Football Tidbits…

Earlier this season, the Rams beat the Niners 41-39 in a Thursday Night Football game that I did not see because I was out of the country.  However, I have to imagine that it was a fun game to watch – – unless you are an aspiring NFL Defensive Coordinator in which case you probably hid under your couch sometime in the third quarter.  Then, as part of my “catching up” process, I found this statistical tidbit:

  • Since 1940, only 40 teams have scored 39 points or more in an NFL game and lost that game.
  • On average, that only happens about once every other year.

Some of the previous instances where a team offense had a highly proficient day but the team still came away with a loss due to a complete no-show by the defensive unit include:

  • In 1963, the Raiders beat the Oilers 52-49.  The Oilers held the record for the most points scored in a losing effort for 52 years.  Then …
  • In 2015, the Saints beat the Giants by the same 52-49 score.  Now the Oilers – repositioned at the Titans – share the honor with the Giants for most points scored while still managing to lose a game.
  • In 2004, the Bengals beat the Browns 58-48 indicating that both teams probably decided to give up tackling for Lent in 2004.  [Yes, I know.  Lent does not occur during football season.  Work with me here…]
  • In 1966 and in the highest scoring NFL game ever, the Skins beat the Giants 72-41.

In this context, the Niners’ defensive debacle from a few weeks ago appears merely to be awful but not historically awful.

Here is another semi-interesting statistical tidbit related to sports in Cleveland:

  • In 2017, the Cleveland Indians won 22 consecutive MLB games.
  • From 2012 until today, the Cleveland Browns have won a total of 20 NFL games.

As of this morning, there are 5 teams in the NFL that have opened the season with records of 0-3.  I was wondering if any of them had a significant chance of “turning things around” and getting themselves into the “playoff hunt”.  Let’s look at them in alphabetical order:

  1. Cincy:  The Bengals are 31st in the league in yards per game, dead last in the league in points per game (11.0) and 30th in the league in 3rd down conversion percentage.  The Bengals’ defense ranks 7th in the league in yards per game allowed.  So, maybe they can “right the ship” …?
  2. Cleveland:  The Browns are 15th in the league in yards per game on offense and 11th in the league in yards per game allowed on defense.  That does not sound like a team in a “playoff hunt” but it sounds better than an 0-3 record.
  3. LA Chargers:  They only score 16 points per game and rank 28th in the NFL running the ball.  The overall defense looks good statistically – – except that they allow opponents to run for 146.7 yards per game.  No wonder they don’t score a lot; the offense is on the sidelines a lot.
  4. NY Giants:  The team just does not score points; they rank 31st in the league in points per game (12.3).  The defense ranks 16th in the league today but the way the offense is playing the defense is on the field way too much.  The team has some talent on defense, but they cannot run the ball and have difficulty protecting the QB.
  5. San Francisco:  Sorry, I cannot see this team doing much of anything other than losing most of their games for the rest of 2017.

As noted below, the Browns and the Bengals play one another this week so one of them will leave the ranks of the winless by Sunday night – – unless the game is a tie…

For those who are into questions of “Where is he now?”, I read that Trent Richardson just signed on with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL.  The Roughriders are 6-6 so far this year and have 6 games left in the regular season.  Given the strength of the Western Division of the CFL as compared to the Eastern Division, they will have to scramble for a playoff slot.

Here are brief comments on a quartet of college football games this weekend:

  1. Clemson at VA Tech:  The line is Clemson -7.  Clemson is a big step up in terms of class of opponent for the Hokies but home field advantage in Blacksburg is a big deal.
  2. Miss St. at Auburn:  The line is Auburn -9.  State is tough in Starkville and not-so-tough on the road; Auburn is anything but a model of consistency.  Venue call…
  3. Miami at Duke:  The line is Miami – 7; Duke is +225 on the money line.  I think Duke has a shot to win this one outright.
  4. USC at Wash St.:  The line is USC – 6.5.  Two very good QBs on display here.  This game should be close all the way.

To maintain the symmetry of the universe, here are brief comments on a quartet of NFL games this weekend:

  1. Raiders at Broncos:  The line is Denver – 2.5.  Two good teams meet in the best game on the dance card for the weekend.  Looks like a venue call to me…
  2. Giants at Bucs:  The line is Tampa – 3.  The Bucs stunk it out last week; the Giants have stunk all season long.  Get out the air freshener.  Bucs send Giants record to 0-4…
  3. Titans at Texans:  The line is Titans – 2.5.  Important game for AFC South race, this should be a low-scoring/defensive game.  The Total Line is 44; I don’t see where a 45th point would come from…
  4. Bengals at Browns:  The line is Bengals -3.  This is the first round of the “Battle for Ohio”.  If you are going to root for a tie so neither team gets a win, you might as well also root for a scoreless tie.  It would be a fitting result…

Finally, earlier this year, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had this comment about a Seattle Mariners’ game:

“The Mariners committed five errors in one inning?

“Everybody knows there’s no I in team, but who knew there were five E’s in Seattle?”

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



From The Penthouse To The Outhouse

Earlier this week, a former colleague who has been reading these rants from the time before they ever hit the Internet sent me an e-mail “welcoming me home”.  He also included a link to an article from Golf Digest which he pointed out confirms my repeated observations that the golf media’s obsession over the years with Tiger Woods continues.  He said they are “like crack addicts who just cannot quit their habit.”  The theme of this article is that despite Woods’ “year from Hell”, he is still golf’s biggest draw.

As confirmation of that general idea, there was broad coverage and commentary from the golf media when Tiger Woods “announced” that his practice regimen has now been expanded to chipping and putting as opposed to previous times when he could only putt.  Slow down and let me catch my breath there, Hoss…

However, it was this comment in my friend’s e-mail that got me thinking:

“Tiger and OJ are the two biggest ‘riches to rags’ stories ever.”

First of all, while both Tiger and OJ indeed fell from celebrity status to anathema status dramatically, that is where the similarity ends.  Tiger Woods seeks – and may someday attain – the ability to compete in his sport at a high level; OJ never did that once he retired from football.  Secondly, while Tiger Woods’ societal and familial behaviors are not what I tried to point my children toward, his actions are downright angelic as compared to the events related to OJ’s downfall.  Moreover, I think there are some other “riches to rags” stories to add to my friend’s list.  [To be fair, I have expanded beyond merely sports for some of my examples.]:

  1. Lance Armstrong:  He dominated his sport similarly to the way Tiger Woods and OJ dominated theirs.  The major difference here is that cycling is not nearly as popular in the US as is golf or football.
  2. Bill Cosby:  He was once considered a great role model as a father and considered to be an iconic entertainer.  Today, not so much …
  3. John Edwards:  He sought the Democratic nomination for President of the US at least twice and was the Democratic nominee for Vice President once.  I have no idea what he is doing today – but it is a far cry from running for Vice President.
  4. Michael Jackson:  From the stature of “King of Pop”, he managed to descend to the level of “pervy/creepy guy” at best.
  5. Joe Paterno:  To my mind, this is the saddest case on the list.  He never did any of the vile things that brought on his downfall; nonetheless, his reputation was destroyed.
  6. Michael Vick:  His story is interesting because he “rebounded” to some extent from his “fall from grace” to the point where he returned to the NFL and is now a TV analyst for NFL football.

And that list leads me to comment on yesterday’s action by Louisville to put Rick Pitino on “unpaid administrative leave” as the FBI investigation of bribery and fraud related to college basketball continues.  This is not the first encounter that Pitino has had with “scandal” but this is the first one that could put his school on the wrong side of an NCAA sanction that might affect the “bottom line” at Louisville.  Based on my comments yesterday about this investigation and the arrests that have been made and the following comment, I must confess that I do not understand where all of this is coming from or where it is headed:

  • The statement made yesterday by the prosecutor in charge of all this said that some people participated in some illegal/fraudulent activities that delivered highly recruited players to specific schools/teams.  It did not say that the schools/teams did any of those things; it was a cabal of agents and shoe company execs and assistant coaches.  So, if the prosecutor does not think the head coach(es) who received these top-shelf recruits was/were part of the illegal/fraudulent activities, why put the coach on “unpaid administrative leave” which is tantamount to firing him?

Clearly, I am missing something here that is at the core of this matter.  I still do not understand what laws were violated nor do I understand how this whole matter is washing over various folks in the college basketball world.  There is a story this morning speculating as to how this might affect Bruce Pearl at Auburn since one of the Auburn assistant coaches was arrested yesterday.  Suppose for a moment that Josh McDaniels – offensive coordinator for the Patriots – was convicted of a DUI.  Would that endanger Bill Belichick’s driver’s license?

Switching gears, if Highland Park High School (Dallas TX) has a “Hall of Fame”, I think they will soon be inducting two new members.

  1. Clayton Kershaw (Class of 2006) is – at the moment – the highest paid player in MLB.
  2. Matthew Stafford (Class of 2006) is – at the moment – the highest paid player in the NFL.

Finally, since shady dealings in college recruiting are front and center in the news these days, consider this comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News recently:

“An Ohio prep star said on Twitter he’d sign with Ohio State if he got 100,000 retweets.

“Remember football’s simpler days when all it took was a couple of boosters to buy a kid a car?”

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



The FBI Cracks The Case

From the viewpoint provided from Curmudgeon Central the sports story of the moment must be the arrest of some assistant college basketball coaches and some execs with shoe companies and a few other miscellaneous folks on charges of bribery/fraud/stuff-like-that with regard to high school basketball players and where they might go to college.  Here is a link to one of the online reports about the events involved.

Remember that I have not spent a day of my life in law school and that nothing that follows here ought to be considered as “informed commentary”.  Nonetheless, a couple of things in this story do stand out to me:

  1. This FBI investigation has been ongoing for about 2 years.  I think that is very important because even if everything alleged by the prosecutors in their public announcements can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, these charges do not represent a major threat to the establishment of justice or the assurance of domestic tranquility.  [See the Preamble to the US Constitution.]
  2. The NCAA – an organization whose credibility and standing in the eyes of US sports depends on its ability to assure a level playing field for all its member teams – did not know about these alleged frauds and briberies in the past and did not even know about the FBI investigation for the past 2 years.  Question:  Exactly what do those super-sleuths in the NCAA offices do for a living?
  3. Allegedly, “money men” secretly funneled cash to high school players’ families to assure that the kid went to a school that was aligned with a specific shoe company.  Other than possibly being a violation of the laws related to reportable income for Federal Income Tax purposes, I am not sure that whatever statute was violated here is all that important.

Once the NCAA was informed by the FBI as to what had been ongoing for years, the clueless-to-that point NCAA President, Mark Emmert, had this to say:

“The nature of the charges brought by the Federal Government are deeply disturbing.  We have no tolerance whatsoever for this alleged behavior.  Coaches hold a unique position of trust with student-athletes and their families and these bribery allegations, if true, suggest an extraordinary and despicable breech of that trust.  We learned of these charges this morning and of course will support the ongoing criminal investigation.”

Let me translate that statement for you:

  • Once again, the NCAA was clueless regarding a major violation of the rules that the NCAA itself created.  It was asleep at the switch – if indeed this is an “extraordinary and despicable breach of trust” between NCAA coaches and student-athletes.

The investigation is not over; the prosecutors have set up a hot-line people can call to add more information and more individual situations to the overall case.  In the end, the prosecutors will send someone or someones up the river for a couple of years; the NCAA will deflect focus on the fact that all this was going on under its collective nose for about a decade or so; college basketball will continue to be the dominant sports story in March of every year; shoe companies will recoil in horror and then find new ways to do essentially the same thing a couple of years from now.  Most importantly, now that these miscreants will have faced justice, the nation’s long national nightmare will come to an end.  Or something like that…

Speaking of recruiting high school athletes to particular colleges, Brad Rock has this comment in the Deseret News recently regarding the decision by ESPN to hold its College Game Day telecast in NYC as opposed to some venue around the country where there might actually be a real NCAA football game:

“Analysts say this could greatly boost recruiting for Julliard’s football team.”

In another story related to college basketball, the reigning champion UNC basketball team will not be visiting the White House for the typical ceremonial time with the President.  At this particular moment when sports news has such an overlap with political news, I am sure that lots of folks will find significance in their absence.  Here in Curmudgeon Central the basis for this inability to pay a visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC is pretty simple:

  • The UNC student-athletes cannot possibly afford the time away from their classes and their study time and their term-paper preparations to go somewhere other than to play a basketball game.  There are, after all, only 168 hours in a week…

In another college sports story that resonates well here in Curmudgeon Central, it turns out that Nebraska paid Northern Illinois $820K to come to Lincoln, NE to play the Cornhuskers in an early-season non-conference game.  Nothing to see there; big-time schools do that every year.  The problem in this case is that Northern Illinois did more than show up for the game; Northern Illinois won that game 21-17.  So, it would appear as if the “sacrificial lamb” here was having nothing to do with being slaughtered and chose to ram the “executioner” in the goolies of his nether region prior to exiting the slaughter pen with the $820K in the bank.  Good for the sacrificial lamb…

Finally, I need to change the subject away from the above before I get totally depressed for the day by the disrepute of college sports.  Here is a keen observation by Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian Pilot regarding the return of Maria Sharapova to the pro tennis scene:

“Noise pollution: There’s no danger of me watching Sharapova’s scream queen matches, at least not with the sound on. The Shrieking Violet is as loud as ever. It recalls something the late actor Peter Ustinov said about Monica Seles at Wimbledon in the early ’90s: ‘I’d hate to be next door to her on her wedding night.’”

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



Catching Up On Football Happenings …

I got to watch my first Monday Night Football for 2017 last night.  I remember reading that ESPN was bringing Hank Williams, Jr. back to do the “opening” of the telecast but I had forgotten that fact until last night.  Frankly, I wish ESPN had forgotten to bring him back.  Or is that just me …?

I enjoyed the close game – it was a one-possession game in the fourth quarter – but the thing that I marveled at was this:

  • Larry Fitzgerald must have found what eluded Ponce de Leon.
  • Fitzgerald recently turned 34 years old.  Most WRs at that age have “lost a step” and if they can continue to play they do so with guile and not pure athletic prowess.
  • Last night, Fitzgerald caught 13 passes for 149 yards and a TD.  He did this – essentially – as the only real threat in the passing game for the Cards.  Two of his catches will be shown on SportsCenter as highlights of the week; you can be sure of that.

In reading a review of last weekend’s NFL activity, I saw mention that the Jags’ performance was sufficiently noteworthy that the Las Vegas oddsmakers had opened the Jags as 4-point favorites on the road against the Jets this week.  Even though the Jets won last week, the Jets are a hot mess and most people recognize that, so why is this noteworthy?

  • Since 2008, the Jags have been road favorites exactly twice – once against the Bengals in 2008 and once against the Colts in 2011.  Recall that 2011 was the year that Peyton Manning sat out the season with a neck injury and the Colts finished with the worst record in the NFL.

As I am trying to catch up on college football happenings, it will surely not surprise anyone to know that I am focused on the “top-tier teams” and I am also focused on the “abyssal plane teams” – the ones that cannot sink much lower.  Consider:

  1. Looking for a bottom feeder or two always requires a glance at the MAC and this year it would seem that Akron, Bowling Green and Kent State could fall to significant levels of disgrace.  Interestingly, this week fans can watch the Akron Zips as they travel to Bowling Green to play the Falcons.  Should be a yawn-fest.
  2. Unless I missed something, I believe UMass is the only team sitting at 0-5 this morning.  That cannot be good.
  3. Oregon St. is 1-3 but when you look at that record you notice that the Beavers have been blown out in all 3 losses and they beat Portland St. – Division 1-AA – by 3 points at home for their only win.  Next, take a look at the upcoming schedule for Oregon St. and see Washington, at USC, Colorado, Stanford as the next four games.  After that, the Beavers get to play two straight road games.  Ouch!
  4. Looking for a bottom feeder always requires a glance at the Kansas football schedule and it does not take long to recognize the potential for abject discredit here.  After an opening win over Southeast Missouri – Division 1-AA – the Jayhawks have lost to 2 MAC teams (both by double digits) and then were blown away by West Virginia.
  5. Looking for a bottom feeder always requires a glance at the Rutgers football schedule and there is also great potential for “stinkitude” here.  The Scarlet Knights are 1-3; the win was a 65-0 blowout over Morgan St. – Division 1-AA.  The three losses were to Washington (at home), E. Michigan (at home) and Nebraska (on the road).  Next up is a home game against Ohio St.; as of this morning, Rutgers is a 29.5-point underdog at home…
  6. Looking for a bottom feeder always requires a glance at the Mountain West Conference and San Jose St. caught my eye there.  The Spartans are 1-3 this year beating Cal Poly SLO – Division 1-AA – in their opener by 3 TDs.  After that, it would seem as if the wheels came off the bus; in the last 3 games – losses to Texas (on the road), Utah (on the road) and Utah St. (at home) – the cumulative score in those 3 games was 171-26.  So far this year, San Jose St. is giving up 46 points per game and one game was against a Division 1-AA opponent.

If you think I am making this next item up, Google is your friend.  There used to be a college football bowl game called the St. Petersburg Bowl.  You should not be surprised to learn that it is contested in St. Petersburg and this year will feature a contest between teams from the American Athletic Conference and Conference USA; those are matchups I never look forward to.  At one point in history, the bowl game sold naming rights and became the Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl between 2010 and 2013.  Now the naming rights have been sold again and the St. Petersburg Bowl will be – – sound the trumpets – –

  • The Bad Boys Mowers Gaspirilla Bowl

In case that name is confusing, let me shed a scintilla of light here for you:

  1. Bad Boy Mowers makes zero-turn lawn mowers.
  2. Gaspirilla is not a soft drink; Gaspirilla is a pirate festival celebrated in Tampa each winter and takes its name from a Spanish pirate named José Gaspar who evidently terrorized Florida waters in times past.
  3. What lawn mowers have to do with a pirate festival is not clear to me.
  4. What lawn mowers have to do with Tropicana Field – where the game will be played – is not clear to me either since the stadium has artificial turf.

Now that you know all of that, will you be considering a Bad Boy Mower the next time you need to purchase a lawn mower?  Just asking…

Finally, here is college football related comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Rutgers installed a jacuzzi in its student section. When you watch Rutgers kids frolicking in a hot tub and Wisconsin students chugging beer from cheese-shaped mugs remember: Nebraska joined the Big Ten for the academics.”

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



I Made It Home …

Sadly, I was “on hiatus” on September 19 which means that I was unable to celebrate “Talk Like A Pirate Day” this year.  Too bad.  Shiver me timbers…

I got back from Portugal realizing that I had missed about a month of football season.  You might think that American football is not widely covered in Portugal and you would be absolutely correct.  Other than scores, I basically knew nothing about what had happened since Labor Day.  I was looking forward to reading some in-depth football stuff and instead I come home to a lot of sturm und drang about National Anthem protests.  I thought that would have been resolved by now – but I was clearly wrong.

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Sally Jenkins wrote about the comments by President Trump regarding those protests and how the NFL got it right in terms of its response.  Here is a link to that column; I recommend you read it in its entirety.

In today’s Washington Post, Jerry Brewer praised the way that Roger Goodell steered the league and its teams and the players through what could have been a very divisive weekend.  It is not often that Commissioner Goodell earns any praise at all from Jerry Brewer – – let along high praise.  Here is a link to that column; I recommend you read it in its entirety also.

Anyhow, I would much rather write about football than about anthem protests and/or politics so let me point out that before I left, I presented my pre-season NFL predictions.  Two of them have already come to pass; another surely looks as if it is going to happen and one of them looks to be dead wrong.  And we are less than a quarter of the way through the NFL season…

  • Prediction #1:  The Patriots will not go undefeated.  Got that one right…
  • Prediction #2:  The Jets will not go winless.  Got that one right.
  • Prediction #3:  Colts’ fans should hope the Scott Tolzien Era is mercifully brief.  Looks as if it lasted for all of one game.
  • Prediction #4:  Lions will be looking for a new coach in January 2018.  Well, they just gave Jim Caldwell a contract extension so I guess that one is down the tubes.

About 6 weeks ago, I also predicted that the Phillies would not lose 100 games this year.  As of this morning, they have won 62 games so they need only 1 win in their final 6 games to make that come true.  What I did not foresee then was the total implosion of the Giants and the Tigers; I thought the Phillies would be mortal locks to have the #1 pick in the MLB Draft next summer but as of this morning that “honor” would fall to the Giants and the Phils would flip a coin with the Tigers to see who gets the #2 pick.  Oh, and by the way, the White Sox are only 1.5 games ahead of the Tigers and the Phillies in the bottom rungs of the MLB standings.

Here are some short observations about college football:

  1. Last year, I said that Penn State RB, Saquon Barkley was one of the best RBs in the country.  Last week against Iowa, all he did was to rush for 211 yards and add 94 yards receiving to that total.  He is the real deal.
  2. Oklahoma was rolling along and met up with a Baylor team that had looked like road kill in its early games.  Final score was 49-41 favor of Oklahoma.
  3. After Vanderbilt had beaten Kansas St. to run their record to 3-0 and had only allowed 13 points in those 3 games, someone on the Vandy defense basically said that they were doing to show Alabama what it means to come to Nashville and face the Vandy defense.  Not a smart move because the final score was Alabama 59 and Vandy 0.  Ooops…
  4. Ohio State is 4-1 this year with the loss coming at home against Oklahoma.  The Buckeyes have Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska as their next 3 opponents meaning they should be 7-1 when they host Penn State on October 28.
  5. Two weeks ago, Mississippi State disemboweled LSU by 30 points in Starkville.  Last week, the Bulldogs went on the road and lost to Georgia by 28.  Strange doings in the SEC …
  6. USF is ranked in the Top 25 for now and they beat Temple last week by 36 points.  The interesting stat for that game is that Temple’s rushing attack for the day was a total of minus-4 yards.

I see where the NY Knicks finally found a way to unload Carmelo Anthony.  What they got in return from OKC was Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a second-round pick.  The Knicks got more than a bag of donut holes in this trade but no one ought to consider that this is an “equal trade” from a talent standpoint.

Finally, just before I left for Portugal, Dwight Perry had this quiz in his column in the Seattle Times.  See if you can get it:

“The 29th annual World Hen Racing Championships were won by a chicken named Cooked It.

The 2017 World Snail Racing Championships were won by a mollusk named Larry.

“So, now that we have your attention … Quick! Name the world heavyweight boxing champion!”

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



NFL Pre-Season Predictions 2017

I’ll begin with a brief introduction here for readers who have gotten on this bus in the last year.  This is an annual feature – one where I embarrass myself.  What I am going to do here is to foretell the NFL season in detail; I will:

  1. List coaches on the hot seat and suggest which ones will not be returning for the 2018 season.
  2. Predict the final record for all 32 NFL teams and the conference seedings for the playoffs that start in January 2018.

Not only will these predictions stay up on the website, I will return to them sometime after the season is over and grade myself on the accuracy of these predictions.  In almost every circumstance, the grading process is a humbling experience.

One other thing needs to be mentioned at the outset.  There will surely be at least one case where I think a team will stink and I will assign them a record of 4-12 for the season.  When the results are in and the team has won their division with an 11-5 record, I do not owe the team or the team’s fans an apology.  I did not disrespect the team or the coaching staff; what I did was to make a serious mistake – and I will acknowledge that in the post-mortem after the season.  Very often, fans of teams take it personally when I underestimate the success of their teams and fail to recognize the difference between disrespect and abject error.

With that as prelude let me begin with the NFL coaches I think are on hot seats for 2017.  I will list them in alphabetical order because I have no intention of trying to rank order the hotness of those seats.  I have 10 coaches on my list here and it would not surprise me to find 6 or 7 of them among the ranks of the unemployed next January.

  1. Todd Bowles (Jets):  I hate putting him on this list because I think he is a victim of circumstance.  In his first year with the Jets, Bowles’ team just missed out on a playoff berth on a tie-breaker; then last year, the wheels came off the wagon.  Looking back, the Jets of 2015 were not as good as their record so the expectations for 2016 were overly high; that made the 5-11 record last year seem much worse than it was.  He will need significant improvement over last year’s 5-11 record or the NYC tabloids will crucify him; the problem is that the Jets have gutted their roster and the real outlook for 2017 is that a 5-11 record would be a rosy outcome.  As has happened to Jets’ coaches in the past, there is a lack of talent at the QB position.  After pretending to have a “QB competition” in camp this year, the Jets will go into the season with Josh McCown under center.  In the last 3 NFL seasons, McCown has started 22 games; the team record in those games is 2-20.  Good luck with that…  Given the hounding of the NYC press, Todd Bowles may be the first coach fired this year – and he does not deserve that fate.
  2. Jim Caldwell (Lions):  In December of last season, the Lions appeared to have the NFC North division title in their hip pocket.  The last time the Lions won a division title was in 1993 so things were looking up.  The Lions then proceeded to lose their last 3 games – thereby losing the division title to the Packers – and the team went into the playoffs as a Wildcard.  They went to Seattle and laid an egg out there losing 26-6; it wasn’t really that close.  If the Lions miss the playoffs this year, I think Jim Caldwell will be looking for work elsewhere.
  3. John Fox (Bears):  Before coming to Chicago, Joh Fox won an NFC Championship with the Panthers and an AFC Championship with the Broncos.  His coaching accomplishments are significant.  In Chicago, things have not gone nearly as well.  In his two seasons there, the Bears have a cumulative record of 9-23; last year they were 3-13 and looked every bit as bad as that record indicates.  The team has a significant QB conundrum to resolve – and there may not be a positive choice for 2017 on the roster.  I suspect that this is John Fox’s last year in Chicago.
  4. John Harbaugh (Ravens):  Yes, I know that he won a Super Bowl in Baltimore and that his regular season record with the Ravens is a cumulative 85-59.  However, the NFL is very much a “what-have-you-done-lately league” and in the 4 years since winning the Super Bowl, the Ravens only made the playoffs once and have a cumulative record of 31-33.  It would take a disastrous season for Harbaugh’s seat to get hot enough that he had to leave it, but with Joe Flacco missing most of training camp with a “balky back” and Ryan Mallett as the replacement, “disastrous season” might not be out of the picture.  I mention him here as a long-shot; his seat is merely lukewarm.
  5. Hue Jackson (Browns):  I put him here only because the Browns were miserable last year in his first season and they project to be only marginally better this year.  However, I also expect that the folks running the franchise in Cleveland now recognize the importance of some sort of stability when it comes to rebuilding a football team.  The Browns were 1-15 last year and in some of their losses they were barely competitive.  For 2017, they have to play such that they are not just a scrimmage partner for the opposition.  The Browns BYE Week is in Week 9 this year (November 5th); when NFL teams make an in-season coaching change, they often use the BYE Week to do that.  Now, if the Browns go into the BYE Week with an 0-8 record and three of those losses have been horrible blowouts …
  6. Marvin Lewis (Bengals):  This will be Lewis’ 15th season as coach of the Bengals; the franchise he took over was a laughingstock; in the last 14 seasons, Lewis has had the team in the playoffs 7 times.  That is the good news; here is the bad news.  The Bengals have yet to win a playoff game under Lewis.  In 2015, they had the game in their hands and then a total meltdown in focus and discipline cost them their first playoff win of the Marvin Lewis Era.  You would have expected improvement in that area in 2016 and that Lewis would have made it a team objective.  Well, that did not happen and the team finished a dispirited 6-9-1.  One other factor working against him is that he only has 1 year left on his contract.  Ownership in Cincy does not like to pay coaches not to coach …  I think the Bengals have to make the playoffs for him to keep his job – – and if they do not win their first playoff game, they have to lose respectably.
  7. Bill O’Brien (Texans):  This is a longshot guess on my part because O’Brien has been successful with the Texans despite never having a Top 25-QB on this roster.  The Brock Osweiler experiment from last year was a disaster – and that is looking at it optimistically.  This year, he has two young QBs with “lots of potential” which is NFL code-talking for two young QBs “who have not yet accomplished a damned thing.”  This man does not look happy on the sidelines during games even though his teams win more often than they lose.
  8. Chuck Pagano (Colts):  The facts are these.  The Colts play in a not-very-good division and they have not made the playoffs for the last 2 years.  They have a very good QB but they do not protect him and he will start this season basically having no training camp practice sessions as he continues to rehab from shoulder surgery brought on by the lack of protection he gets.  I have not figured out how much of the Colts’ failures over the past couple of years is due to Pagano’s coaching and how much is due to the way the roster was built and how much of a role Pagano played in the roster building.  The old GM is gone for this year so the Colts need to show improvement if Pagano is going to stay on as the coach.
  9. Sean Payton (Saints):  Like John Harbaugh, some might ask what Peyton has done for the Saints lately.  They had a great run from 2009 (winning the Super Bowl) to 2013 (making the playoffs each year and winning 11 or more games in each season).  However, the last three seasons have come in at 7-9 with no playoff appearances.  This is another longshot on this list – – but it is not impossible.
  10. Ron Rivera (Panthers):  Last year the team suffered “Super Bowl Loser Syndrome”.  From a record of 15-1, the Panthers descended to an unremarkable 6-10 which earned them a last place finish in the NFC South.  Rivera has been the coach in Carolina for 6 years now; his overall record is 53-42-1 which is pretty good; interestingly, he has only had 2 winning seasons in those 6 years and with that overall record one might have expected more.  There has been plenty of turmoil within the franchise recently with the GM getting fired in June after he oversaw the Draft and the signing of free agents.  Logic would argue for Rivera to stay around to provide some stability but “logic: and “stability” are not always key ingredients in NFL decisions…

Let me go to the individual team records now and I’ll start in the AFC West.  I project that the four teams here will have a total of 36 wins; only the NFC South will have more.

  • Oakland Raiders  12-4:  Derek Carr is back and the highlight reels say he is throwing the ball as well as he was before his broken leg last year.  The Raiders’ offense can scare any defensive coordinator.  The defense is good-not-great and the defensive weakness is stopping the run.  The Raiders open the season on the road against the Titans – a team that wants to run the ball down your throat.  That game should shed a lot of light on the level of improvement in the Raiders’ run defense.  The Raiders’ schedule is back-loaded.  After their BYE Week in Week 10, they host the Pats, Broncos and Giants; then they hit the road to visit the Chiefs and then come home again to host the Cowboys.  I think the Raiders will beat out the Steelers for a playoff bye based on conference record.  When the Raiders win the AFC West, it will be the first time they have done so in 15 seasons.
  • KC Chiefs  10-6:  The Chiefs were good last year and not much has changed in KC so they ought to be good again this year.  The loss of Spencer Ware at RB for the season is certainly not a positive, but it is not disastrous either.  Remember, they lost in the playoffs last year to Pittsburgh never giving up a TD – although they did yield 6 field goals.  The Chiefs will be the top AFC Wildcard Team.
  • LA Chargers  7-9:  There were times last year when the Chargers had so many injuries that I expected to see the guys who run onto the field with the water bottles during timeouts pull up with hamstring injuries.  The football gods wouldn’t do that to the same team two years in a row, would they?  The Chargers offense is OK; the Chargers’ defense needs to improve; that is why Gus Bradley is the defensive coordinator.  The most interesting thing about Chargers’ games this year will be to see what the atmosphere is in their new stadium that seats less than 30,000 folks.  And on top of the atmosphere, it will be interesting to see if the Chargers can even sell out so small a venue.
  • Denver Broncos  7-9:  The Broncos’ defense is still a premier unit and will be the source of the team success this year.  On offense, the Broncos have questions at RB and most importantly at QB.  Once again, Paxton Lynch failed to earn the starting QB job over Trevor Siemian who started 14 games last year.  Broncos’ coach Vance Joseph said the decision came down to the fact that Siemian was the more consistent QB in the Exhibition Games.  Does that translate into something like “I wish I had some other option here – – but I don’t.”?  The Broncos went 8-6 with Siemian under center and none of his stats jump out at you and say “Hey, look over here!”  In the John Elway GM Era, the QB position has been questionable.  Some of the Broncos’ acquisitions at QB were Tim Tebow, Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian.  That is a pretty vanilla bunch surrounding the acquisition of Peyton Manning for one last run at a Super Bowl ring which turned out to be successful.  Still …

Next up I’ll move to the AFC South.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 32 games meaning the four teams will average 8-8 which is pretty much the definition of mediocre.

  • Tennessee Titans  11-5:  I think the Titans’ time has come.  Marcus Mariotta has a dominant running game that will allow him to pick and choose when to throw as opposed to having to wing it 50 times a game.  Mariotta may not be an All-Pro; but in this division, there is not a lot of QB competition if indeed Andrew Luck is still not able to throw a football in anger with only a week or so to go until kickoff.  The Titans’ defense is nothing to write home about but that strong run game will help that unit also.  The schedule maker gave the Titans an easy glide path to the playoffs this year.  Their last 3 games of the season are at the Niners and then home to host the Rams and the Jags.
  • Houston Texans  9-7:  Of course the Texans will go 9-7; that is what they have done under Bill O’Brien in each of his 3 seasons at the helm.  Last year, the Texans made the playoffs even though they gave up 49 more points than they scored; let’s just say that is atypical.  Tom Savage has been named as the Week 1 starter; I suspect we will see Deshaun Watson in that role before Thanksgiving.  The Texans’ defense was excellent last year and should be even better this year with the return of JJ Watt although the loss of CB, AJ Bouye, and S, Quinton Demps, to free agency creates a challenge for the defense.  The worst part of the schedule for the Texans is a 3-game stretch at the Patriots and then home to host the Titans and the Chiefs.  That rough patch is followed by a visit from the Browns and then a BYE Week.  The Texans will be the second AFC Wildcard Team.
  • Indy Colts   6-10:  This projection assumes that it will be a while into the regular season before Andrew Luck is ready to play QB the way Andrew Luck is capable of playing QB.  If that does not happen this year and the Colts have to embark on the start of the Scott Tolzein Era, this might be a generous projection.  Fans in Indy have to hope that the Scott Tolzein Era is mercifully brief.  The Colts seemed to recognize their shortcomings during the NFL Draft this year.  With their first four picks, the Colts took 3 defensive players and an offensive lineman.  The running back listed first on the depth chart at the moment is Frank Gore.  I love Frank Gore’s drive and dedication; on the other hand, he is 34 years old.  That is not the usual recipe for a solid run game to support your QB …
  • Jax Jaguars  6-10:  This prediction is another one that could be wildly optimistic.  I am basing this on the continued solid play by the defensive unit.  Were it not for those guys, this team would struggle to win 2 games.  If you believe the reports coming from the Jags’ training camp, Blake Bortles and Chad Henne were in a neck-and-neck race to see who would be the starting QB.  That is a sad state of affairs.  Things got so loose after the 2nd Exhibition Game that the owner of the Jags said he would be open to bringing Colin Kaepernick onto the roster if his “football people” said they needed him.  Then time went by and the “football people” made no such entreaty.  The Jags begin the season with 3 difficult games – at the Texans and then home against the Titans and Ravens.  The Jags close out the season with a challenging 4-game stretch – home versus the Seahawks and the Texans followed by two on the road at the Niners and at the Titans.  Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel had this to say about the QB situation in Jax:

Everybody I talk to keeps saying that if Blake Bortles struggles again this season, he will be done as the quarterback of the Jacksonville Jaguars. In other words, I guess you could say that this is a Make-or-Blake season.”

The next stop will be the AFC North.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 31 games.

  • Pittsburgh Steelers  12-4:  The Steelers have a ton of talent on offense.  Ben Roethlisberger has Antonio Brown and Martavious Bryant to throw the ball to on the outside.  The Steelers do not have a great tight end on the roster but Jesse James and Vance McDonald will not embarrass the team.  Big Ben can also hand the ball to LeVeon Bell – once Bell decides that he will show up and play a season of football for something in the neighborhood of $12M.  If it takes Bell a moment to “get his sea legs”, the Steelers have Knile Davis on the team to be the lead back.  The Steelers’ defense for 2017 may not be equal to the Steel Curtain guys from 40 years ago, but the Steelers’ defense is better than merely present and the signing last week of Joe Haden from the Browns should help the defense a lot.  I think the Steelers will lose out on a bye week in the playoffs to the Raiders based on conference records.
  • Baltimore Ravens  8-8:  This prediction is based on Joe Flacco being able to play like Joe Flacco has shown he can play for most of the games this season.  He has not played in any Exhibition Games and has been treated with kid gloves in training camp due to a “balky back”.  His backup is Ryan Mallett.  You can decry Flacco all you want about how he is not an “elite QB”; none of that matters here; he is many rungs of the ladder higher than Ryan Mallett.  And if you want to get really frightened, the other QB on the roster during training camp was Thad Lewis.  The Ravens’ offense was anemic last year and the loss of Steve Smith Sr. on the field and on the sideline will not help that situation or help Joe Flacco be highly productive.  The Ravens’ defense will keep them in plenty of games but that unit needs help from the offfense.  The Ravens have three tough road games on the schedule – – at the Raiders, at the Packers and at the Steelers.
  • Cincy Bengals  7-9:  The Bengals offense looks solid if – and this is a big IF – the OL improves significantly over last year’s performance.  Andy Dalton needs more time/better protection than he got last year; if he gets protection, he will be able to get the ball to AJ Green, Tyler Eifert and some talented running backs.  If opposing defenses can force Dalton to scramble and throw on the run, the Bengals will struggle.  The defense has not changed a lot from last year and the presence of Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones on that unit always provides the potential for a meltdown.  Burfict will serve a 3-game suspension; if that is enforced at the start of this season AND later he contributes to some other Bengals’ misfortunes with more on-field meltdowns, the team may struggle to reach my predicted record.  I suspect this will be the end of the line for Marvin Lewis in Cincy and I am sad to say that.  Marvin Lewis appears to be a very good person when he is on TV as well as a good football coach.
  • Cleveland Browns  4-12:  If I am right on this projection, that means the Browns will improve their win total by 300% over last year.  The thing that will be the measure of the Browns this year is their competitiveness; last year, too many opponents had a stroll down a primrose path when they played the Browns.  The schedule maker chose to throw this team into the deep end right away.  They open the season hosting the Steelers; then they have two road games at the Ravens and Colts followed by a home game against the Bengals.  That’s right; three of the first four games are division games.  Later in the season they have a string of games that is daunting.  From late November to mid-December the Browns face the Bengals and Chargers on the road followed by home games against the Packers and Ravens.  In Week 16, the NFL schedule maker gives us the Browns and the Bears in Chicago.  If that is a “blizzard game”, it might be fun to watch just for comedic value; other than that …

To wrap up the AFC, here are my predictions for the AFC East.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 27 games – tying it with the NFC West as the weakest overall division in the NFL.

  • New England Patriots  13-3:  No, the Pats will not be undefeated in 2017.  They will have the best regular season record in the conference and in the league; they are the defending Super Bowl champion and they may have a better overall roster this year than they did last year.  The training camp injury to Julian Edelman does not help them a bit, but there are still plenty of weapons on that offensive unit.  One of these years, we will witness Tom Brady’s performance decline significantly.  As they say in the NFL, Father Time has never missed a tackle.  However, I do not think that 2017 will be that year – and oh, by the way, I believe that the Pats have THE best backup QB in the league on the bench in Jimmy Garoppolo.  If you are a Patriot-hater, I think this will not be a good year for you.  I have the Pats with home field advantage throughout the playoffs in 2017.  [As of this morning, the odds on the Pats winning the AFC East yet again stand at -1000 or -1050 at various Internet sportsbooks.  Those folks think that outcome is a “mortal lock”.]
  • Miami Dolphins  8-8:  Let me say something sort of outrageous here.  If Jay Cutler has a really good year in Miami – meaning he still has plenty of gas in the tank at age 34 – that might be a factor in whether John Fox keeps his job in Chicago because the Bears got little if anything out of Cutler in the John Fox Era.  The Dolphins made the playoffs last year and then proceeded to lay an egg against the Steelers in a Wildcard round game.  I do not think they will get to the playoffs this year.  The schedule maker seemed to stick pins in a Miami Dolphins bobblehead in the offseason.  They have road games in LA against the Chargers, in Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina and KC in addition to their customary road games against their division opponents.  Oh, and one of their home games will be in London.  That is tough sledding …  Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian Pilot had this to say about Jay Cutler’s arrival in Miami:

Miami signed Jay Cutler. Apparently ownership was impressed by all the passes he completed to Dolphin cornerbacks when he played for Chicago.”

  • Buffalo Bills  4-12:  I feel sorry for Tyrod Taylor.  Even if he improves a lot over last year, it may be hard to notice given who he has to throw the ball to.  The Bills shipped Sammy Watkins out of town and traded for Jordan Matthews who promptly broke his sternum in practice.  The Bills also signed free agent Anquan Boldin who stayed in training camp for a week or so and then retired.  Other wide receivers on the depth chart include Andre Holmes [No, he is not Sherlock’s younger brother.], Zay Jones and Brandon Tate.  In reality, none of those players will inflict insomnia on any defensive coordinators around the NFL.  LeSean McCoy is still there as a competent running back; if McCoy has to miss any significant playing time this year, the Bills’ offense might be listed as “moribund”.  Rookie coach Sean McDermott will take his lumps this year.
  • NY Jets  2-14:  No; just as the Pats will not go 16-0, the Jets will not go 0-16.  There are too many winnable games on the schedule even for a team with a gutted roster that seems to be tanking so they can draft one of the many promising QBs coming out of college this year.  Instead of focusing on the question, “Will the Jets go winless in 2017?”, I think the more appropriate question is “Will the Jets equal the 1-15 record they posted in 1996 under Richie Kotite?”  The Jets play the Browns on October 8 in Week 5; that may be the nadir of the NFL season.  Jets’ fans will need to vent their spleen by December 3rd because the Jets play 3 of their last 4 games on the road.  Maybe the schedule maker took pity on the Jets’ fans and kept them out of the cold weather this year with such a bad team on the field…  The NY Jets will be “on the clock” for the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft as of January 1, 2018.  Unfortunately for Todd Bowles, he will not be participating in that draft preparation.  By the way, I am not the only one to think that the Jets/Browns game in Week 5 will be a “snoozer”; here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

Yawning is contagious, University of Nottingham researchers have confirmed.

Which probably explains why pundits are predicting 70,000 open mouths in the stands at next month’s Jets-Browns game.”

To summarize the AFC:

  1. Patriots – Home field advantage throughout the playoffs
  2. Raiders – First round bye beating out Steelers on conference record
  3. Steelers – Home field for the Wildcard round
  4. Titans – Home field for the Wildcard round
  5. Chiefs – First Wildcard team
  6. Texans – Second Wildcard team

Now I will move over to the NFC and begin with the NFC West.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 27 games – making it tied with the AFC East as the weakest division in the NFL.

  • Seattle Seahawks  11-5:  The defensive backfield for the Legion of Boom is starting to get up there in years and watching how Darrele Revis’ play fell off a cliff last year makes one pause for a moment here.  Richard Sherman is 29; Kam Chancellor is 29; Earl Thomas (back from injury to the delight of Seahawks’ fans) is 28 and Jeremy Lane is 27.  Their experience and savvy will make up for any “age issues” this year but it is an issue to keep in mind.  Another plus for the Seahawks is that Russell Wilson had to battle foot/leg injuries for much of last year but he seems to be fully recovered from all that.  The schedule maker did the Seahawks no favors this year.  In the first 7 weeks, the Seahawks have 4 road games against the Packers, Titans, Rams and Giants.  [There is a BYE Week in there between the Rams and Giants.]  On Christmas Eve, they will be in Dallas to play the Cowboys.  The Seahawks will win the division comfortably.  I have them in a 3-way tie-breaker situation with the Falcons and the Packers to see which two of them will get playoff byes.  These three teams play each other this year so the tie-breaker situation could get very interesting.
  • Arizona Cardinals  8-8:  I am just not sold on the Cardinals.  Running back, David Johnson, is a top-shelf player and Larry Fitzgerald is the kind of role model you would want to hold up in front of your kids if they were athletic.  But when I consider the rest of the team, I am lukewarm at best.  Last year, the Cards were 7-8-1; basically, this is the same team the Cards put on the field last year, so I don’t see much of anything different happening at the end of this year.  On the positive side, this could be the last year for both Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald and perhaps the two “old pros” can make the rest of the team play a lot better than they really are.  It could happen…
  • LA Rams  5-11:  The Rams will play in a bigger stadium than the Chargers and will draw bigger crowds but they will not win as many games as the Chargers will win.  The Rams have a new coach in Sean McVay who is just outside the age range for a “teen idol”.  The Rams have a really good defense – – assuming that DT Aaron Donald ever shows up in football shape ready to play to his capability.  In addition, they have a very good running back in Todd Gurley.  What they also have is a humongous question mark at the QB position.  Jared Goff looked terrible last year in all those times when he did not look bewildered.  Sean McVay is there to prove to Rams’ fans and the rest of the NFL that Goff as a #1 overall pick is able to bear that burden.  The jury is out – – but Jared Goff has to play better than he did last year because last year he could barely play dead.
  • SF 49ers  3-13:  This is a step up from last year’s walk in the wilderness.  The roster last year was awful; I guess it is a tad better this year but still not nearly good enough.  The presence of Kyle Shanahan is supposed to convey some degree of competence on the QB position; that is Shanahan’s calling card in the coaching game.  He does not have a lot to work with.  Brian Hoyer is nominally the starter with Matt Barkley as the backup.  Those two guys saw a lot of action in Chicago last year and fans there saw a lot of ugly action as a result.  Also on the depth chart is rookie CJ Beathard from Iowa who could be this year’s version of Dak Prescott or this year’s version of Spergon Wynn.  NaVorro Bowman will make his presence felt from his MLB position on defense and maybe rookie Reuben Foster will be a top-shelf linebacker too.  Other than that, the defense is not much to write home about.

I’ll just move along here to the NFC South.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 37 games making this the toughest division in the NFL for 2018.

  • Atlanta Falcons  11-5:  The Falcons will suffer the “Super Bowl Loser Syndrome” and that is why they are going to lose 5 games this season.  The team is extremely talented; Matt Ryan throwing to Julio Jones is scary by itself but the Falcons have plenty of other pass catchers to take the pressure off the Ryan/Jones connection and they have a solid running game.  They lost the Super Bowl on a boneheaded bit of play-calling and because the Falcons’ defense was totally gassed for the final 6 or 7 minutes of the game.  It will not require much of an uptick on defense to take care of that little problem.  The rematch with the Patriots will be in Foxboro on October 22; it is probably worthwhile circling that date on your calendar.  The Falcons take on the Cowboys at home in Week 10 and that game could be a preview of an NFC playoff encounter.
  • Tampa Bay Bucs  10-6:  Jameis Winston takes his next step down the path to NFL stardom here.  The off-season acquisition of DeSean Jackson will help the Bucs offense a lot.  Jackson is not a high-volume pass-catcher; he averaged less than 4 catches per game last year.  However, what he does is to get the ball downfield; he led the NFL in average yards per catch (17.9 yards per catch).  With his speed, he will make opposing defenses play the whole field and that will open up a lot of targets and catches for his companion wide-out, Mike Evans.  Doug Martin and Jacquiz Rodgers provide more than competent running back skills.  The Bucs defense needs to improve and Jameis Winston needs to cut down on his INTs this year.  I see the Bucs in the playoffs as the NFC’s first Wildcard team.
  • New Orleans Saints  8-8:  I’ve seen the movie before.  The Saints’ offense will move the ball and score lots of points; then the Saints’ defense will go out on the field and allow the opponent to move the ball and also score lots of points.  Sometimes the Saints will win and sometimes they will lose.  Hence, my predicted record.  The Saints’ 5 games in December include 4 division games including the Falcons twice with a visit from the NY Jets in the middle of those 4 games.
  • Carolina Panthers  8-8:  Cam Newton is still recovering from shoulder surgery and while the Panthers have a reasonable backup in Derek Anderson, the Panthers will not survive without Cam Newton playing near his level of competence.  The Panthers already had a good corps of running backs and then they added Christian Mc Caffrey in the draft.  The Panthers’ defense is quite good with solid players at most of the positions.  Nevertheless, they have to have the Cam Newton of the 2015 season on the field this year and not the Cam Newton of 2016.  That is the bottom line…

Next up is the NFC North.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 30 games in the 2017 NFL season.

  • Green Bay Packers  11-5:  In recent seasons, the Packers have started slowly and hit their stride later in the season.  This year they open at home against the Seahawks and then travel to Atlanta to play the Falcons in Week 2.  If my projections are correct, they cannot afford to start 0-2 because that would make them lose out on the tie-breaker that I believe will come to pass among those three teams.  However, even if they do start 0-2, I do not think there is reason for the Cheeseheads to panic; the Packers are the class of this division and should coast to the division title and the playoffs.  In an atypical move, the Packers dipped into the free agent market earlier this week signing Ahmed Brooks – late of the Niners – to play linebacker; that cannot hurt this team.  By the way, the schedule maker did the Packers no favors toward the end of the season either; they will be on the road for four of their final six games.
  • Minnesota Vikings  9-7:  The Vikings will field a tough defense once again in 2017 and their offense will be pretty much plain vanilla.  Normally, that sort of overview would lead to a break-even record but the Vikes play in a division with two very weak teams meaning they get four division games that are perfectly winnable.  The schedule maker has also given the Vikes games against the Browns and the Rams; those are also perfectly winnable.  On that basis, I think the Vikes will squeeze themselves above .500 for the season but will not be involved in the playoffs.
  • Detroit Lions  6-10:  The Lions looked like division winners last year and then threw up on their shoes losing the last three games of the year and the division title to the Packers.  They did make the playoffs as a Wildcard team but lost badly to the Seahawks in the first round.  In building their division lead, the Lions won lots of games by very close margins of victory and seemed to have the power to pull rabbits out of hats.  In fact, they came from behind in the 4th quarter in each of their first 7 wins of the season.  The Lions record last year was 9-7; had they gone 3-4 in those 7 games where they trailed in the 4th quarter, their record would have been 6-10.  Big difference …  That sort of football-fortune tends to even out over time and that is not a good omen for the Lions in 2017.  The Lions would benefit from a strong performance by RB, Ameer Abdullah this year.  Overall, I do not think this season will save Jim Caldwell’s job.
  • Chicago Bears  4-12:  The Bears were terrible last year; in the offseason they off-loaded all three QBs on their roster and replaced them with Mike Glennon (on an expensive contract), Mitchell Trubisky (a rookie the team traded up to draft early in the first round) and Mark Sanchez (yes, that Mark Sanchez).  Under the most benign circumstances, you would expect the Bears to take a few games to get all the pieces working together properly.  That is where the schedule maker did the Bears no favors.  Here is how the Bears’ schedule plays out for the first 6 weeks – – home against the Falcons, at the Bucs, home against the Steelers, at the Packers, home against the Vikes, at the Ravens.  The Bears will be underdogs in all 6 of those games and will likely be underdogs in the next two games just prior to the BYE Week.  If the Bears are 0-8 at the BYE Week, it would not surprise me to see John Fox lose his job right there.  The schedule gets a bit easier in the second half with winnable games against the Browns, Niners and Lions (twice) on the dance card.

The last division up for attention is the NFC East.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 36 games this season meaning that this division like the AFC West is only one game behind the NFC South in terms of total wins.

  • Dallas Cowboys  10-6:  This projection assumes that Ezekiel Elliott serves at least a 4-game suspension from the NFL.  At the moment, his “sentence” is for 6 games and is “up on appeal”.  This projection also accounts for defensive coordinators spending a lot of time during the offseason analyzing whatever weaknesses may exist in Dak Prescott’s game and exploiting some of them this season.  Notwithstanding all of the above, the core of the Cowboys’ offense remains intact; the outstanding OL is still there and Jason Witten is still there to catch the ball and move the chains.  The challenge for the Cowboys in 2017 is a continuation of their challenge from 2016; can the defense play anywhere near the level of competency as the offense?  You will get to see a lot of the Cowboys on TV this year.  They will be on in prime time 5 times; they will be on the “late Sunday afternoon game” 9 times.  The Cowboys draw ratings on TV and all the networks want to show you the Dallas Cowboys.
  • NY Giants  10-6:  The Giants made the playoffs last year mainly due to an efficient and effective defense.  The 2017 squad will field mostly the same defense but the Giants have added some offensive weapons in the offseason – notably Brandon Marshall to play WR opposite Odell Beckham, Jr.  The running game is still suspect but I expect that Eli Manning will have a big year throwing the ball.  The Giants open the season on the road against the Cowboys and they play 4 of their first 6 games on the road; in December, the Giants have 2 road games – – at Oakland and at Arizona where they traditionally struggle.
  • Philadelphia Eagles  9-7:  It appears that the Eagles’ defense has come to a point where it can reassert itself after a couple of seasons where it went AWOL.  The challenge for the team is to continue to develop QB, Carson Wentz, after a promising rookie season.  The Eagles made major changes to their receiving corps over the summer adding Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith and the Eagles can present a diversified running game with LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles and Donnell Pumphrey.  The Eagles start the season at the Skins, at the Chiefs and home against the Giants; the final three games will be at the Giants, home against the Raiders and Cowboys.  Those 6 games at the start and end of the season will decide how well – or how poorly – the Eagles do this year.
  • Washington Redskins  7-9:  Football coaches love to talk about getting rid of distractions.  Well, the Skins have a distraction built into the core of the team for this year and that distraction is the “Kirk Cousins Contract Conundrum”.  If you don’t know what that is, you should not have read this far into an NFL prediction piece for the 2017 season.  In the offseason, the Skins lost two prominent WRs in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon; they replaced them with Terrelle Pryor.  I am a big fan of Terrelle Pryor, but I wonder if he can replace the production of both departed WRs.  The Skins’ defense last year was just plain bad; they have a new defensive coordinator and plenty of new personnel in the front seven.  They almost have to be improved over last year – but that is a low standard for this unit to have to meet.  The Skins’ schedule from the end of October until mid-December is daunting.  They face a seven-game stretch starting with a visit by the Cowboys, then a trip to the Seahawks followed by a home game against the Vikes, a road trip to play the Saints, the Giants at home on Thanksgiving and ending with road games against the Cowboys and the Chargers.

The playoff picture in the NFC according to my projections will be a muddled mess.  So here is my prognostication:

  • The Cowboys will be the NFC East Champions on tie-breakers over the Giants.
  • The Giants will be in the playoffs as a Wildcard team
  • The other three division winners (Falcons, Packers and Seahawks) will have the same record and I think the Seahawks will be “odd-team out” in terms of playoff byes.

Therefore, my overall NFC Playoff prediction looks like this:

  1. Packers – Home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  [True confession here – I make this prediction because I like to watch winter games in Green Bay where everyone is freezing their butts off more than I like watching winter games in a dome like Atlanta.]
  2. Falcons – First round bye in the playoffs
  3. Seahawks – Home field advantage in the Wildcard round
  4. Cowboys – In the playoffs as the NFC East champ
  5. Giants – First Wildcard team from the NFC
  6. Bucs – Second Wildcard team from the NFC.

I’ll check back with you – and with these readings of goat entrails – sometime early next year.  We shall see then how close I came to being right – – or how far off the mark I could be.

Finally, to conclude on a light note, consider this comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“According to a website’s survey, 54.2 percent of Jacksonville fans would sit on a hornet’s nest to win a Super Bowl. Which could produce an oh-so-rare Jaguars standing ovation.”

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



NFL Stuff Before The Season Starts …

The appeal filed by Ezekiel Elliott regarding his 6-game suspension by the NFL is still pending as I write this.  I want to make an observation about this matter before any decision is rendered here and before whatever decision is rendered here is appealed in some other venue.

  • Elliott is suspended 6-games because the NFL set that level of suspension as the standard for involvement in domestic abuse/violence situations.
  • The extant CBA gave the league the power to set that standard and it gave the commissioner the power to be sheriff, judge, jury and executioner in such cases.

Let me be clear.  Domestic violence is intolerable; it should be punished in the judicial system but often the victim can be motivated not to cooperate with prosecutors.  That is a societal problem that is beyond the scope of the NFL.  After the black eye the NFL inflicted on itself with the leniency shown in the “Ray Rice Affair”, they moved to set this stiff penalty and to put it in place.  We can argue if 6 games are too much or too little; once we settle that argument we can decide exactly how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  Here is the problem at the moment:

  • Adam Schefter – a highly respected reporter with a ton of NFL connections – indicated that there was the possibility that Elliott’s suspension could be reduced from 6 games to something less than that.

I have a problem with that even though I have exactly no idea whatsoever if Elliott did what he is purported to have done.  Here is the deal:

  1. If he did what is alleged – and since this is not a legal proceeding, the standard does not have to be the same as would prevail in a courtroom – then Elliott needs to sit out 6 games.
  2. If he did not do what is alleged – and the standards are not those of a courtroom in that case either – then he needs to sit out 0 games.
  3. The thing about “zero tolerance policies” is that they are like the power button on your computer.  It is either “ON” or it is “OFF”.  There is no setting akin to “HALF-ON” or “SORTA-OFF”.

If the arbitrator hearing the case – or Roger Goodell subsequent to whatever his findings may be – decides to concoct a way to “split the difference” here, I think that would be a travesty.  If the NFL is convinced that he did it; he should sit for 6 games and there should be no temptation at all to increase that number due to other circumstances.  If the NFL is not convinced that he did it, he should start the season at RB for the Cowboys.  That’s it…

With the real NFL games about to happen, let me share a couple of streaks that exist in the NFL that may or may not be extended in 2017.  Before I start, remember that here in Curmudgeon Central we focus on negative records and streaks of futility.  I am not going to talk about the extension of the Patriots domination of the AFC East other than to mention that the odds on the Pats winning that division title as of this morning are 1 to 10.

  1. Longest streak without a winning season:  That “honor” belongs to the LA Rams and the last time they finished above .500 was in 2003.  From 1999 to 2003, the Rams were “The Greatest Show On Turf”.  In the 13 seasons since 2003, their record is 68-139-1.  I think this streak will continue through the 2017 season…
  2. Longest streak without winning a division: Technically, this “honor” belongs to the Cleveland Browns whose last division championship was in 1989.  There is a mitigating circumstance here, however; remember that the Cleveland Browns did not exist for 3 seasons in the time between 1989 and now.  Therefore, I think there are two teams worthy of mention here.  The Detroit Lions’ last division championship was in 1993.  The Browns futility will indeed continue through the 2017 season.  The Lions came close last year losing the division title on a tie-breaker; however, I do not think they will win the NFC North this year.
  3. Longest streak without making the playoffs:  Surprising to me, neither the Browns nor the Lions hold down this “honor”.  The team with the most severe playoff drought is the Buffalo Bills whose last playoff appearance was in 1999.  I doubt the Bills will make the playoffs in 2017.
  4. Longest streak without a playoff victory:  The infamy here belongs to the Cincinnati Bengals whose last playoff win came in 1991.  I thought the Browns also owned this record but the Browns won a playoff game in 1994 in the time Bill Belichick was the coach there.  The Bengals have been in the playoffs 7 times in the last 14 seasons under Marvin Lewis – and they have been “one-and-done” all 7 times.  I do not like the Bengals’ chances of making the playoffs this year let alone winning a playoff game, but they have a better chance of doing that than any of the teams mentioned above have of breaking their streaks of shame.
  5. Longest streak since the last Super Bowl appearance:  Four NFL franchises share this “distinction” because all four of them have never been in a Super Bowl game.  Those teams are the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars.  As of this morning, the Texans are 10-1 to win the AFC Championship and that is the best of the lot here.  Odds for the Jags to make the Super Bowl are 40-1; odds for the Browns to get there are 125-1; odds for the Lions to represent the NFC in the game are 30-1.  These streaks look to continue on …

Finally, when the Tampa Bay Bucs cut placekicker Roberto Aguayo – someone they traded up to select in the second round of the draft, Mike Bianchi had this comment in the Orlando Sentinel:

“Even guys in my fantasy league know not to draft a kicker in the second round.”

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