Football Friday 12/7/18

Seventy-seven years ago, today was “a date that will live in infamy”.  On December 7, 2018, today is merely a Football Friday.  The only major college game this weekend is the annual Army/Navy game with Army set as a 7-point favorite.  It may not be part of the CFP, but the Army/Navy game is always worth watching.

In the absence of “College Football News”, I have reserved this time to reveal the seedings for the 2018 SHOE Tournament.  The idea here is to identify the worst team in Division 1-A college football in a way analogous to the way the CFP operates.  There is a bracket; the teams square off on the field; the wrinkle here is that the loser of each game must play on until there is an ultimate loser in the tournament.  Winners along the way can go home and study for final exams – or just enjoy the Holidays at their pleasure.

I have unilaterally picked the 8 teams I believe should be in contention for the SHOE Team label – the Steaming Heap Of Excrement.

Before revealing the order of the 8 teams in my imaginary tournament, let me provide you with some of the stats that led me to identify the #1 Seed in this event.  The UConn Huskies were historically inept on defense this year.  Consider these stats:

  • UConn allowed an average of 50.4 points per game this year.
  • UConn allowed a total of 7,410 yards this year which equals 617.5 yards per game.  That is the worst in college football history; the previous record was held by Kansas who once allowed 560 yards per game for a season.  UConn demolished that record.
  • The best showing for the UConn defense was against UMass when the Huskies “only” allowed 444 yards.
  • The worst showing for the UConn defense was against Boise St. when the Huskies allowed 818 yards.

One more preliminary comment.  It was a close call for me to pick the #8 seed in this tournament of losers.  My first thought was to put Rutgers with its 1-11 record in that slot but the final two games of the year for Rutgers were not embarrassments.  Rutgers lost those games, but they were losses to two good teams (Penn State and Michigan State) and neither was a blowout.  So, Rutgers is not in the field this year.  Maybe next year for the Scarlet Knights?

So, here is the SHOE Tournament field:

  • #1 Seed UConn (1-11):  See above for why they are in this slot.  The Huskies’ only win this season came at the expense of Division 1-AA, Holy Cross.
  • #2 Seed Rice (2-10):  The Owls beat Division 1-AA Prairie View in Week 1 and then Old Dominion in Week 13.  Those two wins are bookends on a horrendous season in between.
  • #3 Seed UTEP (1-11):  The Miners’ only win was over Rice.  So, even with a worse record than Rice, they have to be seeded below Rice here.  No need to root for a rematch…
  • #4 Seed C. Michigan (1-11):  The Chippewas have lost 8 games in a row since defeating Division 1-AA Maine back in September.
  • #5 Seed San José St. (2-11):  They have a Division 1-A victory over UNLV but they also lost to Division 1-AA UC-Davis and lost 4 games by 21 points or more.
  • #6 Seed Oregon St. (2-10):  The Beavers beat Division 1-AA Southern Utah and Colorado but lost 5 games by 21 points or more.
  • #7 Seed Louisville (2-10):  The Cardinals’ wins were over Division 1-AA Indiana St. and W. Kentucky plus the Cardinals gave up 55 points or more in each of their last 5 games.
  • #8 Seed Georgia St. (2-10):  The Panthers have a win over Division 1-AA Kennesaw St. and one over La- Monroe.  However, they lost 6 games by 21 points or more.

NFL Commentary:

The biggest thing that happened as a result of last week’s action was that the Packers fired head coach Mike McCarthy after losing at home to the Cardinals who were 14-point underdogs in the game.  There had been myriad reports of friction between McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers for more than a month, so this news was surprising in that it came before the end of a humongously disappointing season for the Packers.

  • [Aside:  This specific loss to the Cardinals was significantly out of the ordinary.  The last time the Cardinals beat the Packers in Green Bay was in 1949 – – when they were the Chicago Cardinals before they were the St. Louis Cardinals before they were the Arizona Cardinals.  For perspective, in 1949 Harry Truman was President; Joe Louis retired as heavyweight champion and the NATO alliance was born.]

I am generally not a fan of firing a coach in the middle of a season; normally the interim guy proves that the problem is not the messenger or the message; the problem is the roster.  [Aside:  I acknowledge that firing Hue Jackson earlier this year was a proper move and the results under Gregg Williams have been significantly better than they were before the move.]  Regarding the Packers, I think they need a roster overhaul more than they may need a new coach who can get along better with Aaron Rodgers and “better offensive play calling”.

In any event, with two NFL coaches already fired, I started to pay attention to reports/speculations out there regarding other coaches who may be under scrutiny as the season comes to an end.  Let me list them here in alphabetical order:

  1. Todd Bowles (NY Jets):  If the NYC tabloids were running the Jets’ franchise, Bowles would have been gone by now.  I think Bowles is likely to be fired after the season is over and I think that the seeds of his firing were planted by his previous success.  In his first year in NY, the Jets went 10-6; no one expected that.  Later, many folks believed the Jets were on a path to go 0-16 in a season, but Bowles somehow won 5 games with a JV roster.  He sort of put in people’s minds that he had the ability to make chicken salad out of chicken s*it.  Personally, I would fire the Jets’ GM before I fired Todd Bowles – – but that’s just me.  The best reason I can come up with for his firing is that Sam Darnold is more likely to reach is potential under an offensive-minded coach and coaching staff and Bowles is absolutely a defensive guy.
  2. Dirk Koetter (Tampa Bay Bucs):  Koetter got the job because he was the offensive coordinator in Jameis Winston’s rookie year and Winston looked as if he was going to be a superstar in the league.  The team fired Lovie Smith and hired Koetter to keep Koetter from taking a job elsewhere; he was one of the “hot prospects” in that offseason.  Well, all of that has hardly worked out according to the plan.  The question for the next 4 games is pretty simple in Tampa.  Can Jameis Winston – reinstated as the starter there – play well enough to save the job of the guy the team hired because of Winston in the first place?  Oh, by the way, the Bucs’ defense stinks and that is not Koetter’s fault.
  3. Marvin Lewis (Cincy Bengals):  Lewis has been in Cincy since 2003; only Bill Belichick has been in his job longer than that.  Lewis took over a monumentally dysfunctional franchise and put it on its feet; he tore the “laughingstock label” off the team and got them to the playoffs 7 times in 15 years.  His record with the Bengals is over .500 at 130-119-3.  But there are blemishes on that résumé that are difficult to ignore.  The Bengals have lost every playoff game they participated in in the Marv Lewis Era and sometimes they lose because the team suffers mental meltdowns late in close games.  It happens over and over; the players never seem to learn from previous gaffes; certain players are serial offenders.  That leads some to conclude that Lewis does not hold them accountable for their blockheadedness and that makes him the “Enabler-in-Chief”.  Marvin Lewis did a great service to the Bengals’ franchise that he took over in 2003.  Has he gone past his “sell-by date”?
  4. Doug Marrone (Jax Jags):  The Jags are the biggest disappointments in the NFL in 2018.  The biggest source of trouble for the Jags has been the play of Blake Bortles at QB; he does not belong there, and the Jags decided in the last off-season to sign him to a large 2-year contract extension.  If Marrone was one of the people who thought that was a good idea, he should be fired yesterday; if not, he should keep his job and all the folks who thought that was a good idea should be fired immediately.  The Bortles situation is rather simple to understand as it exists now.  Bortles will be a salary cap liability to the Jags if he is on the roster or off the roster; there is no real difference there.  Bortles will be a roster liability if he is on the roster but not if he is off the roster.  Kabeesh?  Oh, and by the way, someone in the Jags’ organization needs to find a way to convince Leonard Fournette to get a handle on his emotions so that he does not make a fool of himself and a punching bag out of the team.
  5. Dan Quinn (Atlanta Falcons):  The Falcons are not as disappointing as the Jags – – but it’s close.  The Falcons never did thrive on the strength of their defense; the Falcons were an offense-oriented team when they were successful.  This year, the offense has been bland – maybe even dismal.  If I owned the team, I would change out members of the offensive staff before I changed out the head coach who had plenty of success until this year.  In his first three years in Atlanta, Quinn’s teams were 29-19-0; they went to the Super Bowl after the 2016 season and made the playoffs again last year.  The Falcons are 4-8 this year but 4 of the 8 losses were by 7 points or less.  Is that just misfortune – – or is that a team flaw that they continue to lose more close games than they win?
  6. Ron Rivera (Carolina Panthers):  The Panthers’ existing 4-game losing streak has made some folks wonder if the new ownership in Carolina will use that losing streak as a basis for demonstrating who’s the new boss in town.  Last week, the Panthers lost to the Bucs and Cam Newton threw 4 INTs in the game.  Seriously now, is there a coach out there who would have prevented that from happening had he been on the sidelines instead of Ron Rivera last week?  In addition, on the final play of the game when the Panthers needed a Hail Mary pass of more than 50 yards to tie the game, they took Newton out of the game and inserted Taylor Heinicke to be sure the pass would go far enough to reach the goal line.  If that does not tell you that Cam Newton is playing with a bum arm, I don’t know what will.  Bum arms on starting QBs are not coaching deficiencies…

Before I get to the NFL games this week, let me offer condolences to the NFL fans in the Bay Area for the depressing state of affairs in that region of Northern California.  The two teams in the area are having disastrous seasons; and to make it worse, fans of both teams had reasons for optimism back in August:

  • Niners’ fans looked forward to seeing Jimmy G continue his unbeaten streak as a starting QB and to lead the team to playoff contention if not the playoffs proper.
  • Raiders’ fans were positive that the return of Jon Gruden would set the vector heading for the team in the direction of “past glory”.

Here we are in Week 14 of the 2018 NFL season and there are only two teams that have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.  You guessed it; they are the Niners and the Raiders; both teams sport records of 2-10 to date.

NFL Games This Week:

If someone were going to look for reasons to keep Doug Marrone in charge of the Jags, that someone would need to destroy any and all evidence of last night’s game against the Titans.  The Jags were outhit and out played for the final 50 minutes of the game.  The Jags showed a lot of bravado early on but did not translate that bravado into actions such as tackling any of the Titans’ running backs/receivers and/or blocking any blitzers who were bent on terrorizing Jags’ QB, Cody Kessler.  The Titans won by 3 TDs but the game was not nearly that close.

Baltimore at KC – 6.5 (51.5):  This was a strong candidate for the Game of the Week; it has playoff implications for both teams.  The Ravens are a half game out of the division lead in the AFC North and the Chiefs hold a one game lead in the AFC West and a one game lead for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  Moreover, both teams are playing as if they belong in the playoffs over the past month.  The Ravens have won 3 in a row with a stifling defense, a power run game and a little bit of passing from Lamar Jackson.  The Chiefs continue to win by outscoring the opposition and despite a mediocre defense.  The Ravens should be able to run on the Chiefs’ defense which gives up 122 yards per game.  It will be interesting to see how well the Chiefs’ passing attack fares against a Ravens’ pass defense that allows only 194.4 yards per game (second best in the NFL).

Indy at Houston – 5.5 (49.5):  The Colts were shut out by the Jags last week and they are going to face another tough defense on the road in this game.  That loss last week snapped a 5-game winning streak for the Colts and they probably need to win 3 of their last 4 games to have a shot at a playoff berth.  Here is the Colts remaining schedule after this week:

  • Vs Cowboys
  • Vs Giants
  • At Titans

The Colts really need a win here…  Meanwhile, the Texans are white hot riding a 9-game winning streak.  Interestingly, the winning streak began in Week 4 with a win over the Colts in Indy.  This game boils down to something rather simple:

  • The Texans are hoping to get a BYE Week in the AFC playoffs
  • The Colts are hoping to be admitted to the AFC playoffs.

I think defense will dominate this game.  I like this game to stay UNDER.

Carolina – 2 at Cleveland (47):  If you told me a month ago that the Panthers would only be a 2-point favorite in this game, I would have suggested that someone needed to make you pee in a cup to find out what you had ingested.  But here we are; the Browns are playing much better in the absence of Hue Jackson; the Panthers have lost 4 in a row and Cam Newton is playing while less than 100% healthy.  The Panthers’ season is on the brink of disaster; they have lost 4 in a row and here is what is ahead of them after this road game:

  • Vs Saints
  • Vs Falcons
  • At Saints

The Panthers are 1-5 on the road this year; meanwhile the Browns are 3-2-1 at home.  I think the Panthers’ playoff hopes are minuscule given their schedule, but a loss here will turn “minuscule” into “nil”.  I like the Browns at home plus the points.

Atlanta at Green Bay – 5 (50):  This game was a candidate for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week, but the presence of two capable QBs on the field holds out a hope that the game could be competently played.  The Falcons are mysteriously bad; the Packers are in disarray.  In addition to firing Mike McCarthy last week, they also fired assistant coach Winston Moss for tweeting that the team needed more accountability for everyone including Aaron Rodgers.  I do not think either defense will stifle the opposing offense here; both QBs should have a big day.  I like the game to go OVER.

New Orleans – 9 at Tampa Bay (56):  The Saints stunk out the joint against the Cowboys last week scoring only 10 points in the game.  To give you a benchmark here, the Saints had only been held under 30 points twice in the season until last week.  I am confident that the Bucs’ defense will not hold the Saints to 10 points in this game.  The Saints’ loss last week was their second loss of the season; the first one came in Week 1 to – – the Bucs.  That’s right; if the Bucs win, they will sweep the Saints this year – the same Saints team that has its eye on a BYE week in the playoffs and maybe even home field advantage in the playoffs.  I do not think the Bucs are going to win here but that line is fat; give me the Bucs plus the points.

Jets at Buffalo – 3 (38):  This game was also a candidate for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week, but it is a division game so that adds a modicum of interest there.  The Bills won the first meeting of these teams this year; the Jets seem to have regressed from that point in the season.  If Sam Darnold is ready to go, this will be a game where both rookie QBs – presumably both are young franchise QBs of the future – will go at one another.  See, there actually are interesting things associated with this game…  Make this a venue call; I like the Bills to win and cover.

New England – 7.5 at Miami (47):  Everyone knows that the Pats get better as the season goes on.  During the Belichick Era in New England, the Pats are 63-11 in games played in December.  The Dolphins are merely a .500 team this year; the Pats would clinch the AFC East title with a win here; so, this is almost a walkover – – no? This is the time to bet the mortgage money on the Pats – – right?  Well, maybe not…  Check out these trends:

  • Tom Brady is only 7-9 straight up in games played in Miami.
  • Last year, the Pats lost to the Dolphins in Miami as 10.5-point favorites.
  • The Patriots are 1-4 straight up in their last 5 visits to Miami
  • The Dolphins are 5-1 against the spread at home this year.
  • The home team is 13-3 against the spread the last 16 times these teams met.  This game is in Miami.
  • The Dolphins are 7-3 against the spread when getting more than 7 points at home in the history of the Miami franchise.

Ok, so maybe the play is to load up on the Dolphins here – – right?  Well, check this out:

  • The Pats are 11-3 against the spread in their last 14 games on grass.  This game is on grass.
  • The Dolphins are 4-10 against the spread in their last 14 games against teams with a winning record.  The Pats are 9-3.

These trends/stats demonstrate why they call it sports gambling and not sports investing…

Giants – 3.5 at Washington (41):  This game opened as a “pick ‘em” game until the season-ending nature of Colt McCoy’s injury became clear.  That set the line at this level and it gives you a snapshot of how the Skins’ season has swirled around the porcelain bowl.  The Skins were on track to win the NFC East until the injury bug bit them; now the Skins are at home and they are underdogs to a team with a 4-8 record.  While people are rightfully wondering if Mark Sanchez can do anything with and for the Skins’ offense; there is another problem here.  At one point earlier this year, the Skins’ defense was solidly in the Top 10 in the league.  Forget that; over the last 5 games, the Skins’ defense has given up more than 430 yards per game.  The Giants have won 3 of their last 4 games including a win over the division-leading Bears.  Landon Collins will miss this game – and the rest of the season – for the Giants and will undergo shoulder surgery next week.  An interesting angle on this game will be watch the Hall of Fame RB, Adrian Peterson, on the same field with rookie RB sensation, Saquon Barkley.

Denver – 4 at SF (45):  This game opened with the Broncos as 4.5-point favorites; that was before the news that Emmanuel Sanders tore his Achilles tendon and is out for the season.  That news did not seem to move the line at all and I find that surprising.  The Broncos are 6-6; they could make the playoffs but would probably need to win out.  Looking at this game and the rest of their schedule, that is within the realm of possibility except for the final game of the season.  After this game, the Broncos schedule is:

  • Vs Browns
  • At Raiders
  • Vs Chargers

The loss of Emmanuel Sanders is a big deal for the Broncos.  In 12 games this year, Sanders caught 71 passes for 868 yards and 4 TDs.  The Broncos traded Demaryius Thomas earlier this season, so it will be interesting to see who becomes the “bull goose looney” [H/T to Ken Kesey] in the Broncos’ wide receiver’s room for the rest of the season.  Meanwhile the Niners are wondering if they will be “on the clock” for the #1 pick in the NFL Draft next April – – or if they will have to wait in line behind their brethren across the Bay in Oakland.  I like the Niners at home plus the points.

Bengals at Chargers – 14 (47.5):  The Chargers are solidly on course for the playoffs and could catch the Chiefs in the AFC West; they are only a game behind in the standings.  The Chargers need this game; but if there were ever a “Trap Game” for a team, this would be it:

  • Last week, the Chargers came from way behind to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh
  • This week the Bengals come to LA as a team in total disarray and with key injuries.
  • Next week, the Chargers play the Chiefs for what could be the AFC West title.

This game will pit Jeff Driskel against Philip Rivers as the opposing QBs.  Who ya got?  Rivers is a bona fide MVP candidate this year; Driskell has thrown 4 passes in the NFL and he completed all of them for a total of 39 yards.  Oh, and Bengals’ WR, AJ Green, is out for the year with a foot injury too.  The Bengals have lost four in a row and three of those four losses have been by 14 points or more.  This one has BLOWOUT written all over it; but I am not going to give away 2 TDs to start the game.

Detroit – 3 at Arizona (40.5):  This game is The Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  These teams bring a combined record of 7-17 to the coin toss.  It is not a divisional game; neither team elicits any real emotional reaction outside their local community; if you are interested in this game and happen to be in the neighborhood this weekend, you can get tix for as little as $18 online.  If you press me to find something interesting about this game, here is the best thing I can come up with:

  • Lions have a first-year coach in Matt Patricia
  • Cards have a first-year coach in Steve Wilks
  • Both first-year coaches have a lot of work left to do to put a winning team on the field.

The Lions have lost 5 of their last 6 games and have failed to cover in all 5 losses.  The Cards are 6-6 against the spread for the season.  Keep your money in your pocket…

Philly at Dallas – 3.5 (44):  I know that an Eagles’ win here will put them in a tie with the Cowboys in the NFC East.  Nevertheless, I believe the Eagles are out of contention for that division title because of their upcoming schedule as compared to the Cowboys’ upcoming schedule.  Assume for a moment that the Eagles win here, and both teams go forward with a record of 7-6.  Here is the Eagles’ remaining schedule:

  • At Rams
  • Vs Texans
  • At Skins

The Rams and Texans have a combined record of 20-4.

Meanwhile, here is the Cowboys’ remaining schedule:

  • At Colts
  • Vs Bucs
  • At Giants

The Colts are at .500 as of this morning; neither the Bucs nor the Giants can make that claim.  The fact is that the Cowboys schedule from here to December 30th is a whole lot easier than the Eagles’ schedule.

The Cowboys have won 4 in a row and the way Amari Cooper has played since his arrival in Dallas makes one wonder how or why he under-performed so much in Oakland for the last year and a half.  It looks now as if Jerry Jones got the best of that deal with the Raiders even though most folks thought he got fleeced when the trade was announced.  The Eagles are on a 2-game in streak but do not fail to consider the opponents in those two games – – the Giants and the Skins.

Pittsburgh – 10 at Oakland (51.5):  The Raiders – like their neighbors in the Bay Area – can see their way clear to the overall #1 pick in next year’s NFL Draft; it is within their grasp so long as they continue to lose football games in December.  Meanwhile, the Steelers need to win this one.  As of now, the Steelers hold a tenuous half-game lead over the Ravens in the AFC North and the Steelers do not have a cakewalk for their remaining games.  Check this out:

  • Vs Pats
  • At Saints
  • Vs Bengals

The unavailability of James Connor this week is not good news for the Steelers.  Even without him, the Steelers are the superior team, but the Steelers historically play down to the level of their opposition.  They simply cannot afford to do that in this game to the point where they lose the game to an inferior opponent.

(Sun Nite) Rams – 3 at Chicago (51.5):  This game was flexed from an early start time to the Sunday Night national game.  This is The Game of the Week; it matches a division leader (Bears) against a team that has already clinched its division championship and is eyeing home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs (Rams).  The Rams’ incentive is that they hold a 1-game lead over the Saints for that home field advantage; the Bears’ incentive is holding onto their lead over the Vikes in the NFC North.  It appears as if Mitchell Trubisky will return to the lineup for the Bears this week and it is incumbent on the Bears’ OL to play better than it did last week when it allowed the Giants’ defense to sack the QB 4 times.  This week Aaron Donald will be on the DL and the Bears do not want him throwing Mitchell Trubisky around like a rag doll.

(Mon Nite) Minnesota at Seattle – 3 (45):  This game will become the Game of the Week if Mitchell Trubisky cannot play on Sunday night and the Rams win because the Bears had to play Chase Daniel.  In that event, the Vikes will have double motivation in this game:

  1. A win will put them only a half-game behind the Bears with the Bears slated to come visit the Vikes in the final game of the season.
  2. A win will put them ahead of the Seahawks by a half-game as the #1 NFC wildcard team.

The Seahawks are not going to catch the Rams in the NFC West; their entry into the playoffs depends on getting a wild card slot and they will do that if they win out.  The Seahawks like to run the ball to set up Russell Wilson in the passing game; the Bears have the second-best run defense in the NFL allowing only 85.8 yards per game on the ground.  The Vikes have won 6 games this year; only one of the teams they beat (Eagles) has a .500 record this year; all the others are below .500.  I like the Seahawks at home to win and cover.

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

“In the biggest upset of 2018, Rocky Balboa retired before Tom Brady did.”

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



4 thoughts on “Football Friday 12/7/18”

  1. Jack:

    Regarding Aaron Rodgers performance issues, while I’ve not seen any mention of this yet, it’s not going to surprise me when some attribution to his relationship with Danica Patrick is cited. I dont believe there’s any causality here, but there is quite a bit of animus existing for her.

    1. Steve:

      I must admit that I had not put those pieces together in my mind until I read your note. I’ll keep an eye out to see if any such “analysis” appears.

  2. Sad that Navy didn’t win, but this is one of the 3 games without any “long haired dude” in the lineup (the others being USNA-USAFA and USMA-USAFA). the “long haired dude” is becoming as ubiquitous as the red shirt/hat/armband dude that stops games for far too long on commercial breaks. Might be worth a column about the regular football fauna.

    I did know a few guys from “Canoe U” and last week was one where literally nothing gets done and “Army-Navy” excuses everyone from all assignments.

    1. Rugger9:

      What I enjoy about Army/Navy games is the sportsmanship that is evidenced on just about every play. There are celebrations of big plays but they are not a “look-at-me” celebration; they are a “what-a-great-outcome” celebration.

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