On January 11, 1973, the MLB owners voted to allow the American League to institute the designated hitter. Nothing nearly that momentous or long-lasting is going to happen here on January 11, 2019, but it is a Friday. And that means it is a Football Friday…
College Football Commentary:
College football is over; Clemson won the national championship on the field in a most convincing manner; we shall be seeing several of the Clemson players on Sunday afternoons starting next September.
I would like to make one final comment about college football and it has nothing to do with the CFP. I think that Pat Fitzgerald – the head coach at Northwestern – does not get nearly the recognition that he deserves for the job he has done with the program there. If you look at Northwestern’s football fortunes going back to 1978, most of that 40-year period has been bleak at best. Here are some data regarding the Northwestern coaches over the time span:
- 1978-1980 Rick Venturi 1-31-1
- 1981-1985 Dennis Green 10-45
- 1986-1991 Francis Peay 13-51-2
- 1992-1998 Gary Barnett 35-45-1
- 1999-2005 Randy Walker 37-46
- 2006 – – Pat Fitzgerald 87-65
Indeed, each coach at Northwestern represented a step up the respectability scale from 1978 to the present but the biggest step of all is the one that happened under Fitzgerald’s watch.
I said in a previous rant that I was rooting for the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl because I thought that was THE missing entry on Andy Reid’s résumé and that without a win in the Super Bowl he would be consigned to the “Hall of Very Good Coaches”. The fact that I said I was rooting for it does not mean that I am going to skew the commentary here about the Chiefs. In fact, the reason I said I was rooting for this to happen – as opposed to saying that I thought it would happen and that I would be happy when it did – is that I believe the Chiefs’ defense is insufficient to bring that title to KC.
Moreover, there is another Super Bowl matchup that would provide an interesting storyline:
- If the Saints play the Chargers in the Super Bowl, the opposing QBs would be Drew Brees and Philip Rivers. They were teammates in San Diego until 2006 when the Chargers let Brees go in free agency – after suffering a major shoulder injury and surgical repair to be sure – and kept Philip Rivers as his replacement. Brees has been in New Orleans ever since; Rivers has been the starting QB for the Chargers ever since.
Since I mentioned the idea of the Saints going to the Super Bowl, consider this stat I ran across last week:
- In February 2010, the Saints won the Super Bowl. In the 2009 season leading up to that game the Saints had a 13-3 record and the three losses were to the Bucs, Cowboys and Panthers.
- In the 2018 regular season just concluded, the Saints had a 13-3 record and their three losses were to – you guessed it – the Bucs, Cowboys and Panthers.
Cue Rod Serling and the creepy Twilight Zone music…
Three of the four losing QBs in last week’s wildcard round were making their playoff debuts.
- Lamar Jackson had a terrible game for the first 50 minutes. Then he led a mass scramble to make a game of it in the final minutes. Jackson is very effective with the ball in open space, but he still has lots to learn to be an NFL quarterback. He was sacked seven times, threw an INT, fumbled three times, and lost a fumble in the final minute of the game.
- Mitchell Trubisky played well – – but not very well. He had the Bears in position to win the game until the football gods deemed that Nick Foles be granted a pass into the next round of the playoffs.
- Deshaun Watson had a sub-par game. At least a part of his diminished effectiveness can be attributed to the fact that he was running for his life on more than one occasion and DeAndre Hopkins suffered a shoulder injury in the first half.
By the way, Patrick Mahomes makes his NFL playoff debut with the Chiefs this weekend …
- John Harbaugh has been the coach of the Ravens for 11 seasons; his teams have made the playoffs 7 times in that span. The Ravens won 1 Super Bowl game with Harbaugh on the sidelines. Last week was the first time Harbaugh’s Ravens lost a first round playoff game.
- Pete Carroll has been the coach of the Seahawks for 9 seasons; his teams have made the playoffs 7 times in that span. The Seahawks won 1 Super Bowl game with Carroll on the sidelines. Last week was the first time Carroll’s Seahawks lost a first round playoff game.
Is there an echo in here…?
The Cowboys’ win over the Seahawks came down to something very basic. Both teams win by running the ball well and playing tough defense. Last week, the Cowboys ran the ball better than the Seahawks and played better defense too. The Seahawks averaged 160 yards rushing per game over the 2018 season; last week they could only find 73 yards on 24 carries. That is 3 yards per carry and that is not good enough – even for a Woody Hayes team.
The Colts advanced over the Texans playing the most complete game of the weekend. Andrew Luck was surgically effective in the first half and the Texans could not cover TY Hilton. I am not sure they would have stopped Hilton had he been forced to wear a ball and chain given how open he was on a couple of throws. The Colts were 9 of 14 on third down conversions. Meanwhile, the Colts’ defense just smothered the Texans’ offense. Deshaun Watson has never been – and probably never will be – the same pinpoint-accuracy passer that Andrew Luck is, but Watson underperformed last week. In the 4th quarter when the Texans had to throw a lot to try to catch up, many of his throws were not nearly where they needed to be.
Before I get to the games this weekend, I believe that I have compiled the following data accurately. Here are the 12 teams that made the playoffs this year along with the record that each team has against other teams in the playoffs. Note that teams have different numbers of games against “playoff opponents”.
In the NFC:
- Saints 3-1
- Bears 2-1
- Rams 4-3
- Cowboys 3-3
- Eagles 3-3
- Seahawks 2-4
In the AFC:
- Pats 4-0
- Texans 2-3
- Chargers 2-3
- Colts 2-3
- Chiefs 2-4
- Ravens 1-2
NFL Games This Weekend:
Since the 2011 playoffs, teams getting a first-round BYE have done very well after that week of rest. Teams coming off the BYE are 21-7 straight up since then. However, the record of teams coming off a BYE against the spread is much less impressive; those teams are only 12-16 against the spread. I believe this reflects the betting public’s infatuation with betting favorites combined with the perception that teams getting a BYE must be significantly better than those consigned to play a first-round game. Those two factors combine to inflate spreads leading to the significant disparity in the records cited here.
(Sat 4:30 PM EST) Indy at KC – 5.5 (56.5): Andy Reid’s teams built up a mystique in the early part of his coaching career. His teams won their first 12 games off a BYE Week. His teams are longer perfect in such situations, but he must have figured out something that works. And yes, the Chiefs had a BYE last week… The last time the Chiefs and Colts met in the playoffs was the game where the Chiefs led 38-10 in the 3rd quarter and the Colts managed to rally and win the game 45-44. That was in the 2013 playoffs; there are not a lot of coaches and players from that game who will participate this weekend. One thing that the Chiefs must find a way to do is to keep Colts’ RB, Marlon Mack from running amok. Mack gained 1266 yards this season and averaged 4.7 yards per carry in 12 games. Last week, he gained 148 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry. The Chiefs run defense is not very good, so they will need to “scheme things up” to find a way to stop Marlon Mack. Even if they do that, I think this game will still be a struggle; the Colts are more than just “a hot team”; the Colts are very good, AND they are a well-balanced team. They can run and pass on offense; their defense is much better than is its public image. Here is a matchup that will be interesting to watch:
- Patrick Mahomes has thrown 50 TD passes this year.
- The Colts’ defense has allowed only 21 TD passes this year.
If the Colts’ defense can keep Mahomes from running amok, I think this will be a blowout win for the Colts because I expect the Colts to score north of 30 points in this game. I am going to call this an offensive shoot-out and take the Colts plus the points and the game to go OVER. I have got one trend going for me and another going against me here:
- Indy is 11-4 against the spread in their last 15 games against the Chiefs.
- Colts/Chiefs have gone UNDER in 6 of their last 8 meetings.
(Sat 8:15 PM EST) Dallas at Rams – 7 (50): The last time the Cowboys played in the LA Coliseum, Roger Staubach was their QB. The year was 1979; here are some events from 1979:
- Jimmy Carter was the President
- The Susan B. Anthony dollar coin was introduced
- The Chicago White Sox held “Disco Demolition Night”.
This game has some ties to the past – albeit not as far back as 1979. Wade Philips was the defensive coordinator and the head coach of the Cowboys from 2007 until the middle of the 2010 season. This week he will be on the Rams’ sideline as the defensive coordinator trying to figure out how to contain Ezekiel Elliott. That is the prime objective for the Rams in this game; the Rams run defense is the worst in the NFL in terms of yards allowed per carry; the Rams give up 5.1 yards per carry for the season and the defense will face a significant test here. The Cowboys are most successful when they run the ball and Ezekiel Elliott is an elite RB. Last week against a good run defense, Elliott ran for 137 yards and 5.3 yards per carry. If he does that again here, the Cowboys will control the clock and will probably win the game straight up. Make no mistake, the Rams’ offense will give the Cowboys’ defense plenty to deal with too. I think that the Cowboys will contain the Rams and I think that Wade Phillips will find a way to hold Elliott under 100 yards making this a close game. If I am right, that line is as fat as Haystacks Calhoun (Google is your friend). I’ll take the Cowboys plus the points.
- If you are so tempted, the Money Line odds on the Cowboys is +275 this morning…
(Sun 1:00 PM EST) Chargers at New England – 4 (47): The Chargers lost one “road game” this year; that “road game” was in Los Angeles against the Rams. When the Chargers have played in any venue – including London – outside LA, the team record is 8-0. Before you charging to the betting window to get down on the Chargers here, consider these two other stats:
- The Pats are 8-0 at home this year. This game is in Foxboro.
- Tom Brady is 7-0 in games where Philip Rivers has been the opposing QB.
These teams are very evenly matched:
- Pats scored 436 points this year – – Chargers scored 428 points
- Pats allowed 325 points this year – – Chargers allowed 329 points
I make this purely a venue cal. I’ll take the Pats and lay the points.
(Sun 4:40 PM EST) Philly at New Orleans – 8 (51): These two teams met on this field in mid-November and the Saints won in a romp 48-7. That is probably part of the explanation for the spread expanding from 7 points on Monday morning to this level today – – and there are two Internet sports books that have the game as high as 9.5 points this morning. That was clearly the Eagles’ nadir for the season – particularly for the defense. The Eagles’ defensive unit has played quite well for the last month and so it will be incumbent on those folks to do something different and hold the Saints’ offense in check. One thing that might help the defense accomplish that end would be for the Eagles’ running game to wake up and give those defensive players a bit of a blow between Saints’ possessions. To say that the Eagles’ run game was immaterial last week against the Bears would pay it a compliment. The Eagles ran the ball for 42 yards on 23 carries; that sort of performance don’t feed the bulldog. Nick Foles pulled another rabbit out of the hat in the final 4 minutes of last week’s game. Pulling rabbits out of hats is easy – – as long as you have put a rabbit in there ahead of time. I have no idea if he brought a rabbit – or even a rabbit’s foot – with him on this trip to New Orleans. I think the Saints will win this game, but I’ll take the Eagles plus more than a TD’s worth of points and I’ll take the game to go OVER.
Finally, consider these comments from two sportswriters about Saints’ all-purpose player, Taysom Hill:
“Former BYU quarterback Taysom Hill has rushed for a touchdown, completed a pass, caught a pass, returned a kick, blocked a punt and made a tackle on special teams.
“Is there any doubt he’ll someday own the Saints?” [Brad Rock, Deseret News]
“The Saints’ Taysom Hill, in the first 13 games this season, has completed a pass, a pass reception, a touchdown, a kickoff return, a blocked punt and a special teams’ tackle to his credit.
“We sense a Swiss Army Knife endorsement in the future.” [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………