inventory to sell reports that sales are up compared to last year at this time AND that commercial slots are selling at higher prices than they did last year.

Last year, you must recall that Draft Kings and FanDuel saturated football telecasts with the three or four ads that they produced. According to reports, those two companies spent a combined $150M on ads last year. This year, those two companies will supposedly only do a few “spot ads”. That means two things to me:

    1. We can give thanks to the football gods that we will be spared those stupid repetitive ads this year.

    2. There are plenty of potential sponsors out there who are willing – even anxious – to get their message out during NFL telecasts.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times that brings together the world of politics and the world of sports:

“Comedian Argus Hamilton, looking forward to another NFL season: ‘Football is for people who can’t stand politics but still enjoy watching millionaires destroy each other.’”

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