This is the final weekend of the NFL regular season and this is the final weekend of the calendar year. So, it is time for Football Friday – – an abbreviated edition today.
Warren Wells was a WR for the Oakland Raiders in the old AFL. He passed away earlier this week. Back in 1969, before the rules were skewed to enhance the passing game, Wells led the NFL in these categories in a 12-game season:
- Yards receiving with 1260 yards
- Yards per catch with 26.8 yards per catch [Wow!]
- TDs receiving with 14 – – and – –
- Total Yards from scrimmage per game with 1284 yards.
Warren Wells had personal issues that shortened his career, but he was a REALLY good wide receiver.
Rest in peace, Warren Wells.
NCAA Commentary and Games of Interest:
The College Football Playoff happens this week. Finally, we can put to bed the ongoing narrative about how many teams should be in the CFP and how they should be selected. Starting tomorrow, the only things that matter will happen between the sidelines in the Orange Bowl and in the Cotton Bowl.
Oklahoma vs Alabama – 14 (79) In the Orange Bowl in Miami, FL: This game should be interesting because Oklahoma has won most of their games by outscoring the other guys not by stopping them. The Sooners have been under 40 points in a game only 3 times this year; when they lost, they still scored 45 points. Meaning no disrespect to any of Oklahoma’s Big 12 opponents, the Sooners have not played a defense like the one they will see in this game. According to reports, Alabama QB, Tua Tagovailoa will play meaning that he has recovered sufficiently from a foot/ankle injury he sustained earlier this month. The Sooners’ defense is nothing to write home about, but Tagovailoa has not been practicing at full speed for most of the time since the SEC Championship Game; he has to be just a little “rusty”. I like Alabama to win the game but spotting 2 TDs to Kyler Murray and that Oklahoma offense is difficult to handle. I’ll take Oklahoma plus the points.
Notre Dame vs Clemson – 13.5 (56.5) In the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, TX: I think both teams here are excellent on defense. Clemson has only allowed 4 teams to score more than 20 points in a game this year; Notre Dame has allowed only 4 teams to score more than 20 points in a game this year. I fully expect each defensive unit to show up and play well here. I do like Clemson’s offense more than I like Notre Dame’s offense. Clemson averages 538 yards per game of offense and Notre Dame averages 456 yards. However, that 81 yards per game differential does not translate into 13.5 points for me. I like Notre Dame plus the points. I also like the game to stay UNDER.
Since the CFP games take place in college bowl game venues, perhaps this comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times is appropriate here:
“Flush with Ideas”
“Just wondering: Shouldn’t American Standard be sponsoring a bowl?”
Earlier this week, the Oakland Raiders signed Nathan Peterman as a free agent. After Peterman’s release by the Bills, he cleared waivers and then the Raiders picked him up. Jon Gruden was high on Peterman during his days at ESPN when he was part of the network’s coverage of the NFL Draft. If Gruden can develop Peterman into a competent NFL QB, then he is indeed THE Quarterback Whisperer.
Here is a stat that I ran across – and have spent no time verifying:
- The Arizona Cardinals have gone three-and-out on 33% of their offensive possessions in the 2018 season.
No wonder the Cards rank last in the league in total offense – and not by just a little bit. The team just above the Cards in terms of offensive output is the Buffalo Bills; that team is hardly feared as an offensive juggernaut around the league. Nonetheless the Bills gain 293.1 yards per game while the Cards only gain 244.5 yards per game.
The Skins released safety, DJ Swearinger on Monday after he called out the team’s defensive coordinator and his play calling toward the end of the Skins’ loss to the Titans on Saturday. At the end of the game, the Skins had the lead, but the defense allowed Blaine Gabbert – – yes, THAT Blaine Gabbert – – to drive the field and score the TD that won the game. [There was a subsequent Pick Six thrown on the next Skins’ possession that made the game look more lopsided than it was.]
This was not nearly the first time Swearinger had expressed problems with the team and the coaches; in the past he had been a bit more oblique. He had railed on the intensity of practices and the “laid back nature” of the football operations with the Skins. I guess it was the repeated spouting off – plus the specificity of his remarks this time – that cost him his job.
Do not feel too bad for DJ Swearinger. In less than 48 hours, he was signed by the Arizona Cardinals – the team he was with before the Skins signed him as a free agent two winter’s ago. Here is the overview:
- Swearinger is not the best safety in the NFL – – but he was voted as a Pro Bowl alternate this year.
- Swearinger is by far the best safety on the Skins’ roster – – the others who play that position are closer to the Porcelain Bowl level than to the Pro Bowl level.
If you live anywhere near the DC area, this is merely the latest drama emanating from the Skins’ operation. Player/coach clashes in public may be unusual in many cities but not around here.
- Clinton Portis clashed in public repeatedly with head coach, Jim Zorn in 2008 and their feud continues to this day with Portis ripping Zorn every chance he gets.
- RG3 and the Shanahans (Kyle and Mike) engaged in several public spitting matches.
Eagles 32/Texans 30: I said it was the Game of the Week and it lived up to that label. Nick Foles worked a ton of magic here throwing the ball 49 times completing 35 of those balls for 471 yards and 4 TDs. I think I read Foles’ contract correctly; if I did, then the Eagles hold an option for him for 2019 at $20M for a year. On 3rd and 4th down, Foles was 15 for 16 for 165 yards and 2 TDs. With those kinds of numbers and with Carson Wentz still on his rookie deal, the Eagles just might pick up that option…
Vikes 27/Lions 9: Matthew Stafford – making somewhere in the $25M-30M per year range – was held to 18 for 32 for 118 yards passing before he was lifted in the 4th quarter. With the Browns on the improve for the moment, the focus of dysfunctionality in the NFL could be on Cincy or Oakland or Detroit. The Lions are making a strong case to be in the spotlight in 2018…
Cowboys 27/Bucs 20: The Cowboys clinched the NFC East title with this win. Jameis Winston did not throw an INT in the game but he did lose 2 fumbles that led to 2 Cowboys TDs. What to do with and about Jameis Winston will consume a lot of time in the Bucs’ organization this offseason.
Colts 28/Giants 27: The Giants led 14-0 and later led 24-14 in this game but could not hold on. The Colts’ defense committed to stop Saquon Barkley and they did just that holding him to 43 yards on 21 carries.
Pats 24/Bills 12: The Pats are the AFC East champs for the 10th year in a row. If this is what the Pats’ dynasty looks like as it crumbles, I suspect that Pats’ fans will settle for a continuation next year when they see the Pats win their 11th straight title. The Pats ran the ball for 273 yards in this game showing that they can win games in a variety of ways; the team seemed not to miss Josh Gordon a bit in this game. Speaking of Josh Gordon, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:
“The NFL has suspended Patriots receiver Josh Gordon yet again for violating the league’s drug policy.
“In other words, upon further review, they’ve ruled he was in possession.”
Bears 14/Niners 9: Both defenses controlled this game. Mitchell Trubisky had some nice individual stats (25 for 29 for 246 yards and 1 TD) but that only produced 2 TDs for the game. The Niners never saw the end zone.
Rams 31/Cards 9: The game was a total domination by the Rams. The Cards got 1 TD in the game; it came on a pass form Larry Fitzgerald to David Johnson. That was the highlight/takeaway from this game
Saints 31/Steelers 28: The Saints wrapped up home field advantage in the playoffs with this win. Meanwhile, the Steelers may have played themselves into exclusion from the playoffs. The Steelers started the day as the #4 AFC Seed and wound u- the day as the #8 team in the standings needing help to get into the playoffs at all. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 380 yards and Antonio Brown had 14 catches for 166 yards and 2 TDs, but that was not enough. There has been an awful lot of drama with the Steelers’ this year; are they trying to emulate the Skins?
Seahawks 38/Chiefs 31: The Seahawks’ formula is run the ball and play defense. The Chiefs’ offense scored plenty of points here, but the Seahawks offense was able to keep pace because the Chiefs’ defense gave up 210 yards rushing and 465 yards of offense. They say, “defense wins championships”. If that is true, then the Chiefs have an Achilles’ Heel.
Falcons 27/Panthers 10: Backup QB Taylor Heinicke threw 3 INTs in the game and the normally inept Falcons’ defense held the Panthers to 10 points. The only bright spot for the Panthers was Christian McCaffrey who ran for 101 yards and caught 12 passes for another 77 yards.
Browns 26/Bengals 18: The Browns are 7-7-1; they could wind up with a winning record this season and they have an excellent nucleus of young players to build around. The Browns have been last in the AFC North standings for each of the last 7 seasons – – but not this year. Granted the Bengals had to play their backup QB, but at the half, the Bengals’ passing offense totaled negative-15 yards. Jeff Driskel ended the day with 133 yards and 2 TDs as passing offense numbers.
Packers 44/Jets 38 (OT): Aaron Rodgers threw for 442 yards and 2TDs – – plus he ran for 2 more TDs – – to give the Packers their first and only road win of the season. The Packers needed to come back from a 15-point deficit in the 4th quarter to force the OT and then to win the game. The Jets’ defense gave up 540 yards in the game.
Jags 17/Dolphins 7: This game was about as interesting as the score would indicate. The Dolphins did not gain 200 yards on offense – – for the 3rd time in the last 4 games. The Jags offense produced all of 10 points in this yawn-fest. A late Pick-6 made this into a 10-point game.
Raiders 27/Broncos 14: A freaky 99-yard punt return by the Raiders was the only on-field highlight of this game – – unless you count some of the fans running onto the field after the game since this was likely the final Raiders’ game in the Oakland Coliseum.
NFL Games This Week:
The NFL has flexed the important games to the late Sunday afternoon time slot and to Sunday night. A couple of the early games have potential significance on the playoffs, but the main games are for later in the day. Those late afternoon games with no major playoff importance are in that time slot because they are being played in the western time zones.
There are two déjà vu games this week:
- Kirk Cousins leads the Vikings out against the Bears at home with the following at stake. If the Vikes win, they are the #6 seed in the playoffs; if they lose, they could be done for the year. Last year, when Cousins was with the Skins, he and his team faced that same situation – – and the Skins saw their season go up in smoke losing to a Giants’ team that only won 3 games all year.
- Last year, the Ravens were in the situation where a win over the Bengals in the final week would guarantee them a playoff slot. The Ravens lost that game. Here we are at the final game of the regular season for 2018 and the Ravens are in the same position. If they win, they are in. If they lose, they may be outside looking in once again.
Early Afternoon Sunday Games
Dallas at Giants – 6 (41.5): Yes, I looked twice at the spread here; indeed, the Giants are favored in this contest. In fact, the spread opened the week with the Giants favored by 3 points and that number expanded quickly to this level. The game has no playoff bearing at all; the Cowboys are the #4 seed in the NFC no matter what happens here or anywhere else in the league. That means the Cowboys will play the #5 seed next week and that would be the Seahawks as of this moment – but it could wind up being the Vikes.
Carolina at New Orleans – 7 (44): This game has no playoff meaning at all either. The Saints will have home-field advantage for the entirety of the NFC playoffs; the Panthers will be spending lots of time in the offseason hoping that Cam Newton’s arm/shoulder heals completely before OTAs begin. Who knows if Sean Payton will rest some or all his top players? If he does decide to give Drew Brees some time off here, the question will become:
- Will the “next QB up” be Terry Bridgewater or Taysom Hill?
Jets at New England – 13.5 (45): The Total Line here opened the week at 48 points and dropped to this level quickly. The Patriots can still achieve the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs for this year, but it gets complicated to explain how they get there. Here is the simple and direct meaning of the game for the Pats:
- Win here and the Pats are guaranteed at least the #2 Seed in the AFC playoffs which means they get a BYE Week next week.
I would not bet on this game. However, here is how I think it will unfold. Pats get a lead and then nurse the lead with a running game while the defensive wrinkles confuse rookie QB Sam Darnold. If I am right, then the bet is to take the Jets. If I am wrong, the Pats could win this in a storm.
Detroit at Green Bay – 8 (44.5): This might have been a contender for Dog-Breath Game of the Week but the big 4th quarter comeback by Aaron Rodgers last week followed by a Packers’ win in OT makes me think this game might have some late excitement. Notwithstanding that potential, both teams are disappointments this year. The Lions fired their coach after last year despite two consecutive seasons at 9-7. The best they can do this year is 6-10. Meanwhile, the Packers must be a sub-.500 team this year and they have already fired their coach in the middle of this season. Hoo-ray!
Jax at Houston – 6.5 (40.5): The spread for this game opened at 10 points; dropped to 7 points overnight and then inched down to this level. Why so much Jags’ money? Beats me; I checked the Jags’ roster and their 2 QBs are still Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler. The Texans will clinch the AFC South title with a win here; if they lose, the winner of the Colts/Titans game on Sunday night will be the AFC South champ. A win for the Texans – along with a bunch of other happenings – could get them a BYE Week next week but the important thing for them is to win and be part of the playoffs. The Jags’ front seven versus the Houston OL is the only mismatch favoring the Jags.
Atlanta – 1 at Tampa (51): The Falcons started out as 1-point favorites in this game; then the Bucs were 1-point favorites and now the Falcons are once again 1-point favorites. The game is meaningless save for the fact that it is a division game. The Falcons were picked by more than a couple of prognosticators as the NFC Super Bowl team this year. Their 6-9 record coming into this game defines “underachievement”. The Bucs’ record stands at 5-10 and a blowout loss at home in this game ought to trigger a huge reshuffling of the cards in Tampa. This is what I call a WGARA Game – – a Who Gives A Rat’s Ass Game
Miami at Buffalo – 3.5 (39.5): This is the Dog Breath Game of the Week. The Dolphins have the 30th ranked offense in the NFL; the Bills have the 31st ranked offense in the NFL. If you are searching for meaning for this game, perhaps this will help:
- If the Dolphins win, they will finish the season at .500.
Sorry, that is the best I can summon up here… If this were a pro ‘rassling event and they needed some crazy stipulation for the match, maybe this would suffice:
- First team to score in the “teens” wins the game.
- Problem with that stipulation is that the game might take 6 full quarters for one of them to get there…
Late Afternoon Sunday Games
Oakland at KC – 13.5 (53.5): In terms of rivalries, this one goes back to the 60s when John Madden and Hank Stram went at one another. This year the teams have mirror-image records; the Chiefs are 11-4; the Raiders are 4-11. Believe it or not, the Chiefs could wind up with the overall #1 Seed in the AFC playoffs here – – or they could fall al the way to the #5 Seed. A win guarantees them home-field advantage and a BYE week next week. With a loss, many things are possible… I am not sure the Raiders have a sufficient ground attack to take advantage of the Chiefs’ biggest weakness.
Philly – 6.5 at Washington (42): The playoff implications here are simple and straightforward:
- Eagles make the playoffs with a win here PLUS a Vikings’ loss to the Bears
End of message… Someone asked me earlier this week if Nick Foles is the best backup QB ever. He surely had a magical run last year and played outstandingly last week, but there was this guy named Steve Young who backed up Joe Montana for the Niners – – and Young was pretty good too…
Cleveland at Baltimore – 6 (41): The Ravens are “win-and-you’re-in” – – just as they were last year playing the Bengals in the final game of the year. Last year, the Ravens spit the bit; they will need to be focused and ready for this game because the Browns are not the pushovers they have been for about the last decade. The Browns won the first meeting this year 12-9 but neither team today resembles what happened back in October. The Ravens now have Lamar Jackson running the show with a lot more emphasis on the run game. The Browns have an interim head coach who has the team playing a lot better than they were under the former non-interim head coach. Both teams have won 5 of their last 6 games. This should be a good game. Ravens loss plus a Steelers win would give the Steelers the AFC North title AND it would eliminate the Ravens from the playoffs in the final week for the second year in a row.
Cincy at Pittsburgh – 14.5 (45.5): The spread for this game opened at 17 points and the Total Line opened at 48 points. Both of those line movements are big ones. Here are the playoff implications for this game:
- Right now, the Steelers are outside looking in.
- If they win this game AND if the Ravens lose to the Browns, the Steelers will be the AFC North champs and make the playoffs
- Moreover, if the Steelers win here AND the Ravens lose, the Ravens will be eliminated from the playoffs for the second year in a row. So, the Steelers’ fans will be rooting for the Browns this week. Seriously…
I read in a blog somewhere that the Steelers can also make the playoffs if they win this game and the Colts/Titans game winds up in a tie. There is no way I am going to try and verify that because it would mean figuring out the tie-breakers for three teams all of whom have a tie game on their record. I’ll pretend that cannot happen. James Connor is listed as questionable for this game. That is important in the passing game for the Steelers. Connor’s backup the last couple of weeks has been Jaylen Samuels; he has run well, but his pass blocking and blitz pickups have left something to be desired. The Bengals knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs last year with an upset win in Week 17. That is not going to happen here, but that line does look fat; I like the Bengals plus the points.
Chicago at Minnesota – 5 (40.5): I think this is the Game of the Week. For the Vikes, this is a “win-and-you’re-in” game. They can still make the playoffs with a loss providing the Eagles also lose to the Skins. If the Vikes get in as the #6 Seed, their first-round playoff opponent next week would be the #3 Seed – – and as of this morning the #3 Seed in the NFC are these same Chicago Bears. There is a possibility the Bears can move up in the seedings with a win here AND a Niners victory over the Rams. I suspect that the Bears are going to go for that #2 Seed and play their starters; if I am correct, I really like the Bears plus the points here. If I’m wrong…
Chargers – 6.5 at Denver (41.5): The Chargers and Chiefs have identical 11-4 records, but the Chiefs hold the head-to-head tie-breaker. The Chargers can win the division if they win here AND the Chiefs lose to the Raiders; that would drop the Chiefs to the #5 Seed. A month ago, the Broncos looked to have a reasonable path to a wild card playoff berth; with four games to play, they had three in a row against teams with losing records – – and then this final game. They needed to win out. Here is what happened:
- Niners 20 Broncos 14 Niners’ record today is 4-11
- Browns 17 Broncos 16 Browns’ record today is 7-7-1
- Raiders 27 Broncos 14 Raiders’ record today is 4-11
So much for that stroll down primrose lane to the playoffs for the Broncos…
Arizona at Seattle – 13.5 (38.5): A loss by Seahawks here PLUS a Vikes’ win in Chicago would drop Seahawks to 6th seed in the NFC from the 5th spot they currently hold. Right now, their first-round game would be in Dallas against the Cowboys. Both the Seahawks and the Cowboys focus on running the football, that game could bring back memories of Woody Hayes and Darrell Royal.
SF at Rams – 10 (49): This spread opened at 7.5 points and jumped to this level as the week wore on. The playoff meaning here is very simple:
- If the Rams win, they get a BYE next week as the #2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
To get that win, the Rams will have to do it without Todd Gurley and wth CJ Anderson at RB.
Sunday Nite Game
Indy – 3 at Tennessee (43.5): The winner of this game will go to the playoffs; it is as simple as that. The Colts needed a big rally – – actually two big rallies – – to win last week over the Giants (see above). The Colts held Saquon Barkley in check last week; can they do the same this week with Derrick Henry? Looking only at the QBs here, this will be a battle between Andrew Luck and Blaine Gabbert. [Aside: The Titans “real QB” says he will try to play this weekend; to me, that means he is not going to play very much and not very well if he does play.] If football were not so much a team game, there would be no choice to make here. The game is in Nashville where the Titans are 6-1 this season.
Finally, I will crib from Dwight Perry’s Sideline Chatter column in the Seattle Times for the third and final time today:
“Harley-Davidson has recalled 238,000 motorcycles because they have a clutch problem.
“The NFL, not to be outdone, immediately recalled the New York Giants.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………