Football Friday will happen on Thursday this week because I need to leave the house at “Oh-Dark-Thirty” tomorrow to catch a flight to Las Vegas for the annual visitation. The spreads and totals here are mid-week numbers; so be it… As usual, I shall begin with NCAA football.
The Linfield College Wildcats extended their season record to 4-2 last week with a 14-0 shutout win over George Fox University. The Wildcats need one more win to assure themselves another winning season in football – – something the school teams have done every year since 1956. This week the Wildcats host the Pacific Lutheran Lutes in a Northwest Conference game. The Lutes are 3-3 for the season; they are 3-0 at home and they are 0-3 on the road; this game is in McMinnville, OR. Go Wildcats!
Two weeks ago, college football was Bizarro World; last week was relatively tame – – once you got past the fact that Ohio State threw in a horrendous clunker against Purdue. The Buckeyes did not merely lose to the Boilermakers; the Buckeyes got their doors blown off in the process losing by 29 points. Ohio State has not lost often in the past several years, but when they lose, they tend to lose badly. Remember Clemson in the CFP a couple years ago; remember Iowa last year; now losing by more than 4 TDs to Purdue…
Here is a telling stat from the game that will explain how Ohio State found themselves so far out on the wrong end of the stick:
- Ohio State had the ball in the red zone 4 times.
- Those 4 possessions yielded a total of 6 points.
You can explain away that big loss to Clemson in the CFP; an opponent in the CFP is – by definition – a really good team. You can sort of forgive the loss to Iowa last year because Iowa was a decent team and they were at home. This year’s loss to Purdue on the other hand came at the hands of a team that had already lost to E. Michigan. When a team beats Ohio State – and remember, that does not happen very often – it is very surprising if/when you find a loss to a MAC opponent on that team’s résumé.
In other Big-10 action, Nebraska won its first game of the year bringing its record to 1-6. It was a dominant win over Minnesota by a score of 53-28. Brad Dickson had this to say in a Tweet during this game:
“How bad did the first half go for Minnesota? Goldy Gopher was just picked up by a Humane Society van.”
By the way, Minnesota has a freshman offensive lineman born in Australia named Daniel Faalele. He is probably not finished growing but even at this young age, he is listed at 6’ 9” and 400 lbs. If you invite him to Thanksgiving dinner at your house, I would suggest doubling up on the mashed sweet potatoes…
Michigan dominated Michigan State last week and it was the defense that stood out. Consider:
- The Spartans had 65 yards total net offense for the game.
- The Spartans were 0-12 on third down conversions and 0-1 on 4th downs.
- The Spartans had only 11 first downs in the game and 5 of them were via penalty.
I don’t know if Michigan will crack the top 4 in the rankings this week; but if that defense can play that way consistently, I think they should be considered a CFP participant.
Ed Orgeron started the season on a hot seat at LSU facing some stiff competition in the SEC and dealing with an obsessively irrational fan base. Two weeks ago, LSU beat Georgia; last week, LSU dominated Mississippi State 19-3. Maybe that score does not look like “domination” to you, but it was. Bulldogs’ QB, Nick Fitzgerald, was harassed all game long and threw 4 INTs. Next up for LSU is Alabama a week from now. If LSU wins that game, Ed Orgeron might be the Coach of the Year.
Last week, Auburn beat Ole Miss 31-16 improving to 5-3 overall but only 2-3 in SEC games. That is a bit surprising; I thought Auburn would be better than that back in August. Looking at the stats, it seems that it is the passing game that has let Auburn down.
- Passing offense 217 yards per game; passing defense 222 yards per game
- Rushing offense 4.4 yards per carry; rushing defense 3.3 yards per carry
Last week had to put to rest the notion that NC State and Clemson were on the same level – or even very similar levels. The Tigers shellacked the Wolfpack 41-7 and it could have been worse. An embarrassing moment for the NC State program came late in the game with the Wolfpack trailing hopelessly. A defensive back for NC State made a nice play to break up a pass near the goal line. Then, he proceeded to strut and gloat and dance to the point where he drew a taunting penalty. Taunting an opponent who ultimately wins the game by 34 points is cause to hang your head in shame.
In other ACC action, UVa put itself squarely in the ACC playoff picture beating Duke and extending its record to an overall 5-2. I have not seen a lot of UVa football this year, but I have seen enough to think that they would be no match for Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.
Oh, and UNC dropped its record to 1-5 by losing to Syracuse in double overtime. If Larry Fedora keeps his job after this year, the reason is probably tied to an inability to come up with the money to buy out the rest of his contract.
Previously undefeated Cincy went down in another OT game losing to Temple in Philly. Temple is undefeated at home in 2018.
Texas Tech won a Big-12 conference game at home for the first time in 2 years beating Kansas 48-16.
Washington State established itself as the leader of the PAC-12 last week with a home win over Oregon. The Cougars dominated the first half and led 27-0 at one point. Oregon rallied but it was too little, too late as the Cougars prevailed 34-20. Washington State is the only PAC-12 team with only 1 loss for the season; they would probably have to win out in order to get any consideration for the CFP. I seriously doubt that a 2-loss PAC-12 team is going to get in.
That status will make the Apple Bowl game (Washington/Washington State) at the end of the season even more of a big deal than it usually is – – and it is always an intense rivalry game.
Washington beat Colorado 27-13 handing the Buffaloes their 2nd conference loss of the season.
Meanwhile Utah beat USC 41-28 and put itself in position to be the PAC-12 South participant in the PAC-12 Championship Game.
Just a scheduling note here … I will begin to collect candidates for the imaginary SHOE Tournament at the end of the NCAA football season starting next week. I prefer to wait until the season is a little more than half over to look for the teams there; we have a month to go meaning that bad teams can get better and evade the ignominy of being a SHOE Team. But it will be time to start the winnowing process…
NCAA Games of Interest:
Clemson – 16.5 at Florida State (51): Two weeks ago, Georgia was ranked #2 in the country and lost. Last week, Ohio State was ranked #2 in the country and lost. This week, Clemson is ranked #2 in the country … Is this a trend?
Georgia – 7 vs. Florida (51.5): This game could decide who plays for the SEC Championship out of the SEC East. It is always a big game and a big rivalry; these stakes raise the intensity. I might succumb to temptation in Las Vegas this weekend and take this game to stay UNDER – – but I have other “opportunities” that I like better.
Texas – 3.5 at Oklahoma St. (59.5): This is not a vintage year for Oklahoma St., but they are not pushovers at home. Texas seems to have momentum on its side about now, but this is not a “gimme” for the Longhorns.
UNLV at San Jose St. – 2.5 (60): San Jose St is 0-7 so far this year; they have been blown out more than a couple of times. Here, they are listed as a favorite in a game. That tells me this game is of interest because there may be TWO SHOE Tournament teams on the field here…
NCAA Football Six-Pack:
Iowa at Penn St. – 6.5 (51.5): Penn St. is at home – – where they have lost twice this year. The Nittany Lions have blown a 4th quarter lead to Ohio State and almost blew another one against Indiana last week. Iowa has a shot at the Big-10 West title. I like Iowa plus the points.
Purdue at Michigan St. – 1 (50): This is a perfect letdown game for Purdue after last week’s dominant win over Ohio State. I like Michigan State at home to win and cover.
Kentucky at Missouri – 7.5 (55.5): I think this game is much closer to a “pick ‘em” game than to a game with more than a TD in the spread. I like Kentucky plus the points.
Texas A&M at Mississippi St. – 2.5 (43.5): I think the Aggies defense will stifle the Bulldogs’ offense much the same as LSU did last week. I think Texas A&M will win outright so I’ll gladly take them plus the points – – even on the road.
Washington St. at Stanford – 3 (53): The Cougars are on the road and Stanford is a good team. But the Cougars are on a roll. I’ll take Washington St. here with the points.
(Fri Nite) Utah – 10.5 at UCLA (54.5): Utah has scored 40 or more points in its last 3 games. That is not normal for a Utah team, but it is a fact. UCLA seems to be out of the doldrums lately. I like this game to go OVER.
As the NFL trade deadline approaches, two teams have tossed in the jockstraps and are focused on getting high draft picks for 2019. The NY Giants have traded away CB, Eli Apple, who was a high first round pick a few years ago and who had some difficulties with teammates over his level of effort last season. His trade value was a 4th round pick next year and a 7th round pick in 2020. Ho-hum … Then, the Giants traded Damon Harrison, a big run-stuffing DL, for a 5th round pick in 2019. More Ho-hum … The Giants are tanking; but so far, they have not gotten any major draft assets in return for two starting players. Unless one of those low-round picks turns into a great over-looked player (think Tom Brady in the 6th round), it is going to be a long time until the Giants return to relevance.
- [Aside: The Lions acquired Damon Harrison and that could turn out to be a good move for them. The Lions rank 30th in the NFL at the moment in rush defense; Harrison has limitations but plugging the middle and stopping the run are not those limitations.]
It is striking to note that the Giants were 11-5 just two seasons ago and made the playoffs. Last year’s horrid season saw the team crippled with key injuries and many – including me – thought those injuries would heal and the team would be stronger this year. Actually, those injuries provided cover for the roster-rot that seems to have set in with the Giants. GM Dave Gettleman has his work cut out for him.
The other tanking team would be the Oakland Raiders. So far, “Gruden 2.0” has not been a stroll down primrose lane. The team has 1 win and will not be an oddsmaker’s favorite very often for the rest of this season. This is not what the fans in the Black Hole had envisioned; in their minds, the arrival of Gruden was the akin to the return of the prodigal son; there would be a great family feast and then it would be a straight shot to the playoffs and prior glory. And then Khalil Mack was traded away to the Bears…
This week, Amari Cooper was sent to the Cowboys. I do not want to make Cooper out to be the next coming of Jerry Rice, but he will be the best WR on the Cowboys’ roster and he was the best WR on the Raiders’ roster. The silver lining here is that Gruden has gotten back significant draft assets for Mack and for Cooper; the Raiders now have 3 first round picks in the 2019 draft and 2 first round picks in the 2020 draft.
If the rumors around the league are correct, CB Gereon Conley, S Karl Joseph and QB Derek Carr could also be available for trade now or in the off-season leading up to the draft. That would not be a mere housecleaning; that would be like Hercules cleaning out the Augean stables by diverting a river through them.
Before Raider fans go into euphoria again and risk another “crash and burn experience”, let me offer a bit of history. First round draft picks only have value if the picks produce quality starting players. These picks usually do that; but sometimes, those picks produce significant busts. So, it is the acumen of the selector that is critical here. And that leads me to my “bit of history” for Raider fans.
- Two years ago, when Johnny Manziel was in the draft, Jon Gruden was on the ESPN set advocating every team who was on the clock to take or consider Manziel. He was “all in” on Johnny Football; his position was that he was great on the field and that he would outgrow his “immature behaviors”.
- If Gruden was being truthful – – something that can never be assumed for any football coach – – he would have taken Manziel with a first round pick.
- I am NOT saying that will happen again with one or more of the 5 upcoming first-round picks the Raiders have. Nevertheless … pump the brakes, Raiders’ fans.
While I am on the subject of tanking teams, let me suggest that some other teams may look to acquire future assets too:
- Bills: The Bills’ offense is pathetic; until and unless Josh Allen shows that he is indeed their QB of the future, they have no QB on the roster who belongs in the NFL. Moreover, they are woefully understaffed at the so-called skill positions and their best running back is 31 years old. If they can find anyone willing to give them a medium round draft pick for anyone on the offensive side of the ball, they should jump at the opportunity.
- Cardinals: This team needs help everywhere – except at QB where it looks as if Josh Rosen has a positive developmental path. One day you hear that Patrick Peterson wants to be traded; the next you hear that he wants to be a Cardinal for life. The Cards’ braintrust needs to assess what he might bring in trade and if it is a “big haul”, he should be shipped out of town.
- Niners: Those who suggest that the Niners need to acquire assets to shore up their defense are over-reacting. The Niners season took a staggering blow in the late exhibition season when RB, Jerick McKinnon, went down for the year. Then Jimmy G had to go under the knife. I am not saying the Niners are fat, but I do not think they are in the same state of chaos/disrepair as the Giants, Raiders, Bills and Cards. If I were the Niners, I would stand pat.
In other news, Hue Jackson said at his press conference that he might “step in” and try to do more with the Browns’ offense. Many have reported that his intention was to indicate that he would do the play calling for the team. If that is true, then Cleveland is much more of a hot mess than it would appear on the surface. Consider:
- The Browns brought in Todd Haley to run the offense in the last off-season. Haley is clearly a “prickly personality”; he has been successful as an offensive coordinator in Arizona and Pittsburgh; while with the Cards, his offense took them to the Super Bowl in February 2009.
- He left Arizona to be the head coach in Kansas City and that did not go well at all. He clashed with the offensive coordinator there and seized control of the offense and the play calling. He clashed with his starting running back and suspended him for a game and then released him when he came back from suspension. His overall record was sub-.500.
- His time in Pittsburgh showed successful offenses and tension between him and Ben Roethlisberger.
- This is his first year in Cleveland and the offense is significantly better than it was over the past several seasons. And not all that surprisingly, there is tension and drama surrounding Haley and the head coach and with who knows who else.
Before you conclude that I think Haley is a “bad guy” and never should have been hired by the Browns in the first place, that is an erroneous conclusion. In this situation, no matter how “prickly” Todd Haley may be, he is getting positive results with the offense in Cleveland. Moreover, fans there need to recall that it was Hue Jackson himself who was the offensive guru and play caller for the Browns last year and that he produced an 0-16 season. From afar, it would seem that Jackson taking over the offense/play calling is more about ego-stroking than results.
The Lions beat the Dolphins last week running the ball for 248 yards averaging 7.1 yards per carry. The last time the Lions did things like that, Barry Sanders was carrying the ball.
The Chargers beat the Titans and Philip Rivers threw 2 TD passes more than 50 yards in length. He needed to do that because Chargers’ RB, Melvin Gordon was on the shelf and the Chargers could only manage 47 yards rushing. The Titans lost by a point; Marcus Mariota threw a red-zone INT and Ryan Succop missed a field goal in the 4th quarter. Hi-ho…
The Vikes cruised to a win over the Jets. The Vikes’ defense shut down the Jets’ run game and that left Sam Darnold to try to deal with the Vikes’ defense on a one-dimensional basis. That got ugly when the Vikes intercepted him 3 times.
The Bucs beat the Browns in OT. I think the Browns do not realize that it is OK to finish and NFL game after only 60 minutes of play; that was their 4th OT game in 7 starts this year. It was an ugly game. The Bucs sacked Baker Mayfield 5 times; Jameis Winston threw 2 INTs and lost a fumble.
The Pats beat the Bears by 7 points and scored 14 points on special teams – a kickoff return for a TD and a blocked punt returned for a TD. Tom Brady had 3 TD passes too.
The Texans beat the Jags when “Bad Blake Bortles” showed up again. He was 6 for 12 for 61 yards and he lost two fumbles. He was benched in favor of Cody Kessler in the second half.
The Colts beat the Bills 37-5. When the Bills’ defense has an “off-day” the team has no chance. Derek Anderson started at QB with about 10 days of practice time with his teammates; LeSean McCoy was injured in the first half. The game should have been stopped by a mercy-rule. The Bills’ defense was a no-show too allowing the Colts to run for 220 yards. The Colts defense – – not the showcase unit for that team by any means – – produced 5 turnovers in the game.
The Panthers erased a 17-0 deficit in the 4th quarter to beat the Eagles in Philly 21-17. Cam Newton threw for 201 yards in that 4th quarter comeback.
The Saints also had a 4th quarter comeback to beat the Ravens 24-23. Last week, I thought it would be the Game of the Week and it sure turned out that way. The Saints scored 17 of their 24 points in the 4th quarter. The game deciding play was a missed PAT by Justin Tucker. Prior to that attempt, he had converted 222 out of 222 attempts in his career.
The Rams dominated the Niners recording 7 sacks – including 4 by Aaron Donald. This was never a contest…
The Skins beat the Cowboys 20-17. The Skins’ defense won the game; they scored a TD with a fumble recovery and sacked Dak Prescott 4 times. Ezekiel Elliott was limited to 34 yards rushing in the game.
The Chiefs beat the Bengals 45-10. The game was in doubt for about the first quarter or so; then came the deluge. The Chiefs had 550 yards of offense in the game and the Chiefs’ defense held the Bengals to 10 points. This Chiefs’ team is going to win 99.9% of the games where the opponent scores only 10 points. Patrick Mahomes threw for 4 TDs and 358 yards against a good Bengals’ defense.
The Giants and Falcons played on Monday night in a game that was hard to watch because neither team was interesting. The Falcons won. Hi ho…
NFL Games this week:
There are 4 teams on their BYE Week:
- The Chargers are 5-2; they trail the Chiefs by 1 game; as of this morning they would be the first AFC wild card team.
- The Cowboys will use the week to try to get Amari Cooper comfortable with the offense.
- The Falcons need to figure out how to do some different things on defense – – like tacking people – – and to stop giving up 30 points per game.
- The Titans have lost 3 in a row but are still only one game behind in their division.
Philly – 3 vs. Jax (42) [Game is in London]: Back in August, this looked like a potential Super Bowl preview game. Both teams arrive here with 3-4 records and both need the game a lot.
- [Aside: Since the game is in London, perhaps this is the appropriate time to ask if I am the only one who thinks Carson Wentz looks like Prince Harry if the Prince had spent a year or so in the weight room? Google Images are your friends…]
Cleveland at Pittsburgh – 8 (49): If the Browns can take this game to OT – – as they did with the Steelers in Week 1 and with 3 other opponents this year- – they are guaranteed to cover this spread.
Jets at Chicago – 7.5 (45): The spread on this game is all over the map. You can find it as low as 7 points and as high as 9 points depending on the sportsbook. Once again, the Jets must be able to run the ball a bit to give Sam Darnold a fighting chance against a good Bears’ defense.
Seattle at Detroit – 2.5 (50): Here is another game where the spread varies wildly from sportsbook to sportsbook. You can find the game as high as 3 points and you can find the game as a “pick ‘em” game at one sportsbook. I am not sold on the Lions and I do not like the Seahawks on the road.
Baltimore – 2 at Carolina (43.5): The oddsmaker sees a defensive game and I agree. This is the Best Game of the Week unless you think that label belongs on the Saints/Vikes game below.
Indy – 3 at Oakland (50): One interesting stat about the Colts is their record is 2-5 but they have outscored their opponents by 4 points over the course of those 7 games. That does not happen often. I was tempted to label this one as the Dog-Breath Game of the Week, but it has competition below. If you think this is “that game”, I will not argue strenuously …
SF – 1 at Arizona (42.5): This is my Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Normally a Total Line of 42.5 results from a pairing of two pretty good defensive teams. Here it is a recognition that both offenses stink.
Green Bay at Rams – 10 (56): I am trying to recall a time when I thought that a Packers team with a healthy Aaron Rodgers was overmatched going into a game; I cannot do so. However, that is my thinking here…
Denver at KC – 10 (53.5): The Chiefs sure do appear to be on a roll and the Broncos are not nearly as good on the road as they are at home. However, I really hate double-digit spreads in the NFL. Did the Chiefs’ defense come to life last week against the Bengals or will they revert to their previous sieve-like state? That is the question here because I am confident the Chiefs will score points. I’ll take the Chiefs at home and lay those double-digit points.
Washington at Giants “pick ‘em” (43): You can find the spread with the Skins favored by a point and you can find the spread with the Giants favored by a point. Most sportsbooks have it as a “pick ‘em game” and that is because the Skins always play poorly at the Meadowlands. Using the eyeball test, the Skins are the better team on offense and the better team on defense, so I’ll take them to win the game and hope that they forget where they are playing when they kickoff.
Tampa Bay at Cincy – 4 (54.5): If the Bengals’ offense shows up here – – as it most certainly did not last Sunday night against the Chiefs – – they should cruise against a sub-standard Bucs’ defense. This game will provide the Bengals with a way to rebound after that national humiliation last week. Am I a fool to trust the Bengals? We shall see … I’ll take the Bengals and lay the points here.
(Sun Nite) New Orleans at Minnesota – 1 (52): This is my Best Game of the Week. I think the Saints will exact a bit of revenge here for last season’s playoff ending – – the Minnesota Miracle. Drew Brees is on a roll – as are Kirk Cousins and Adam Thielen. I like the Saints plus the point here and – rounding out the Six Pack – I also like the game to go OVER.
(Mon Nite) New England – 14 at Buffalo (44): Excuse me, but the QB match-up here is Derek Anderson and/or Nathan Peterman versus Tom Brady. That is like a 100-meter dash between a sumo wrestler and Usain Bolt. However, I am not going to lay double-digits in two NFL games on the same weekend. I will, however, take the game to go OVER.
Finally, here is an NFL-related comment from humor-writer, Brad Dickson:
“Rae Caruth gets out of prison today & the NFL won’t allow fans to buy Rae Caruth jerseys. I hate to think we live in a world where fans would want a Caruth jersey.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………