The late George Jones sang:
“It’s finally Friday
I’m free again
I got my motor running for a wild weekend
It’s finally Friday
I’m out of control
Forget the workin’ blues
And let the good times roll”
Here in Curmudgeon Central, I am always free; my weekends are no longer wild; I try to remain in control because I have no working’ blues to worry about. Here in Curmudgeon Central, it’s Football Friday.
NCAA Football Commentary:
Nothing of any gravity happened on the field last week. So, let me use this space to present two items I found in Bob Molinaro’s column in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot and comment on them.
“Liberty’s choices: Liberty University, which vigorously promotes its Christian foundation, just hired football coach and Jesus-name-dropper Hugh Freeze, who was forced out at Ole Miss for a “pattern of personal misconduct” which included using a school phone to call escort services. He’ll now work under A.D. Ian McCaw, who held the same position at Baylor during its sexual assault scandal.”
I suggest that Coach Freeze and AD McCaw might want to take a moment as they begin their work at Liberty to recall Luke 12:2:
“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known.”
Professor Molinaro’s second observation comments on the human condition:
“Not so fast: It’s no surprise that influential people in college football are ready to speed up discussions about expanding the playoffs from four to eight teams. The human species is programmed to believe that more is better, especially when huge sums of money are involved. We’ll see how soon expansion takes place and, then much later, if it improves the sport. Because sometimes, more is just more.”
Indeed, the idea that “more is better” permeates many human enterprises starting with how big a serving of pie a la mode one would like after dinner. In many cases, more is actually better; when you get a promotion at work and it comes with a 10% raise, your life is probably going to be better than it would be getting the promotion without the raise. But Molinaro is right in this circumstance.
When I look at the landscape of college football for this year, I have seen every one of the teams ranked in the Top Ten at the end of the season play plenty of football – – except for UCF which I have only seen play about one-quarter of one game. I cannot make a pronouncement on UCF’s potential to win an expanded CFP because I don’t have a basis for judging if they belong in the Top Ten nationally. And, by the way, neither do the UCF acolytes in the Orlando area.
However, with regard to the other teams in the rankings, I really do not believe that teams ranked from #7 through #15 would have a chance to run a tournament gauntlet and become national champions. Here are the teams in that ranking – omitting UCF:
- Michigan (10-2)
- Washington (9-3)
- Florida (9-3)
- LSU (9-3)
- Penn State (9-3)
- Washington State (10-2)
- Kentucky (9-3)
- Texas (9-3)
The problem with expanding the CFP is where to stop. If a committee has to draw a line somewhere among that grouping of teams, there will be as much controversy then as there is now drawing the line between Number 4 and Number 5. Yes, there will be more college football games that are interesting but expanding the CFP will not eliminate the controversy and the claims of exclusion by a team just below the cut line.
For proof of that, consider March Madness which invites 68 teams to the party…
Notwithstanding what is about to follow here, I am not going to use Bob Molinaro to write this entire rant for me. However, he did have a very cogent insight in a recent column that fits well here:
“Not the fix: Remember when everybody was calling for the NFL to hire full-time game officials? Well, the league has 24 this season. Why, then, does the officiating appear to be 24 times worse?”
I don’t know that the officiating appears to be 24 times worse this year than before, but it certainly is no better than it has been. The reason for that is pretty clear to me. These comments come from someone who never officiated football but who did officiate basketball for 37 years.
- In the off-season, the only things an official can “improve upon” are knowledge of the rules and officiating mechanics. Those improvements come from studying the rule book and from watching instructional videos and game tapes.
- Calling an actual game requires a thorough understanding of the rules. Calling an actual game also demands that the official be in the right place at the right time to have a real chance to see the play he needs to call. That second demand only comes from calling a real game – and here is a news flash – there are no real NFL games between the Super Bowl in February and the start of the Exhibition Season in August.
- I am not denigrating rule studying and film study for officials; to the contrary, those are essential elements of developing competent officials. What I am saying is that they are necessary but not sufficient to develop competent officials.
When NFL teams fade into the bottom levels of the league, the most common way for them to try to elevate their status is a housecleaning. This involves firing the coach and the coaching staff and maybe the GM too; it involves releasing a bunch of players and getting new ones from the draft and from free agency and – in some cases – from the scrap heap to start the reconstruction process. The Niners, the Raiders and the Bills have begun such a process. It is certainly not completed and there is no certainty that any of the three “reincarnated teams” will be dominant in the NFL at any point in the future. But they are on that path…
I think there are several other teams in the NFL that ought to consider that mode of operation:
- Bengals: Marvin Lewis had the Bengals in or around the playoffs from 2011 through 2015 after taking over the team in 2003 when the franchise was little more than a punchline. However, in the past 3 seasons the Bengals have receded to the mid-bottom of the league. Yes, there have been injuries; but the problem with the team is lack of discipline on the field and to many players who used to flash talent on the field but are now just aging has-beens. Is Marvin Lewis the guy to breathe life into the franchise once again? He did it once but that was a long time ago…
- Broncos: This one is pretty basic. The Broncos need a competent QB and so far, John Elway has been singularly unsuccessful in finding a competent young one. Case Keenum is not that competent young one. Neither are these young QBs taken in the John Elway Era. (Chad Kelly, Paxton Lynch, Trevor Siemien, Zac Dysart, Brock Osweiler, Tim Tebow and Tom Brandstater)
- Cardinals: Maybe the Cards tried to kickstart the motor last year when Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians left town and Steve Wilks was hired and Josh Rosen was drafted. The problem is that the Cardinals show little life and a minimal level of competence on offense. The team is last in yards gained per game on offense and scores about 14 points per game. If the braintrust in Arizona thought they rebooted the franchise last year, they need to take a very long look at what has been accomplished this year and ask if they are willing to continue down that road.
- Jags: They say that defense wins championships – – but not by itself. There must be a semblance of scoring potential if a great defense is going to prevail. The Jags came close to the Super Bowl last year with an excellent defense and no real offense. This year, the offense was even worse, and the defense simply could not hold up. Do the Jags have the right coaching staff and front office? The pedigrees say that they do but the assembled roster on the field says there is a problem somewhere. [Aside: If I got the NFL’s “dead money” rule figured out correctly, Blake Bortles will cost the Jags $16.5M against the cap next year when they cut him at the end of this year. After Bortles’ performance in 2017, who agreed to that deal in the last off-season?] The Jags need a QB even worse than the Broncos do, and the Jags need a lot less “nonsense” from young players who seem to need recognition as “social media provocateurs” than recognition as on-field champions.
Some might argue that the Bucs, Lions and Jets belong on this list too. I agree that they have lots of room for improvement, but each has some reason not to be on a par with the teams above.
- The Bucs have a decent offense, but their defense has let the team down more than a few times this year. I think the defense can be improved and that will make the team competitive if not excellent. If, however, the Jameis Winston Era in Tampa is demmed to be over by the Bucs’ front office, then I would agree that the Bucs belong on the list above.
- The Lions have a new coach and they have a franchise QB who is better than any QB available to any of the teams on the list above. Matthew Stafford is indeed overpaid, but a competent front office and coaching staff can build around him. The Lions are a historically futile franchise, but I would let the current “change of direction” run its course for a while longer. The thing that would give me pause is that coaches from the Bill Belichick tree have tended to underperform when they go elsewhere – and Matt Patricia is from that tree…
- The Jets have a good young QB who needs developing. They also need a significant upgrade in the cadre of folks who are going to catch the balls that he throws at them. That is on the GM – – and remember, he is the guy who thought Christian Hackenberg was a second-round pick just a couple of years ago. The NY tabloids want Todd Bowles run out of town on a rail. I think that is uncalled for; the team has been out of serious contention for about a month and he still has the team playing hard – even when they lose. To me, that is the sign of a good coach not an incompetent one.
Last week, the Cowboys could have clinched the NFC East with a win over the Colts. That did not happen in large part because the Cowboys were shut out in that game. I still think the Cowboys will make the playoffs, but they will have to play at least one road game there and the team is only 2-5 on the road… The Colts’ defense is emerging as a top-shelf unit; they shut down Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott in last week’s game.
In another game with playoff implications last week, the Vikes laid an ass-kicking on the Dolphins 41-17. Speaking of teams that are not road warriors, the Dolphins are now 1-10 in their last 11 road games.
The Ravens ran the ball down the Bucs’ collective throats for 242 yards in a convincing win.
The Bears beat the Packers by a TD last week clinching the NFC North title and eliminating the Packers from the playoffs. The defense prevailed sacking Aaron Rodgers 5 times in the game.
The Seahawks’ playoff drive hit a speed bump in SF last week; the Niners won 26-23 in OT. I said it could be a sandwich game for the Seahawks and it certainly appeared as if their heads were not in this game; Seattle committed 14 penalties for 149 yards.
The Steelers beat the Pats to snap a 3-game losing streak and maintain their half-game lead in the AFC North race. The Steelers unveiled rookie RB, Jaylen Samuels (5th round pick from NC State), who gained 142 yards on the ground in the game.
The Eagles kept their mathematical hopes for a playoff berth alive beating the Rams by a TD last week. [Aside: I got this game all wrong; I said the Rams were going “to truck the Eagles”. Not so…] Nick Foles and Alshon Jeffrey hooked up for 160 yards in this game.
The Falcons indeed trucked the Cards 40-14. The Falcons’ defense got 7 sacks in this game. Since the Falcons D-line is not manned by a bunch of future HoF inductees, this reflects on the quality of the Cards’ OL very badly. See above…
The Bills beat the Lions 13-12. The Lions missed a PAT and a field goal from inside the 40 yardline and lost the game by a point. That is the essence of “Lion-hood”; that is why I said above that the Lions are a “futile franchise”; they do this sort of thing way too frequently.
The Raiders lost to Bengals by 2 TDs. Here is how the Raiders began the game on their first 5 possessions – – 3 punts and 2 lost fumbles. That is not exactly showing up ready to play.
The Skins beat Jags in a game that was as pleasant to watch as a root canal. Josh Johnson was the superior QB on the field as opposed to Cody Kessler. That is like Sneezy announcing that he is the tallest of the Seven Dwarfs.
Two weeks ago, the Giants scored 40 points against the Skins. The Giants scored ZERO points last week against the Titans. Titans’ RB, Derrick Henry, carried 33 times for 170 yards in the game. In the last two games Henry has gained 408 yards rushing.
The Browns beat the Broncos by a point last week. It must have been an epiphany for the oddsmakers in Las Vegas because they installed the Browns as a 7-point favorite over the Bengals this week. The win was fueled by 100 yards rushing by Nick Chubb. Raise your hand if you ever heard of Freddie Kitchens more than a month ago. Since he took over as the OC in Cleveland – – when the much more recognizable and heralded Todd Haley was shown the door – – the Browns have won 4 games and Baker Mayfield has looked the way an overall #1 pick is supposed to look.
NFL Games This Week:
If the Chargers win out and KC loses one of its last two games, the Chargers will have home field advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs. The chargers home field is the Stub Hub Center – a soccer field that normally seats 27,000 people but could be expanded to 32,000. The Chargers have not been successful in selling out that venue for the last two years; many of their games have been in front of “home crowds” where half the fans were wearing the opponents’ colors. If the AFC Championship Game is played there, it will make for some interesting crowd shots – – or if the NFL would prefer the lack of crowd shots.
The Raiders/Broncos game on Monday night could be last game in Oakland for the team given the lawsuit the City of Oakland filed and the terms of the Raiders’ lease for the Oakland Coliseum. Look for ESPN to milk that angle from start to finish because the game is not going to have any import on the outcome of the season. And as they milk that angle, please recognize that it is not nearly the whole story.
- The city is losing its franchise.
- Those fans in the Black Hole are losing their team – – for the second time.
- The last home game is against a division rival meaning that the peace and joy of the season are unlikely to be widespread in the stands.
- It is Christmas Eve and any of the folks in the stands who have kids ought to be home with those kids on that night.
(Sat. Afternoon) Washington at Tennessee – 10 (37): The Skins’ run defense has deteriorated as the season went on and Titans’ RB, Derrick Henry, has become more effective as a runner as the season went on. If those trends continue, Henry should dominate this game. If for some reason you find I necessary to watch this game, keep your eye on Titans’ defensive lineman, Jurrell Casey; he is the best defensive lineman no one knows anything about.
(Sat. Evening) Baltimore at Chargers – 4 (43): The Chargers are 10-1 in their last 11 games; the Ravens are in that last AFC wildcard slot for now, but a loss would not do their chances any good. I almost made this the Game of the Week but since the Chargers are in the playoffs no matter what, I backed off that choice. The Ravens win by running the ball and the Chargers’ run defense is not the team’s long suit. I think this game will be low scoring; and in those games, I prefer to take the points. Ergo, I’ll take the Ravens plus the points – – even on the road.
Tampa at Dallas – 7 (48): The Bucs’ offense has sputtered in the past couple of weeks; that is not good news for a team whose defense is pretty bad. The real weakness for the Bucs is run defense and with Ezekiel Elliott in the Cowboys’ backfield, that should be a fatal flaw.
Buffalo at New England – 13.5 (44.5): The Pats have lost 2 in a row and are still not guaranteed to be the AFC East champs. That should change at the end of this game – – but 13.5 points is a whole lot to give. The Pats are 6-0 at home this year; I do not think the Bills can win outright, but I am not ready to lay down any coin of the realm on this game with that spread.
Atlanta – 3.5 at Carolina (43.5): At the start of the week, the Panthers were a 3-point favorite here. Then came the announcement that Cam Newton was being shut down for the year with his shoulder injury – which was pretty obvious to anyone who watched the Panthers play over the past month or so. The Panthers’ starting QB will be Taylor Heinicke whose college career was spent at Old Dominion. The Falcons have given me no reason to trust them as road favorites this year and the Panthers are nothing but a huge question mark in this game. Watch if you must, but no wagering, please…
Jax at Miami – 3.5 (38.5): What is there about the Dolphins’ offense to like? What is there about the Jags’ offense to like? What is there that would make me tune into this game? It was a contender for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week but lost out in the final analysis.
Giants at Indy – 9.5 (47): Which incarnation of the Giants’ team is on the charter flight to Indy? Is it the one that scored 40 against the Skins or the one that was shut out by the Titans? By the same token, the Colts’ defense has been asserting itself recently and they shut out the Cowboys last week. My guess is that the Colts will commit the defense to stopping Saquon Barkley and if they can keep him in check, the Giants pose little threat. The Colts have won 7 of their last 8 games and need this game to stay in the middle of the AFC chase for the second wild card slot.
Houston at Philly – 1.5 (46): The spread began the week with the Texans as 1.5-point favorites but that did not last long. I think this is The Game of the Week because the game is vital to both teams. The Eagles will be eliminated from the playoff chase with a loss; the Texans’ hold on a playoff bye will be dealt a severe blow. If the Eagles are to win here, their front four will need to dominate a sub-par Texans’ offensive line and keep Deshaun Watson in check. The game ought to be fun to watch…
Minnesota – 6 at Detroit (42): The Vikes were impressive last week dominating the Dolphins and the Lions are – – well, they are the Lions. However, I am not sure I trust the Vikes enough to make them a 6-point road favorite against a division opponent. After all, the Vikes are only 2-4-1 straight up this year on the road. Last week, the Vikes pass defense was excellent holding Ryan Tannehill to 108 yards passing (11 for 24 overall).
Green Bay – 3 at Jets (47): The Jets are 2-5 at home this year; that is hardly impressive. However, the Packers are 0-7 on the road this year; that is even worse. [Aside, the Packers are only 1-5-1 against the spread on the road so that is not a whole lot better.] Neither team has anything to play for, but I like the Jets’ defense as the better defense here and the Jets are at home and getting points. I’ll take the Jets plus those points please.
Cincy at Cleveland – 10 (47.5): As noted above, the spread opened the week at 7 points, but money has been coming in on Cleveland all week long. I’ll be surprised to see the line go higher – – but then again, I am already surprised to see the Browns as a double-digit favorite over anyone. The Browns’ offense has been improved recently; the Bengals’ offense is crippled by the losses of Andy Dalton and AJ Green. The Browns’ defense has been steadily improving this season; the Bengals defense has been regressing. I said above that the Bengals may need to start a rebuilding program. If the in-state rivals – the Browns – were to blow the Bengals out here, that might be the impetus to get the Bengals to decide to do it. Purely a hunch, but I think the defenses will keep the offenses in check; I like the game to stay UNDER.
Rams – 14.5 at Arizona (44): You can find the Rams favored by as many as 16 points at one Internet sportsbook this morning. Not only is that a huge spread; that is a huge spread against a home team. The Cards are indeed miserable, and the Rams need a game to get themselves right again. This is that game; if the Rams stumble here, they are going to have plenty of doubts come playoff time. I said I thought the Rams would truck the Eagles last week and I was dead wrong. Clearly, I am going to demonstrate that I do not learn from experience. I think the Rams will truck the Cardinals this week. But I would not bet on it…
Chicago – 4 at SF (43): The Bears are the NFC North champs; they are in the playoffs. Will they be fully engaged in this game against a team that is 4-10 and going nowhere this year? The Niners beat the Seahawks last week when – maybe – the Seahawks did not take the game as seriously as possible (see above). This game might be more interesting than the team records would indicate.
Pittsburgh at New Orleans – 6 (53): I thought about this as a possible Game of the Week because the Steelers need the game to stay atop the AFC North and the Saints are gunning for playoff home field advantage. But I backed off that.
(Sun. Nite) KC – 2.5 at Seattle (54.5): The Seahawks are much better at home than on the road and this is a big game for both teams.
- Since 2012 the Seahawks are 42-12-0 straight up at home
- Since 2012, the Seahawks are 33-20-1 against the spread at home.
This game was a serious contender for Game of the Week. The Seahawks are unlikely to win a shootout game with the Chiefs, so I expect them to run the ball as much as possible to limit the number od Chiefs’ possessions. If they can do that and if they avoid turnovers, the Seahawks can win this game straight up; if they get into a scoring-fest, they will probably lose out – even at home. I like the Seahawks as a home underdog here because of their defense and their ability to run the football; I’ll take those points.
(Mon. Nite) Denver – 3 at Oakland (43): Neither team has anything to play for; I doubt that the players, coaches and officials would all prefer to be home with their families on Christmas Eve instead of being here. Sentiment about the Oakland Coliseum aside, this is The Dog-Breath Game of the Week.
Finally, Brad Rock had this observation in the Deseret News recently:
“Chargers’ quarterback Philip Rivers and wife Tiffany are expecting their ninth child.
“They say they’re thrilled with the news, but many have to make cuts before finalizing their 53-child roster.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………