The End Of An Era…

The motto for the State of Kansas is Ad astra per aspera” meaning “To the stars through hopes and through difficulties”.  Many commentaries on sports take that as a vector heading; sports are about striving to be the best against forces that would thwart such endeavors.  Here in Curmudgeon Central, we like to look at things that never got off the ground on the way to the stars – – aborted missions so to speak.  Today we will celebrate some of the worst – – and not the best – – “achievements in the NFL world.

I shall start by declaring:

  • The Nathan Peterman Era in Buffalo is over.
  • The Bills announced that they had released their beleaguered QB.  While I am not anywhere near northwestern NY, I feel comfortable in assuming that this news was not met with a moment of silence and reflection among Bills’ fans.

I am well aware of the adage saying that low probability events happen every day.  Nonetheless, it would be a head-scratching set of circumstances that would lead to Peterman being signed by another NFL team between now and the end of the regular season.  It is more likely that he would be resigned by the Bills than anything else, but I think the braintrust there would fear the fan reaction sufficiently to pass on that option so long as people like Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden are simultaneously vertical and taking nourishment.

The end of this “Era” does require some review of the stats and reflection just how bad those stats are.  According to, here is the accounting:

  1. Nathan Peterman started 4 games for the Bills and appeared in 4 others
  2. The Bills’ record in his 4 starts was 1-3-0.
  3. Peterman was 68 for 130 in passing (completion rate of 52.3%)
  4. His total yards passing were 548 yards (4.2 per attempt; 8.1 per completion)
  5. He threw 3 TDs and 12 INTs.

The Peterman Era in Buffalo got off to a rocky start, indeed.  Many an NFL QB has struggled in his first start in the league, but Peterman took “struggling” to new depths.  In his first start, he threw 5 INTs in 14 pass attempts in the first half of the game.  Not surprisingly, he did not start the second half of that game.

Peterman was named the starting QB for the Bills this year – apparently with the idea that rookie Josh Allen would learn by osmosis and ease on into that job somewhere down the line.  In the Bills’ opener against the Ravens, Peterman was 5 for 18 for 24 yards and 2 INTs.  Later this year as the Bills shuffled QBs the way Brett Maverick used to shuffle poker decks, Peterman got another chance to start against the Bears.  Here were the results:

  • 31 for 49 (not bad) for 188 yards (paltry return on 31 completions) and 3 more INTs.

Early this week, the Bills announced Peterman’s release.  Bills’ fans are probably happy to see that; I wonder if Peterman is happy to be out of Buffalo where he had become a household name – – but not in a good way.

Time for a Quick Quiz:  What is the next career move for Nathan Peterman?

  1. Try to play QB in the CFL
  2. Try to play QB in the new AAF (Alliance of American Football)
  3. Try to play QB in “XFL 2.0” – assuming that gets off the ground
  4. Start a career doing some that does not involve “QB” and “Pro Football”

100 words or less – – you make the call…

Continuing on the vector heading of unsuccessful football happenings, we are at the halfway point in the season and I think it is time to handicap the race that does not get nearly enough attention – the race to see which team will be on the clock with the overall #1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft starting around New Year’s Day.

In looking at the possibilities, I have eliminated from consideration any of the teams who have already won 3 games in 2018.  Yes, I know that a 3-13 record could well take the prize here; it has done so in the past.  Nevertheless, for that to happen, one of those “3-win teams” would have to lose out AND all the teams on my list would have to win at least 2 more games between now and the end of December.  While I pay homage to the mantra of “Any Given Sunday”, that is too far a stretch for me.  Hence, I present here the 4 NFL teams on course to have the overall #1 pick in the draft next April.

  1. Oakland Raiders (1-8):  The Raiders have the worst record so far this year and seem to play in a more moribund fashion as every week passes.  The Raiders have a road game in Arizona against the Cards – – who shall appear on the list below – – and opened the week as a 3-point underdog.  That spread has widened as of this morning to 4 points.  That is as small a spread as the Raiders will see in the next month because after the Cards, they play the Ravens, Chiefs and Steelers.  Then they will end the year with two meaningless games against the Bengals and Broncos.  A loss to the Cards this week will make the Raiders’ ceiling for the regular season be 3-13.
  2. Arizona Cardinals (2-7):  This week’s game against the Raiders is important to the Cards too.  With a win, they will hand the tie-breaker to the Raiders; that would essentially eliminate them from a serious run at the overall #1 pick.  Alternatively, the Cards could indeed lose out and with the loss to the Raiders his week on the way to losing out, the Cards would have a better claim on the overall #1 spot than would the Raiders.  Two December games on the Cards’ schedule are “dangerous” in the sense that the Cards could win them.  They host the less-than-fearsome Lions in Week 15 and then play the Falcons in Week 16 in a game that ought to be meaningless to the Falcons.
  3. NY Giants (2-7):  Their win on Monday night this week over the Niners means they would forfeit the overall #1 pick should the Giants and Niners each win the same number of regular season games.  Moreover, the Giants are 2-point favorites at home this week against the Bucs.  I think the Giants are the longest shot among this “Gang of Four”.
  4. SF 49ers (2-8):  The Niners have lost twice to the Cards already so they are in a good place with regard to a tie there.  They lost to the Giants on Monday night this week, so they are in a good place there too.  However, the Niners shellacked the Raiders just two weeks ago meaning they are a game-and-a-half ahead of the Raiders in this race to the bottom.  The Niners need a Raiders’ win this week to stay in serious contention because the Niners have two winnable games upcoming in December – – versus the Bucs after a BYE Week for the Niners and at home against the Broncos on 9 December.

For this race to the bottom, it would be inapprorp0irate to say something like “Gentlemen, start your engines.”  Instead it seems apropos to say:

  • Gentlemen, apply your parking brakes!”

Finally, consider this comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had diamonds shaped as a cross implanted onto one of his teeth, TMZ reported.

“In keeping with the theme, Beckham requested they make it a two-minute drill.”

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



Blasphemy, I Say …!

All change is not progress.  I am sure there is someone in the hierarchy of the University of Pennsylvania who considers himself/herself a “change agent”; I think he/she is a blasphemer.  To explain my position, I need to give you some history.

On the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, the basketball arena is The Palestra.  It was built in the 1920s; it is an iconic venue for college basketball.  According to Wikipedia:

“…the Palestra has hosted more games, more visiting teams, and more NCAA tournaments than any other facility in college basketball.”

  • In 1939, the NCAA staged its first men’s basketball tournament featuring 8 teams.  The first game ever played in that tournament took place in The Palestra.
  • I attended and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in the early 1960s; in those days all of the Big 5 schools (Penn, Temple, LaSalle, Villanova and St. Joseph) played their home games in The Palestra.  To squeeze in that many games, there would be double-headers on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays every week – – with an occasional double-header on Wednesday night too.  In my four years at Penn, I missed a grand total of 4 college basketball games.
  • For the entirety of the 1964-65 season, I kept the stats for the Philadelphia Inquirer college basketball beat reporter who had to write and file – via telex – a series of stories as the paper wrapped up sequential editions for the following morning.
  • I have a personal connection to and with The Palestra.

A couple weeks ago, the University of Pennsylvania announced that they sold the naming rights to the basketball court inside The Palestra to an Australian investment firm.  Seriously, they did that…  As far as I am concerned, that is akin to the Vatican announcing that they have sold the naming rights to one of the side chapels in St. Peter’s Basilica to Pabst Blue Ribbon.

In Leviticus, the penalty for blasphemy is set at public stoning.  I do not wish that end on the genius who came up with the idea to sell these naming rights or on the greedy money-grubber who approved this deal.  I do wish however that all involved here suffer the fate called out by Johnny Carson as Carnac the Magnificent:

“May the fleas of a thousand camels infect your armpits.”

And by the way, any future alumni contributions emanating from my exchequer will be eliminated…

Whilst I am in such a splenetic mood this morning, let me turn my attention to a standard narrative about NFL coaches.  All during the time leading up to the adoption of the Rooney Rule, the generally accepted wisdom was that the NFL coaching profession was an old boys club for white coaches and an exclusionary one for black coaches.  One of the standard arguments offered to “prove” that assertion was that when a white guy failed as a coach somewhere, he would soon get another job anyhow, but when a black guy failed as a coach, he was lucky to get a job as a ticket seller.  (I exaggerate here for effect…)  Well, all the voices who offered up that trope can rejoice today because that situation has been put to bed once and for all.

This morning, I read that Hue Jackson was just hired on as a “consultant” by the Cincy Bengals.  Hue Jackson has had two shots at being a head coach:

  1. In 2011, he was the head coach of the Raiders for one season finishing 3rd in the AFC West with an 8-8 record.
  2. From 2016 through half of the 2018 season, he was the head coach of the Browns accumulating a record of 3-36-1.

Hue Jackson is African-American; notwithstanding that genetic signature, he got a new job in about two weeks after he was fired by the Browns for having as bad a record as one might imagine.  The NFL coaching carousel is now recycling failed black coaches as well as failed white coaches.

Speaking about coaches who are experiencing “less than successful results” at the NFL level, it behooves me to point to Jon Gruden in Oakland.  The Raiders are 1-8 this morning and they have been outscored by about 14 points per game.  That means, on average, the Raiders have virtually no chance to win a game in the final 5-8 minutes.  Three of the eight losses have been by 21 points or more; those games were over by the time the fourth quarter started for all practical purposes.  In that circumstance, one might wonder why there is not a hint of ownership dissatisfaction with Jon Gruden in Oakland.  I think the reason for that is purely financial.

  • The Raiders signed Jon Gruden to a 10-year contract worth $100M less than a year ago.  I have not read the actual contract, but I do recall that Gruden said that the entire amount was not guaranteed.  OK, so let’s say for simplicity that his agent got him a 10-year deal with an annual salary of $10M with only $50M of it guaranteed.  Even in that scenario, the Raiders would owe Gruden a lot of money to stay home and not coach the team if they were to pull the plug at the end of the 2018 season.
  • Add to that situation, the fact that the Raiders are already paying Jack Del Rio not to coach the Raiders.  If reports about Del Rio’s contract are correct, he will be collecting from the Raiders this year and in 2019 and in 2020.
  • If the Raiders were to “move on” from Jon Gruden this year or next year, that would mean that they would be paying three people to be the head coach of their team at one time.  More than a few folks have speculated that Mark Davis’ bank account(s) will not support such a luxury.

Hence, my suggestion that Gruden’s security in Oakland is based on finances.

Finally, this observation by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times seems to be an appropriate way to end today’s rant:

“A man using a blowtorch to kill spiders burned down his mother’s house in Fresno, Calif.

“He reportedly got the idea watching Jon Gruden tinker with the Raiders’ roster.”

I’ll go and adjust my medication level now…

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



A CFL Team In Halifax?

Last week, I ran across a report saying that a group of people wanted to add a franchise to the Canadian Football League and locate the franchise in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  According to the report, the team backers had gotten to the point that they were starting a “name-the-team contest”; and in order to get a vote in the contest, one had to sign up for season tickets.  That seems to be a good way to measure fan interest in the region and to generate publicity around the potential franchise to engender more interest.  The CFL honchos would like to see just how much interest exists there.

Regarding a place to play, the report said that the folks proposing the franchise have located some vacant land in Halifax and want to build a 24,000-seat stadium there – – but it will require some public money.  Estimated costs run to about $190M; the plan is for the team to begin play in 2021.  The Halifax city-fathers are studying the business aspects of the stadium proposal.

My long-suffering wife and I have been to Nova Scotia twice and we loved it both times that we were there.  However, my recollection was that Nova Scotia as a province was sparsely populated and I wondered if it could support a CFL team.  According to Google, the Halifax Regional Municipality has a population just over 400,000 people and the province itself hosts 940,000 folks.  That is more that I would have guessed but it still seems as if it might be a tad thin to support a team.

I sent an email to Gregg Drinnan who was the sports editor of the Kamloops Daily News until that newspaper ceased to exist and who now authors an excellent blog, Taking Note.  I referenced this report and asked him if he thought Halifax was a big enough market for a CFL franchise.  I also asked about Quebec City as an alternative site in Eastern Canada if indeed the league wanted another team in that part of the country to balance out the CFL.  Here are the cogent sections of his response:

“My heart says yes, but my head says no. . . . Twenty or 30 years ago, maybe. But not now. I don’t think the population is there [in Nova Scotia] and expenses never seem to go down. So I don’t know that a team there will generate the revenue needed to run a franchise, even in the CFL.

“I don’t know what the aversion is to Quebec City. The university teams in Quebec have pretty good followings, as do the ones in the Maritimes. But QC obviously has more population. I do think there is more political will to provide a place to play in Halifax than there is in Quebec City.”

Adding a team to the CFL would be a good idea just so the league can field an even number of teams.  Currently there are 5 Western Teams and 4 Eastern Teams.  In the CFL playoffs that just began, the British Columbia Lions – whose home is in Vancouver – were playing in the Eastern bracket.  Say what?

Switching gears …  According to reports, Carmelo Anthony’s “honeymoon in Houston” may be ending soon after his arrival there.  In a game against the Spurs, Anthony did not play due to an unspecified illness.  In the game before that – against the Thunder, Anthony shot 1 for 11 from the floor and 0 for 6 from 3-point range.  Coach Mike D’Antoni had no comment regarding Anthony’s absence from the lineup which would not be an outrageous circumstance except for the fact that D’Antoni and Anthony lived through some scratchy times with one another when both were with the Knicks.  It did not end well in NYC in the days before Anthony’s skills began to erode.  I suspect it will not end well in Houston…

Remember a few years ago when Baylor football was in the spotlight based on allegations that members of the football team routinely engaged in sexual assaults and that the football team – under Art Briles – covered up those activities.  After an investigation, the university fired Art Briles and its university president, Kenneth Starr.  Well, the Big 12 Conference seemingly is not done with Baylor yet.  Since all of this came to light and an investigation showed that the school was less than diligent in handling these matters, the Conference has been withholding a portion of Baylor’s Big-12 Conference generated revenue.  A recent report says that the withholding amounts to just under $15M.  Evidently, the folks who run the Big-12 have figured out how to close the books on this sordid mess:

  • The “$15M” in withheld revenue will be invested in an escrow account and that account will run for the next 4 years.  In that time, Baylor will continue to implement recommendations that arose from the investigation into how the schools screwed up the “football/sexual assault situation” so badly.
  • After 4 years, the conference will assess Baylor’s progress and if they determine then that the proper controls exist and that the proper checks and balances exist for the football team and the Athletic department, then the escrow account will be liquidated in the following way.
  • First, Baylor will reimburse the Big-12 Conference several million dollars for the legal costs that the conference incurred due to Baylor’s improprieties.  [Aside:  That seems like an awful lot of billable hours for an entity “twice-removed” from the football team that was the epicenter of the situation.  Whatever…]
  • Then, the Big-12 will take $2M out of the principal invested in the escrow account as a fine on Baylor University.
  • Baylor will then receive the remaining principal from the account – which is money they would have gotten earlier on as part of their conference membership.
  • All the interest/capital gains earned on the principal will be distributed equally to the conference member schools and the schools are supposed to use those funds to combat sexual assaults on their campuses.

Perhaps, that is the final chapter in the dystopian novel on Baylor football…?

Finally, here is a comment from Mike Bianchi in the Orlando Sentinel:

“I’m not saying NBA coaches are totally unimportant, but Tyronn Lue won a championship and made it to four consecutive NBA Finals when LeBron James was on the roster. Without LeBron, Lue didn’t even make it through the first month of this season without getting fired.”

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



Football Friday 11/9/18

It is time once again for Football Friday.  As is custom in these parts I shall begin with a report on Linfield College football.  The Wildcats extended their record to 6-2 last week with a 47-41 win over Pacific Lutheran.  The game was not your standard back-and-forth-shoot-out as might be indicated by the score.  With about 11 minutes left in the game, Linfield led 37-13; then the Lutes managed to score 22 unanswered points in the next 6 minutes and took the lead at 41-40 with a minute left on the clock.  That created the opportunity for Linfield to hit a 59-yard TD pass with about 20 seconds left to win the game.  Demonstrating the comeback made by Pacific Lutheran, the Lutes ran up 516 yards of offense and 432 of those yards came in the second half.

The Wildcats finish their conference play this week at home against Pacific University.  Go Wildcats!

I am not going to make any friends among Notre Dame alums with this next observation:

  • Using only the eyeball test in the games I have seen on TV so far this year, my top 4 teams for the CFP would be Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Michigan.

Sorry; just my opinion…

While on the subject of the CFP and my eyeball test, here is what I think about UCF and its cry for attention from the CFP Selection Committee:

  • Temple – I said Temple – scored 40 points on UCF last week.  What parting gifts do we have for the Golden Knights, Johnny …?

As more and more college teams run spread offenses and have the capacity to score from anywhere in the field, it is worth noting the first possession by Army in its game against Air Force last week:

  • The drive went 75 yards for a TD.
  • The drive consisted of 21 plays.
  • The drive consumed 12 minutes and 55 seconds off the clock.
  • Woody Hayes approved this message…

Speaking of Georgia above, the Bulldogs beat Kentucky 34-17 last week in a dominant performance.  That win clinches the SEC East championship for Georgia setting up what should be a great SEC Championship Game against Alabama.  The Crimson Tide assured itself of the SEC West championship by shutting out LSU 29-0.  Alabama had been blowing people out on offense all year long; last week their defense was on display.  Consider these two stats:

  1. Total offense for LSU was 184 yards.
  2. LSU is a power running offense; in the first half, LSU had minus-2 yards rushing.

We know who will play in the SEC Championship and it will be a game to see.  In a few other conferences, the Championship Game looks as if it will be bland as porridge.  The ACC Coastal Division, the Big-10 West and the PAC-12 South will be represented by a champion in those three Conference Championship Games.  The problem is that every team in all three of those divisions already has 3 losses on the books.

The Big 12 Championship Game will avoid that possibility for a simple reason.  There are no divisions in the Big-12; that Championship Game takes place between the two teams in the conference with the best records.  However, here is what could happen there:

  • Oklahoma and West Virginia will play in the final game of the season.
  • It is possible – even probable – that these are the two teams with the best records in the Big-12.
  • That means they would play one another a second time 8 days later.

Such is the state of Conference Championship Weekend in the Power 5 conferences…

Auburn rallied late to beat Texas A&M in a game the Aggies seemed to have in hand in the 4th quarter.  It appeared as if the Aggies just stopped playing defense in the final 10 minutes or so of that game.  Strange.

West Virginia beat Texas 42-41 as the Mountaineers’ QB, Wil Greer, put on a show.  The Mountaineers have TCU at home this week followed by a road game at Oklahoma State before that showdown against Oklahoma on November 23rd.

Pitt beat Virginia and the Panthers now lead the ACC Coastal Division with an overall record of 5-4.  If they win out – and who is to say that a team flirting with a .500 record might actually do that – they would get to play Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.  Be still my heart.

Duke beat Miami 20-12.  That sets the Hurricane’s record at 5-4 and puts them on a 3-game losing streak.  Recall in early October, we were wondering if we were witnessing the re-emergence of Miami as a national powerhouse.  Mark Richt is not on a hot-seat there, but it is warming not cooling.

Clemson embarrassed Louisville 77-16.  Louisville has 2 wins this season – at the expense of Division 1-AA Indiana State and potential SHOE Team, W. Kentucky.  Lamar Jackson may not be doing anything important for the Baltimore Ravens this year, but when he was at the helm for Louisville, they were not torched by Clemson anything like what happened last week.

Purdue was back to playing strong football beating Iowa last week; meanwhile, Ohio State did not look good at all despite beating a mediocre-at-best Nebraska team

Michigan simply manhandled Penn State; there is no more polite way to put it.  The last 3 games for the Wolverines have been against Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State; the combined score for those 3 games is 101-27.

  • [Aside:  People have criticized Jim Harbaugh for his poor record against major rivals Ohio State and Michigan State.  To be fair, why don’t folks look at James Franklin’s record against top Big-10 rivals as scrupulously?  Franklin’s Nittany Lions are 1-4 against Michigan, 1-4 against Michigan State and 1-4 against Ohio State.  Not particularly pretty.]

Illinois beat Minnesota 55-37 last week.  In case you are wondering how Illinois managed to score 55 points on any team more recognizable than Disco Tech, here is how:

  • The Fighting Illini averaged 12.4 yards per running play in the game.

Out west, Washington State won an ugly game over Cal 19-13.  It was raining and windy in Pullman last Saturday.  It was pouring on the Palouse…

Arizona State beat Utah 38-20.  If the Sun Devils win out, they will represent the PAC-12 South in the PAC-12 Championship Game.  Utah has played excellent defense all year; they were ranked 7th in the country in total defense allowing only 287 yards per game.  Arizona St. produced 536 yards of offense last week, which is almost double what Utah had been allowing.

UTEP won its first game of the year over Rice last week by a score of 36-24.  That means two things:

  1. There are no winless teams in college football this year.
  2. Both teams will be part of the SHOE Watchlist below.

The SHOE Watchlist:

There are 9 teams that have only won 1 game this year – more than enough to fill up the SHOE Tournament field.  Nonetheless, I will continue to put twelve teams on the SHOE Tournament Watchlist this week…  Call them the Dirty Dozen if you wish:

  1. Bowling Green 1-8
  2. Central Michigan 1-9
  3. Kent St.  2-7
  4. Old Dominion  2-7
  5. Rice  1-9
  6. Rutgers  1-8
  7. San Jose St.  1-8
  8. UConn  1-8
  9. UNC 1-7
  10. UNLV  2-7
  11. UTEP  1-8
  12. Western Ky  1-8

NCAA Games of Interest:

Louisville at Syracuse – 21 (69.5):  Talk about two teams and two programs heading in opposite directions…  If Bobby Petrino’s Cardinals get blown out here, maybe someone should tell him to start packing up his stuff in the sidecar of his motorcycle.  Too soon …?

Clemson – 19.5 at BC (57):  BC has been a giant-killer in the past (often against Notre Dame) but I doubt they have the horses to pull off a huge upset here.

Michigan – 39 at Rutgers (48):  Yes, Michigan is an elite team; nonetheless, what does this say about a Rutgers team to be a 39-point dog at home?  Well, last time Michigan traveled to New Jersey to play the Scarlet Knights, here is what happened:

  • Michigan won 78-0.
  • Rutgers did not make a first down in the entire game.

Wisconsin at Penn St – 8.5 (53):  Here we have two VERY unreliable teams.  Add to the inherent unreliability that both starting QBs are less than 100 %.  Wisconsin can run the ball (sometimes) and Penn State’s run defense is not nearly as good as it usually is.  Maybe that is a key to the game?   Might be interesting to watch but no wagering please.

Illinois at Nebraska – 17 (67):  One of the low-points in the Big-10 schedule for the season ranking up there – or down there – with a Rutgers/Maryland game.

VA Tech at Pitt – 3 (54):  Remember in Week 1 when everyone was so high on VA Tech because they beat Fla St. 24-3?  Well, that doesn’t look like such a big deal now that Florida State will have to fight just to be bowl-eligible.

UNC at Duke – 10.5 (58):  Big rivalry game here.  UNC has lost 5 in a row; the record is 1-7 and it looks like another 3-win season for the Tar Heels at the very best.  Can Larry Fedora survive that?

Kentucky – 6 at Tennessee (41):  This game is a coaching challenge for Kentucky.  They had a chance to be the SEC East champ until they were crushed by Georgia last week.  Can they bounce back?  Tennessee is not nearly as good as Georgia; in fact, Tennessee is a sub-.500 team and Kentucky is still ranked in the Top 15.  That makes this an interesting spread on this game…

Auburn at Georgia – 14 (50):  Georgia is assured of playing in the SEC Championship Game.  This is a warm-up for them.

Miss St. at Alabama – 24 (53):  Alabama is in the SEC championship Game.  This is a warm-up for them.  Is there an echo in here…?

Oregon at Utah – 4 (54.5):  The PAC-12 games are really random this year.  Utah is better at home than on the road.  If you bet this game, make it a venue call but better not to have any action riding here.

Washington St. – 6 at Colorado (60.5):  Wash St. is still in the driver’s seat for the PAC-12 North crown – – remembering that they have a date with Washington upcoming – – and I think Colorado is not up to stopping the “Air Raid Offense.”  Would take this bet if it were in Pullman, WA but will pass on the game in Boulder, CO.  The Buffaloes have lost 4 in a row…

Oregon St. at Sanford – 24 (61.5):  Oregon St. pulled an upset over Colorado – – actually, I think they simply exposed the fact that Colorado’s “gaudy” win/loss record was built on the backs of a horribly weak schedule.  The Beavers will not do that again here.

Cal at USC – 5 (47.5):  I would not be surprised to see either team win by 2 TDs here…

Florida State at Notre Dame – 16.5 (50.5):  I expect this line to move even more than it has already.  The spread opened at 18 and the Total Line was at 55.  I expect it to continue to move until kickoff.  There was a report late in the week is that Irish QB, Ian Book, injured his ribs in last week’s Northwestern game and will not play.  It would not surprise me to see this line closer to 14 points by game time.

Kansas at K-state – 10.5 (47):  This will be the first game for David Beaty as a lame-duck coach at Kansas.  The AD announced that Beaty was fired last week but that he would coach the team until the end of the season.  I guess that makes sense in some parallel universe.  I guess this gives Kansas a “head-start” in terms of a coaching search; if that is not the objective here, I do not get what the purpose might be.  This is a rivalry game so a loss for K-state would sting under any circumstances; however, under the status quo, a loss would be a big embarrassment in front of a home crowd.

  • [Aside:  Kansas said they want a coach with “head coaching experience”.  I’m not sure this is a job too many folks will want – – unless of course there is a big overpayment in the contract offer or maybe a 7 or 8-year deal with a fat buyout in it.  There is not going to be a quick fix for Kansas football unless the school can hire Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother.  I heard a talking head on one of the sports shows throwing out names for the job.  I must admit, I did not know half of the ones he mentioned but there was one that made me perk up my ears.  He said Les Miles – former head coach at LSU who won a national championship there – would be on Kansas’ list.  It is BIG step down in the football pecking order from LSU to Kansas!]

NFL Commentary:

To say that Jon Gruden 2.0 is having difficulty gaining traction is about as polite as I can be.  I am not going to rehash what has gone down in Oakland in the last 10 months or so, but I think there is a parallel to be drawn here and the outcome is a far better place than is the current place.  Consider the NFL coaching path trod by Dick Vermeil.

  • Vermeil coached the Eagles from 1976 to 1982.  His teams made the payoffs 4 times and played in the Super Bowl once.
  • Vermeil left coaching to go to the announcing booth for about 15 years and returned to the sidelines in 1997 with the St. Louis Rams.
  • His first two seasons with the Rams were dismal; the combined record for those two years was 9-23.
  • In his third season, the Rams went 13-3 and went on to win the Super Bowl.
  • Connect the dots…

Having offered a rosy scenario for Raider fans above, let me throw just a splash of cold water on Jon Gruden here.  He said that lots of players were calling him telling him that they want to play for the Raiders – – and by extension for him.  All I have to say about that is I hope Gruden did not take the calls he is talking about and is only saying what some assistant told him the calls were about.  The reason for that is simple; if Gruden is talking to active players on other teams about playing for the Raiders, that would be tampering.

When the Browns named Gregg Williams as their interim coach for the rest of this year after firing Hue Jackson, I ran across an interesting bit of NFL history researched by Rich Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News.

  • Since 1960, there have been 87 interim coaches in the NFL.
  • Only 10 interim coaches had a record over .500.
  • Only 2 interim coaches saw their teams make the playoffs.

My conclusion:

  • Interim coaches generally take over bad teams after owners fire the head coach in the middle of a season.  The reason the team is bad is that the players are not good enough.  Changing the coach usually does not alter that situation.

The Buffalo Bills have the worst offense in the NFL this year; there is little doubt about that.  There is more to this than just the eyeball test; there is an interesting statistical lens through which you can gain some clarity here.

In the 2018 season, there are 44 players who have thrown 10 passes or more.  Here are the 5 QBs at the bottom of the list in terms of QB Rating:

  • 40th Tyrod Taylor QBR = 64.5  The Browns via the Bills.
  • 41st Sam Bradford QBR = 62.5  Just released by the Cardinals
  • 42nd Josh Allen QBR = 61.8  The Bills’ QB of the future
  • 43rd Derek Anderson QBR = 56.0  The Bills’ recent signing
  • 44th Nathan Peterman  QBR = 30.7  The Bills’ interception machine

About the only thing one can say here is “Great googamooga…”

The Niners’ dismantling of the Raiders last week was all the more surprising given the debut of Nick Mullens at QB.  He’s been a clipboard holder and film studier for a year and a half, but he looked like a grizzled vet against a Raiders defense that could not pressure him and could not cover a corpse in the secondary.  Here is Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle on the poise of this first-time starter:

“A couple more things you didn’t know about Nick Mullens: He sleeps under the roller coaster at Great America to practice being calm and relaxed while everyone is screaming and panicking.  Mullens is a volunteer barista at a Starbucks, because doing that helps him learn to shout out complicated, playbook-type terminology under pressure.”

The Steelers beat the Ravens 23-16.  James Connor seems to have embraced the concept that he is the starting RB.  I am not so sure the Steelers are worrying about if/when LeVeon Bell reports to the team – – or if he reports at all.  The Ravens were out of sync offensively for much of the day.

The Falcons 38-14 win over Skins was not a fluke.  The Falcons dominated on offense and defense; the Skins’ defense seemed unable or unwilling to adjust; it could not decide if it was going to stop the run – – there were plenty of chunk plays in the run game last week – – or if it was going to stop the pass – – and it did not – – or if it was going to pressure Matt Ryan – – and it did not – – well you get the idea.  None of it worked.  Two Falcons’ RBs averaged 6 yards per carry or more.  The Falcons were 10 for 13 on 3rd down.

The Bears trounced the Bills 41-9.  Believe it or not, the 9 points scored by the Bills here is VERY close to their average scoring output for the season; they average 10.7 points per game over 9 games; they have not yet scored their one-hundredth point for the season.  This game was never a contest.  Making it worse, the Bears’ defense provided 14 points in the rout.  The Bears managed only 190 yards of offense and still scored north of 40 points; that is not easy to do.  Nathan Peterman started at QB and threw 3 INTs (including a Pick-6); no surprise there.

The Dolphins beat the Jets 13-6.  Sam Darnold imploded here with 4 INTs (one was a Pick-6); he never led a Jets’ drive that resulted in a snap inside the red zone.  The Jets held the Dolphins to 168 yards total offense – – and lost.

The Panthers beat the Bucs 42-28.  The Panthers led 35-7; then, the Bucs tried another furious comeback.  They closed the score to 35-28 but that was about all they could muster.  The Bucs gave up 179 yards rushing; they have the worst run defense in the NFL.

The Vikes beat the Lions 24-9.  Matthew Stafford was sacked 10 times in the game, so it is not all that surprising that the Lions only produced 209 yards of offense.  Dalvin Cook returned to the Vikes’ backfield here and contributed 89 yards of offense.

The Chiefs beat the Browns 37-21.  This game was never in danger of going into OT as has been the Browns’ wont this year.  Patrick Mahomes had 375 yards passing and 3 TDs; the Chiefs total offense was 499 yards.  There was a bright spot for the Browns; RB, Duke Johnson, caught 9 passes for 78 yards and 2 TDs.

The Chargers prevailed over the Seahawks 25-17.  Melvin Gordon was back in the lineup for the Chargers and he ran for 113 yards in the game.  The Chargers missed two PATs in the game and released their kicker on Monday morning.

The Texans squeaked by the Broncos 19-17.  The Texans lost their first 3 games of the season by a total of 15 points.  The Texans have now won 6 games in a row and 3 of those wins came by 3-points or less.  The Texans are used to playing in close games!  Demaryius Thomas contributed against his former mates and DeAndre Hopkins was his normal outstanding self (10 catches and a TD).  The Texans lead their division by 2 games.

The Saints handed the Rams their first loss of the year by a score of 45-35.  This was a great game.  The Saints ran out to a big lead – 35-14 – and then the Rams tied the game before the Saints put it on ice.  Michael Thomas caught 12 passes for 211 yards and 1 TD.  Alvin Kamara was a thorn in the Rams side in the run game and the passing game.  Drew Brees threw for 346 and 4 TDs.

The Pats beat the Packers in a battle of two future first-ballot Hall of Fame QBs 31-17.  The game lived up to its billing.  The takeaway from this game is that the Pats have more players who can make big plays than do the Packers – – on offense and on defense.  Josh Gordon was a great pick-up for the Pats; now, all they have to do is to keep him eligible and off the suspended list.

The Titans beat the Cowboys 28-14.  Simply put, the Cowboys laid an egg here.  It seemed to me that they spent the entire night working to force the ball to Amari Cooper.  They ran on first down most of the time and then threw short passes on most of the other downs.

NFL This Week:

Buffalo at Jets – 7.5 (6.57):  Lose this one at home and Todd Bowles will feel his currently warm seat start to sizzle.  This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  Sam Darnold has not played well for the Jets over the last several weeks; this is a “show-me game” for him as well as the Jets’ coaches.  Then again, the NY Daily News reported that Darnold was in a walking boot on Wednesday.  Meanwhile, for the Bills, Josh Allen is “day-to-day”, and Derek Anderson is in the concussion protocol, so we may just see Nathan Peterman once again.  The team that makes the last mistake will lose this game.

Atlanta – 6 at Cleveland (50):  The Falcons have been on a roll for the last several weeks.  If they can maintain that level of play, they will dominate here.  The Browns are not the same inept set of bumblers they have been for the last several seasons, but I doubt they are ready to beat a team like the Falcons.  This game is big for the Falcons; they are 4-4 after a miserable start to the season but they are in a division where they are 3 games behind the Saints and 2 games behind the Panthers.  A loss here would be devastating…

New Orleans – 6 at Cincy (54):  The spread opened the week at 4.5 points and has been climbing slowly all week long.  If there were ever a formula for let-down game, it would be this one.  The Saints just handed Rams first loss of the season in a nationally televised game that was a shoot-out.  Now they go on the road (Saints are much better at home) and play on grass (Saints are a dome team) against a team that is not nearly as highly regarded as the Rams.  Just saying…  The Bengals are coming off a BYE Week which is good for the Bengals; AJ Green is out with a foot injury and is doubtful for the game which is not good at all for the Bengals.

Washington at Tampa – 3 (51):  This game opened as a “pick ‘em” game.  Then came news that the Skins lost 3 starters to season-ending injuries last week and the spread shot up to 3.  In addition, one other starting O-lineman for the Skins will probably miss this game.  Ryan FitzMagic is starting at QB for the Bucs, so you have no idea what sort of game he will put out there.  The Bucs’ defense is 32nd in the NFL in terms of yards allowed and they are the favorite here; that tells you what the oddsmakers and the betting public think about the rash of injuries recently encountered by the Skins.

Miami at Green Bay – 10 (47):  The weather forecast is for the high temperature to be 36 degrees on Sunday.  That is not Miami weather…  The Dolphins are futilely chasing the Pats in the AFC East; the Packers cannot afford a loss if they want to stay within hailing distance of the Bears and the Vikes in the NFC North.  By the way, please don’t forget; this is Aaron Rodgers versus Brock Osweiler.

Jax at Indy – 3 (46.5):  Talk about falling from grace.  The Jags had a 4th quarter lead on the Pats in the AFC Championship Game last year and fell short to a Tom Brady rally.  Now halfway through this year they are a 3-point dog to the Colts.  Wow!  Both teams are 3-5 and Jax has lost 4 in a row.  The loser here is pretty much out of the playoff picture- – even in a weak division.  Here is the fundamental question:

  • Can Blake Bortles figure a way to avoid tripping over his own two feet sufficiently often in this game to give the Jags’ defense and running game a chance to win it?

Detroit at Chicago – 7 (44):  The Total Line opened at 47.5 and has been dribbling downward all week.  The Lions gave up 10 sacks last week and so, this week they fired their special teams’ coach.  Why not?  Makes perfect sense to me…  Oh, by the way, the Lions’ defense ranks 31st in the NFL – – but they fired the special teams’ coach.  Cleveland is just across Lake Erie from Detroit and the only reason we do not focus on the dumpster fire that exists in Detroit is because the dumpster fire in Cleveland has been bigger and messier for the last 10 years.  But make no mistake, the Lions are a hot mess…  The Bears lead the NFC North; this game means a lot to them.  The Bears lead the division with 5 wins but if you look at the opponents they have beaten, it is not all that impressive.  Four of the 5 wins have come at the expense of the Cards, the Bucs, the Jets and the Bills.  That is not exactly Murderer’s Row …

Chargers – 10 at Oakland (50):  I hate laying double digits in NFL games and I cannot bring myself to take the Raiders at this point.  The Chargers beat the Raiders 26-10 earlier this year.  Since that game, the Raiders have gotten worse and the Chargers have surged.  If Nick Mullens could carve up the Raiders’ defense last week, what might Philip Rivers do to it this week?

(Sun Nite) Dallas at Philly – 7 (43.5):  Philly comes off a BYE week and Cowboys come off an embarrassing showing on MNF last week.  This is an important division game for both teams.  If Cowboys lose here, they will drop to 3-6 with upcoming schedule of:

  • At Atlanta
  • Vs. Washington
  • Vs. New Orleans
  • Vs. Philly

This is a make-or-break game for the Cowboys’ season.  The Eagles are at 4-4 – – a game behind the Skins this morning – – and need to win here to keep pace in the NFC East.  The rest of the schedule for the Eagles is difficult with 4 division games after this one and “outside games” against the Rams, Saints and Texans.  This is the Game of the Week.

(Mon Nite) Giants at SF – 3.5 (44):  The only reason this is not the Dog-Breath Game of the Week is because I want to see if Niners’ QB, Nick Mullens is a one-hit-wonder or not.  Other than that, this game is insignificant.  The teams bring a combined record of 3-14 to the kickoff.  The only reason to watch this game is that there are no playoff baseball games left to watch and the NBA games in November don’t mean much and the college basketball games in November mean even less.  Maybe if you go channel surfing, you may find a nice motocross race to watch…?

This Week’s Six-Pack:

Ohio St. – 3.5 at Michigan St (52.5):  A loss for OSU would eliminate them from CFP consideration with 2 games left to play.  Who would have thought that could possibly be the case back in August?  Remember the famous line from Hamlet:

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

It seems to me that something is amiss in Columbus, OH; the Ohio St. team is just not playing like an Urban Meyer OSU team.  Purely a hunch here, I like this game to stay UNDER.

Texas – 2 at Texas Tech (63):  Absent a major weather problem, I like this game to go OVER.

Northwestern at Iowa – 11 (43.5):  These are both good teams that tend to rely heavily on their defensive units.  I think this will be a low scoring game.  If I am correct, that line looks awfully fat.  I’ll take Northwestern plus the points.

New England – 7 at Tennessee (46.5): This is another Belichick vs. ex-Patriot in a coaching duel.  The last one of this type for Belichick was against Matt Patricia and it did not end well for the Pats.  The Titans defense is for real.  In terms of a trend, the last time Titans beat the Pats was in 2002; the Pats have won the last 7 games between these teams.  I think the spread here is very generous, so I’ll take the Titans plus the points.

Arizona at KC – 16 (50:):  The spread opened the week at 17 and has stayed in that neighborhood all week.  I would not touch that number in an NFL game for any reason.  I like this game to go OVER because the Chiefs’ defense should allow the Cards’ anemic offense to score enough points to encourage Andy Reid to keep his foot on the gas.

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



College Basketball Tips Off

On Tuesday of this week, I urged everyone here to go out and vote; I said it was a responsibility of citizenship.  I want to make sure that make clear that the responsibility to vote does NOT include any responsibility to spend that evening watching any of the cable news stations as they report the results from around the country.  Given that the college basketball season began Tuesday night and that there were myriad game-viewing options available through my cable provider, that is where I spent my evening time.

The season-opening tournament featuring four blue-blood programs was the focus of my attention.  The Kansas/Michigan State game opened the action and Kansas dominated the first half leading 50-36 at the intermission.  The Spartans rallied in the second half, but Kansas prevailed 92-87.  The oddsmakers in Vegas had this one pegged; the line closed with Kansas as a 4.5-point favorite.  Dedric Lawson was impressive for the Jayhawks scoring 20 points and collecting 14 rebounds.  Rankings at this time of the year are beyond meaningless; but from what I saw, Kansas and Michigan State will be tough opponents all season long.

The second game was the one I really wanted to see; Duke and Kentucky usually play each other in late March if they play at all; Tuesday night I had the chance to see these teams in their formative stages playing one another instead of seeing either of them taking on a patsy opponent such as Middle Wherever State.  What transpired demonstrated that the oddsmakers are not perfect; the spread for this game closed with Kentucky as 2-point favorites.  Duke won the game by 34 points (118-84).  RJ Barrett led the way for Duke scoring 33 points in 32 minutes; Zion Williamson scored 28 points in 23 minutes for the Blue Devils and collected 7 rebounds as well.  This was not just an offensive showing by Duke; they also forced Kentucky into 15 turnovers for the game.

It would be a mistake to take this lopsided loss by Kentucky and write them off as over-rated or living on their reputation.  Kentucky is a very good team with several talented players; it is just that they ran into a monster performance by the Blue Devils on Tuesday night.

All four of these teams will face softer opponents in their next game:

  • Michigan State will host Florida Gulf Coast
  • Kansas will host Vermont
  • Kentucky will host Southern Illinois
  • Duke will host Army

The Los Angeles Angels have a new AA affiliate in the Southern League.  The name of the team is the Rocket City Trash Pandas.  The first thing that went through my mind when I read about that is:

  • What exactly is a “trash panda”?
  • Actually, it is nothing at all; it is a team name that was “selected” by an Internet poll of area baseball fans.  That outcome should be a fair warning to the next team owner who is tempted to use some sort of online polling to name his/her team.
  • [Aside: In speaking about this with a friend, he suggested that “trash panda” might be a colloquial term for a raccoon – an animal that frequents trash cans and one that has dark spots and lighter spots as part of its coloration.  My son – the evolutionary biologist – would certainly not approve of confusing a raccoon with a panda.]

The next point to ponder is where might the Rocket City Trash Pandas call home?  Actually, this one is pretty easy once you recall that this team will play in the Southern League.  NASA has its major rocket building research center – – Marshall Space Flight Center – – in Huntsville, Alabama.  Indeed, Huntsville will also be the home of the Trash Pandas.

  • Come to think of it, Rocket City Trash Pandas is a better team name than the Huntsville Raccoons…

The US Women’s National Soccer Team qualified for the 2019 Women’s World Cup for the 8th straight time; the fact of their qualification for the tournament has become sufficiently routine that mere qualification garners scant attention.  There have been 8 Women’s World Cup events starting in 1991 and the US team has won the Cup 3 times.  Their victory in 1999 was the one that provided the iconic moment of Brandi Chastain removing her jersey to reveal her sports brain celebration of the victory.  It is no surprise that the US Women’s team is in the tournament and it is no surprise that they will be one of the favorites to win it again.

There is also no big surprise in the fact that the women on the US team are at odds with the folks who run FIFA.  Recall that 4 years ago there were bitter disputes between the women and FIFA over playing the games in Canada on artificial turf instead of grass pitches.  The women filed suit claiming gender discrimination since the men always play on grass; the suit was subsequently withdrawn, and FIFA threatened various sanctions against the women who brought the action.  In the end, sanity prevailed – – which was not a certainty given that FIFA was involved.  That dispute may have been a minor one compared to the one that is brewing now.

The current kerfuffle involves money – prize money for the teams in the tournament.  FIFA plans to offer $30M to the teams in the tournament and that represents a 100% increase over the prize money available in the last tournament in 2015.  And so, you ask:

  • How can that be the source of a dispute?  Sounds like everything is a go and everyone should be happy as a clam…

Here is the “small problem”:

  • The FIFA prize money slated to go to the 2022 Men’s World Cup in Qatar will be $440M.

Yes, men’s tournament generates significantly more revenue than does the women’s tournament; and yes, there will be 32 teams in the men’s tournament as compared to 24 teams in the women’s tournament.  But the gulf between $30M and $440M is hard to ignore.  The Women’s World Cup tournament is still 9 months into the future, but I suspect that we will hear about this issue more than once over that period of time.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“A woman gave birth in the restroom at a Chick-fil-A restaurant in San Antonio.

“Apparently she forgot that Pizza Hut offers home delivery.”

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



Troy Aikman Brings The Heat

The Dallas Cowboys laid an egg on Monday Night Football this week against the Tennessee Titans.  There are plenty of statistical measures to justify my saying that they “laid an egg” but the one that jumps out is that the Cowboys’ defense allowed the Titans to convert 11 of 14 third down situations.  And the Cowboys’ defense is the strength of the team…

Dak Prescott was less than impressive throwing a horrid red zone INT and losing a fumble deep in his own territory.  After the game, some of the commentary/analysis focused on the “debate” about Prescott’s performance:

  1. Was this evidence of significant regression from his outstanding rookie campaign 2 seasons ago and a continuation of diminished performance demonstrated last season?  Or …
  2. Was this a result of less effective play by the Cowboys’ OL which has suffered injuries and an attack of Guillain-Barre syndrome on C, Travis Frederick?  Or …
  3. Was this a result of overly conservative and highly predictable play calling by the Cowboys’ offensive coaching staff?

 I certainly think that there is more than a little truth in #2 and #3 above.  I think #1 above is not a cause but is rather a result of #2 and #3; moreover, I think there is another important factor that was not mentioned:

  • Jason Witten was in the announcing booth as the color analyst for that game on MNF instead of lining up at tight end to be an incredibly reliable possession receiver for Dak Prescott.

Then yesterday morning, this saga took a dramatic turn.  Jerry Jones said in a radio interview that he was not going to make a coaching change and that Dak Prescott was a fully capable QB for the Cowboys – – AND – – that “he is going to be extended”.  There were no qualifiers attached to that statement and Prescott’s contract will be over at the end of the 2019 season.  If that were all that happened yesterday, it would still be a big story simply because it involves Jerry Jones and the QB of the Dallas Cowboys.  But Troy Aikman took it all up a notch…

Aikman said to one of the Dallas sports radio programs that the team needs a “complete overhaul” and Aikman did not mean just replacing a few players and a coach here and there.  Here are the important parts of his comments in that radio appearance:

“I’ve heard Jerry say, ‘OK, look, we’re going to do it differently. I’m going to do it differently,’ . . . but it’s the same. Nothing changes, and that to me is the bigger issue beyond, yes, coaching is important, personnel, all those things are important, but how are you going about evaluating how you’re going about running the organization? Whatever that looks like — and everyone has an opinion on what it does look like, but I’m not in the building. I have no idea. I talk to people. I talk to people who have been inside the building and have a pretty good understanding how things are run and in a lot of ways there’s a lot of dysfunction and that has to change if this team is going to be able to compete on a consistent basis like the teams that you look to around the league that seemingly are in the hunt each and every year.”

It is difficult for me to hear or read that statement and come away with any idea other than that Troy Aikman is saying that Jerry Jones and/or his son Steven Jones are integral parts of the “dysfunction” issue there.  Various people in the past have criticized Jerry Jones’ way of running the team; but when Troy Aikman joins the chorus, that would appear to change the volume of the discussion.  That radio station in Dallas did not solicit Aikman’s opinions here because he is a persistent critic of Jones or the Cowboys; that station solicited his opinions because Troy Aikman remains a loud voice within the Cowboys’ community in the Dallas area and around the country.  I think what Troy Aikman did was significant.

When Al Davis lost a bit off his fastball starting around the turn of the century, none of the former Raiders who had maintained stature within “Raider Nation” called Davis on his diminishing decision-making skills.  That team descended into a 15-year trench from 2003 thru 2017 with only 1 winning season.  No one of standing in the Raider’s family ever said publicly that Davis needed to “evaluate how you are going about running the organization.”

I am NOT saying or even hinting that Jerry Jones is losing his fastball.  What I am saying is that Jerry Jones had been given a gift from Troy Aikman that could have been valuable to Al Davis toward the end of his career in Oakland.  It will be interesting to see if Jones can accept that as advice from a longstanding and loyal friend and act on the advice.

While the football pundits were slicing and dicing Dak Prescott’s performance on Monday night, there was another report about a young QB that got little notice.  Johnny Manziel’s season in the CFL is over and it did not do much of anything to make NFL pro personnel evaluators sit up and take notice.  The Montreal Alouettes finished the season with a 5-13 record and Manziel could not establish himself as the #1 QB on a team with that performance.  The CFL is a “passing league” and was one long before the NFL turned itself into a “passing league”.  For his participation in the CFL this year, Manziel threw 5 TDs and 7 INTs.  He appeared in 8 games and completed 64% of his passes averaging 7.8 yards per pass attempt.

Manziel certainly sounded as if he has matured as a person in his media session following the Alouettes final gem of the season saying:

“Football probably got to a point in the past for me where it was about money and I’m comfortable right now. I’m comfortable with a great group of teammates, I’m comfortable in a great city like Montreal. I’m happy being back on the field and I don’t know if that would be the situation in another league. But I’m happy with where I’m at and what’s going on and the opportunity to compete and play ball.”

Manziel signed a 2-year deal to play in the CFL so he has another season to “compete and play ball” before he needs to make his next career decision.

Finally, since I mentioned Montreal regarding the Johnny Manziel item above, here is a comment related to that city from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The head of Montreal-based Quebecor Inc. blamed the Canadiens’ failure to make the Stanley Cup playoffs for a damaging drop in the communications giant’s second-quarter ad revenues.

“In other words, the bottom line went from Habs into Hab-nots.”

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



Worst NFL Team For 2018?

It is Election Day here in the US.  Please go out and vote.  It is the responsibility that comes with citizenship…

Since we are at the halfway mark in the NFL season, I assume that football pundits are beginning to formulate their pieces on who will make the playoffs and who will get the playoff BYE Weeks and the like.  As is standard operating procedure here in Curmudgeon Central, I have looked at the league through the other end of the microscope to try to identify the worst team in the NFL.  Trust me on this; it is just as difficult to project the worst team as it is to identify the best team at this point in the season.

Anyhow, I began the process by considering 5 candidates for the Dregs of the League.  After looking at the 5 teams and their situations, I eliminated 2 of them from the final consideration.  The fact that they were cast aside early in the process does NOT mean that I think these teams are any good; the fact that they made the initial list defines their substandard stature.  Those two teams are:

  1. Browns:  This team is no prize; make no mistake about that.  Nevertheless, they have a few redeeming qualities that set them ever so slightly higher on the competency scale than the 3 finalists here.  The Browns are a young team and so they should improve as the season progresses.  Lord knows; they have ample room in which to improve.  The Browns have a young QB who gives every indication that he can play at the NFL level, and it must be noted that the Browns have taken 4 opponents to OT this year including the Steelers and the Ravens – neither of which belongs anywhere near this list of ineptitude.  The Browns have fired their coach already and will probably have a new one next year.  That is not unusual under this owner; since he took control of the team in 2012, he has fired 4 coaches and is working with an interim coach at present.  Browns’ fans should be wary of the next selection here; the ones made before this have all left a lot to be desired.
  2. Cardinals:  Once again, let me reiterate; this is not a good football team.  However, when I compare it and its prospects to the 3 finalists here, I think they are on a level more like the one the Browns inhabit as opposed to the bottom rung of the ladder.  The Cards have a rookie QB who looks as if he can be their starter for a while and they have a top-shelf running back.  [Both of those assets would be more productive if the Cards had a better OL, but such is the plight of bad football teams.  The lack of offensive production from the Cards is rooted in their less-than-adequate offensive line play.]  The Cards’ defense ranks in the middle of the league in terms of yards allowed and points allowed.  That is a plus given that they are on the field a lot.

With that as prelude, allow me to present the finalists in the landscape of bad NFL teams to descend to the status of Dregs of the League.  Since there are still a couple of months to go in the regular season – and there will surely be no post-season action for any of these three teams – I will present the teams in alphabetical order and make the case here why they could well be the team that is on the clock for the first pick in the NFL Draft in the Spring of 2019.

  1. Bills:  The Bills rank 31st in offense in the league in terms of yards per game and they are dead last – by a comfortable margin – in the league in points scored per game.  The Bills average 10.7 points per game; we are into November and the Bills have not scored 100 points since the season began on September 10th.  In 7 of the 9 games played to date, the Bills have failed to score as many as 14 points.  Underscoring the team’s offensive ineptitude – on the field and in the roster-building aspect of the game – this team has Nathan Peterman on the active roster and needs to start him in actual NFL games that count in the standings.  Not intending to mollify Peterman’s ineptitude, but the Bills do not own a WR that any other team covets.  That leaves the Bills’ defensive unit in a position where they have to win football games.  The Bills’ defense is pretty good, but it is not the Steel Curtain.  In fact, it would appear that the defense is wearing down since the Bills have lost their last 3 games by a cumulative score of 103 – 20.
  2. Giants:  The Giants have won 1 game in 2018; they beat the Texans in Week 3.  The Texans were so embarrassed by losing to the Giants that the Texans sprung to life and proceeded to win their next 6 games in a row.  The Giants’ offense does not score a lot of points, but it does move the ball.  In fact, ten teams rank below the Giants in yards gained this year – – including the Skins who lead the Giants’ division.  The team has two good offensive players in Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham, Jr.  Eli Manning is clearly on the downward arc of his career which limits the contributions that Beckham can make to the team in terms of finding the end zone.  The Giants’ defense also ranks in the middle of the league.  Those statistical rankings make it difficult to understand a 1-7 record to date.  The Giants seem to find a way to do something wrong at a key time; for example, the team ranks 29th in the league in the number of third downs converted.  On paper, the Giants look like a team that should be 3-5 or maybe even 4-4 at this point.  The degree of their underachievement and their lack of any enthusiasm on the field makes me put them in the running for Dregs of the League.
  3. Raiders:  One of the NFL adages is that games are won and lost in the trenches.  I have seen all or part of three Raiders games this year and both their OL and their DL routinely lose that “trench warfare”.  Individually, the linemen do not “defeat” the guy in front of them; they do not run the ball effectively; they do not pass protect adequately; they do not stop the run well at all; they do not generate any meaningful pass rush.  Other than that…  Compounding the problem(s) here, Jon Gruden is intent on vaporizing the team he inherited; already 3 of the best players on the Raiders’ roster as of August 2018 are gone.  Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper were traded; Bruce Irvin was simply released.  Even if I stipulate that Gruden can/will reconstruct a Raiders’ roster that is able to compete at something above the middle levels of the league, that is not going to happen in 2018.  And just as icing on the cake, the Raiders have an owner who would need to add 50 “football IQ points” to achieve the level of “Incompetent”.

So, there they are.  There are five bad teams.  Three of them look to be a bit worse than the other two – – but none of them are any good.  There will only be one head-to-head game among these 5 teams down the line:

  • The Raiders and Cardinals meet in Arizona on Nov 18.  Try to contain your enthusiasm for that one…

Finally, Scott Ostler had this comment in the SF Chronicle last week regarding the impending move of the Raiders to Las Vegas:

“Usually when a high-rolling loser comes to Vegas, the casinos set him up with a comp hotel room. With [Mark] Davis, they’re giving him a comp stadium.”

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



Basketball Today

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that the President of the WNBA had resigned to take a new executive position and that the new person in her seat would likely have to deal with new CBA negotiations very soon.  Well, it happened late last week; the WNBA players’ union has opted out of the existing CBA as of the end of the 2019 season meaning that negotiations for a new CBA can start now.  As is always the case, money is the fundamental issue in the upcoming negotiations.

WNBA players have been unhappy with the league’s salary structure for a while now.  The league minimum for players is $39K and the league maximum is $115K.  Several of the players choose to play internationally during the WNBA offseason to “make ends meet”.  That situation has never gone down well.  The irritation over this issue has been increased recently by the NBA’s announcement that it will offer elite high school prospects the option to sign a 1-year $125K contract to play in the G-League as their way to become eligible for the NBA Draft; these would be collegiate one-and-done players who would likely not attend more than a dozen classes in their year on campus.  WNBA players look at the money to be made available there and ask, “What about us?”

These negotiations will go on for a while but let me put some financial framework around the situation so you can calibrate the stories you will read along the way that are released by either side in the matter:

  1. The NBA owns 70% of the WNBA.
  2. The WNBA has lost money every year of its existence over the past 20 years or so.  The NBA accounting says the WNBA lost $12M in fiscal year 2017.
  3. Given the NBA’s revenues approximating $7B, a $12M loss is almost petty cash.
  4. NBA players get about 50% of the league revenues.  WNBA players get about 20% of league revenues.  Nonetheless the WNBA continues to lose money.
  5. WNBA TV ratings this year were the highest ever.  However, that does not mean those TV ratings are good.
  6. The WNBA has “partnered with” a daily fantasy sports site for whatever that means.
  7. There is now a WNBA video game available.

The data I would like to know here is rather simple and direct:

  • Of the 12 WNBA entries, how many of the individual teams operate in the black – without any fancy accounting legerdemain?
  • Of those franchises that operate in the black, how many would do so without any sort of subsidy from the NBA or the NBA team with which the WNBA team is affiliated?

Over the past year or two, the WNBA has made some major changes regarding the venues for their games.  The biggest news was that the NY Liberty would no longer play home games at Madison Square Garden and would play in a much smaller venue.  Here in the DC area, the Washington Mystics will not play in the Capital One Arena but will now play in a smaller arena in DC that holds a maximum of 4000 fans.  [The Washington team in the G-League will also play their home games in this venue.]

From the perspective of someone who has no particular interest in the outcome of any new negotiations here, this strategic move to smaller arenas to better manage operating costs is also an admission that the WNBA product is not nearly as appealing as the rosy projections have been for the growth of this league over the past 2 decades.  If Wikipedia is correct, there are 15 high schools in the US with basketball seating capacities of 7000 or higher; that makes a 4000-seat arena appear rather junior varsity.

Switching gears…  The college basketball season is about to get underway.  There is an unusual rhythm to college basketball these days.

  1. The season begins with various tournaments where at least a couple of the nominally top teams enter and often play one another.
  2. Then the season devolves into “December Blowouts” that are meaningless and bordering on annoying.
  3. In January conference play begins and interest begins to build again.
  4. Then comes March Madness and everyone focuses on college basketball.

With regard to the early season tournaments, there has been a new one added this year for late November.  It will take place in Las Vegas and feature Michigan State, Texas, UCLA and UNC.  That is an interesting field; and if you are wondering what might bring those schools together for a tournament since they are all in different conferences, consider that the games will be on FS1 meaning there is TV money for the schools to split.

File this under “Learning from Experience”:

  • Note that the UCLA basketball team did not choose to take a week or so trip to China in early November this year…

During the NBA off-season, the Washington Wizards acquired Dwight Howard; this will be his 15th year on the NBA; for his career, he averages 17 points per game, 13 rebounds per game and 2 blocked shots per game.  That is not too shabby…  And that is why it is interesting to note that Howard has been the NBA’s version of “one-and-done” with teams since the 2015-16 season.  Three teams – the Rockets, the Hawks and the Hornets – have all bid him adieu without receiving any recompense that might be appropriate for someone with Dwight Howard’s production.  He also had a one-year tenure with the Lakers back in 2012-13.  Howard has – rightfully or wrongfully – developed a reputation as a guy that messes up locker-room/team chemistry.

Last week, Howard made his debut with the Wizards; he had to sit out the first half-dozen games nursing an injury that was variously described as a sore muscle or muscles in either his “lower back” or his “hip area”.   Personally, I am hoping that it is eventually revealed to be a muscle in his butt because that will set up “pain in the ass” lines somewhere down the road.

  • Am I a bad person wishing for that?

Finally, since today’s rant has dealt with basketball and finances associated with basketball, consider this item from Brad Rock in the Deseret News.

“American CEOs earn 312 times what the average worker makes.

“Latrell Sprewell’s first thought: ‘Hey. They got families to feed’.”

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



Football Friday 11/2/18

It’s Friday and that means football.  Unfortunately, I have to begin this morning on a somber note.  Paul Zimmerman – or Dr. Z as he was known – passed away yesterday.  They say that the New York Times is the US newspaper of record; well, by analogy, Dr. Z’s commentaries on the NFL in Sports Illustrated used to be afforded the same stature.  There was a time before the Internet when Sports Illustrated was the most important and the most comprehensive site covering the entirety of the sports cosmos.  Dr. Z was Sports Illustrated’s NFL maven at that time and he was doing football analytics before the days of personal computers and video tape and multiple camera angles for every play.

Paul Zimmerman was a great writer and journalist.  I looked forward to reading his comments and analyses of NFL games and teams.  Ten years ago, Dr. Z suffered a series of strokes that left him in a wheelchair and unable to speak.  Yesterday, he passed away.

The folks at Sports Illustrated compiled some of Dr. Z’s most memorable writings.  This link will take you to that compendium.

Rest in peace, Dr. Z.

On a much brighter note, the Linfield College Wildcats notched their 5th win of the season last week securing another winning season for the Division III football program.  That extends the streak of winning seasons to 63 consecutive seasons dating back to 19956.  Linfield defeated Pacific Lutheran by a score of 41-7.  This week the Wildcats are on the road in Tacoma Washington to take on the Puget Sound Loggers who are 5-3 on the season.  Go Wildcats!

The first rankings by the CFP Selection Committee came out this week.  Meaning no disrespect to any of the other folks who promulgate rankings, these are the only rankings that count.  Moreover, the only part of their rankings that mean anything are the Top 8 or at most the Top 10.  The Committee ranks teams all the way down to 25th for a reason that escapes me.  When you get to where the rubber meets the road in early December, it will be the Top 4 that matter and everyone else will be scrambling for other things to do besides taking part in the CFP.

As I have mentioned, last week was my annual weekend in Las Vegas so I do not have nearly as extensive a set of notes to work from this week regarding last week’s happenings in football.  I was far too busy watching and wagering and engaging in the general conviviality of the weekend to take extensive notes.  But the show must go on and so I’ll have to make do.

Northwestern handed Wisconsin the Badgers’ third loss of the season.  The victory puts Northwestern squarely in position to be the Big-10 West champions.  Northwestern will host Iowa next weekend and a win for Northwestern there will all but guarantee that outcome.  Northwestern beat Wisconsin because of turnovers; every time I checked a play in that game that drew cheers from folks in the sportsbook, it was some sort of play where Wisconsin turned the ball over.

Michigan State rebounded from its horrible showing against Michigan two weeks ago to throttle Purdue 23-13.  The Spartans’ offense is nothing to write home about, but their defense really showed up last Saturday.

Nebraska won its second game of the season beating Bethune-Cookman 45-9.   This game was added to the Nebraska schedule in September of this year after the Huskers’ first game of the season against Akron had to be canceled.  Bethune-Cookman plays in the Mid-East Athletic conference against the likes of Florida A&M and Morgan State.  This was one of those games where they go to Nebraska to take a pounding and cash a big payday check.  Nebraska did not turn this into the slaughter it could have been by putting it on cruise control in the second half; bettors who took Nebraska were not happy with that because the Huskers did not cover the spread which got up to 49 points near kickoff.  Several days before the game, Brad Dickson had this insight about the scheduling:

“Bethune-Cookman game is a no win situation. Win by only two touchdowns or God forbid lose & it’s ‘What’s wrong with this team?’  Win 60-3 and it’s ‘Nebraska had no business playing the game’.”

Wake Forest beat Louisville 56-35.  This is only interesting because back in August, Louisville coach, Bobby Petrino, told reporters that his team was going to beat Alabama in the opening game.  Of course, they did not come close to doing that and now it is obvious they never had a prayer of doing that.  Louisville is now 2-6 on the season and just gave up 56 points to a Wake Forest team that is not an offensive juggernaut.

Clemson manhandled Florida State 59-10.  Late in the 3rd quarter and trailing 45-0, Florida St. kicked a field goal.  Why?  This was as big a beatdown as the score indicates.  Consider:

  • Clemson held FSU to minus-21 yards rushing for the game.
  • Clemson outgained FSU by 313 yards.
  • Clemson forced FSU to punt the ball 12 times.

Virginia stayed atop the ACC Coastal Division with a win over UNC.  If they stay there, Virginia would face Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.

Two weeks ago, Clemson dismantled previously unbeaten NC State.  Well, that loss must have damaged the psyche of the Wolfpack team significantly because they lost again last week to Syracuse by a score of 51-41.  NC State allowed 24 points in the first quarter alone.

Kansas beat TCU 27-26.  That game has no meaning at all regarding the Big 12 but it is noteworthy for this reason:

  • In the last 3 seasons, Kansas won a total of 3 games with records of 0-12, 2-10 and 1-11.
  • The victory of last week gives Kansas 3 wins in the 2018 season alone.
  • Not many schools find themselves in that situation.

Georgia beat Florida handily setting up this week’s game against Kentucky as a big deal for the SEC East crown.

Kentucky ran its overall record to 7-1 for the season beating Missouri 15-14 in a squeaker.

The Total Line for the Pitt/Duke game was 45 points.  The final score was 54-45 in favor of Pitt.  Anyone taking the UNDER in that game could have torn up their tickets by the early moments of the 3rd quarter.

San Jose St. won its first game of the year beating UNLV 50-37.  My interest in that game will become apparent later in this rant.

It was underdog week in the PAC-12.  On Friday night, Utah was the favorite and they covered easily beating UCLA 41-10.  However, on Saturday:

  1. Underdog Cal beat Washington straight up by a score of 12-10.
  2. Underdog Washington St. beat Stanford straight up by a score of 41-38.
  3. Underdog Arizona walloped Oregon by a score of 44-15.
  4. Underdog Oregon St. beat Colorado straight up by a score of 41-34.
  5. Underdog Arizona St. beat USC straight up by a score of 38-35.

Rankings for SHOE Teams:

For those readers who are new to this corner of the Internet, I like to imagine a second college football tournament at the end of the season.  The CFP identifies the best team of the year; I want my imaginary tournament to identify the worst team of the year.  I call that team the SHOE Team where “SHOE” is an acronym for Steaming Heap Of Excrement.  Here is how it would work – – if anyone ever dared to make it happen.

Since I find pre-season and early-season rankings of the Top-25 to be meaningless, I wait until November to begin my winnowing process.  Here are the teams on my radar at the moment.  I list them here alphabetically so that there is no sense of ranking; there is still too much football left to play to project seedings for the Final Eight:

  1. Bowling Green  1-8  They beat a Division 1-AA team by a TD in September.
  2. C. Michigan 1-8 They beat a Division 1-AA team by 12 points.
  3. Kent St.  2-7  They beat Bowling Green and Howard.
  4. New Mex St.  2-7  The wins were over UTEP and Liberty.
  5. Rice  1-7  The win was by 3 points over a Division 1-AA team.
  6. Rutgers  1-7  They beat Morgan St; they have lost 5 games by 27 or more points.
  7. San Jose St.  1-7  They beat UNLV last week.
  8. Tulsa  1-7  They beat a Division 1-AA team by 11 points.
  9. UConn  1-7  Worst defense in the country as of this week.
  10. UNLV  2-6  They lost to San Jose St. last week
  11. UTEP  0-8  The only winless team in Division 1-A
  12. W. Kentucky 1-7 They beat a MAC team but lost to a Division 1-AA team.

There are a few other teams under consideration, but we shall see what happens on the field before putting them on this list.  Interestingly, this week we have games between UConn and Tulsa and between Rice and UTEP.

NCAA Games of Interest This Week:

(Fri Nite) Pitt at Virginia – 7.5 (47):  Virginia needs the game to stay on course for the ACC Coastal Division title.  Pitt is one of the least predictable teams in the country.  I would not bet on this game with your money.

Iowa at Purdue – 2.5 (51):  Iowa can still win the Big-10 West but will be in deep yogurt if they lose here.  Same goes for Purdue.

Georgia – 8.5 at Kentucky (44.5):  This is a statement game for Kentucky and its football program.  A win here puts Kentucky in the driver’s seat for the SEC East title; it would mean that they had beaten both Georgia and Florida in the same year.  It has been a while since they did that.

Nebraska at Ohio St. – 18.5 (73):  Nebraska has won 2 games in a row but this ain’t Bethune Cookman they are facing this week…

Georgia Tech – 5 at UNC (64):  I do not understand this line at all.  UNC almost made my list of 12 SHOE Teams above…

Michigan St. – 2.5 at Maryland (46):  Interesting to see how Maryland plays this week afte3r all the drama of last week regarding the reinstatement of their coach and then his firing 24 hours later.

Oklahoma – 18 at Texas Tech (77):  Plenty of fireworks in this game…

W. Virginia at Texas – 1.5 (58): Both teams have only one loss in the Big 12; important game for both.

Notre Dame – 10 at Northwestern (53):  Even though this is not a conference game, this is important for both teams.  Notre Dame is in the Top 4 of the CFP this week; they will need a win to stay there.  Northwestern has plenty of Big-10 games ahead and could use whatever lift a win here would provide.

Cal at Washington St. – 10 (50):  Washington St. seems to be the PAC-12’s best shot at a slot in the CFP.  An upset by Cal would put the kibosh on that hope.

Texas A&M at Auburn – 3.5 (48.5):  Both teams are 5-3 but the vibe around the teams is different.  The Aggies are playing hard and losing close games; Auburn just seems to be underachieving and going through the motions.  Interesting betting angle here for trend bettors.  Auburn had a BYE week last week; Gus Malzahn’s teams are 7-0 after a BYE week.

Three more NCAA football games will be mentioned below in this week’s Six-Pack.

NFL Commentary

Lots of “stuff” went down this week related to the NFL and it all began on Monday when the Browns fired head coach, Hue Jackson, and offensive coordinator, Todd Haley.  According to reports, the two coaches had been “feuding” since the start of training camp and if those reports are accurate, you have to ask the question why it took so long for ownership to stop that sort of nonsense.  Owner Jimmy Haslam characterized the situation as an irreparable divide between the two men.  And, it took you two months to realize that and do something about it?

Jackson’s record in Cleveland is indefensible; his record there is 3-36-1.  This is yet another time when Haley’s departure from a team has not caused many tears to be shed.  I think he puts the “offensive” into the job title “offensive coordinator”.  Nonetheless, the situation in Cleveland remains a mess.

Taking over for the rest of the season is Gregg Williams who – you may recall – was banned from the NFL for his part in the “Bountygate” scandal and was subsequently reinstated.  Williams has been a decent defensive coordinator in several stops around the NFL but his one shot at a head coaching job was less than spectacular.  He spent 3 years as the head coach in Buffalo posting a 17-31 record.  Meh!

The Browns will have a head start in the coaching search department this time around, but the question is who would want the job – – absent someone who is only looking for a big payday?  There is some talent on the team; it looks as if they have the best QB they have had since Bernie Kosar hung up his cleats.  But if the ownership is as clueless as they have shown themselves to be over the last several years, I’m not sure “talent on the field” is sufficient to win there.

If the Browns want more drama with their coaching staff, maybe they can hire Lane Kiffin as their head coach who will also run the offense and bring in DJ Durkin to be the defensive coordinator.  Don’t put it past that ownership…

Here is another thing to think about regarding coaches in Cleveland:

  • The Browns axed a coach named Hue
  • The Cavs axed a coach named Lue
  • This is not a good omen for anyone in Cleveland who has a dog named Blue.

The dumpster fire in Cleveland is almost matched by the happenings in Tampa Bay.  Last week, Jameis Winston channeled Nathan Peterman and started throwing the ball almost exclusively to the other team.  Winston was benched in the second half and Ryan Fitzpatrick came in to spark a huge rally that almost pulled the game out.  Koetter had to announce that Fitzpatrick would again be the starting QB for the Bucs.  And this is a mess because:

  • The Bucs hired Koetter in the first place because they thought his mentorship of Jameis Winston was critical to Winston’s good first year in the league and his continued development.
  • Winston has regressed on the field and has been less-than-steadfast as a citizen off the field.
  • Koetter already fired his defensive coordinator this year so it is on him and the offense to “get it right”.

From the outside, it appears to me that the owners of the Bucs – the Glazers – are in a position where they blow up the whole thing and ditch Koetter, the rest of the coaching staff, the GM and Jameis Winston.  Can you spell scorched earth?  Yes, that would put them down at the same level as the Browns and the Bills; nevertheless, the Bucs are closer to that level than they are to anything resembling a contender in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the Broncos have a BYE Week upcoming; that is a typical time for teams to fire coaches in mid-season and Vance Joseph may not want to get a call from the GM or the owner on Monday morning leading into that BYE Week…

The Broncos have been disappointing on the field but the situation with 3rd string QB, Chad Kelly, must sting too.  He is Jim Kelly’s nephew and he has had a checkered past off the field.  The Broncos – and John Elway – took Chad Kelly as Mr. Irrelevant in the draft this year after Elway heard from Jim Kelly (Chad’s uncle) that the kid was basically a good kid who has learned from his mistakes.  Chad Kelly was arrested after a team Halloween party under bizarre circumstances.

Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot regarding Chad Kelly’s football situation:

“Yet more to do: With his release from the Denver Broncos, quarterback Chad Kelly has been kicked off his high school, college and pro teams. The question now is whether he’ll settle for the ‘bad teammate’ Triple Crown or join the Canadian Football League and shoot for the Grand Slam.”

And just to put a cap on coaches-on-the-move this week, the Cowboys fired their offensive line coach.  I guess he is the one responsible for the various injuries along the line and surely for center, Travis Fredericks’ Guillain-Barre Syndrome which has sidelined him for the entire season.

Last night, the Niners disemboweled the Raiders 34-3.  Niners’ QB, Nick Mullens, started his first game ever and threw 3 TDs against a Raiders’ defense that was about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.  The Raiders are just awful this year; they were manhandled in the trenches on offense and on defense.  After the game, Jon Gruden stated the obvious; he said the team has to play better.  Based on what I saw last night, I wonder if they can play worse.

NFL Games of Interest:

KC – 8 at Cleveland (51.5):  Baker Mayfield has played well for the Browns, but no one should get carried away and say that he is playing anywhere near Patrick Mahomes’ level.  Consider:

  • Mayfield has 8 TDs and 6 INTs.  Mahomes has 26 TDs and 6 INTs
  • Mayfield has completed 58.3% of his passes. Mahomes has completed 65.6%
  • Mayfield gains 6.6 yards per attempt.  Mahomes gains 8.9.

The Chiefs’ pass defense is not very good; the Browns’ defense has yielded 400 yards or more in each of the last 5 games.

Pittsburgh at Baltimore – 2.5 (47):  The Steelers lead the AFC North and have won 3 games in a row.  The Ravens trail by 1.5 games and have lost 2 in a row.  The Ravens beat the Steelers earlier this year in Pittsburgh.  This is a big game for the Steelers and a must game for the Ravens.

Tampa at Carolina – 6 (55):  Ryan Fitzmagic takes over at QB again for the Bucs as noted above.  The Panthers have won their last 2 games and are only one game behind the Saints in the NFC South.  The Bucs are also in that division but hardly look like a team that will be a factor later in the season.  The Bucs will move the ball in the game; their passing attack is very good.  The Bucs’ giant flaw is their defense which gives up lots of yards and lots of “chunk plays”.

Jets at Miami – 3 (43.5):  Here are two bad offenses going up against one another.  The Dolphins are 27th in the NFL in total offense and the Jets are 29th.  The QBs in the game are rookie Sam Darnold and Brock Osweiler.  The Jets have the better defense of the two teams.  This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.

Atlanta at Washington – 1.5 (48):  The Falcons have won 3 in a row but are still 3 games behind the Saints in the NFC South; this is a critical game for them.  The Skins have also won 3 in a row and they are perched atop the NFC East by a game-and-a-half.  Julio Jones has averaged 116 yards per game receiving but has yet to score a TD.  Very strange …  The Skins’ run game depends on Adrian Peterson who is running the way he did about 4 years ago.  He has a picture in his attic that is aging fast…

Chicago – 10 at Buffalo (37):  The Bills are terrible on offense and solid on defense.  The Bears have a good defense and an inconsistent offense.  With a double-digit spread on this game, I would avoid it like 7-Eleven sushi.  Word is that Nathan Peterman will be the starter for the Bills.  What could possibly go wrong?

Chargers at Seattle – 1 (47.5):  The Chargers are on a 4-game win streak and the Seahawks have won their last 2 games.  The venue clearly favors the Seahawks here.  As a side event, this will be Philip Rivers’ 200th consecutive start at QB; only 3 other QBs in NFL history have ever done that.

(Sun Nite) Green Bay at New England – 5 (56.5):  This is not a game I want to bet on; this is a game I want to sit back and watch as dispassionately as I can – – since I am not from New England or Green Bay in which case dispassion would be impossible.  This game showcases Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers on the same field playing a real game against one another.  I may never see that again.  The Packers are 0-3 on the road this year and they have lost their last 9 consecutive games against the Pats on the road.

(Mon Nite) Tennessee at Dallas – 5.5 (40.5):  Both teams are 3-4 on the season; the loser of this game will have a deep hole to dig out of if they hope to make the playoffs.  This will be the Dallas coming out party for Amari Cooper.

Your weekly Six Pack:

I have 3 NCAA games and 3 NFL games in the Six-Pack this week:

Penn St.  at Michigan – 12 (53.5):  The Michigan defense is outstanding, and they are going to make life miserable for Penn St. all day long.  I do not expect Penn St. to win this game, but I do think that the Nittany Lions’ defense can keep the Michigan offense from running wild here.  Therefore, that line looks awfully fat to me.  I’ll take Penn St. plus the points.

Stanford at Washington – 10.5 (45.5):  Neither team has lived up to expectations this year and neither team has shown any consistency from week to week.  However, I think that Stanford can control the clock here and keep this to a one-score game – – if they do not turn the ball over too often.  I’ll take Stanford plus the points.

Alabama – 14.5 at LSU (53.5):  If you believe the CFP Rankings, this is the #1 team in the country against the #3 team in the country.  It is clearly the College Football Game of the Week.  Alabama has not been tested this year; most of the starters get rested in the 4th quarter.  LSU has shown the it can play tough defense to the point that it is always in the game.  What will be interesting here is to see if LSU can continue to win by running the football in a power run scheme; the front 7 of the Alabama defense is awfully good.  I think that line is fat – – unless Alabama jumps out to a big lead early in which case LSU will play into the Alabama hand trying to catch up.  I’ll take LSU plus the points and sit back to watch.

Rams – 2 at New Orleans (58.5):  Notwithstanding the Sunday Nite game below, I think this is the NFL Game of the Week.  The Rams are a perfect 8-0 for the season; the Saints have won 6 in a row.  The ball should be moving up and down the field at a furious pace.  I think the key to this game is interior pass rush by the Rams.  Drew Brees is at his best when he can maneuver in the pocket and step up to make his throws; when the middle of the pocket is pushed toward him, he is less effective, and he is susceptible to having his passes knocked down.  I think Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh will provide that middle pressure sufficiently often to tilt the balance here.  I like the Rams to win and cover – – even on the road in the dome in New Orleans.

Houston at Denver – 1.5 (46):  That spread must reflect the fact that the Broncos play much better at home than they do on the road.  The Texans have won 5 in a row to lead their division; the Broncos continue to have QB issues and just traded away WR, Demaryius Thomas – – to the Texans.  I think the wrong team is favored here; I like the Texans to win outright so I’ll take them plus the points here.

Detroit at Minnesota – 5 (49):  This is a division game in the tightest division in the league.  Minnesota is 4-3-1; Detroit is 3-4.  The Vikings need the game to stay near the top of the division – or possibly take the lead if the Bears were to stumble this week.  The Lions need the game to remain relevant there.  The Lions have the 31st run defense in the NFL allowing 145 yards per game – – but the Vikes’ offense is not based on running the football.  There are conflicting trends at work here:

  • Lions are 7-2 to go OVER in their last 9 road games
  • Lions/Vikes are 7-2 to say UNDER in their last 9 matchups.
  • You make the call…

Both teams lost last week; neither looked good in doing so.  I do not see how the Lions improved themselves this year by trading away Golden Tate.  I do think the Vikes will get the train back on the tracks.  I like the Vikes to win and cover here.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Two fires consumed seven cars in the MetLife Stadium parking lot during last Sunday’s Jets-Vikings game — because of late-arriving fans unwittingly parking their cars atop hot coals dumped from tailgaters’ grills.

“ ‘Not the first time we’ve been burned,’ sighed a fan wearing a Vernon Gholston jersey.”

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

What The Hell Took So Long?

When I was a kid, Dinah Washington had a hit song titled, “What a Difference a Day Makes”.  Well, those lyrics ring true this morning because late yesterday, the University of Maryland president, Wallace Loh, reversed course and fired head football coach DJ Durkin.  Loh did so without consulting with the Board of Regents which had directed him to reinstate Durkin as of yesterday; he simply informed the Board of his decision and acted on it.

While my instinct here is to praise Dr. Loh for demonstrating integrity and leadership in that action, there is a little voice in the back of my head saying:

  • What the Hell took so long?

The only new information that came forth in the last 24 hours relative to this matter is that students and players supported the idea of getting rid of Coach Durkin and to say that was the information that tipped the scales begs credulity.  Students do not run the university – or at least they are not supposed to.  I do not know why the narrative there is that it was the expression of various student bodies on campus that opened Dr. Loh’s eyes to the fact that he was in the middle of a mess that would fester unless he made a clean break with coach Durkin.

So, let me congratulate Dr. Loh for doing the right thing – – finally.  However, to get an understanding of the dynamics ongoing at Maryland related to this messy situation, I strongly recommend that you read this column by Barry Sverluga in today’s Washington Post.  I have said that this is a sordid situation; Barry Sverluga will fill you in on some of the details as to how we got to this point.

One of the underpinnings for the Maryland Mess as pointed out by Sverluga is the chasing of athletic dollars.  Interestingly, as this comes to light at Maryland, a related situation seems to exist at Northern Illinois University – whose football team plays in the MAC and not the Big-10.  According to the student newspaper at NIU, the school bought back more than $250K worth of tickets to their home football games to inflate attendance figures.  Why did they do that?  Well, it seems that in order to retain one’s status as a Division 1-A football program, a school must have a certain minimum attendance at their games – – and NIU was going to fall short.  That would mean some sort of “decertification” and that would mean loss of football revenue from playing on TV on Wednesday nights against other MAC schools and loss of money from corporate sponsorships etc.

  • [Aside:  If you ever bother to tune in on a Tuesday or Wednesday night to a MAC football game, you might conclude that most of the other schools in that conference are doing the same thing NIU has done.  To say there are 10,000 people at most of those MAC games would mean that you believe that Caspar the Friendly Ghost and all his buddies bought tix and are sitting in those broad open swaths of seemingly empty seats.]

The common thread between what the college newspaper reports about NIU football and the Maryland Mess is that both schools are chasing dollars.  The difference is that in Maryland the environment boiled over and resulted in the death of a “student-athlete”; at NIU, the only casualty is a financial one as $250K that could have been used to do something constructive for the institution was spent on tickets that no one wanted to buy.

Please keep these situations in mind the next time NCAA president, Dr. Mark Emmert, stands up and tells you that intercollegiate athletics are about enhancing the college experience for the student-athlete.  I will join you in giving him a chorus of raspberries when he does so.

Since the last two items have been football-related, let me deviate from normal practice here and talk about tonight’s Thursday Night Football game.  This game probably looked very enticing to the suits at FOX and NFL Network back in August; the Niners would be in the middle of a decent season with Jimmy G at the wheel and the Raiders would be experiencing the glory associated with “Gruden 2.0”.  As they say in Australia:

  • Yeah …  NO!

There have been plenty of bad match-ups on nationally televised NFL games in the past.  This one may be on the Mount Rushmore of bad games of that type.  The combined record of the two teams is 2-13.

  • The Niners’ only win came at the expense of the Lions (meh!) and the Niners’ have already lost to the Cardinals twice (yuck!).
  • The Raiders’ only win came at the expense of the Browns in OT (meh!) and four of their losses have been by 14 points or more (yuck!).

As the good folks at FOX and NFLN prepare to bring us the game with all the pre-game and post-game blather, I beg them to avoid a tempting storyline for tonight’s game:

  • This is NOT a “Battle for Bay Area Bragging Rights”.
  • The ONLY thing tonight’s winner can claim is that they are the “Least Worst Team in the Bay Area”.
  • I do not expect you to be so direct/blunt about it, but please do not try to glorify this game as anything more than a fetid pool.

And there is another football-related thing to consider this morning.  The NY Giants – talk about an NFL team that is worthy of being labeled an environmental hazard – have to deal with their backup QB being arrested earlier this week for disobeying a police officer’s traffic instructions and almost hitting the officer with his car.  After the arrest, it turns out that Kyle Lauletta has done this same thing before but was merely given a traffic citation for that incident; evidently all he did then was to disobey the directions and did not come close to running over the officer.  I guess the only good thing for Giants’ fans to think about here is that Lauletta did not ask the officer at the time of his arrest:

  • “Do you know who I am?”

Switching to baseball for a moment here, I ran across this item in Gregg Drinan’s excellent blog, Taking Note.  There is a link to his blog over on the right side of this blog under the heading “Columnists I Read”.

“Game 3 between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers went 18 innings and took seven hours 20 minutes to complete on Friday night. It took longer to play that one game than it did to play the entire 1939 World Series when the New York Yankees swept the Cincinnati Reds with the four games taking a combined 7:05.”

Finally, since I mentioned Mount Rushmore above in the hackneyed metaphor of the top 4 whatevers in some random category, here is an observation from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle that has been sitting on my clipboard waiting for an appropriate time to close a rant with it:

“You know what’s on my Mt. Rushmore of famous landmarks?  You guessed it.”

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