College Basketball – The Appetizer Course

The college basketball season is upon us – or at least the appetizer course is here.  I love college basketball; in terms of what I like to watch, college basketball is at the top of the list.  There is a small asterisk on that last pronouncement, however.  In the early part of the season – the appetizer course if you will – too many of the big-time programs schedule glorified scrimmages and call then college basketball games.  The Chief Logistics Officer for our annual Las Vegas trips calls these glorified scrimmages, “bully games”.

I am going to use Georgetown as an example here; believe me, there are similar circumstances out there for dozens of other programs that are among the “big boys” of college basketball:

  • The first six games this year are against Maryland Eastern Shore, Richmond, Maine, Coppin State, Howard and North Carolina A&T.  If you are a Georgetown alum, you might be interested in watching parts of those games; otherwise…
  • On December 16, Georgetown will finally pick on someone its own size when it hosts Syracuse.
  • Then come two more “tune up” games against North Texas and Arkansas A&M before Big East Conference play commences on 27 December.
  • Oh, by the way, of the 8 “little guys” on the schedule, all of them come to DC to play Georgetown except for Richmond.

It is important to recognize that every one of those potential “bully games” got on the schedule because Georgetown wanted them to be on the schedule.  None are conference games; none are historical rivals spanning 100 years of “tradition”.  This is résumé padding and nothing else.  And, this sort of scheduling malfeasance detracts significantly from college basketball.  I can understand a “bully game” or two in the early going so that coaches can continue their coaching agendas in the context of an actual game against folks who are not teammates.  That is, in fact, the only justification for things like the NFL Exhibition Games.

The good thing about the early portion of the college basketball season is that television networks arrange to pair good teams one against the other to fill programming slots.  There are several of these sorts of things sprinkled onto the calendar to spark interest and one of those events happened this week.  Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State came together to play one another in a double-header; that is a pairing that would be worth seeing in mid-late March.  I understand that you cannot have that sort of TV fare every week, but think of the chasm that lies between a Kansas/Kentucky matchup and a Georgetown/North Carolina A&T “showdown”.

My takeaway from the Duke/Michigan St. game is that both teams are very good and I will be checking both of them out several times over the course of the season.  Duke won the game and played most of the game without Marvin Bagley III because he was poked in the eye early in the first half.  Kansas beat Kentucky in another interesting and exciting game.  Kentucky did not shoot well form the outside (3 for 13 on 3-point attempts); their offense was to go inside, shoot the ball and then hit the offensive boards hard.

Completing my “appetizer course” analogy, games like Duke/Michigan St. and Kansas/Kentucky are the slices of pâtè di foie gras on my plate while games like Georgetown/Arkansas A&M are the lettuce leaves under the pâté de foie gras.

Switching gears …  GQ Magazine has named Colin Kaepernick as its Man of the Year.  For reference, this award has only been around for about 20 years and some previous recipients have been”

  • Mel Gibson
  • Michael Jordan
  • David Duchovny (I could not tell you a single thing this man has done in his life.)
  • Tom Cruise
  • Chris Rock
  • George Clooney – – you get the idea…

Looking back over previous recipients, there is an interesting pairing.  Michael Sam was a GQ Person of the Year recipient just a few years ago.  Michael Sam was the first openly gay player taken in an NFL Draft and to be on the roster of an NFL team – actually, he was on the rosters of two teams before retiring from football.  Like Sam, Colin Kaepernick is not actively involved with football at the moment.  Also, like Sam, Kaepernick was the first player to choose to use the national anthem as the vehicle for a social protest and that action got him crosswise with some fans and some coaches/GMs/owners etc.

What Michael Sam did a couple of years ago was important to him and perhaps it was important to younger gay athletes.  Not intending to diminish that action or its import in any way, the fact is that the number of young gay athletes who might be in a position to turn pro in a major revenue sport is not numbered in the millions.  What Colin Kaepernick seeks to call attention to is social injustice that befalls millions of citizens simply because of their race and/or ethnicity and/or religious beliefs.  The “phobia” or the “ism” Kaepernick is trying to improve affects the lives of far more people and it has resonance with many foundation pieces of US society.

I have said from the time when Kaepernick first “took a knee” that I agreed with the objectives of his protest but that I did not appreciate the way he chose to make his protest.  His quest continues, and he has attracted the efforts and the representation of several active NFL players seeking goals common with his.  He has not achieved all of the goals he has set for himself – sadly, they may never all be met – but he has to be applauded/recognized for his role in making progress toward those goals.  This award is one such recognition.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“The University of Louisville was implicated in the latest college basketball scandal. In a related story, Grant is buried in Grant’s Tomb.”

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



Here And There Today …

The Miami Dolphins like to live in the past and remind everyone of their perfect season.  I wonder how the organization will recognize the latest franchise first-and-only:

  • When the Dolphins got their doors blown off by the Panthers this Monday night, they became the first and only NFL team to lose three consecutive “prime time games” in three consecutive weeks.  A week and a half ago, they lost on Thursday night to the Ravens; a week ago on Sunday night, they lost to the Raiders; and now the Panthers.
  • Celebrate it…

The three UCLA basketball players who were arrested and who had been detained in China for shoplifting have been released and are home.  Now come the reactions to a teachable moment:

  1. We will never know what Lavar Ball says to LiAngelo Ball about any of this and what LiAngelo may have done to the “Ball Brand”.  Too bad; that would give us more than a little insight into the “Ball Brand”.
  2. UCLA as an institution of higher learning had better use this “teachable moment” to do some teaching.  UCLA has its “brand” stamped all over an international incident involving shoplifting that required the involvement of the President of the United States and the US Department of State to make things right.  If these three players are reinstated to the basketball team immediately with nothing more than a severe talking-to, then UCLA as a school is nothing but an adjunct to its Athletic Department.
  3. Even if UCLA allows these three players to play immediately, I would hope that Steve Alford learned some lessons about right versus wrong in his time with bob Knight at Indiana.  If the school says they are eligible tomorrow and I am the UCLA coach, none of them see a practice session or a uniform until at least New Year’s Day.

Greg Cote had this comment on the UCLA/Chinese shoplifting incident in the Miami Herald:

“Lonzo Ball’s younger brother was among UCLA players arrested for shoplifting in China. Does the Bruins defense get statistical credit for those steals? “

After a slew of Seahawks’ players sustained injuries in last Thursday’s game, Richard Sherman – one of the injured players – renewed his statements about the absurdity of playing Thursday night games on short rest.  His teammate Doug Baldwin went rhetorically even further and said that Thursday night games “should be illegal”.  Baldwin is an intelligent and rational man; I am certain he used that phraseology as hyperbole and I do not believe that he was calling on legislatures at any level of government to pass laws to make it a crime to play NFL games on Thursday nights.

Let me analyze this situation from the pragmatist point of view:

  • A couple of years ago, CBS and NBC bid to get a shared contract with the NFL to simulcast Thursday Night Football along with the NFL Network.  That contract put a reported $900M in the revenue stream for the NFL.
  • The current CBA is complicated, but it seems to me that the salary cap is based on about 47% of total revenue and 50% of TV revenue that accrues to the league.  If I am correct in that interpretation, then canceling Thursday Night Football will remove $900M from the revenue stream which means that about $450M will be removed from the salary cap calculations.
  • So, the real question boils down to something rather simple.  If the players had to vote on a single issue – by secret ballot – to cancel Thursday Night Football and knowingly forego that extra salary cap room, would they as a body choose to do so?  I do not know the answer here and I suspect that the NFLPA does not know either and that the NFLPA would prefer not to know…

I have said this before and will bore you to death by saying it again.  This “Thursday Night Football conundrum” is really not that hard to resolve.  In fact, my proposed solution here will kill two birds with one stone:

  1. Almost everyone agrees that there are too many damned Exhibition Games.  So as part of the solution to the “Thursday Night Problem”, cancel the 4th Exhibition Game.
  2. Then, start the season a week earlier than now and make the season 18 weeks long instead of 17 weeks long.  Do NOT add a 17th regular season game.  Instead, use the added week of the season to build a schedule where each team gets two BYE Weeks.
  3. Now, here is the scheduling mandate.  Whenever a team is scheduled to play on a Thursday night, that team will get one of its BYE Weeks on the weekend before that game.
  4. Voila!  Do this and the NFL can rid itself of a meaningless Exhibition Game and it can keep the revenue from Thursday Night Football and the players in Thursday Night games can have extra time to heal before playing and …

You want to know what is sad about this simple solution that gets most people what they want at little to no cost?  If the NFL were to propose it, the NFLPA would immediately oppose it; if the NFLPA were to propose it, the NFL would immediately oppose it.  Both sides would rather bitch and moan at each other than sit down and find a path to solving the problem.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times regarding a “wardrobe malfunction” unrelated to Super Bowl halftime shows:

“PGA golfer Jason Dufner’s pants split in the seat when he bent over during the PGA Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship.

“Or as golfers prefer to call it, a bad slice.”

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



Football Here And Football There

To say that it was an interesting week in college football would be a monumental understatement.  Plenty of teams ranked very highly were crushed this week.  One of those teams – Georgia – added insult to injury for me.  Every year when we go to Las Vegas, I pick a 10-team teaser card.  Yes, I know it is a sucker bet; but I do it for fun.  I also pick a 10-team parlay card.  I had seen Georgia earlier this year twice and I liked them against Auburn; so, I put the Bulldogs on both cards.  Here is the result:

  • 10-Team Teaser Card:  I got nine games right and missed out with a selection of Georgia +6.5
  • 10-Team Parlay Card:  I had 7 college games for Saturday and missed out with a selection of Georgia – 2.  [Aside:  I have to admit that I would have lost anyway because I missed two of the three NFL games I had on that card for Sunday.]

Other big surprises from last Saturday – at least for me – were:

  1. How dominant Miami was over Notre Dame.  I expected a close game.
  2. How the Oklahoma defense stopped the TCU offense.
  3. How good the Clemson defense looked.
  4. How bad Michigan State looked.

I’ll summarize reactions to Sunday’s NFL action this way:

  • Forget Ezekiel Elliott’s absence; the real missing piece for the Cowboys was LT Tyron Smith; his replacements were horrible allowing 6 sacks of Dak Prescott.  [Aside:  The play caller(s) for the Cowboys seemed not to recognize the need for a back or a TE to that side of the formation on passing downs; those replacements were left alone out there long after it was clear neither could block the opponent’s defensive end.]
  • The Skins scored 30 points on the Vikes’ defense – – and managed to lose the game.  No excuses; this loss must be hung around the necks of the defense.
  • The Niners beat the Giants.  Do you remember less than 2 years ago when the Giants’ Front Office was being praised for “winning the Ben McAdoo sweepstakes”?  They fired a two-time Super Bowl winning coach to get this guy?
  • The Saints are for real.  They went to Buffalo and played outdoors and pushed the Bills around on offense and defense.  They scored 47 points and Drew Brees threw for less than 200 yards and zero TDs.
  • The Browns are not only monumentally inept, but they are equally dumb regarding “football smarts”.
  • If Tom Savage is the answer at QB, I cannot think of the question.

The contretemps between Jerry Jones and Roger Goodell escalated when Jones hired David Boies to represent him as he threatened to sue the league over Goodell’s contract extension.  You can read the details of all that fury in a dozen places.  I find it interesting that other owners are taking clear stances against Jones in a public way here; that is not the typical behavior within the “Billionaires’ Club”/NFL Owners Club.  As in all disputes of this type, there is merit on both sides of the argument.  However, I wonder if …:

  • Is Jerry Jones really angry about the amount of money that is likely to be deposited into Roger Goodell’s exchequer or does Jerry Jones see himself as the 2017 version of Bud Selig?
  • Might Jones be angling to turn over control of the Cowboys to his kids and assume the rule of NFL Commissioner for himself?
  • Just a thought …

Let me throw out another “against the grain” thought regarding an NFL team:

  • Who was it in the Raiders’ Front Office who thought it was a great idea to sign Marshawn Lynch?
  • So far, “Beat Mode” has looked more like “Cuddly Bunny Mode”.  In 8 games this year – remember he was suspended for one game – Lynch has rushed for all of 323 yards on 86 carries.
  • The offensive coaches are not using him very much (10.75 rushes per game) and he is not delivering big returns (3.75 yards per carry).
  • Yes, Marshawn Lynch’s stats are better than the guy he replaced – Latavius Murray (317 yards on 95 carries for the Vikes) – but that is damning by faint praise.

In the CFL, they are down to the “Final Four” in the quest for the Grey Cup.  This weekend, the Saskatchewan Roughriders will take on the Toronto Argonauts in Toronto and then the Edmonton Eskimos will travel to Calgary to take on the Stampeders.  The Grey Cup game will be held in Ottawa on November 26th; the Ottawa RedBlacks were eliminated from the CFL playoffs last weekend by the Roughriders.  This being Canada’s sesquicentennial, it is fitting that the game be held in the Canadian capitol city.

The game is officially sold out; temporary stands were put in either end-zone to accommodate ticket demand for the game and those were sold out more than a month before kickoff.  The tradition in Canada is to hold a weeklong festival prior to the Grey Cup game in the host city.  [Aside:  That has to be a better idea than what the NFL does in the week leading up to the Super Bowl.]  Like the NFL, the Grey Cup Game has a halftime show; this year, Shania Twain will be the headliner.  The Grey Cup game will be telecast in the US on ESPN2 on Sunday night 26 November starting at 6:30PM EST.  The NFL game that night will be Green Bay at Pittsburgh and that game may not be all that interesting.  Keep this in mind …

Finally, here is an observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Ex-pitcher Livan Hernandez has filed for bankruptcy, claiming he has less than $50,000 to show for the $53 million he earned in a 17-year career.

“Alert statisticians immediately credited him with a blown savings.”

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



Lots To Say Today …

I have lots to cover today because I will be off the air until next Tuesday or Wednesday.  This weekend is my annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas; I hope to return in a glorious financial condition; I also hope to return in a physical state that will allow me to recover quickly from the sensory overload of watching about ten football games and various hose races simultaneously.

The first thing I want to comment on is the arrest of LiAngelo Ball and two other UCLA basketball players in China on charges of shoplifting sunglasses.  The three players were released on bail but are supposed to remain confined to their hotel while the legal process in China – not nearly identical to the legal process here in the US may I say – moves forward.  Some people have speculated that it may be months before the case is resolved; I suspect that the fact that it involves the UCLA basketball team and the fact that President Trump is visiting China will move the process along as fast as possible.  Having no intention of predicting the final outcome, I do have a two observations to make:

  1. LiAngelo Ball has been seen in videos produced/promulgated by his father Lavar driving a Ferrari.  If one can own a Ferrari as a teenager, why might one even think about boosting a pair of sunglasses?
  2. I do not have any formal association/connection with UCLA, so I do not know its academic schedule in detail.  However, most US universities are in the middle of a term in early November; so, I wonder why the school and its student-athletes are away from campus for a couple of weeks at this time.  It might cause one to wonder if the concept of “sham courses” or “ghost classes” migrated westward from UNC…

The second thing I want to comment on relates tangentially to UCLA.  In an interview with Joe Buck, the World Class Curmudgeon, Bob Knight, criticized former UCLA legend John Wooden and threw shade on Wooden’s record and accomplishments.  Knight said that he liked Wooden and admired what he did as a coach; however, he pointed out that Wooden and UCLA allowed – maybe even abetted – booster Sam Gilbert to make a mockery of NCAA recruiting rules to assemble the college equivalent of “super-teams” back in the 60s and 70s.  Based on Wooden’s beatific image and Knight’s demonic image, most folks have jumped all over Bob Knight for saying this sort of thing.  I’ll wager that some of those critics wonder how he might even think such blasphemy.

Here is the problem:

  • Bob Knight is correct.
  • John Wooden was a great coach; he taught his players how to play basketball; he taught his players important life skills; he conducted himself in a way that made him a role model for lots of people who did not play for him or work with him.  His players internalized his teachings and performed superbly on the court.
  • John Wooden was also the beneficiary of a shadow recruiting mechanism ongoing on behalf of UCLA operated by boosters such as Sam Gilbert.  Wooden received more talent than any other school at the time and then produced great results with the talent that he received.
  • The issue here is that both things are true and what Bob Knight said is correct.  I believe that this is a case where the message and the messenger are in conflict.

Having made two negative comments here related to UCLA, I suppose I should try to make amends by saying something nice about UCLA football and how I am going to bet on them in Las Vegas this weekend.  The problem is that I am probably going to pass on that game – unless one of my fellow pilgrims who lives in Arizona convinces me that Arizona State is overmatched by the Bruins this weekend.

There are a whole bunch of very good matchups this weekend; I would like to tell you that we moved the date from mid-October when we usually go to this date because we looked at the college football card for this week and knew it would be a great weekend.  That did not happen.  So, I will not pretend that it did.  To the games…

  1. Iowa visits Wisconsin.  Iowa is fresh off its domination of Ohio St.; Wisconsin is undefeated in 2017.  The Badgers are favored by 12 at home.  I ran across a report that said the last time Iowa beat two consecutive opponents who were ranked in the Top 10 at the time was back in 1958.  The Total Line for the game is 46; I think the oddsmaker is right that this will be a low-scoring affair and 12 points is a lot to lay in a low scoring game…
  2. TCU is at Oklahoma and the Sooners are 6.5-point favorites.  This is one of the three best games of the weekend; these teams are tied for the lead in the Big 12 with 5-1 conference records.  The TCU defense will make Baker Mayfield and company work to move the ball down the field.  Can the Oklahoma defense hold up its end of the bargain when TCU has the ball?
  3. Notre Dame is a 3-point favorite over Miami; the game is in Miami.  This is the second of the three best games of the weekend and it has serious CFP implications.  Notre Dame is currently ranked in the Top 4 and Miami is undefeated in 2017.  A loss for Notre Dame would probably end their shot at the CFP; it would be their second loss of the year.  A loss for Miami would reinforce the narrative that the team has been more lucky than good in achieving its undefeated record to date.
  4. Georgia goes to Auburn as a 2.5-point favorite.  This is also one of the three best games of the weekend.  Georgia is ranked 1st in the country with a 9-0 record; they will win the SEC East and play in the SEC Championship game.  Auburn has two losses – one in conference play – and still must play Alabama in two weeks.  They will likely need to win both games to make it to the SEC Championship game.
  5. Speaking of Alabama, they go to Starkville, MS this week to play Mississippi St.  As of this morning, Bama is a 14.5-point favorite.  If you look at the Mississippi St. schedule, you will see that the Bulldogs have only lost to Georgia and Auburn this year; even though both of those losses were by large margins, this is a good team playing at home.  Alabama is the better team but that is a fat line…
  6. The schedule maker also has Oklahoma St. on the road at Iowa St. this weekend; the Cowboys are 6.5-point favorites.  Both teams are 4-2 in conference play.
  7. W. Virginia visits K-State this week and K-State is favored by 2.5 points. I find that game interesting because if the game were in Morgantown WV, I think the line would be very different.
  8. Texas Tech is at Baylor this week and Tech is a 7.5-point favorite.  I know Baylor has only on win this year over a miserable Kansas team; however, I do not understand this line.  Tech has lost 5 of its last 6 games and the only win in that stretch was over that same miserable Kansas team.  Am I really going to be tempted to take a 1-8 Baylor team here?
  9. Since I mentioned Kansas as a miserable team twice already, the Jayhawks are on the road this week to play Texas.  The Longhorns are a middling team with a 4-5 record.  Nonetheless, they are a 34-point favorite over Kansas this weekend.
  10. NC State is on the road at Boston College and NC State is a 3-point favorite here.  State has lost 2 games in a row (to Notre Dame and Clemson) and Boston College is improved over the last several years.  I sorta like NC State to win and cover here…
  11. VA Tech is on the road at Georgia Tech and VA Tech is a 3-point favorite.  The Hokies only two losses this year have been to Clemson and to undefeated Miami.
  12. Michigan St. is on the road to play Ohio St.  Make no mistake, the Buckeyes ranking this year has as much to do with reputation and past glory as it does with on-field performance this year.  Ohio St. lost badly at home to Oklahoma; it needed a furious rally at home to beat Penn St. by 1 point; it got its doors blown off last week at Iowa by 30 points.  This week, the oddsmaker has Ohio St. favored by anywhere from 15 points to 16.5 points.  The Spartans may not be the best team in the country, but they are 7-2 so far…
  13. USC is a 13-point favorite over Colorado despite being on the road.  USC is the better team here but sometimes they play sloppily and almost passively.
  14. In what is probably the worst game of the weekend, San Jose St. travels to Nevada.  San Jose St. is 1-9 and the win was over a Division 1-AA school.  Seeing them as a 19-point underdog should not be a surprise.  How-evah, if you look at Nevada’s record you will see that the Wolfpack is 1-8 and one of the losses came at the hands of a Division 1-AA school.

Brad Rock of the Deseret News had this comment about a less-than-wonderful college football team earlier this week:

“ says Illinoisans’ favorite candy is Sour Patch Kids.

“This also happens to be the unofficial nickname of the 2-7 University of Illinois football team.”

Looking at the NFL schedule, the Seahawks go to play the Cards in Arizona tonight as a 6-point favorite.  The Cards’ best hope here is to run Adrian Peterson 25-30 times to shorten the game and keep it close; the Seahawks’ defense ought to be just a bit angry over its collapse last week on a final drive by the Skins.  The last time these two teams met on this field, the result was one of the uglier games in recent NFL history; it ended in a 6-6 tie.  I like the Seahawks to win and cover tonight.

The Vikes are a 1-point favorite over the Skins in Washington this weekend.  The Total Line here is 42.5 and I am not sure I understand either line.  If I play this game at all, I will probably look to take the Skins on the Money Line where they are at +105 this morning.

The Bears host the Packers and the Bears are 5-point favorites.  Consider this; Mitchell Trubisky will be the more experienced starting QB in this game.  After what I saw from Brett Hundley last week and what I saw from the Packers’ defensive unit, I think Green Bay’s season is over.  I like the Bears to win and cover here.

The Steelers are 10-point favorites on the road against the Colts.  I hate double-digit spreads in NFL games and I hate the Steelers on the road.  Oh, and I hate the Colts too.  I’ll pass on this game.

The Chargers go all the way to Jax to play the Jags and the Jags ore 3.5-point favorites.  The Chargers can probably afford only 1 more loss if they are going to be contenders for a wild card slot in the playoffs; the Jags are tied with the Titans atop the AFC South for now.  I’ll just watch this one…

The Jets are 2.5-point favorites over the Bucs in Tampa.  Back in August, I thought the Jets would be packing it in for the year about now and that the Bucs would be contending if h=not leading the NFC South.  So much for prognostication…  Mike Evans is out of the game for the Bucs on suspension; Jameis Winston has a shoulder injury and did not practice this week; I suspect he will not play.  That leaves you with a QB matchup of Josh McCown and Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Whoop-di-damned-doo…  The Bucs defense is awful.  If I play this game, I will take the Jets to win and cover.  Or, maybe I’ll take the game to stay UNDER 43.5.  Really…

The Bengals visit the Titans and the Titans are 4.5- point favorites.  The Bengals stink; the Titans are totally unreliable from week to week.  I’ll pass…

The Saints are 3-point favorites on the road and outdoors in Buffalo against the Bills this weekend.  The Bills looked awful last Thursday night against the Jets; they are now 5-3 and they need this game.  The Saints are on a 6-game winning streak, but they only lead the Panthers by a half-game in their division.  Both teams need the game and it could be the best early game to watch this Sunday.

The Browns are on the road to play the Lions this week and the Lions are 12-point favorites.  I hate double-digit spreads in the NFL.  I think the Browns are a JV team; I think the Lions have a real shot to win the NFC North outright and to make the playoffs as a wildcard team should they fall short in their division.  The Browns had a BYE Week last week and the Lions had a short week coming off a road game last Monday night.  Still, there is a double-digit spread on the game…

The Texans visit the Rams on Sunday and the Rams are 12-point favorites.  Have I mentioned that I hate double-digit spreads in the NFL?  The Rams average almost 33 points per game; the Texans will start Tom Savage at QB.  What else is there to say…?

The Cowboys will play the Falcons in Atlanta and the Falcons are 3-point favorites.  If Ezekiel Elliott can play – and dodge suspension yet one more time – I think the Cowboys will win outright and if that is announced as the case tomorrow, that line will change dramatically.  The Falcons have lost 4 of their last 5 games and the one win was over the Jets.  In those 4 losses, the Falcons never scored more than 17 points.  And yet, the Total Line for this game stands at 50.5.  No, I do not get it…

The Giants (1-7) fly across the country to play the Niners (0-9).  The Giants are 2.5-point favorites here in a game where one team (the Giants) is rumored to be on the verge of a mutiny and the other team (the Niners) is dreadful.  I wish the game were “Pick ‘em” so that I could say that I would rather pick my nose than pick this game.  I would not bet on this game with your money…

The Sunday Nite game has the Pats visiting the Broncos.  The Pats are 7.5-point favorites here but remember that Tom Brady actually has a losing record for his career in this stadium.  The Pats had a BYE Week last week while the Broncos stunk out the joint against the Eagles in Philly.  I know that the Pats’ defense is statistically awful this year but remember that the Broncos will be starting Brock Osweiler at QB.

The Monday Night game has the Dolphins in Carolina to play the Panthers and the oddsmakers have the Panthers as a 9-point favorite.  The game is meaningful to the Panthers in terms of the NFC South race; but, for me, this game has all the appeal of cold chicken soup.  The only good news I can see here is that it is not a double-digit spread.

There are 4 teams with BYE Weeks:

  1. The Chiefs have lost 3 of their last 4 games but they still lead the AFC West by 2 games.  Their run defense has been miserable of late; they need to fix that.
  2. The Eagles’ coaching staff has a problem.  Coaches like to point out mistakes and harp on them as a way to improve performance and motivate practice effort.  Based on last week’s 51-point outburst and dominance of the Broncos, I wonder how many mistakes the coaches will be able to find…
  3. The Raiders trail the Chiefs by 2 games in the AFC West.  The Raiders need to shore up their defense over this BYE Week and also to goose the running game a bit.
  4. The Ravens are down 3 games in the loss column to the Steelers in the AFC North race.  If there is any post-season hope in Baltimore it has to be as a wildcard team.  The Ravens schedule going forward has some very winnable games on it against teams such as the Packers, Texans, Browns, Colts and Bengals.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“How important are academics at Northwestern? The football team doesn’t call it a huddle, it’s a ‘study group’.”

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



RIP Roy Halladay

Roy Halladay died yesterday in an airplane accident.  He had a pilot’s license and his two-passenger aircraft crashed in the Gulf of Mexico.  He was only 40 years old.  Halladay won the Cy Young Award in both the AL and the NL and he threw a perfect game in his career.  When he becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame, he should be enshrined.

Rest in peace, Roy Halladay…

Back in August of this year, I offered up a categorization of the of the NFL Backup QBs for all 32 NFL teams.NFL .  In August 2015, I wrote about how the Law of Supply and Demand applied to NFL teams and available QBs to play for those teams.  The names may have changed somewhat, but the situation remains the same; the absence of 32 very good QBs forces teams to pursue and pay competent QBs handsomely and the weakness of the “backup QB cadre” puts teams in a severe bind should they have to resort to using a backup.  Plus ça change ; plus ça même chose …

Because professional football is played by human beings and not automatons, there is necessarily a difference in the capabilities and the performance of the quarterbacks among the 32 teams in the league.  Moreover, NFL fans must have recognized over the years that the difference in performance from the best QB to the worst QB is starkly evident.  It is that “performance disparity” that entices NFL Front Offices to look for “franchise QBs” almost over anything else a team may need; and then, when they find a player they consider to be a “franchise QB”, they inundate him with money.

This is the “new normal” in the NFL economy and it is not necessarily rational.  Consider:

  • The highest paid player in the league in 2017 is Matthew Stafford.  He is 29 years old and his stats and the “eyeball test” certainly indicate that he is in the upper echelon of QBs plying the trade today.  At the same time, the stats also indicate that Stafford has a losing record as a starting QB (55-62) and that halfway through his 9th season, he has led the team to the playoffs only 3 times and has yet to win a playoff game.  He is the highest paid player because he is the most recent QB to sign a long-term “franchise deal”.
  • The second highest paid player in the league in 2017 is Derek Carr.  He is 26 years old and his stats and the “eyeball test” also indicate that he is in the upper echelon of QBs plying the trade today.  Like Matthew Stafford, Carr has a losing record as a starting QB (26-29) and while he did lead the Raiders to the playoffs last year, he was injured for that playoff game.  He is the second highest paid player because he signed his long-term “franchise deal” a bit before Stafford signed his.
  • The third highest paid player in the league in 2017 is Kirk Cousins.  He is 29 years old and his stats and the “eyeball test” also indicate that he is in the upper echelon of QBs plying the trade today.  He too has a career losing record as a starter (23-25-1) and he too has never won a playoff game.  He is being paid at this level because the Skins’ Front Office/ownership has used the franchise tag on him two years in a row.  He will be “franchised” again at the end of this year or become a free agent looking for more money than Matthew Stafford got in his most recent “franchise deal”.  He just might be the highest paid player in the NFL in 2018…

I cite these situations not to demean the players in any way nor to suggest that the teams involved should not have signed them when they had the chance to do so.  What I am trying to point out here is that the marketplace for competent NFL QBs is so thin that teams are paying very large sums for “potential” instead of for “performance”.  No one who watches/follows NFL football even casually would suggest that the troika of Stafford/Carr/Cousins is more accomplished than the threesome of Brady/Roethlisberger/Rodgers.  Nevertheless, the compensation rankings might suggest that were the case…

The reason teams fall all over themselves to overpay good QBs can be seen when you look at the folks who are backup QBs on teams that have not needed them to play and then looking at what has happened to teams forced to go to the bullpen – so to speak – recently.

  • It took the Colts’ braintrust about no time at all to realize that Scott Tolzein would not cut it as a starter for an extended period of time this year and they rushed to trade for Jacoby Brisset.  Make no mistake, however, Brisset does not perform at the level that the “franchise QB” – Andrew Luck – did before he suffered his shoulder injury.
  • We have only seen about 6 quarters of play by Brett Hundley in relief of the injured Aaron Rodgers.  Nonetheless, I will go out on a limb and say that the results on the field to date assure me that the Packers are in deep doo-doo until Rodgers’ injury is healed.
  • The only time “Tom Savage” and “Deshaun Watson” might belong in the same sentence would be in the answer to a Jeopardy category – “Houston Texans Quarterbacks in 2017” …
  • When the Ravens had to turn to Ryan Mallett for part of a game when Joe Flacco was concussed, the Ravens’ offense was immobilized.

The entry of Luck/Tolzien/Brisset on the list above raises an interesting point in light of comments earlier this week.  Colts’ owner, Jim Irsay, evidently told Tony Dungy privately that Andrew Luck’s shoulder injury/rehab is now “in his head” and not in the shoulder.  Jim Irsay is not the most “buttoned-up” owner in the NFL Owners’ Club by any stretch of the imagination but I cannot imagine any scenario that would motivate him to speculate on something like that regarding his franchise QB.  After all, he actually has one – and all of the evidence points to the fact that there are not enough of them to go around.

Finally, consider this comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“JJ Redick is commuting from Brooklyn to Philadelphia.  An interesting statistic, he could run that far with the ball and not be whistled for traveling.”

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




Tuesday Football Roundup …

Mitch Albom wrote the book, Tuesdays With Morrie.  Around here, Tuesdays are usually devoted to reviewing football happenings from the previous weekend – – and so to begin with college football.

  1. Ohio St. suffered more than a letdown after a miraculous come-from-behind win over Penn St. two weeks ago.  The Buckeyes went to Iowa and lost by 31 points.
  2. Penn St. – meanwhile – suffered a hangover from their loss to Ohio St. and lost again last week to Michigan St.
  3. Wisconsin beat Indiana and is now the only team in the Big 10 with fewer than 2 losses.  In fact, if Wisconsin stumbles badly and drops out of consideration for CFP participation, then the big 10 is going to be shut out of the playoff this year.  By the way, Wisconsin’s defense is allowing an average of 10 points per game this season.
  4. Notre Dame continued its winning ways with an 11-point win over Wake Forest last week.
  5. Iowa St. stubbed its toe losing on the road to West VirginiaOklahoma beat Oklahoma St. in a game with no apparent defense at all.  TCU took care of business beating Texas.  That leaves Oklahoma and TCU atop the Big 12 with 1 conference loss each; close behind with 2 losses in conference are Iowa St., Oklahoma St., and W. Virginia.  These guys all play one another down the stretch…
  6. Baylor won its first game of the season beating Kansas handily at Kansas.  Both teams are a miserable 1-8 for the season but point differentials here are very different.  Baylor’s point differential of minus-92 is not good by any means but it looks downright laudable compared to Kansas’ point differential of minus-203.
  7. Clemson beat NC State by a TD, but it was a struggle.  Also in the ACC, Miami beat VA Tech in what seems like a “signature win” for Miami.
  8. Georgia and Alabama remained undefeated in the SEC; both have conference records of 6-0.  The only team in the SEC with only 1 conference loss is Auburn and their two remaining conference games are against Georgia (this week) and Alabama (in two weeks).
  9. Out west, USC grabbed control of the PAC-12 South race with a 2 TD win over Arizona last week.  In the North Division race, Washington maintained its 1-game lead over Washington St. and Stanford aided and abetted by Stanford losing to Washington St. last week.  Washington is the only PAC-12 team with only one loss overall.
  10. UCF remained unbeaten for the year with a win over SMU last week.  The next two weeks do not look to be severe hurdles for UCF leading up to a season-ending game against USF – a conference rival with only 1 loss so far this year.
  11. Army beat Air Force 21-0 last week.  The amazing stat from that game is that Army did not attempt a pass for the entire game.  Shades of 1917 …
  12. Linfield College ran its record to 7-1 with a shutout win over Pacific Lutheran last week.  The Wildcats close out their regular season this weekend hosting Pacific (OR).  Linfield has clinched the Northwest Conference title and a likely spot in the Division III playoffs.

Because this is Curmudgeon Central, I do not subscribe to the idea that every team is a winner because every player tries his hardest.  Here is my Bottom 10 for now:

  • Georgia Southern and UTEP have not won a game so far this year.
  • Coastal Carolina, Kansas, Rice and UNC-Charlotte have only won one game so far this year – – and all have suffered some big defeats.  [Aside:  Coastal Carolina and Georgia Southern close out the season against one another.  What a hot mess that game will be.]
  • Ball St. (MAC) has 2 wins this year but has given up 55 points or more in 4 of its last 5 games.
  • Kent St. (MAC) has 2 wins this year but a couple of horrific losses too.
  • Bowling Green (MAC) has 2 wins this year – one over Kent St.
  • E. Carolina has 2 wins this year – – and one loss to a Division 1-AA team.

Moving up to the NFL, I asked last week how much “coaching up” the Packers’ staff had been able to impart to Brett Hundley.  The answer is “not nearly enough” – – particularly if the Packers’ defense goes into “sieve-mode”.  In the loss to the Lions last night, the Packers’ defense did not force the Lions to punt even one time.

The Bucs lost to the Saints; but more importantly, it looked as if the Bucs imploded as a team.  Jameis Winston demonstrated the maturity of a 5th grader instigating a brawl once he had been removed from the game and the Saints dominated the Bucs in just about every aspect.  The Saints lead the NFC South this week and the Bucs’ season is in the dumpster.

The other two NFC South teams squared off last week and the Panthers beat the Falcons by a field goal.  The Falcons are in the midst of one of the worst Super Bowl Hangovers ever; they rode to the game last year on the foundation of a high scoring offense; just about everyone is back this year but the Falcons have been held under 20 points in 4 of their last 5 games.  The Panthers are not fun to watch, but they are effective and win games.

Scoring 50 points in an NFL game is unusual.  Last week, the Eagles and the Rams both reached that plateau scoring 51 points against their opponents, the Broncos and the Giants.  The Broncos defense had been #1 against the run going into Sunday’s contest; the Eagles ran for more than 200 yards in the game.  The Giant’s defense was thought to be one of the best in the league; some say that unit quit during the game; I don’t know if that is the case, but they surely played listlessly and gave up some huge TD plays.  [Aside:  One more loss like this and the Giant’s coach will be known as Ben McAdon’t.]

By the way, in Brock Osweiler’s first start for the Broncos this year, he stunk out the joint…

The Texans lost to the Colts last week with Tom Savage at the helm.  The Colts’ defense is anything but formidable, but they throttled the Texans’ offense allowing one offensive TD all day long.  I do not care how big a distraction anyone thinks Colin Kaepernick may be in a locker room; Kaepernick must be better than any of the QBs currently on the active roster in Houston.

AJ Green got himself ejected from the Bengals’ game against the Jags for starting a fight and throwing punches.  The Bengals season formally ended last week; I won’t say the team quit, but they surely did not seem particularly interested in playing hard.

The Skins pulled out a last-minute win over the Seahawks in Seattle keeping their playoff hopes alive.  It is very possible that the NFC East will put 3 teams in the NFC playoffs this year.

The Raiders beat the Dolphins on Sunday Night Football in a game that was anything but “artistic”.  If the Raiders are going to tease fans with a “playoff push”, someone on the coaching staff needs to take the initiative over the BYE Week and teach defenders how to tackle.  Some of the attempts to do that on Sunday night were embarrassingly bad.  [For the record, the Raiders have played 9 games this year and have not intercepted a pass yet.]

Finally, here is a football commentary from Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel:

“A new national survey shows that Major League Baseball has surpassed the NFL as America’s favorite professional sport. I have a name for the people who voted on this survey: Liars!!! NFL TV ratings may be down, but they still dwarf MLB ratings. And, besides, everybody knows America’s favorite professional sport is college football.”

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



Money Issues today …

Over the weekend, the Breeders’ Cup races happened.  Twenty years ago, this was one of my favorite sporting events on the annual calendar, but my interest has waned significantly.  This years’ races were held at DelMar just outside of San Diego for the first time.  [Aside: If you want to go and spend a day at the races anywhere, DelMar and Saratoga are my two favorite racetracks in the US.]  The total betting handle for all the races was $166M; the handle at DelMar from the crowd in attendance was $25.2M.  Obviously, the Breeders’ Cup is economically sound.

Notwithstanding the success and the glamor surrounding the races last weekend, horseracing in the US continues its decline.  In 1989, the number of races run in the US hit a peak; that year there were 74,701 thoroughbred races run.  In 2016, that number dropped to 41,277 races; that is a 44% decrease in races over a 27-year period.  That data are anything but encouraging for those interested in the business end of horseracing.  But wait, it gets worse…

For much of the second half of the 20th century, the average number of horses per race in the US remained relatively constant; when horses were called to the post in the US, the average race had 9 runners.  Last year, that number dropped to 7.4 runners per race and that figure has a double whammy for the economics of the industry:

  1. With significantly fewer races AND significantly fewer horses running per race, the only conclusion one can draw is that the “inventory” of horses in training – the only things capable of generating income for owners – has decreased.
  2. Races with smaller fields tend to draw much less interest from the betting public simply because payoffs tend to be smaller in races with fewer runners.  When the handle goes down, racetracks have few options other than to reduce purses for the races they run.

There is another angle to consider here.  In times past, the top horses in training raced frequently; Seabiscuit had a 6-year racing career and he made 89 starts; as a 2-year old, he went to the gate 35 times.  Man O War had a 2-year racing career; in those 2 years, he raced 21 times.  Forego raced until he was 8 years old.  John Henry raced until he was 10 years old and started 83 times.  You get the idea here…

  • Those horses generated a following; people cared about what happened in races involving these horses and people went to the tract to see them run.  Today’s best horses might run 5 or 6 times in a year; some horses will enter Breeders’ Cup races in November with as few as one prep race in that calendar year.   It is far more difficult for the public to “get excited” about individual horses today than it used to be.

The economic pinch in the industry has not hurt “the big guys” all that much yet.  There are still enthusiastic crowds betting plenty of money at places like DelMar and Saratoga and Churchill Downs.  However, there is a blemish that has appeared among “the big guys” in the industry; Santa Anita used to race 5 days a week; currently, they race 4 days a week and track owners are reportedly considering the possibility of racing only 3 days a week.  Frankly, that makes loads of economic sense – if all you look at are “the numbers”.

  • Historically, the biggest days for racing cards are Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Those days would definitely be days to open up and present racing to the public.
  • If a track raced a 4th day – let’s say Monday – that would almost certainly be the “slow day” for business but it would still put a drain on the inventory of runners at the track.  Rather than racing 7 horses in a middling claiming race on “Monday”, why not stage that same middling claiming race on “Friday” with a field of 12 – the ones that would have entered the race on “Friday in any event plus the ones who would be needed to fill the field on “Monday”?

Those numbers make sense; but those numbers do not account for the attention span of the customers.  Fifty years ago, legal venues for gambling were uncommon – except for racetracks.  Of course, people gambled in illegal ways, but the racetracks had close to a monopoly on places where gambling was acceptable.  That is far from the case today; there are casinos and lotteries available just about anywhere that a racetrack is available.  Cutting the number of racing days could present a problem for tracks if people forget they are there and take up other gambling activities instead.

In the racing industry, these are interesting times…

Since the theme for today has been economic trends related to sports, let me continue with a comment on the tax reform legislation that has been proposed in the Congress recently.  So that you know where I come from on that issue:

  • I believe that tax code needs reform.  It is hugely complicated, and it obviously does not raise sufficient revenue to fund all the things that the Congress votes to spend money on.
  • If the 535 Congressthings on Capitol Hill would focus on those aspects of any new legislation instead of sound bites intended only to polarize the debate, we might actually make some progress here.

There are two proposals in the tax reform bill as it stands now that I find very positive.

  1. There is a “special tax rule” that has been around for a while that I knew nothing about.  This rule allows provides college sports fans with a tax deduction for a portion of their season ticket costs to athletic events.  The way this happens is that for some schools, one must make a donation to the school’s booster club in order to allowed to buy a season ticket to the football games – or basketball games.  That portion of the cost of the ticket becomes a charitable deduction to the school.  The proposed tax reform would do away that that nonsense.
  2. The second proposal is one I have suggested for at least 2 decades.  If enacted, cities and states would not be allowed to issue tax free municipal bonds to fund athletic stadiums/arenas.  Any such borrowing would have to be with taxable bonds meaning that the interest rates paid by cities and states would have to be higher than they would be for tax free bonds.  This would increase Federal revenue and it would decrease the leverage that sports owners have over cities to fund new venues for them at taxpayer cost.

Lest you think the change from tax free bonds to taxable bonds is a trivial matter, here is some data from a Brookings Institution study:

  • Since 2000, there have been 45 stadiums/arenas built or significantly renovated in the US for professional sports teams in the “Big 4” of pro sports.  Of those 45 constructions/renovations, 36 were paid for using tax-free municipal bond offerings.
  • Using one example here, when NYC raised the funds needed to build the new Yankee Stadium, they did so with $1.7B of tax free bonds meaning that investors who bought those bonds did not pay any Federal tax on that interest.  Assume that the bonds paid 2.5% tax free interest; that means the Federal coffers did not receive any tax on income received by investors totaling about $425M.

It is not often that I have a lot to say about the US Congress that is positive.  I recognize that all of the above is merely a proposal and that none of it may make it into any new legislation – assuming that there will be new legislation passed by the Congress.  Nonetheless, I think both of those provisions in the tax-reform bill are good ideas that I support.

Finally, sticking with today’s theme of money and economics and the like, consider this comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“Aston Martin is selling a Tom Brady-edition automobile for $360,000. It is preprogrammed to drive straight to the Super Bowl.”

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



Friday Football Look-Ahead

Since Friday rolled around again, I guess the thing to do is to look ahead to a weekend of football.  As is the custom in these parts, that means starting with college football.  There are several important games on the card for this weekend and a few others that might be interesting.

  1. Notre Dame is squarely in the picture for the CFP; and last week, they handled a good NC State team and won by 3 TDs.  The Irish need to avoid a let-down at home this week against Wake Forest; the oddsmaker seems to have factored in that concern making Notre Dame only a 13-point favorite in the game.
  2. Ohio St. has a similar concern.  After their fantastic comeback win over Penn St. last week, the Buckeyes go on the road to play a solid-but-not-great Iowa team.  The oddsmakers have Ohio St. as an 18-point favorite this morning.
  3. Penn St. has the opposite challenge this week.  They lost a heartbreaker to Ohio St. last week and have to go on the road again this week to play Michigan St.  The Nittany Lions are favored by 8.5 points here but if they come out flat …
  4. TCU is in the same boat as Penn St.; they suffered their first loss of the year last week in a defensive struggle with Iowa St.  This week they play a middling Texas team at home and TCU is only a 7-point favorite.
  5. Auburn is a 2 TD favorite over Texas A&M and they had a BYE Week to prepare for this game.  At the same time, this is a classic “trap game” for Auburn having been idle last week and knowing that after this opponent they are supposed to beat they play Georgia – – merely ranked #1 in the country in the CFP poll.
  6. Alabama hosts LSU this week and that is always an interesting game.
  7. Wisconsin continues its quest to arrive at the Big 10 Championship Game undefeated with a visit to Indiana.
  8. Miami also seeks to arrive at an ACC Championship Game undefeated.  This week there may be a small speed bump in the road as VA Tech pays a visit.  Tech is a very quiet 7-1 for this season and is a 2.5-point favorite despite the venue.
  9. Arizona goes to USC for an important PAC-12 South game; both teams have only one loss in conference this year; the winner will have the inside track to the PAC-12 Championship Game.  This game has the potential to be very high scoring.  Arizona has scored 45 points or more in each of its last 4 games; USC can score, and they also give up points.  The Total Line for this game is 73.5 points.
  10. Oklahoma St. hosts Oklahoma in an important Big 12 game that is almost guaranteed to be a scoring fest.  The game features two excellent QBs – Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph.  Oklahoma St. scored 50 points last week; Oklahoma scored 49 points last week; the Total Line for this game is 76 points; that seems low.
  11. In another Big 12 game of importance, Iowa St. goes on the road to W. Virginia seeking to continue in its role of “giant killer” once again.  The Cyclones are 3-point underdogs in this game; I know that the Mountaineers are tough at home, but Iowa St. has already beaten an undefeated-at-the-time TCU squad and they beat Oklahoma in Oklahoma.  I think I have this right; if Iowa St. wins out, they will be in the Big 12 Championship Game.  Why is that a big deal?  Iowa St. has only won a division title once in its history; that was in 2004.  In the conferences that led up to the big 12, the last time Iowa St. was conference champion the name of the conference was the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association and the year was 1912.  To put that date in perspective, that was the year the Titanic sank.
  12. Winless Baylor is on the road at Kansas this week and they are a 7.5-point favorite to win their first game of the year.
  13. Appalachian St. is a 9-point favorite over La-Monroe this week.  That game is of no interest except for the implication for next week.  La-Monroe is not considered to be close to Appalachian St. this week and La-Monroe is scheduled to play Auburn next week.  That game should be in doubt for about 12 minutes…
  14. Florida goes to Missouri this week.  Florida was stomped last week and fired their coach; Missouri has 3 wins this year over 3 embarrassingly weak teams.  Mizzou is a field-goal-favorite here.
  15. Stanford visits Washington St. this week and the Cougars are 2-point favorites at home.  The thing a=bout Washington St. is that you never know what to expect.  Sometimes they come out and score a ton of points; other times their defense shuts down an opponent; sometimes, both the offense and the defense are no-shows…

Let me close out the college football commentary with an observation from Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“Utah has lost four straight football games.

“ ‘Miserable,’ coach Kyle Whittingham said. ‘Miserable month. I guess it was 0-for-October.’

“With a bowl invitation in question, they’re already looking at 0-for-December.”

Before talking about weekend NFL action, there has been big QB news this week.  The worse news is that Deshaun Watson suffered an ACL injury in practice on a non-contact play and will be out for the rest of the year.  Tom Savage was the only other QB on the Texans’ roster so that put the Texans in the market for a backup QB where pickings are slim.  The Texans signed Matt McGloin who played for Texans’ coach, Bill O’Brien at Penn State.  We saw Savage in last year’s playoff situation; he will need to have made major improvements in his game to get the Texans over the hump and into the playoffs again this year.

The other QB news from this week emanates from the team that will travel to Houston to play the Texans on Sunday – – the Indy Colts.  The Colts announced that they have put QB Andrew Luck on IR and that he will not play this year.  You may recall that I suggested this would be a good move for them lest they be tempted to put a less-than-100% Andrew Luck out on the field and in harm’s way.  No, I will not be charging the Colts a consulting fee for that advice.  The reason this is a good move by the Colts is that the team management has competing motivations this season:

  • The Colts have a new GM who inherited a hugely flawed roster and is in the process of trying to turn it over.  That will take time and the Colts are going to lose plenty of games while it is in progress.  However, this must be done; particularly, the team needs a huge upgrade to the OL in order to protect whoever is playing QB for the team.  Remember, the Colts have Andrew Luck signed for a total of $140M.
  • The Colts have a coach who is on a VERY hot seat.  Chuck Pagano had 3 successful seasons when he took over going 11-5 in all three seasons and making the playoffs too.  In the last two years, the Colts have gone 8-8 and missed the playoffs in a division that was not nearly the toughest in the league.  This year the Colts are 2-6 and Pagano is a holdover coach – not hired by the new GM.  He is motivated to win some games this year more than he is motivated to worry about next year when someone else might be the coach.

In any event, the Texans opened the week as a 13.5-point favorite over the Colts.  Given that this is a division game, that is a big spread indeed.  However, with the news about Deshaun Watson, the spread has dropped to 6.5 points at some sportsbooks and to 7 points at most of the sportsbooks.  Interestingly, the Total Line did not move much; it did drop but only from 50 points to 48 points.

The Ravens visit the Titans on Sunday as a 3.5-point underdog.  The Titans had a BYE Week last week and the Ravens saw Joe Flacco leave the game with the Dolphins and enter the concussion protocol.  Flacco is expected to play but he has been hobbled all season long and it is hard to imagine how that blow to the head helped his game in any way.  The Ravens’ defense played the way you expect Ravens’; defenses to play last week; and if the Titans come to the game determined to use a power running game, this could be a low-scoring slugfest.  This is an important game for both teams.

The Eagles host the Broncos this week and the Eagles are a 7.5-point favorite in the game.  That seems like an awful lot of points to lay against a top-shelf defense like Denver’s.  At the same time, the Broncos made QB news of their own last week; they have benched Trevor Siemian and announced that Brock Osweiler will get the start.  The Eagles’ defense ain’t too shabby and could provide Messr. Osweiler with a significant challenge.  I expect a low-scoring game here and that is an awful lot of points to lay in a low-scoring game.

The Rams travel cross-country to play the Giants on Sunday.  Both teams had a BYE Week last week; I wonder if the Giants managed to find an offense in that time…

The Saints host the Bucs in a division game.  The Bucs are 2-5 and are hanging onto playoff hopes by their fingernails; the Saints, surprisingly, lead the division and are riding a 5-game winning streak.  The Bucs’ defense has underperformed this year; it ranks 29th in the NFL; the Saints’ defense – traditionally a horrid unit – has been a most pleasant surprise this year.

The Bengals visit the Jags this week.  Here we are in early November and this game means more to the Jags than it does to the Bengals; moreover, the Bengals are 5.5-point underdogs in the game.  Who woulda thunk that back in August …?  Not I.

The Falcons visit the Panthers this week in what ought to be a good game and what is definitely an important NFC South game.  The Panthers are 5-3; the Falcons are 4-3.  Both teams have been inconsistent this year, but you have to suspect that each will bring their “A-game” here.  The line opened with the Panthers as a 1.5-point favorite; then the favorite role flipped to the Falcons and then back to the Panthers.  This morning the Falcons are 1-point favorites just about everywhere.

The Cardinals are on the road this week to play the Niners and the Cards are 2.5-point favorites on the road.  If the Niners want bulletin board material, that line ought to provide some; then again, the Niners are 0-8 and can find something nominally insulting to put on the bulletin board in just about any of the papers in the Bay Area.  This is unquestionably the Dog-Breath Game of the Week featuring a QB clash between CJ Beathard and Drew Stanton.  From here on out, there is only one reason to watch any game involving the Niners; that would be to answer this question:

  • Will Jimmy Garoppolo play this week?

The Skins make a transcontinental journey to the Great Northwest this week to play the Seahawks.  Unless the Skins can get a minimum of two of their starting O-linemen healthy enough to play respectably, this will be a long and painful day for Kirk Cousins.

The Chiefs visit the Cowboys this week.  If you and Mr. Peabody take a trip in his Wayback Machine, you will arrive in the early 60s and find that the KC Chiefs were then the Dallas Texans; in a sense, this is a homecoming for the Chiefs.  It appears that Ezekiel Elliott will play in this game based on a late-week court decision.  I don’t know about you but these legal wranglings are getting awfully tiresome.  What do you think the Over/Under is on the legal fees racked up by the attorneys representing all sides in this matter…?

The Raiders are 3-point favorites over the Dolphins in the Eastern Time Zone on Sunday nite.  Both teams are on a downslope at the moment; the Raiders are at the bottom of the AFC West and the Dolphins have lost 3 games by a combined score of 80-6.  Here, they both get prime-time exposure and I guess the story line is this:

  • Which team wants to flip its negative narrative more than the other?

The Packers host the Lions on Monday Night Football.  Historically, a cold-weather game in Green Bay has not been a plus for the Lions; that seems to be what is on tap for this game.  The Lions looked awful against the Steelers last week; then again, they are not playing a defense nearly as good in this game.  The Packers had a BYE Week and this game could provide the answer to a key question for the team going forward:

  • How much “coaching up” did the Packers’ staff impart to Brett Hundley during the week off?

Speaking of the Monday Night Football game, there was a report earlier this week that the Tampa Bay Bucs might make a serious run at Jon Gruden to return and take over the football reins there.  Since Gruden was fired by the Bucs, they have gone through Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith as head coaches.  I have no idea what prompted Gruden’s firing back then; but since he left, his replacements have not been an upgrade.  Since I have made it no secret that I do not like Jon Gruden as a TV analyst, I am rooting for this to happen.

Finally, since I mentioned the obvious cost of the Ezekiel Elliott litigation above, here is a comment by Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle about the resources expended to track down and recover Tom Brady’s stolen Super Bowl jersey:

“Brady’s jersey is an important American artifact, but it ain’t exactly the Shroud of Turin.”

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



Congratulations To The Houston Astros

I want to try to stay away from hyperbole and superlatives here; nonetheless, I have to say that MLB is on a roll with regard to World Series excitement.  Last year’s 7-game presentation plus this year’s 7-game’s worth of excitement should provide MLB with a spike in interest for next year.  The Astros are the champions and the Dodgers have little if anything to be ashamed about.  Here are a few quick observations:

  1. Baseball pundits look at the young Astros’ lineup and say they are poised to be winners for a long time to come.  I agree; they are really good and exciting to watch.  However, that is just what the pundits said about the Cubs 12 months ago…
  2. Near the trade deadline, both the Dodgers and the Astros added a top-shelf starting pitcher.  Both Yu Darvish and Justin Verlander contributed during the regular season; in the World Series, Darvish had two awful outings while Verlander pitched well.
  3. George Springer is deservedly the MVP of the Series.  I was hugely impressed also by the defensive performance of Alex Bregman throughout the playoffs.
  4. The Astros beat the Red Sox, the Yankees and the Dodgers on their way to this championship.  Those are the teams which started the season with the three highest payrolls in MLB.
  5. Charlie Morton has been in MLB for seemingly forever; and until this post-season, no one would have argued with putting a “journeyman” label on him.

Last year, the Cubs completed a 4-year rebuilding to win the Series; this year the Astros completed a 4-year rebuilding to win the Series.  So, which of the bottom-dwellers in 2107 will be on top once the 2021 World Series is completed?  The Braves, Phillies and White Sox would be the ones to watch.

And just for the record, one of the Internet sportsbooks has already posted odds on winning next year’s World Series.  The favorite is … the Los Angeles Dodgers at 3-1.

Scott Ostler had an interesting “World Series memory” that he shared with readers of the SF Chronicle recently:

“That was cute when the Dodgers sent Vin Scully to the mound for the ceremonial first pitch before Game 2 of the World Series, and then Vinny summoned Fernando Valenzuela to do the job. Reminded me of the 2010 Series, Giants at Texas. In the press box there was a line for the men’s room. I completed my stand-up business, turned and saw that the on-deck man was Juan Marichal. I tapped my right arm with my left hand and said, ‘Juan, I’m bringing you in for relief.’

“No, he didn’t laugh.”

The NFL has provisionally reinstated troubled WR, Josh Gordon.  He can be with his team – the Browns of course – and work out with them and practices and such.  Later in the season he will be tested regarding the terms of his reinstatement which has to include staying sober and avoiding any run-ins with the gendarmes for anything more than a parking ticket.  At that point the league will reassess his status and decide if his suspension will be lifted completely allowing him to play.

I referred to Gordon as “troubled” above.  Here is a brief listing of his “troubles”:

  • In 2010, he was arrested for possession of marijuana.  By his account, he was then “counseled” by an assistant coach how he could detox himself to pass any subsequent drug tests.
  • In 2011, he was kicked out of Baylor for failing a drug test.  Then when he applied to Utah, he was denied admission because he failed another drug test.
  • In 2013, he was suspended for 2 games from the NFL for – wait for it – failing a drug test.
  • In 2014, he was arrested for DUI and that led the NFL to suspend him for a season.
  • In 2015, the Browns suspended him for a “violation of team rules”.
  • In 2016, the NFL suspended him for a failed drug test.  Later that year, he admitted himself to a rehab facility.

It is fashionable today to speak in terms of “white privilege” or “male privilege”.  May I suggest that Josh Gordon is a shining example of “athletic privilege”?  He is immensely talented on the football field and that talent has allowed coaches and organizations to justify looking the other way and giving him multiple second chances.  If Josh Gordon whiffs on this one, it ought to be his last chance…

Shortly on the heels of a video showing Tiger Woods hitting a driver with a full swing, Woods announced that he is returning to competitive golf in a tournament to be held in about 4 weeks.  It remains to be seen if he can return and be competitive with the top PGA pros anymore but there is not a shred of a doubt that his return will provide golf writers and golf commentators with acres and acres of room to dissect his every swing and statement.  Greg Cote summed up that situation in the Miami Herald:

“Tiger cleared to resume full activities: It isn’t that I’m pessimistic, but I hear that Tiger Woods is free to resume full golf activities and I immediately wonder when his next setback will be?”

Finally, you know that I like to have fun with players’ names; here is an observation along those lines from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Kory Cool won the Omaha Marathon. Husker football has Dicaprio Bootle and Creighton offered a basketball scholarship to Bol Bol. When did this become the all-name team capital of the world?”

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



Weekend Football Roundup…

The bad news is that my World Series prediction of “Astros in 6” has gone down the drain.  The good news is that we get to see a Game 7 in a World Series that has been exciting and interesting.  Barring a weather intervention, the MLB baseball season will end tonight.

Before getting to the football roundup from last week, let me comment on the Eagles’ acquisition of RB, Jay Ajayi, from the Dolphins for a 4th round pick.  This trade is confusing for a couple of reasons:

  1. The Dolphins are offensively challenged; they have scored 92 points in 7 games (13.1 points per game); they are the only team in the NFL to score fewer than 100 points.  Why are they trading away any offensive assets for draft picks?
  2. The Eagles have 4 RBs on the roster and have used all of them in spots so far this year.  How does Ajayi fit into that mix – particularly how does he fit in with LeGarrette Blount?

In college football happenings, Florida fired head coach Jim McElwain after a 5 TD loss to Georgia over the weekend.  According to reports, McElwain will get $13M in addition to whatever he has earned at Florida to date.  He had just gotten an extension to his contract in June of this year so that decision has to be called into question about now.  In any event, I doubt that McElwain will need to worry about eating at the early-bird special prices in Boca Raton any time soon.

Iowa St. continued on its run of upsets handing TCU its first loss of the season.  The Big 12 Championship picture is now wide open.  Four teams – Iowa St., Oklahoma, Oklahoma St. and TCU now have one loss each in conference games and there are plenty of games left among those four.  This could get very interesting…

Ohio St. and Penn St. played a great game on Saturday.  If that game were to give an encore performance in the CFP, I would not object.

Houston beat USF over the weekend and that was USF’s first loss of the season.  That leaves only 5 undefeated teams left in Division 1-A college football:

  1. Alabama
  2. Georgia
  3. Miami
  4. UCF
  5. Wisconsin

Alabama and Georgia could meet in the SEC Championship Game; Miami still has Notre Dame and the ACC Championship Game opponent to play; UCF has USF on its regular season schedule; Wisconsin should stroll into the Big 10 Championship Game unbeaten.

At the other end of the accomplishment spectrum, there are still 3 winless teams in college football this year:

  1. Baylor
  2. Georgia Southern
  3. UTEP

Baylor plays Kansas this week and opened as a 10-point favorite on the road at Kansas.  Seriously …  That line has dropped to 8 points as of this morning; but even so, that tells you something about the oddsmakers’ opinion of Kansas.  Georgia Southern is only a 3-point underdog this week at home against Georgia St.  UTEP is on the road this week and is a 17-point underdog to Middle Tennessee St.

One team that seems on a downward arc is Virginia.  They started off 5-1 for the season beating Indiana and Boise St. handily along the way.  Then came a 31-point loss to BC followed by a 17-point loss to Pitt.  The schedule for the Cavaliers does not get any easier starting this week with a visit by Georgia Tech.  After that they go on the road to Louisville and Miami before closing the season at home against VA Tech.

Arizona beat Washington St. last week 58-37.  Arizona is in the race for the PAC-12 South crown; they have 1 conference loss as does USC – – and this week Arizona pays a visit to USC in an important game.  As of this morning, the Wildcats are a 7-point underdog on the road.

One last college football comment …  I noticed that Missouri beat UConn last week by 40 points and improved its record to 3-5 in the process.  I wondered why Missouri and UConn were playing in the first place and I thought I remembered that Mizzou played Idaho before that; so, I went and checked out the Missouri schedule.  The Athletic department there should be ashamed; Missouri scheduled 3 out of conference opponents this year:

  • Missouri State (Division 1-AA)
  • Idaho
  • UConn

Indeed, Missouri has 3 wins this year and you are looking at the three vanquished foes.  Oh, the cumulative scores in those games is:

  • Mizzou 192 – Sacrificial Lambs 76.

Moving up to the NFL action last weekend, the Raiders laid a giant egg in Buffalo.  The Raiders either cannot or choose not to run the football and their defense is substandard.  I picked them to win the AFC West; that is not happening.  In fact, they are going to have to scratch and claw just to be anything more than a mathematical possibility for the playoffs come December.

The Browns lost to the Vikes in the London Game last weekend; the Browns’ losing is hardly news.  Here is the News Flash:

  • The Cleveland Browns led at halftime for the first time this year.

Be patient Browns’ fans; progress comes in small steps …  Here is another small step forward:

  • DeShone Kizer did not turn the ball over in this game.

Like I said, baby steps…

The Panthers beat the Bucs 17-3 last week and it appears as if the Bucs’ season is coming apart at the seams.  The Bucs turned the ball over 3 times in the game and were only 2 for 12 on third down attempts.

The Saints and the Bears played an ugly game.  Here is the “bright spot” from that game:

  • The Saints won this game even though Drew Brees did not throw a TD pass; the last time that happened was in October 2009.

The Falcons did beat the Jets in a driving rainstorm last week, but the Falcons did try to give the game away.  Matt Ryan and center, Alex Mack, managed to create 4 fumbles on snaps from center in the game.  This is not Pop Warner football even if it was raining like Hell…  This game went down to the wire despite the fact that the Jets absolutely could not run the ball at all (43 yards total rushing for the game).  The Jets trailed by 5 points and had the ball for 2 possessions in the final 5 minutes of the game and came up dry both times.  It seems as if the team that wanted it least lost this game.

The Eagles beat the Niners simply because the Eagles’ roster has more talent than does the Niners’ roster.  The Niners’ started CJ Beathard at QB in his first start; he was over-matched against the Eagles’ defense.  Caron Wentz played his worst game of the year and outcome of the game was not seriously in doubt.

The Bengals/Colts game was as close as it was meaningless.  The Bengals prevailed and once again, the Colts blew a 4th quarter lead.  For the season in the 4th quarter of games here is the Colts’ cumulative score:

  • Opponents 92  Colts  25.

The Cowboys beat the Skins 33-19 but the margin here is inflated by a late Pick Six on a tipped pass.  Indeed, the Skins are hobbled on offense with some guys playing on the O-line here who had only arrived at the Skins’ facilities about 48 hours prior to game time.  Nonetheless, that does not explain why Ezekiel Elliot ran the ball for 150 yards and 2 TDs.  Skins abandoned the run game early and only totaled 49 yards on the ground for the game.

The Texans/Seahawks game was a “points-a-palooza”.  Given the two defensive units on the field here, I certainly did not expect that.  Texans’ WR, DeAndre Hopkins caught 8 passes for 224 yards in the game.    Russell Wilson threw for 452 yards in the game and the Seahawks won despite being held to a measly 32 yards rushing.

The Steelers/Lions game was a coming-out party for JuJu Smith-Schuster.  Based on what I saw on Sunday nite, there is little motivation for the Steelers to put up with Martavis Bryant and his diva nonsense.  The Lions rolled up 487 yards of offense (very good) and got to the Steelers’ red zone 5 times (very good) and managed to score exactly zero TDs.  (Say what?)  In fact, the Lions had the ball at the Steelers’ 5 yardline or closer 3 times and managed to turn those three opportunities into 1 field goal.  Guess who won the game…

Finally, consider this timely comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“Groundbreaking for the new NFL stadium in Las Vegas is set to occur next month.

“No truth to the rumor the team has already asked the media not to use the term ‘busted flush’ for missing the playoffs.”

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