Oddities Upon Oddities…

Once again, briefly today…

I cannot cite exact stats here, but I can say that I do not recall ever seeing a week like this one on the odds boards for weekend football games.  Seeing spreads on NFL games in excess of 3 TDs is rare enough that one can go an entire season without ever seeing one of them.  This week there are two games with humongous spreads:

  • Jets at New England – 23 (43.5):  The Jets are down to a rookie third-string QB going against a Pats’ defense that has not allowed a TD in the first two games of the season.  I would be surprised to see the Jets score more than 10 points in this game – – unless of course the Pats are leading by 35 at the end of the 3rd quarter and play their scrubs for the entire 4th quarter.
  • Miami at Dallas – 22 (47):  If I were forced to make a pick in this game, I would take the OVER because the Cowboys might do that all by themselves.  The Dolphins are doing a bad job at pretending that they are trying to win football games this year.

Monday night’s game will be interesting when the Bears visit the Skins.  The Bears’ offense has been pedestrian-at-best so far this year; some folks are beginning to wonder aloud if Mitchell Trubisky is indeed a franchise QB.  Meanwhile, the Skins’ defense has not been able to stop anything more robust than a runny nose so far this year.  In the first two games, the Skins defense has allowed opposing offenses to convert 65% of the third-down situations facing those offenses.  Something here has got to give…

Going into last week’s game against Temple, Maryland was undefeated and had outscored its two opponents 142-20.  Temple is a better football program than the Asthmatics Institute, but do not confuse Temple with a team that would strike fear in the hearts of the top-shelf college programs.  Maryland proceeded to implode last week losing to Temple 20-17.  Maryland QB, Josh Jackson, had been lighting up the scoreboard in the first two games; last week he was 15 for 36 for a total of 183 yards and 1 INT.  Maryland had been ranked #21 in the country after the first two blowouts; they are no longer in the Top 25…

File this next item under:

  • Things You Cannot Make Up On A Bet

The Miami Heat have been playing their games in an arena that sold its naming rights to American Airlines.  The airline has decided not to continue that sponsorship; therefore, the naming rights are up for bidding.  One of the bids has come from BangBros which is an Internet pornography site based in Miami; their bid is for $10M for the next 10 years.  That should give you an idea of the profits available to such websites.

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

“IndyCar racing will introduce hybrid engines in 2022, the circuit announced.

Which certainly gives ‘making a late-race charge’ a whole new meaning.”

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

 

 

More Troubles For Horseracing

Briefly today because I do need to get to be bed get some sleep…

Horseracing is – to be as positive as I can be – a sport in decline.  It is under attack from animal rights activists and it is a sport that does not appeal to millennials.  The animal rights activists had a field day earlier in the Spring when about 30 horses died at Santa Anita in racing and training “incidents” – that have yet to be explained sufficiently to blunt the criticisms of the track and the sport.  Now, it turns out that there is a less obvious – but still fatal – set of circumstances unfolding this Fall at Belmont racetrack across the country from Santa Anita.  USA Today reported here that 3 horses died at Belmont in the first two days of the current Fall meeting there.  Moreover, in the 40-day meeting that recently concluded at Saratoga, 11 horses died at that track.  Every PETA member worth his/her skin has been waiting for news of this ilk.

You could still chalk all of this up to odd circumstances and maintain there is “nothing organically wrong with horseracing”; this is all just malevolent happenstance.  But how then might one explain that the  California Horse Racing mavens had a failed drug test in hand for last year’s Triple Crown winner which should have made him ineligible to run in the Kentucky Derby – – but they sat on that information and let it slide.  The NY Times is far better known for its investigative reporting than it is for its sports reporting.  In this case the Times did investigative digging into a sports story and turned up more of the stuff that comprises the seamy underbelly of horseracing.  You can read the entire story here; the reporter is Joe Drape, and this is a well reported and well-focused exposition.

The big issue here is that it seems clear that trainer Bob Baffert – – one of the most decorated trainers and most influential people in the sport – – was given a pass with his horse that flunked the drug test.  That brings in the element of “privilege” into the matter and it makes everything seem even more sordid than it needs to seem.

The Breeders’ Cup races are going to be at Santa Anita in about 6 weeks. It could be the death knell for horseracing if a horse “goes down” on TV and must be euthanized on the track that has already claimed several dozen equine lives this year.  The California Horse Racing mavens won’t be able to explain that away with a wave of the hand and a reference to the “rules and procedures for failed equine drug tests”.

Mike Bianchi put a punctuation mark on all this nonsense in the Orlando Sentinel last weekend:

“Can you believe the California Racing Board buried Justify’ s positive drug test just so the horse could win the Triple Crown? Who do these people think they are — college football coaches?”

The Miami Dolphins followed up their 59-10 embarrassing loss in Week 1 with an even more dismal 43-0 loss in Week 2.  Supposedly, multiple players on the Dolphins have told their agents to try to get the players traded elsewhere in the NFL.  Obviously, I say that as third-hand information at the very best but if these reports are accurate there is a humongous problem facing the NFL regarding the “integrity of the game”.  There have been two teams that were 0-16 for a season in the last decade or so.  However, neither the Lions nor the Browns set out to do anything of the sort.  They did that because those two teams were truly awful.  The Dolphins are also awful – – AND – – the Dolphins are making decisions with their roster that makes it difficult for folks to believe that the team actually wants to win football games in 2019.  There is a palpable difference between an awful team and a team that is going out its way to make itself awful.

Our house guests hit the hay early enough for me to get this short rant written, proofed and posted.  I don’t know if/when a block of writing time will appear later this week.  We shall see…

Finally, let me close today with some words from comedienne, Lily Tomlin:

“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”

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

 

 

Writing Schedule Disruption

We have house guests who will arrive on Sunday (15 September) and stay through Thursday (19 September).  Then on Friday (20 September) we leave for a weekend trip with other friends not to return until the following Monday (23 September).

I doubt I will have time to do much writing next week – – and I am positive that I will not have the time to compile the data let alone to actually write a Football Friday next week.

Then, we have a different set of house guests arriving on the following Thursday (26 September).

The bottom line is that the writing schedule for the next two weeks will be sporadic.  There will definitely not be a Football Friday next week (20 September) but I will try to do one early in the week after next week.  Oh, and in the middle of all this social stuff, I have dental appointment and a doctor’s appointment.

I plan to come up for air around October 1….

Stay well everyone.

 

Football Friday 9/13/19

There are great confluences in the world such as:

  • Chocolate and peanut butter
  • The Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers
  • Buddy Holly and The Crickets

Today commemorates a significantly minor confluence of events.  Football Friday takes place on Friday the Thirteenth.  All triskaidekaphobics can stop reading here…

Before going into this week’s offering, let me look back on last week’s Six-Pack.  The record was 4-2.  The two losses were Seattle – 9.5 over Cincy and Pittsburgh +6 against New England.  Neither of those two games was even close.

 

College Football Commentary:

 

Linfield College begins its 2019 season this weekend traveling cross-country to play Rowan University in pursuit of yet another winning season in football.  Go Wildcats!

Starting off on a sort of sad note, Les Miles is no longer undefeated in Lawrence, KS.  Coastal Carolina came visiting last week and left with a 12-7 victory.  Kansas started the season with a game against a Division 1-AA school (Indiana State) and a Sun Belt school (Coastal Carolina).  That is the easy part of their schedule; from here on out, they play Boston College this weekend and then 9 games against Big 12 rivals.

Last week, I said that the winner of the Arkansas/Ole Miss game might be looking at its only SEC conference win for the year.  Well, Ole Miss won that game handily by 3 TDs.  If I am correct that Arkansas will go winless in the SEC this year, that will make it 2 years in a row that the Razorbacks will be the doormat of the SEC.  I guess it’s a good thing that Frank Broyles is no longer around to see what has become of Arkansas football.

Speaking of an SEC team that has started out poorly, please take note of Tennessee.  The Vols led BYU 16-13 with 30 seconds to play; BYU had the ball at its own 20-yardline; it was 3rd and 6 for the Cougars.  That is when the Tennessee defense decided to give up a 64-yard pass play that set up the game-tying field goal with 2 seconds to go to send the game to OT.  Not surprisingly, the Vols lost in the second OT 29-26.  Tennessee is now 0-2 for the season with losses to Georgia State and BYU; this week Tennessee hosts Tennessee-Chattanooga in what has to be a must-win game because the next 4 games on Tennessee’s dance card are:

  • At Florida
  • Vs Georgia
  • Vs Mississippi State
  • At Alabama

A loss this week might have the Vols looking at an 0-7 start to the 2019 season…

Missouri beat West Virginia 38-7; please do not confuse Missouri with the powerhouses in the SEC; Mizzou is one of the lower-middle class of that conference.  That leads me to wonder what the [bleep] is going on with football in Morgantown WV?  The Mountaineers had their hands full with Division 1-AA James Madison two weeks ago and then got blown out here.  Not a good omen…

Purdue beat Vandy 42-24 in a game where Purdue QB, Elijah Sindelar merely threw for 504 yards in the game and Purdue WR Rondale Moore contributed to that total by catching 220 yards worth of that total.  Purdue was one-dimensional in the game, however.  Running the ball produced only 31 yards on 18 attempts.

In what was probably the best game of the weekend, LSU went to Texas and beat the Longhorns 45-38.  Times are changing in Baton Rouge.  Who can remember LSU going on the road and winning a shoot-out game against a ranked opponent?  That did not happen often.  Using a spread offense this year, QB Joe Burrow looks like a modern QB.  He shredded the Texas defense going 31-39 for 471 yards and 4 TDs.  The Tigers get a breather this week against Northwestern State.  The line for that game opened at 51.5 points…

Alabama beat New Mexico St. 62-10 and did not cover the 54.5-point spread on the game.  New Mexico St. has now lost its first two games (Washington St. and Alabama) by a combined score of 120-17.  Next up for the Aggies is a visit by San Diego St. – a team that beat UCLA last week.  I suspect that New Mexico St. would be a 9-point underdog to Conjoined Twins College if such a team were on their schedule…

Since I mentioned that San Diego St. beat UCLA 23-14 last week, let me point out two things here:

  • This is the first time in school history that San Diego St. has beaten UCLA in a football game.
  • UCLA is 0-2 to start the season with this week’s task – a visit by Oklahoma – making it look like an 0-3 start to the season.

Chip Kelly’s image as a football innovator and dominant coach is going to be just a bit tarnished by the end of this year…

Staying with PAC-12 teams for the moment, Cal rallied from a 10-3 halftime deficit to beat Washington 20-19 in a game that was delayed by lightening/rain in Seattle for a bit more than 2 hours.  Washington was the consensus choice to win the PAC-12 North this year but this game showed that the Cal defense is for real and that the Cal running attack is serious.  Cal ran the ball 36 times for 194 yards against a good Washington defense.

Utah beat Northern Illinois 35-17 using defense and a controlled offense to win the game.

Oregon crushed Nevada 77-6.  In Week 1, Oregon lost at the end of the game to a ranked Auburn team.  In Week 1, Nevada upset Purdue out of the Big 10.  This game was 35-6 at halftime – – and then things got worse for the Wolfpack.  Not only did Oregon run up 621 yards on offense, the Oregon defense held Nevada to a total of 173 yards total offense.

Hawaii beat a PAC-12 team for the second week in a row.  Oregon St. – not one of the elite PAC-12 teams to be sure – ventured across half the Pacific Ocean and lost the game 31-28.  The margin of victory cane on a last second field goal by a kicker who had missed three field goal attempts earlier in the game.

Colorado rallied in the second half to beat Nebraska.  The Huskers led at halftime 17-0; the final score had Colorado prevailing 34-31 in OT.  I guess the Nebraska defensive unit did not remember to take the field after the halftime festivities…

Brad Dickson had a Tweet about this game musing about the possibility that Ralphie the Buffalo could go into retirement at the end of the season:

“This is Ralphie’s last season. Next year he’s being replaced by a plant-based mascot.  How obnoxious is Ralphie? Even PETA said, ‘Go ahead – use him for animal experiments.’”

Brad Dickson graduated from the University of Nebraska if you had not already figured that out…

ACC teams had some setbacks last week.  Maryland beat Syracuse like drum 63-20.  Maryland scored 79 points in Week 1 against Howard; the question was whether they might be able to do that against a “real” defense.  I guess the answer is “Yes.”  Syracuse was ranked in the Top 25 for what that is worth going into the game.  Maryland ran the ball 45 times for 354 yards on the ground and a total of 650 yards on offense.  The schedule for Maryland over the nest six games looks manageable:

  • At Temple
  • Vs Penn State
  • At Rutgers
  • At Purdue
  • Vs Indiana
  • At Minnesota

Florida State won their game last week – – but it was not a feelgood time in Tallahassee.  The final score was Florida State 45 and Louisiana-Monroe 44 – – in OT no less.  The game was in Tallahassee so all the Seminole fans and boosters could see this game in all its ugliness.  Florida State led 24-7 at the half; the game looked as if were in the bag.  The margin of victory was a missed PAT by La-Monroe in that OT period.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but La-Monroe was supposed to be a “breather” on the Florida State schedule not a “nail-biter”.  La-Monroe is a Sun Belt team and playing against that caliber of competition, 2012 was the last winning season for La-Monroe.  The game was an embarrassment for Florida State.

Clemson is an ACC team that did not soil the sheets last weekend.  Clemson played a good Texas A&M team and beat the Aggies 24-10.  It took a Texas A&M TD in the final 10 seconds of the game to make the game as close as it was – and to give the Aggies a classic backdoor cover against a 17.5-point spread.  Glancing at the Clemson schedule from here on, I really don’t think they are going to face a team ranked in the Top 25 until – possibly – in the ACC Championship Game.  I am not banging on Clemson’s scheduling; that assessment is a cold-hearted view of ACC football for the 2019 season.  Pencil Clemson in as the #1 seed in the CFP this year…

In Big 10 action, it took Michigan 2 OTs to beat Army 24-21.  From my perspective, Army outplayed the Wolverines for most of the game.

Ohio State trucked Cincy 42-0.  After Cincy beat UCLA in Week 1, some people said that the Cincy defense was really good, and we would be hearing about it all season long.  Ohio State ran the ball for 270 yards here and threw it for another 234 yards.  There was one humorous moment in the game:

  • A player for Cincy made a tackle and the name on the back of his jersey was “Tucky”.
  • I said to one of my Las Vegas comrades that I hoped his parents had not named him “Ken”.
  • They did not; the player is Ethan Tucky

Penn State beat Buffalo 45-13.  The unusual stat from this game is the Buffalo had the ball for about 43 minutes; normally, a team that holds the ball that long wins the game.  Not here…

After a dominating win in Week 1 over UMass, I said that Rutgers was stepping up in class with Iowa on the other side of the ball.  The final score was Iowa 30 and Rutgers Nil.

UCF beat FAU last week 45-17.  There was another unusual stat to come out of this game:

  • UCF completed only 7 passes in the game.
  • Those passes went for 245 yards and 2 TDs.

 

Games of Interest this week:

 

Clemson – 28 at Syracuse (65):  Maryland dropped 63 on Syracuse last week; this game is going to be ugly.  The Total Line here opened at 57 and has risen by 8 points during the week – – very unusual.

Oklahoma – 22 at UCLA (73.5):  This has the potential to be another ugly blowout.  The Total Line here opened the week at 66.5 points; it has risen 7 points during the week.  The oddsmakers are rarely that far wrong about public sentiment on such lines.  Oh, by the way, after facing Oklahoma this week, UCLA will get to try to stop the Washington State offense next week.  It is not going to be a happy time in Westwood any time soon.

New Mexico at Notre Dame – 35 (64):  The interesting thing about this game is that New Mexico coach, Bob Davie, will not travel with the Lobos to South Bend.  Davie had a “health incident” after last week’s game and in a statement, he said that the EMTs probably saved his life.  Davie was an assistant coach and an interim head coach for a game at Notre Dame about 25 years ago…

Florida – 8 at Kentucky (48):  Florida had a “breather” last week against Tennessee-Martin; Kentucky had an easy time with E. Michigan.  Here two good defensive teams from the SEC East will bang on one another for about 3 hours…

Maryland – 7 at Temple (67):  Temple has had 2 weeks to prepare for this game after handling Division 1-AA Bucknell in its opening game.

Hawaii at Washington – 22 (59):  This is the third consecutive PAC-12 opponent for Hawaii and they have beaten the first two.  Can they complete the trifecta here?  I doubt it because they are not at home for this game; Washington is a better team than either Arizona or Oregon St.; Washington should be highly motivated coming off a conference loss to Cal last week.  Purely a hunch, but I’ll put Washington in the Six-Pack to win and cover.

Cal Poly-SLO at Oregon St. – 14.5 (76):  Oregon St. has lost its first two games losing badly at home to Oklahoma State and then to Hawaii on the road.  If – I said IF – they lose here to start 0-3, the schedule ahead looks bleak for them.  On the Oregon State website, they have the PAC-12 Championship Game listed as a TBD on December 6.  There are two words that describe Oregon State participating in that game:

  • NOT – – and – – HAPPENING

Texas – 32 at Rice (56):  Rice has lost its first two games to Army and Wake Forest.  Texas scored 38 points on LSU’s defense last week – – even though that was not enough to produce a win.  This game will be over by some point early in the 2nd quarter.

Florida Atlantic – 2.5 at Ball State (65):  Ball St. is 1-1 – losing to Indiana in the opener and then demolishing Division 1-AA Fordham last week.  Florida Atlantic is 0-2 but those two losses have been to Ohio State and UCF.  I like FAU to win and cover here, so I’ll put it in the Six-Pack.

UMass at UNC-Charlotte – 20 (67.5):  UMass is 0-2 having been blown out by Rutgers and then by Southern Illinois.  Any team that loses to UMass this year deserves all the scorn it will get…

Alabama – 25 at S. Carolina (62):  Because of an injury to starting QB, Jake Bentley, the Gamecocks will start a true freshman at QB against Alabama.  Good luck with that…

Florida State – 7.5 at Virginia (58):  The Seminoles looked dispirited and disorganized last week against La-Monroe.  Virginia beat Pitt to open the season and then stomped on Division 1-AA William and Mary last week.  The undefeated team at home is getting points from a winless team on the road…  All right, then.

Oklahoma – 23.5 at UCLA (73.5):  It will be a long day – – and a long season – – for Chip Kelly.  This game should get completely out of hand quickly.  Here is another game where the Total Line has risen during the week; it started out at 66.5 points and is now up a full TD.

 

NFL Commentary:

 

Last week, Skins’ coach Jay Gruden did not put Adrian Peterson on the active roster.  Reports in the local media very politely said that Peterson was “upset” by that decision.  Rumors are flaring about how and why this happened; I have no idea if any of these are close to accurate so take the one you like best – – or make up one of your own.

  • Rumor 1:  Jay Gruden wanted to cut Peterson and use that roster spot elsewhere but was directed by “upstairs” in the Skins’ organization to keep him.
  • Rumor 2:  Peterson is very intense on the sidelines lobbying for more carries for himself.  Jay Gruden does not like to be distracted from his play calling duties, so he kept Peterson in street clothes for Game 1.
  • Rumor 3:  Peterson is good friends with Skins’ estranged tackle, Trent Williams, and they have a mutual business interest in Houston.  The Skins’ Front Office wants to minimize Peterson’s role with the team because they see him as a conduit of information to Williams

Here is what I know…  The Skins decided to use Derrius Guice as their featured RB this year – – and of course he injured his knee and had surgery yesterday; he is out between 4 and 8 weeks  Now, the Skins can either use Peterson in that role or try to patch together a running game that features Chris Thompson, Wendell Smallwood and Craig Reynolds (currently on the Practice Squad).

[Aside:  NFL running backs get a lot of injuries.  Derrius Guice missed all last year with a knee injury and now will miss a big chunk of his second year in the league.  The Skins’ scouts and “Draft Board mavens” have shown a propensity to draft RBs who come to the league “pre-injured”.  Guice missed a significant part of his junior season at LSU with – – wait for it – – a leg injury.]

The Miami Dolphins are fielding a junior varsity level team this year aiming for a top draft pick in 2020.  Coach Brian Flores has asserted multiple times that the team is not “tanking” despite the fact that the Front Office in Miami has traded away most of the players who have any trade value.  There was a most appropriate signing by the Dolphins this week:

  • The Tanking Dolphins signed free agent defensive end, Cornelius “Tank” Carradine.

If someone wrote that into a movie script, the film director would have it deleted as too obvious…

Last week, the Jags lost at home to the Chiefs 40-26.  QB Nick Foles had to leave the game in the first quarter with a broken collarbone and the prognosis is that he will be out 8 weeks.  His sub was Gardner Minshew who played last year for Mike Leach at Washington State.  Minshew acquitted himself well going 22-25 for 275 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT.  The fact is that the Chiefs’ pass pressure was tepid last week; this week Minshew will face the Texans who play better defense.

I saw a bit of LeSean McCoy with the Chiefs and while he may not be ready to be a feature RB carrying the ball 25 times a game anymore, he played well.  He ran the ball 10 times for 81 yards and caught 1 pass for 12 yards.  Not bad for a 31-year old RB…

I want to say a word here about Nick Foles.  He is a devout religious man who has said in the past that he intends to become a pastor once his football career is over.  That is a noble undertaking – certainly more noble that writing things called Football Friday and posting them on a website.  Notwithstanding the fact that I am not devoutly religious, I might point out here that God may have a message for Nick Foles that he might want to consider:

  • Nick Foles has had good health and plenty of success when playing for Philly and living in the Philly area.
  • Nick Foles has had limited success and some injury issues when playing for St. Louis, KC and/or Jax.
  • Maybe Nick Foles should consider taking his ministry to the Philadelphia area…?

During the NFL offseason, the Cleveland Browns were the roster building winners.  They traded for Odell Beckham, Jr, and acquired Jarvis Landry to catch those passes from Baker Mayfield.  They will get Kareem Hunt as part of their backfield once his 8-game suspension is served.  Their defense drew lots of very positive accolades.  The Browns were the trendiest Super Bowl pick on the board.  And then they started to play the regular season games…

The Browns trailed the Titans 15-13 with about 2 minutes left in the third quarter.  Then the roof caved in:

  • Defense gave up a 75-yard pass in the flat to Derrick Henry.  Titans 22-Browns 13.
  • Defense gave up 2 short TD passes from Marcus Mariotta to Delanie Walker.  Titans 36-Browns 13.  Time left is 9:03 in the fourth quarter.
  • Baker Mayfield tosses a Pick Six.  Titans 43-Browns 13.  Time left is 3:02 in the fourth quarter.
  • Add these up and you find 28 unanswered points by the Titans in a game that had a 2-point differential with 17 minutes on the clock…

By the way, Baker Mayfield threw 3 INTs in the game and was tackled in the end zone for a safety.  Mayfield and his Browns’ teammates have done a lot of woofing in the offseason about their prospects and about other players in the league.  When it was time to play for real, the Browns reverted to – – being the Browns.

Bob Molinaro had this to say about the Browns in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week:

“America’s Team: No franchise is getting more early media play than the Browns. Between Weeks 2 and 5, Baker Mayfield and Co. are featured on Monday and Sunday night games three times.”

Let me turn to another miserable performance by an NFL team last week – – this one also by a team that year-over-year continues to find new ways to disappoint its fanbase.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Detroit Lions.

For 3 quarters of their game against the Arizona Cardinals with that new-fangled air raid offense, the Lions throttled that offense.  The longest “drive” for Cards was 11 yards in the first half.  At the end of 3 quarters, the Lions led 17-6.  Then the Lions reverted to – – being the Lions.

In the 4th quarter, they gave up almost 200 yards of offense to the Cardinals who managed to tie the score at 24 to send the game to overtime.  Time expired with both teams having kicked a field goal on the overtime period, so the game goes into the record books as a tie.  This game was played in Arizona and I swear you could smell the funk all the way up to Las Vegas…

The Miami Dolphins quest to stink out the joint in 2019 was on track last week losing to the Ravens 59-10.  The Dolphins showed no particular aptitude in any phase of this game; it was a rout from start to finish.  Even when John Harbaugh pulled QB, Lamar Jackson, from the game and substituted RG3, the bleeding did not stop.  Here is RG3’s stat line:

  • 6-6 for 55 yards and 1 TD with 0 INTs
  • He also ran the ball 4 times for 9 yards.

There was an unnecessary bit of piling on here.  Leading 35-3 near the end of the first half, John Harbaugh called for a fake punt which resulted in 60-yard run that set up yet one more first-half TD.

The Bills/Jets game was “ragged” – to be polite.  There were plenty of mistakes by both teams that kept the game relatively close.  The Jets led 6-0 at the half and 16-3 after 3 quarters.  Then the Bills rallied to win the game 17-16.  The Jets’ kicker last week was Kaare Vedvick; he missed a field goal and a PAT in this game that was decided by a single point.  Vedvick was cut by the Jets and is now looking for work…  One bright light from the game is that Jamison Crowder – signed by the Jets as a free agent in the offseason – caught 14 passes for 99 yards.

The Bears lost to the Packers 10-3 on Thursday night to open the season.  Mitchell Trubisky soiled the sheets in this game; he kept going to check down receivers and the Packers were having none of that.  Trubisky’s stat line was 26-45 for 228 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT; that is only 5.1 yards per pass attempt.  The Bears’ defense is good enough to keep them in games for most of the season, but that offense has to do a lot more than it showed last Thursday night.  Three points in 60 minutes don’t feed the bulldog…

[Aside: The Bears traded up to take Mitchell Trubisky in the draft.  In that same draft, we saw the Chiefs trade up to take Patrick Mahomes.  Seems as if the Chiefs’ scouts and draft strategists had an advantage over their Bears’ counterparts there…]

The Falcons lost badly to the Vikes last week.  They were pushed around by the Vikes offense and had difficulty gaining any traction against the Vikes’ defense.  Matt Ryan threw the ball 46 times and produced 12 points.  Kirk Cousins only threw the ball 10 times and produced 28 points.  The Vikes ran the ball 38 times for 172 yards.  Somewhere, Woody Hayes gave this game a fist pump…  This was an old-fashioned butt-stomping.

Even thought the Colts lost to the Chargers in Week 1 30-24 in OT, the Colts showed a lot stronger than many folks might have imagined given the late pre-season retirement announcement by Andrew Luck.  Let me be clear; I do not think that Jacoby Brisset is going to lead the Colts to a Super Bowl win next February.  At the same time, he showed last week that he is not a stumblebum who cannot tie his shoes and whistle a tune at the same time.  Austin Ekeler stood in as Melvin Gordon’s replacement for the Chargers and scored 3 TDs for the Chargers.  Melvin Who?  On the Colts’ side of the ledger, Colts’ RB, Marlon Mack carried the ball 25 times to gain 274 yards rushing.

The Niners beat the Bucs despite a lackluster offensive showing by Jimmy G and his cohorts.  Jameis Winston contributed significantly to the Niners win tossing 3 INTs and 2 of them were of the Pick-6 variety.  (He also fumbled the ball twice just to keep everyone in the stands and watching at home on TV awake and alert.)  Bruce Arians was supposed to be the guy who could teach Winston to be more careful with the ball.  One game is too small a sample to declare that supposition a failure – – but it surely was a failure for Week 1.  Since entering the NFL in 2015 Jameis Winston has been the “interception leader” in the NFL.

The Seahawks beat the Bengals in Seattle by a single point.  A win is a win, but this is not a positive omen.  The Seahawks defense gave Andy Dalton his biggest passing day of his career with 418 yards – – and that was without AJ Green catching the passes.

The Eagles were sleepwalking in the first half trailing 17-0 and then 20-7 at halftime against the Skins.  Nonetheless, this game exposed a significant weakness for Skins.  – – the secondary does not cover deep very well.  DeSean Jackson caught TD passes of 51 yards and 53 yards.  The second half was totally different; the Eagles were dominant.  The Skins DL is the source of most fan-pride in this area.  Against the Eagles the unit was AWOL.  Two stats to consider:

  1. On third down, Carson Wentz was 12 for 13 for 178 yards and 3 TDs.
  2. Eagles also ran the ball for 116 yards in the game.

[Aside:  DeSean Jackson is now one of only two players in NFL history to catch 30 or more TD passes of 50 yards or longer.  That “other player” is Jerry Rice.  Jackson now has 31 TD catches in this category; Rice retired having caught 36.]

The Pats humiliated the Steelers 33-3.  They ran the ball at will and they threw it wherever they wanted.  By the way, Tom Brady can still throw the ball downfield when he wants to…  There was an interesting coaching decision in this game:

  • The Steelers had the ball at the Pats 2 yardline in 3rd quarter trailing 20-0.
  • The Steelers chose to kick a field goal – – which kept it as a 3-score game
  • Really?

Ben Roethlisberger finished the game with a QB Rating of 65.6.  I am dubious about QB Ratings when it comes to hair splitting, but 65.6 is a bad rating.  Former Steeler QB, Kordell Stewart had a career QB Rating of 70; any time Roethlisberger has a game below an average game for Kordell Stewart, that is a bad day for the Steelers.   Sony Michel had a dull game for the Pats with 15 carries for 14 yards.

The Saints beat the Texans at the buzzer last week – – but the story here is that the Texans have not solved their OL issues even with Laremy Tunsil at left tackle.  Deshaun Watson was sacked 6 times in the game.  That is not how you win in the NFL – – and more importantly – – that is not how you keep your franchise QB ambulatory.

The Raiders looked very good in beating the Broncos.  I was very impressed with the way their OL stood up to the Denver pass rush.  The Broncos went inside the Raiders 10 yardline twice in the early stages of the game only to come away with field goals.  That cannot be a common occurrence if the Broncos hope to win games this year.

 

NFL Games this week:

 

Indy at Tennessee – 3.5 (44):  This is a big game in the AFC South.  If the Titans win, they will start out 2-0 and the Colts will start out 0-2.  The Texans and the Jags both lost last week and they face each other this week – – so one of those teams will also start 0-2.

Chargers – 2.5 at Detroit (48):  This will be a “body clock game” for the Chargers.  However, I think they are the better team and will cover this spread even on the road.  I’ll put the Chargers to win and cover in this week’s Six-Pack.

Buffalo – 1.5 at Giants (43.5):  The spread opened as a “pick ‘em” game.  The Bills defense was very good last week; if their offense can show up a bit earlier than the 4th quarter this week, the Bills should prevail.  I’ll put the Bills in this week’s Six-Pack to win and cover on the road.

Arizona at Baltimore – 13 (46):  The Total Line here opened at 41.5 points and soared to this level pretty quickly.  This is a game matching two “scampering QBs”; Kyler Murray looked miserable for 3 quarters of the game last week and then looked sensational in the 4th quarter.  Lamar Jackson dominated the Miami junior varsity defense.

New England – 19 at Miami (49):  The spread opened at 14.5 points and has been climbing all week; I would not be shocked to see it go even higher.  Do not forget, however, that in each of the last two seasons, the Pats lost to the Dolphins in Miami – – even though the Pats went to the Super Bowl both years.  I hate double digit spreads in NFL games but just for fun, I am going to follow an old Groucho Marx adage:

  • If it looks like a duck and it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, chances are it’s a duck.

This looks and smells like a blowout.  I’ll put the Pats in this week’s Six-Pack to win and cover here.

Dallas – 6 at Washington (46.5): This spread opened at 4.5 points and has been creeping upward all week.  The Cowboys are clearly the better team, but the Skins always get up for this game in Washington.

Jax at Houston – 8.5 (43):  The Jags will give Gardner Minshew his first NFL start here on the road against a good Texans’ defense.  The Jags’ defensive unit has done a lot of woofing about how they are an agglomeration of bad asses; with Nick Foles on the shelf, that defense needs to show up in a big way.  I think that line is fat.  I’ll put the Jags plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack.

Seattle at Pittsburgh – 3.5 (47):  The Steelers looked awful and lost last week; the Seahawks looked bad – but won last week.  The Steelers need this game badly.

SF at Cincy – 2 (45):  This spread opened with the Niners as a 1-point favorite and then flipped.  This is the second consecutive road game in the Eastern Time Zone for the Niners 

Minnesota at Green Bay – 2.5 (43.5):  Call this the Game of the Week.  Both defenses looked very good in Week 1.  The Vikes’ offense was dominant while the Packers’ offense sputtered in Week 1.  I see this as a low-scoring game that will be in doubt until the final possession.

KC – 7 at Oakland (53.5):  The Raiders’ defense was excellent last week against Joe Flacco and the Broncos.  This week, that unit faces a slightly different challenge with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.

New Orleans at Rams – 2 (52):  This is a ”revenge game” or a “vindication game” depending on which team you like better.  I have no idea who is going to win this game – – but if you must think about a wager here, I would be tempted to take OVER.

Chicago – 2 at Denver (40):  Based on Week 1 performances, this should be a dreary game; both offenses were AWOL.  This is a big game for the Bears.  If they lose and start 0-2, they will be two games behind the winner of the Vikes/Packers game in the NFC North.

(Sun Nite) Philly – 2 at Atlanta (52.5):  The spread opened as a “pick ‘em” game.  Can the Falcons really be as bad as they looked last week against the Vikes?  Can the Eagles really be as bad as they looked in the first half against the Skins?

(Mon Nite) Cleveland – 6.5 at Jets (44):  This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  There are plenty of interesting pairings in Week 2 and somehow ESPN gets this pile of doggy-dooty for MNF.  That was my thinking BEFORE it was announced in mid-week that Sam Darnold has mononucleosis and will not play this week – – and maybe for several weeks.  Jets’ fans need to say hello to Trevor Simien at QB.  Meanwhile, the Jets’ defense will try to do to the Browns what the Titans’ defense did last week.  The best thing to do with this game is to flush it.

So, let me review this week’s Six-Pack:

  1. Washington – 22 over Hawaii
  2. Florida Atlantic – 2.5 over Ball State
  3. Chargers – 2.5 over Lions
  4. Bills – 1.5 over Giants
  5. Patriots – 19 over Dolphins (just for fun)
  6. Jags +8.5 against Texans

            Finally, since one of the features here is a Six-Pack of possible wagers, let me close with Damon Runyon’s commentary on betting:

“It may be that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong – but that is the way to bet.”

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

 

 

Boom Or Bust

If you had any doubts that this is MLB’s “Boom or Bust Era”, here is a datum:

  • The regular season does not end until 29 September.  Nonetheless, with 17 days still to go in the regular season, MLB set a record last night for the total number of HRs in a season.  The old record – set in 2017 – was 6,105 home runs.

Speaking of the impending end of the MLB regular season, the news that Christian Yelich will miss the rest of the season with a broken kneecap pretty much ends the debate as to the NL MVP for 2019.  Until the revelation that Yelich would miss the final 3 weeks of the season, I thought it was a two-horse race for the MVP honor.  Now, I think Cody Bellinger is a shoo-in for that award.

Some of the TV ratings data have come in for the first week of the NFL season and the numbers do not support those who think that the Age of Football in America is over:

  • The opening game between the Packers and Bears on Thursday night saw a ratings increase of just under 15% from last year.
  • Moreover, the ratings maintained their high level throughout the game even though it was a defensive struggle that ended with a 10-3 score.  [More on that later…]
  • The two Monday games also drew higher ratings.  Having the Texans and Saints playing in New Orleans after the events of last year’s playoff debacle there surely helped those ratings.  This “early” Monday game had ratings up almost 24% from last year when the game was the Lions versus the Jets.
  • Seeing the Raiders in the aftermath of their Antonio Brown saga probably drew a few eyeballs to that late Monday game.

I think it is interesting to note that the ratings for games often decline as the game goes on.  Those declines were smaller for this season’s opening games than in the past and this is my hypothesis as to why that is the case:

  • In 2019, sports betting is readily available to people who do not live in or who have traveled to Nevada that weekend.  Sports betting is now conveniently located near large population centers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania with more “convenience” coming soon.
  • I suspect that means that more people had wagers on the games last weekend; and when you are betting with the spread or on the Total Line, the game on the TV in front of you can remain “in doubt” up until the final play of the game.

If I am correct, then TV ratings – and the persistence of those ratings – should be up for much of the season.  Since TV ratings are large revenue drivers for the league, that could be a significant omen as they enter into negotiations with the networks for the next set of media rights contracts.  I believe the current network deals need to be renewed in 2022.

People who believe – or want to believe – that the Age of Football in America is in decline can point to live attendance figures to bolster their assertions(s).  Last year, the average attendance at an NFL regular season game was 67,050; that was the lowest average live gate for the NFL in 8 years.  However, the important thing to note here is that live attendance is not the revenue driver that television is.  Let’s do some math:

  • If the average seat costs $100, then those 67,050 folks attending all 256 NFL regular season games produced a total revenue of about $1.72B.  That is a lot of cheese – – until you realize that the revenue is an average over 32 teams and so each team would take in about $54M.
  • The network TV deals are also split evenly among the clubs and those deals bring each club a tad more than $220M.
  • Even if you add in the parking fees and the beers consumed, there is no way that the live gate is comparable to the TV revenues.

In fact, I could be convinced that the NFL would not mind a bit if the live attendance dropped even more so long as TV ratings climbed a bit.  Over the past decade, the NFL teams have done just about everything they could to make the “home TV experience” as good as – or better than – the “live game experience”.

Forget the vagaries of the weather – particularly in places like Buffalo in December or Arizona in early September – the league has made the home viewing experience superior to the live game experience:

  • It is more convenient – no traffic and parking hassles
  • You can see the plays better on a big screen HD TV than you can at the stadium
  • You can select the people with whom you will see the game
  • There is less likelihood that a fight will break out in your living room as compared to the stands.
  • You can watch The Red Zone Channel if that is your thing, [Aside: It is not my thing; I never watch the Red Zone.]
  • Add to all the above that it is cheaper for the fan to stay home and watch the game.  Oh, and that could mean that the fan has a little more cash to “get down” on a game or two that he will want to watch to its conclusion…

The total number of fannies in seats for NFL games last year was 17.2M.  There are lots of people who attend multiple games so I would be surprised if the number of different folks going to a stadium to see a game was over 12 million.  Compare that to an estimate – surely inflated to the high side given the estimate’s source – by the American Gaming Commission that 38 million people will wager on an NFL game sometime this season.

The conclusion here is that NFL Football is a TV series and it is a TV series that is enjoyed by a wide and loyal audience.  Everything that enhances that TV series makes the NFL an even bigger player in the entertainment segment of the economy and society.  The Age of Football in America is not over yet.

Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote in last week’s Miami Herald:

“The Ironman 70.3 World Championships were held Saturday in France. I’d planned to compete, but decided at the last minute to wait in a long line for one of those Popeye’s chicken sandwiches instead.”

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

 

 

Another Soap Opera Plot Twist?

Just when you thought it was safe to go back and read the NFL news summaries …  I thought – until last evening – that the only interesting plotline going forward regarding Antonio Brown was the possibility that he might not blend into The Patriot Way thereby setting up a divorce process that would be short-and-sweet.  How wrong was that?

The latest is that Antonio Brown has been accused of forcibly raping his former trainer on 1 occasion in 2017/ 2018 and sexually assaulting her in 2 other incidents.  The Pats assert that this is the first they have heard about this behavior; Brown professes innocence and his lawyer says that Brown:

“… will leave no stone unturned and will aggressively defend himself, including all of his rights in countersuits.”

You can read the details of this woman’s allegations in a dozen places; suffice it to say here that it will be interesting to see how the NFL handles these allegations and these investigations and balances that with Antonio Brown’s eligibility.

Speaking of Antonio Brown, if anyone were to create an award named the “Antonio Brown Yoo-Hoo I’m Over Here Look At Me Award”, I believe we would have our first nominee for that award to be given at the end of the NFL season.

  • Odell Beckham, Jr. wore a wristwatch – supposedly worth $350K – during the Browns/Titans game last weekend.  He says he is going to continue to do that in future games.

I have a question here …  a watch could be used as a weapon and it certainly might inflict a totally accidental injury; so how is that allowable under the NFL rules?  If a player were to wear a pair of brass knuckles that had a watch built into the crossbar piece, would that also be an allowable accoutrement on the field?  Sheeeesh…

When I got home from Las Vegas on Monday, I had time for a nice dinner with my long-suffering wife before settling down to watch the ESPN doubleheader for Monday Night Football on opening week.  Here are a couple of observations:

  1. Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland – in the booth and liberated from the sideline roving “Boogermobile” from last year – are an improvement over the three-man booth with Jason Witten.  My problem with this duo is that it does not eliminate a significant flaw for the viewer/listener who knows even a smidgen about football.
  2. Let me put this in a nutshell.  Every 5-yard run or 3-yard pass completion in the flat – even if either play results in a first down – is NOT an Earth-shattering event that demands a high-decibel and breathless call on the air.  Joe Tessitore – and to a lesser extent Booger McFarland – need to dial that level of commentary back and save it for the REALLY meaningful plays in the game.

Technically, I misspoke above.  The ESPN announcing booth is really a 2.5-man booth this year.  They have a retired NFL referee, John Parry, in there to be used on an “as needed” basis and here is the deal on John Parry:

  • John Parry speaks English very competently instead of “Rulebook” which is an arcane language used only by game officials, rules analysts and roger Goodell when he wants to shut down a line of questioning.

A good telecast of a well-officiated game would keep John Parry in the background collecting whatever his contract calls for on a per game basis simply because he is not needed.  But he looks to be a good addition to the ESPN announcing team for Monday Night Football.

ESPN deployed a “B-Team” crew to do the Raiders/Broncos game as the second half of the double header.  In the past, ESPN has botched the choice for that assignment; simply recall when Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic did the late game and you will understand what I mean by “botched the assignment”.  Steve Levy was very good on play-by-play; I think I prefer him to Joe Tessitore despite Levy’s lack of experience in that sort of role.  Louis Riddick was also very good as a color analyst.  Brian Griese was OK as a third voice in the booth – – but my preference would have been to have Levy and Riddick do the game as a pair and not as a trio.

USC accepted the resignation of Lynn Swann as the Athletic Director there.  Swann is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame; he is never going to be inducted into the Athletic Director’s Hall of Fame should one ever be created.  Let’s review the bidding here:

  • USC Athletic Directors seem to get the job because they were star football players for USC back in the glory days.  That explains the selections of Mike Garrett, Pat Haden and Lynn Swann.  None brought any “Athletic Director experience” of any significance to the job.  If the school wants to follow that recruitment model, may I suggest that OJ might have some time on his hands soon once he finds the real killer(s).
  • Swann’s most notable post-football career accomplishment was to run for Governor of Pennsylvania in 2006 and to lose that election in a landslide.
  • Swann was supposed to make USC athletics relevant again without incurring any scandals along the way.  USC athletics are nowhere near as relevant as they have been in the past and there have indeed been scandals during his tenure.  We had the rich parents bribing coaches to indicate that the rich parents’ kids might be athletically relevant to gain an admission advantage; we had the FBI probing the USC coaching staff for improper/criminal basketball recruiting…

Finally, since I wondered why officials allowed a player to wear a wristwatch during a game earlier today, consider this comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Argentina’s women’s basketball team was forced to forfeit its Pan American Games contest against Colombia for showing up in white uniforms instead of blue.

“And you thought the NFL’s fashion police were strict?”

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

 

 

Back From Las Vegas…

The fact that I am back at the keyboard today means that my weekend winnings in Las Vegas were not such that I wound up as the owner of one of the major casinos there.  Not to worry though; as they must say in the Detroit Lions’ Front Office:

  • We’ll get ‘em next year.”

Many Internet sites are commercial enterprises; they exist to make money for the person(s) who own the site and who work to keep the site relevant.  In that world, it is critical to get people to visit the site regularly and frequently.  It is analogous to the TV business where the ratings for programming drives revenue for the stations/networks; the essential measure is how many eyeballs are on your site or station because that is what advertisers will pay money for.

There are myriad ways to attract viewers or readers; one such way is to keep the content on the site as edgy as possible.  Over the weekend, I read a report that the owner/founder of an Internet sports website criticized the fact that one of the Notre Dame leprechaun mascots this year is not a “midget looking ginger”.  Indeed, one of the leprechauns is Black.

Why that is important in the sports world is not nearly clear to me.  Why that is important in a current sociological sense is not clear to me either.  The potential for economic benefit here is transparently clear to me and even though I am a staunch advocate for free expression and for free enterprise, I find this one just a tad on the smarmy side of the ledger.  The fact that this comment about a leprechaun mascot that does not look the part might indicate that that the speaker does not realize that one of the other Notre Dame mascots this year is a female.  [Evidently, there are three leprechaun mascots at Notre Dame; who knew?]  I am not an expert in Irish legends and folklore, but I do not recall any stories where leprechauns were of the female persuasion.

Things are REALLY getting outrageous at Notre Dame these days …

I overheard a segment of sports radio in Las Vegas – I don’t know the station or the host(s) – but the topic of discussion was Andrew Luck’s abrupt retirement from the NFL.  One of the speakers contended that Luck’s decision was another sign that the “age of football” (his oft-repeated phrase) had peaked and was now starting into a slow decline.  His reasoning was that the NFL will not see many players choosing to play into their 30s anymore because the players now recognize the long-term damage it does to their bodies and their brains.  That recognition coupled with the escalating salary cap – at least for now – gives players the chance to make money in their 20s and then brush the game off leaving the league with a shortage of marketable stars over long and sustained careers.

In Andrew Luck’s specific situation, he made approximately $100M in his 20s – and took a physical beating while doing so.  This radio host/speaker is absolutely correct to say that anyone in such a situation can choose to stop working in that field of endeavor and stop taking a beating.  However, I do not think that is nearly a sign of the sure-fire demise of football in the US.  Consider:

  • Even with escalating salary cap numbers, there are not a lot of players who will make $100M while they are still in their 20s.  The NFL has about 2000 men on their collective rosters.  Even if every player who made that kind of money chose to quit the game before age 30, there would still be plenty of people to play the games.
  • The fact that the opportunity to make that kind of life-changing wealth in short order may possibly attract even more players to the game.  One might not choose to “take a beating for 6 or 7 years” in order to make a million or two, but for 100 million…?

Predictions based on extrapolation from small data sets is risky business indeed; extrapolation from a single datum is not extrapolation; it is guessing.  This radio host/speaker may be completely correct – – but I will need more data before I agree.

I cannot make it through a rant for today without that Antonio Brown signed on with the Patriots over the weekend.  My initial reaction was surprise until I recalled that the Patriots and Bill Belichick have done this before:

  • Randy Moss
  • Chad Ochocinco (née Johnson)
  • Albert Haynesworth
  • Josh Gordon (currently on the active roster)

Will Antonio Brown work out in New England?  Randy Moss did; Albert Haynesworth did not.  Here is the only thing I am confident about:

  • If Antonio Brown continues to enhance his brand by acting the fool and by poking at his coaching staff and teammates, he will be released unceremoniously by the Patriots.  Signing Brown is not a deviation from “The Patriot Way”; signing Brown is an offer to him to buy into “The Patriot Way”.

The Boston Red Sox are less than a full season removed from their World Series win last October.  It appears that the Sox will not make the playoffs this year without a spectacular finish to the season and the franchise has demonstrated a belief in the credo, “What have you done for me lately?”  They fired GM, Dave Dombrowski – the architect of that World Series winning team from 10 months ago.

The significant question facing the person who permanently succeeds Dombrowski in the job is very direct;

  • Was 2019 an aberration for the Red Sox – – or is this roster too overpaid to allow the team any sort of flexibility to fix the most obvious flaw (the bullpen)?
  • The Sox also need an overhaul/restocking of a farm system that is rated near the bottom in MLB by folks who follow that sort of thing closely.

That is a tough environment for a new GM when the team is in “What have you done for me lately?” mode…

Finally, since I mentioned Antonio Brown above, consider this comment about Messr. Brown by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“A British man has been hospitalized for weeks with groin blisters and severe burns from leaving hair-removal cream on too long.

“On the bright side, though, he just clinched the first annual Antonio Brown Weird Injury of the Year Award.”

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

 

 

Football Friday 9/5/19

Football Friday falls on a Thursday this week.  The reason for that calendar inversion is rather simple.  Early tomorrow morning, I will board an airplane for a flight to Las Vegas; our “Annual Autumnal Pilgrimage” is much earlier than usual this year due to major calendar conflicts in the month of October.  And so, this week’s offering is being composed at a time when the lines for some of the games – particularly NFL games – are still in a fluid state.  No matter; we will make do with what we got…

College Football Commentary:

Let me start with some reflections on last week’s college football games.  The teams ranked in the Top 25 in the pre-season polls did very well last week.  Those teams went 24-1, and the one loss (by Oregon) was to another team ranked in the Top 25 (Auburn).  There will be plenty of changes in the shuffling of the order of these teams – and there will surely be lots of “replacements” too as the season progresses.  However, for the first week the pollsters seem to have “gotten it right”.

The seemingly perennial success of the SEC in football has generated a cadre of folks who in modern parlance are “haters”.  Those haters can revel in the results of last week’s college football games where 4 SEC teams lost to opponents that do not have the pedigree of “an SEC team”.  Let’s review:

  1. South Carolina led UNC 20-9 in the 4th quarter and came from ahead to lose the game 24-20.  Remember, UNC was 2-10 last year.  This was Mack Brown’s first game back as a coach in about 7 years.  This loss is probably the least embarrassing one for the SEC since UNC is also a Power 5 school.
  2. Missouri lost to Wyoming – not a Power 5 school – by a score of 37-31.  Mizzou outgained the Cowboys 530 yards to 389 yards and only gave up 92 yards passing.  Here is the embarrassing part; the Wyoming coach earned a “six-figure bonus” in his contract for beating this SEC opponent.
  3. Ole Miss lost to Memphis 15-10.  Memphis is a member of the American Athletic Conference (AAC) which is never mistaken for the SEC when the subject is football.  What makes this game very embarrassing for Ole Miss and the SEC is the dominance of the Memphis defense here.  For the game, Ole Miss generated a total of 163 yards of offense (83 passing and 80 rushing).  In the first half, Ole Miss had a total of minus-1 yard rushing.  That’s bad enough but the Rebels’ offense is now under the tutelage of Rich Rodriguez who is generally known as an offensive guru.
  4. Tennessee lost to Georgia State 38-30 in the most embarrassing loss of the day.  Why is this the most embarrassing loss of the day?  Let me count the ways…  First, Tennessee reportedly paid Ga St $950K to make the trip to Rocky Top and take a beating at the hands of the Vols.  That did not happen.  Next, Ga St was a 26-point underdog in the game, and this was the first time that Ga St has ever beaten a Power 5 team.  Third, Ga St is a Sun Belt team and Sun Belt teams aspire to become AAC teams one day.  Fourth, lest you think that Ga St was some sort of lurking power among the smaller football programs, they were 2-10 last year.  They were mediocre on offense (90th in the country out of 130 schools) and they were way south of mediocre on defense (125th in the country).  Fifth, the Vols overhauled their coaching staff significantly in the offseason to “change the culture”; they have a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator.  And all of that resulted in a loss at home to Georgia State…

Jeremy Pruitt is the head coach at Tennessee and his job security took a major hit last weekend.  BYU comes calling this week and then there is another cupcake home game against UT-Chattanooga before the Vols start SEC play with games against Florida and Georgia.  Pruitt came to Tennessee last year and went 5-8 in 2018; this embarrassing loss is not going to be forgotten quickly; Jeremy Pruitt’s honeymoon at Tennessee is over.

You can accuse me of piling on here if you wish – – but that is what we do here in Curmudgeon Central:

  • One more home loss to a school of the football pedigree of Ga St and you can start referring to it as Rocky Bottom.
  • Since Tennessee paid Ga St to make the trip and then Ga St beat them up, you might want to call this a “Jussie Smollett Game”.  Too soon …?

Teams at the top of the SEC did just fine last week.  Alabama beat Duke 42-3 in a game that I said would be an organized ass-kicking.  Georgia beat Vandy and covered a 3 TD spread in the process.  Auburn rallied to beat Oregon as noted above.  Florida beat Miami and LSU demolished Georgia Southern.

In the Big 10, Ohio State toyed with Florida Atlantic winning by 24 points.  Illinois beat Akron 42-3.  Wisconsin dominated USF 49-0 with Jonathan Taylor rushing for 183 yards in less than ¾ of a game.  Penn St. beat Idaho 79-7 in a game that should not have been scheduled in the first place.  Maryland beat Howard 79-0 in another game that should never have been scheduled.  Northwestern lost to Stanford 17-7, but Stanford was ranked in the Top 25 so that is not an embarrassing loss.

Nebraska beat South Alabama which was expected.  What was unexpected is that it took two defensive TDs and a punt return for a TD to make it happen.

The worst loss for the Big 10 came when Purdue lost to Nevada 34-31.  Purdue was cruising at halftime with a 24-7 lead.  But the second half was all Wolfpack.  The fact that Purdue turned the ball over 5 times assured their demise.

There was another embarrassingly bad loss last weekend; Florida State lost at home to Boise State 36-31.  That may not sound all that bad – – until you know that Florida State led at halftime 31-19; that’s right; they were shut out in the second half and as embarrassing as that could be, consider that the Boise St. comeback was led by a true freshman at QB.  Coach Willie Taggert – – who is not all that far from becoming known colloquially as Beleaguered Coach Willie Taggert – – said that he was not sure that his team was properly hydrated for that game.

  • Memo For Coach Taggert:  That’s on you!  If you and your staff – in the second year of your regime in Tallahassee – cannot more properly hydrate your team than the folks from not-so-tropical Boise State, then you may not be up to the job you have signed onto.

It’s time to cut out the apologetic language for the Florida State program under Willie Taggert.  It stunk out the joint last year and it did not cover itself in glory in Game One of this year.  Consider that the Seminoles’ defense allowed Boise St. to post 586 yards of offense.  Meanwhile, the total offense for the Seminoles in the second half was all of 51 yards.  That is – – using plain language – – unacceptable…

Here is the “fork in the road” question from the outcome of the Florida State/Boise State game:

  • Does this fire up the “FireWillieTaggert.com” website and its progeny?
  • Does this start a media narrative that Boise St will be the team that is frozen out of the CFP this year?

Or … could it be both…

If you want a feelgood story from last week, consider that Kansas won its season opener against Indiana State.  Yes, I know that Indiana St. is a Division 1-AA team but this is a win for Les Miles in his first game at Kansas; as of this morning, Les Miles is undefeated in Lawrence, Kansas; that situation will not obtain for very long, so we need to enjoy it for the moment of its expression.

In ACC action, Clemson beat Georgia Tech 52-14.  Last week, I said this game would get ugly quickly; the score was 28-0 at halftime.  The Clemson defense looked as if it might be a top-shelf unit once again this year despite sending 4 players to the NFL over the summer.  The Clemson offense racked up 632 yards and Travis Etienne carried the ball 12 times for 205 yards and 3 TDs.  Wow!

Boston College beat VA Tech in a conference game on opening day by a score of 35-28.  The surprises here are twofold:

  1. BC actually scored 35 points in a single game?
  2. BC did that against the defense coached by the legendary Bud Foster of VA Tech?

So that you know that this outcome was not a fluke, Boston College amassed more than 300 yards of offense in the first half of this game…

Notre Dame beat Louisville 35-17 – – but the Irish did not look dominant in doing so.  Louisville was a disaster last season giving up 40+ points every time you looked at the weekend scoreboard.  The Cardinals were 2-10 for the season and 0-8 in ACC games.  They turned over the entire coaching staff and this team has plenty of speed but not a lot of brute strength.  Speed can – however – be lethal and after watching this first game, it would not surprise me to see Louisville win a handful of game this year.  The Louisville QB runs around a lot – and he is very fast – but when he tries a pass, it is like Pee Wee Herman trying to connect with a certified hottie in a bar during Happy Hour.

Cincy beat UCLA 24-14 last week.  This is not an auspicious start for Chip Kelly in his second year in Westwood.  The reason I say this not auspicious is that “OFFENSE” is Chip Kelly’s calling card and in this game the Bruins managed to gain only 2.5 yards per offensive play against Cincy.  Maybe at the end of the year, I will look at this differently if Cincy holds the rest of its opponents to similarly underproductive totals.  However, I am not going to bet on that; I think that Chip Kelly does not have the players to run his style of offense at UCLA and that he is too stubborn to admit that and make changes.

Out west, Utah/BYU was a 9-6 game at half time in the rivalry known as The Holy War.  [Aside:  The intensity of this rivalry equals many of the nationally recognized rivalries but this one does not get nearly the widespread attention that it deserves in my opinion.]  Utah was one of the pre-season Top 25 and the Utes pulled away in the second half to win 30-12.  I said in a previous rant that I think Utah can win the PAC-12 South again this year and maybe win the PAC-12 thereby going to the Rose Bowl; their defense in Week 1 was solid; it held BYU under 300 yards total offense.

There was a meaningless game that caught my attention last week.  Rutgers beat UMass like a drum.  It was 21-7 early on; it was 38-21 at halftime; the final score was Rutgers 48 and UMass 21.  I said last week that being a “more-than-2-TD underdog” to Rutgers might be a message to the folks who run UMass that maybe – – just maybe – – they do not belong in Division 1-A football.  Losing to Rutgers by 27 points puts an exclamation point on that suggestion I made…

NCAA Games This Week: (Remember, these are lines from early in the week…)

Texas A&M at Clemson – 17.5 (64.5):  The spread opened at 19 and dropped immediately to this level; the Total Line opened at 60.5 and jumped to this level by Tuesday afternoon.  Let me be clear; I do not think Texas A&M is going to win this game on the road against Clemson.  But that line might have a bit of fat in it.  The Aggies do not have the talent level of teams like Alabama or Clemson; but they are not a bunch of stumblebums who just happened to find their way into a sporting goods store where there was a sale on shoulder pads.  The Aggies should keep this closer than Georgia Tech did last week; they might keep it down to a 2-score game.  Put this one in this week’s Six-Pack.

New Mexico St. at Alabama – 54 (64):   The spread here opened at 55.5 and has dropped because that is a metric ton of points to lay.  However, consider this…  Last week New Mexico St lost to Washington St. by 51 points.  So, is Alabama only a field goal better than Washington St.?  Here is another question …  Who has done the scheduling for New Mexico St. starting out against the likes of Washington St and then Alabama?  The Marquis de Sade?

Stanford at USC – 1.5 (45): USC had a Pyrrhic Victory last week; they beat Fresno St. 31-23 but lost their starting QB for the season to a knee injury.  Stanford is on the fringes of the “Top 25” and travels to LA to take on the Trojans.  The spread opened at 3.5 points and has dropped quickly to this level.

Rutgers at Iowa – 20 (50):  Rutgers manhandled UMass last week.  Please do not confuse UMass with Iowa.

LSU – 6.5 at Texas (55):  Both teams would like to think of themselves as “dark horses” to crash the CFP party this year.  I am not buying into any of that; but these are two very good teams and this is probably the best game of the week in college football.  The spread opened at 4.5 points and has inched up all week – – telling me that there is a heavy preponderance of money on LSU in this game.  I don’t think LSU is 9.5 points better than Texas which is what the spread would be on a neutral field if the spread at Texas is 6.5 points.  That means the line is fat so put LSU plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack.

Cincy at Ohio St – 15.5 (55.5):  Cincy beat UCLA comfortably last week.  Ohio St. plays football on a higher plane than UCLA.

Army at Michigan – 22.5 (47.5):  It is always interesting to watch a “big-time school” take on one of the service academies because it means the “big-time school” has to defend the triple option for the one-and-only time of the season and it has to deal with an opponent that though out-manned will not stop playing hard.

Vandy at Purdue – 7 (56):  Both teams lost last week and neither loss was a pretty one…

USF at Ga. Tech – 6 (62):  Last year, USF won its first 7 games.  Then it lost 6 in a row and it started off 2019 with a loss last week.  Not good…  Ga Tech got trucked by #1 Clemson last week and has a new coach and a new offensive system.  Not good…

Arkansas at Ole Miss – 7 (52.5):  I am looking at last week’s results and the upcoming schedule for these two teams in the SEC West and thinking that this may be the only “Conference win” for whoever wins this one.

(Fri Nite) Marshall at Boise St. – 10.5 (57):  Will this be a let-down game for Boise St, after beating Florida St last week?  How will Boise St. do on a “short week” and the long trip home from Tallahassee to Boise – – approximately 2000 miles.

Ohio at Pitt – 5 (54):  Ohio will try to run the ball against Pitt.  If they can do so in their power run game, they will turn this game into a classic UNDER bet.  Pitt gave up 129 yards on the ground last week…

Syracuse at Maryland – 2 (56):  My guess is that one of these teams will win this game by at least 10 points.  Which one …?  If you pick the winner here, the spread should not intervene…

Nebraska – 3.5 at Colorado (65):  Colorado beat Colorado St. by 3 TDs last week; Nebraska beat South Alabama by 2 TDs last week.  What bothers me about Colorado here is that they gave up 505 yards of offense to Colorado State in the process of winning that game.  Here are two undefeated teams that did not look all that good in Week 1.

BYU at Tennessee – 3.5 (52):  This is a career moment for Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee.  If the Vols lose this game at home, they are looking at a 1-4 start for the season and that will not feed the bulldog with the folks in Knoxville who have humongously unrealistic expectations for their football teams.

Coastal Carolina at Kansas – 8 (52):  Les Miles seeks to extend his home game win streak to 2 games here…

Miami – 3.5 at UNC:  The spread opened at 6 points and has been edging down all week.  This is an important game for both teams.  If UNC wins, it will be 2-0 and will have matched last year’s win total before the equinox.  Miami lost last week against a team considered to be in the Top 10; no one thinks UNC is of that caliber; so, if Miami wants to use the loss last week as a rallying point for the season, it needs to win this game convincingly.

Cal at Washington – 14 (43):  If this is indeed a low scoring game as indicated by the Total Line, those 14 points look very attractive.

Oregon St. at Hawaii – 6.5 (78):  This is the second PAC-12 team in two weeks to pay a visit to Hawaii.  Last week, Arizona came home with a loss.  Most folks think Arizona is a better team than Oregon State.  You make the call …  The Total Line here indicates that this should be a “TIO Game” where Tackling Is Optional.

NFL Commentary: 

            As the 100th season of NFL football commences with a Packers/Bears game in Soldier Field, two very brief points of NFL history seem appropriate:

  1. The Packers joined the American Professional Football Association (APFA) in 1919 and that entity morphed into the National Football League.  When the team was formed, Curly Lambeau got money from the Indian Packing Company – a company that packed and canned meats – to fund the team’s uniforms.  That is how the team nickname became the “Packers”.
  2. The Bears began their existence as the Decatur Staleys.  It was a “company team” for the A. E. Staley Food Starch Company and they played their games at Staley Field which was a “recreational facility” for the employees.  The company hired George Halas to run the club in 1920 and turned the team over to Halas in 1921 as negotiations proceeded to give birth to the National Football League.

            Back in the Spring – it was proximal to the NFL Draft as I recall – there were reports that the league and the players’ union were going to sit down and begin discussing/negotiating a new CBA despite the fact that the current one still has time to run.  The reports said that the NFL wanted to have a new deal in place by the start of this season.  Well, “this season” begins tonight at 8:20 PM when the Packers and Bears kick off at Soldier Field.  Having heard no reports from insiders regarding major breakthroughs in said discussions/negotiations, I suspect that this will be a deadline missed.

An NFL storyline that persisted over the summer months dealt with the retirement of Rob Gronkowski and whether he was going to change his mind and come back to play with the Patriots in 2019.  The fact that he has not signed on to do so as of this morning coupled with the start of the season this evening would seem to suggest that he will not be playing a full season in New England in 2019.  However, his retirement does raise an interesting question:

  • Who deserves the mantle of “Premier Tight End in the NFL” now that Gronk has retired?

I think there are two candidates and I will list them here alphabetically because I am certain that any of the 30 teams that do not have one of these guys on their roster would offer sacrifices to the football gods if they could acquire either one.

  • Zach Ertz (Eagles):  He is not quite the downfield threat that Gronk was nor can he block in the power run game the way Gronk did.  He runs great routes and when he gets his hands on the ball it is as if he has magnets in those hands.  Last year, he caught 116 passes for 1163 yards.
  • Travis Kelce (Chiefs):  Like Ertz, he cannot block nearly as well as Gronk could.  Kelce is a bigger downfield threat than Ertz.  Last year, he caught 103 passes for 1336 yards.

You make the call…

Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys have finally reached an agreement on a contract extension and Elliott can stop working out in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.  According to reports, the deal is for 6 years (to begin after the 2 remaining years on Elliott’s rookie contract expire) for $90M with $50M of that contract guaranteed.  I do not doubt for a moment that there were sticking points in these negotiations along the way, but the timing here causes my cynicism gene to activate.

  • If the Cowboys can “accommodate” $90M to Elliott from 2021 through 2027 with regard to the salary cap and its anticipated levels in those years, it would seem clear to me that those calculations and accommodations could have been recognized several months ago.
  • It is going to take a bit of convincing to get me to believe that this “contractual impasse” was not driven by a desire to keep Ezekiel Elliott out of harm’s way in training camp – and meaningless Exhibition Games – as much as by money and contractual language.
  • The ancillary benefit that accrued to the Cowboys by making this a “contractual impasse” was to keep the Cowboys front-and-center in NFL news stories for the past several months.  And we do know how Jerry Jones loves to deal with the media…

A story broke earlier this week that the Raiders have fined Antonio Brown $53,950 for missing 2 practices.  There is no question that he missed the practices; there is no question that the Raiders are within the terms of the CBA to levy and collect the fines; there is no question that many teams rescind such fines for star players; there is no question that Antonio Brown is not happy with the fact that the Raiders want him to “pay up”.  None of that is particularly interesting to me because there is another issue here that is below the surface:

  • One of the things that was cited about Brown’s deleterious effect on the Steelers’ locker room was that he sometimes skipped practices.  [Aside: Somewhere Allen Iverson smiles knowingly…].
  • The Raiders gave Brown a new $50M contract with about $30M of it as guaranteed money as one of the events that got him from the Steelers to the Raiders.
  • The Raiders may be a tad miffed that Brown has not shown the same respect for the Raiders that the Raiders showed to him.  However, can they really be surprised here?  They gave a certified prima donna $30M guaranteed and then they expected that he would change his behavior patterns?  Really?

The Games: 

(Thurs Nite) Green Bay at Chicago – 3 (46.5):  The Bears featured defense last year and they have a new defensive coordinator for this opening game.  The Packers featured offense last year – and for several years before that – and they have a new coach and a new offensive system for this opening game.

Atlanta at Minnesota – 4 (48):  This line has been rock-solid; no movement of any importance.  The Falcons have the better QB and the Vikes have the better defense.  The tipping point in this game is Dalvin Cook because the Falcons defense has been vulnerable to the run for several seasons now.

Washington at Philly – 10 (45):  This is the biggest spread on the board for the weekend, and it has been getting larger as the week unfolds having opened at 7.5 points.  I will not make a pick in a Week 1 divisional match-up where the spread is in double-digits, but the Eagles are a better team than the Skins.

Buffalo at Jets – 3 (40.5):  Another divisional game in Week 1 but this one ought to be close.  The game may be very important to these teams in terms of tiebreakers once December rolls aroundThe Bills’ defense was second in the league last year in terms of yards allowed; it was the Bills’ offense that did not hold up its end of the stick.  Josh Allen and his buddies need to show improvement this year.  I am tempted to take the UNDER here, but it is too early in the season to put that sort of trust in both of these defensive units; however, I agree with the oddsmakers that this should be a low-scoring game.  In low-scoring games I like to take points so put the Bills +3 in the Six-Pack for the week.

Baltimore – 6.5 at Miami (38.5):  Who knows if the Ravens’ “newfangled offense” for Lamar Jackson is worth anything?  Given the opposition this week, we will likely not know the answer to that for Week 2 – – unless of course the Ravens’ total offense in this game is 125 yards.  Against the Dolphins’ defense, this is a game where Lamar Jackson should shine and get people to over-react to his Week 1 stats.  The Dolphins are tanking and if Ryan Fitzpatrick maneuvers a win for the team here, you can consider his “Fitzmagic” to be on a par with Harry Houdini’s.  Mao Zedong embarked on “The Long March” as part of his revolution to seize control of China; the Marlins start here on their own version of “The Long March” but their destination is “Sorry-assed”.

SF at Tampa “pick ‘em” (50.5):  The oddsmakers want me to pick the winner here.  I prefer not to do that.  I think the Niners are the better team – – but they are not yet a reliably good team.

KC – 3 at Jax (52):  We can be pretty sure that the Jags’ defense will be good, and we can be pretty sure that the Chiefs’ offense will be pretty good too.  The reports surrounding the Jags for this year say that the biggest improvement there is not Nick Foles at QB but rather, a new and energized running game featuring a more mature Leonard Fournette.  If that is the case, then the Jags have a shot at this game because the Chiefs’ defense against the run is suspect.

Tennessee at Cleveland – 5 (45.5):  This is another of those “Tectonic Lines”; there has been little to no movement.  The Titans have been one of the most unpredictable squads in the NFL for several years now; the Browns are – far and away – the most over-hyped squad in the NFL now.  The last time the Browns won the opening game of the season was in 2004.

Rams – 2.5 at Carolina (49.5):  Assuming that Cam Newton is fully healthy on Sunday, I think this game could turn into a shootout where the losing team scores 30 points.  I like the OVER in this game, so put it in the Six-Pack for the week.

Detroit – 3 at Arizona (46.5):  This game opened as a “pick ‘em” game and for some reason enough people bet real money on the game to move the line.  Folks, this is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  Who knows how – or even if – Klif Kingsbury’s air attack offense will work in the NFL?  Who in their right mind would bet on the Lions on the road and give points?  File this game under the letter “I” – – for “Ignore”.

Cincy at Seattle – 9.5 (44):  The Seahawks are a good team that just got better by adding Jadeveon Clowney.  The Bengals are a hot mess on offense because their OL is not very good plus AJ Green is injured and he is far and away the best offensive player on the roster.  It’s a large spread, but I think this one will be a blowout in Seattle so put the Seahawks to win and cover in this week’s Six-Pack.

Indy at Chargers – 6.5 (44.5):  The spread here opened at 3.5 points and the Total Line was 48 points; then Andrew Luck made his announcement.  Luck’s absence here has overshadowed the fact that the Chargers will play without Melvin Gordon and Derwin James.  Gordon’s replacement will be Austin Ekeler.  If that name is unfamiliar to you, that is because he was an undrafted free agent who went to college at Western Colorado in Gunnison, CO.  Yes, this is a road game for the Colts in terms of geography, but the tiny crowd in the StubHub Center will not be any sort of intimidation here.

Giants at Dallas – 7 (45.5):  Anyone who thinks the Giants are the better team here is living in a delusion; even if Ezekiel Elliott were still in Cabo San Lucas working out there, the Cowboys would be the better team on the field.  The most interesting part of this game is that Elliott and Saquon Barkley will both be on display.

(Sun Nite) Pittsburgh at New England – 6 (50.5):  This is the Game of the Week.  I think both teams will win their division; that is not true of any other match-up in Week 1.  Both teams had to make roster changes in the offseason, but these are the two most stable coaching staffs and franchises in the league.  Neither team is going to make disastrous choices on that axis.  I think that line is fat; I can easily see this game being decided on the last possession.  Moreover, even in the decade of dominance for the Pats, they are not nearly as dominant in September as they are in December/January.  I’ll put the Steelers plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack.

(Early Mon Nite) Houston at New Orleans – 7 (53):  The Texans’ outstanding defense took a hit last week with the trade of Jadeveon Clowney.  The Texans’ embarrassingly bad OL got an upgrade last week with the trade for Laremy Tunsil.  The team may or may not have improved, but Deshaun Watson’s peace of mind must have improved.

(Late Mon Nite) Denver – 1 at Oakland (43):  This line opened with the Raiders favored by 3 points at home.  For the line to have moved that much – and to have changed the favorite – there must have been a preponderance of “Bronco money” that showed up early.  Here is a key to this game:

  • The Raiders OL has been less than good for a couple of years now.  The Broncos have a pair of pass rushers in Bradley Chubb and Von Miller that will harass Derek Carr all night.  Can Jon Gruden scheme a way to negate their pass rush?

Let me review this week’s Six-Pack:

  1. Texas A&M + 17.5 at Clemson
  2. LSU +6.5 at Texas
  3. Buffalo +3 at Jets
  4. Rams/Carolina OVER 49.5
  5. Seattle – 9.5 vs Cincy
  6. Pittsburgh +6 at New England

Finally, the full onset of football season will provide the opportunity for automobile manufacturers to inundate us with ads for their SUVs.  You know they are coming…  So, here is a pertinent entry in The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

SUV: Sport Utility Vehicle.  A type of automotive transport that has, for some unknown reason, gotten a bad rap just because, in times of world unrest, difficult economic circumstances, and impending environmental destruction, its fuel economy tops out at about 4.2 miles per gallon.”

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

 

 

Why No Tennis Tuesdays…

I mentioned in my first Football Friday for this season that I have a former colleague who has lobbied for Tennis Tuesday to be a feature of these rants.  Obviously, if I were to attempt to do that, I would need to pay a lot of attention to tennis so that I would have some perspective and/or basis for commentary on things happening in that sport.  Right now, the US Open is underway and a happenstance in that tournament pretty much assures that I will not be pondering a deeper dive into the events of tennis.

Mike Bryan is an elite doubles player; he teams with his brother, Bob; they were entrants in this year’s US Open.  Let me be clear; I do not know Mike Bryan from Mike Tyson or Brian Williams; if Mike Bryan walked into my home and bit me on the ankle, I would have to ask him his name.  Mike Bryan was fined $10K by the tennis mavens for the following incident:

  • There was a shot that was ruled as “in” by the line judge.
  • The Bryan Brothers requested a review and the review showed that the ball was “out” and that the line judge made an incorrect call.
  • After the ruling was reversed, Mike Bryan took his tennis racket and placed the head of the racket against his shoulder such that the handle was pointed outward.  Then he “pretended it was a rifle” and aimed it at the line judge.

That behavior engendered a $10K fine and that is absolutely nothing more than Virtue Signaling on the part of the tennis mavens – and Virtue Signaling is something we have in over-abundance to the point that Virtue Signaling needs to attract scorn.  Look, if what Mike Bryan did was sooo egregious that it required a Virtue Signaling response, why not set the stakes such that he would never think of doing something like that again – and neither would any other tennis player no matter how much of a “bad-boy” he might be.  What might such a punishment be?

  • How about declaring that he and his brother are disqualified from the match and that they are eliminated from the US Open and their opponents will move to the next round of the tournament.

Please don’t tell me that is an over-reaction because I think fining someone $10K for pretending that a tennis racket is a rifle is either a gross over-reaction or a feckless gesture.  [You may take your pick here.]  This is the “grown-up version” of an elementary school principal sending a kindergartener home for pointing his index finger at a classmate and saying “Bang!”  That principal would be over-reacting and Virtue Signaling; and so were the “tennis mavens”.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the tennis-world, the tennis coach at UNC-Charlotte recently resigned his position “to pursue a new career opportunity”.  The resignation came only a couple of weeks before the intercollegiate tennis season was to begin and the press reports in the Charlotte Observer did not elaborate on the specifics of the “new career opportunity”.  The paper did report, however, a few other things that may have a bearing on the coach’s decision:

  1. His record at UNC-Charlotte was 34-44 over a 3-year span.  I am not suggesting here that he was nudged out the door, but with that record, I don’t think the Athletic Director lost a lot of sleep while pondering how to maintain the tradition of the tennis program at the school.
  2. The coach is the subject of a defamation lawsuit bright against him by one of his former players who alleges that he was kicked off the team by the coach after the coach fabricated a story/situation that accused the player of bullying one of his teammates.
  3. The lawsuit also alleges that the coach was in fact the bully and that he engaged in several incidents of “improper behavior”.

Here is a link to the story in the Charlotte Observer.

In the past, I have banged on Florida baseball fans in Tampa and in Miami for not supporting MLB teams in their area.  Lest anyone suspect that I harbor some deep inner-hatred for Floridians, allow me to bang on the baseball fans in the Washington DC area right now.  Please recall, these are the fans who – according to local legend – yearned for the return of baseball for 35 years after the second incarnation of the Washington Senators left town due to lack of fan support.  With that local legend out there, let’s look at some data:

  • The Washington Nationals have been over .500 every year since 2012.
  • The Washington Nationals have won the NL East 4 times since 2012.
  • Notwithstanding the on-field success of the Nats, their attendance in 2019 is embarrassing – or at least contradicts the “local legend”.

Far too much has been made of the league-wide drop in attendance for MLB games in 2019.  In fact, the average game in MLB in 2019 draws 404 fewer fans than the average game did in 2018 up to this part of the season.  However, in Washington – where the team has been on fire since June 1st and where the team is in the midst of a division race and a wildcard race – the average attendance this year is down 3,929 fans per game.  That is not quite 10 times the average loss in attendance for MLB.  For the record, the only NL team with a larger attendance decline from 2018 to 2019 is the SF Giants.

The Nats’ attendance in 2019 is down 12.3%.  The Nats give tickets away on sports radio shows every day the team plays at home; the Nats offer some tickets for $10 to games that are less appealing than some others.  And they still average only about 60% of capacity.

Monday of this week was Labor Day and the Nats hosted the Mets.  Remember, the Nats are in the middle of a pennant race and a wildcard race and the Mets are a division rival.  Attendance that day was 25,329 – which was about 2600 fans fewer than what the Nats have drawn on average in 2019.  Oh, by the way, at least 30% of the Labor Day crowd – and maybe as much as 40% of it – were Mets’ fans wearing Mets’ colors and chanting “Let’s Go Mets!”

I told you what the “local legend” is.  The “local reality” is that Washington DC is not a baseball town today and was not a baseball town when the Washington Senators were here.

Finally, let me close today with two comments from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times pertinent to baseball attendance:

“Greenland is the least densely populated nation in the world according to 24/7 Wall Street with only 0.4 people per square mile.

“In other words, it’s the Marlins Park of countries.”

And …

“University of Chicago researchers are working on a pill to treat loneliness.

“They say it’ll come in especially handy if you’re ever in the stands at a Marlins game.”

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

 

 

NFL Season Preedictions – 2019

For those who have joined in this madness over the last year, this is an annual event here in Curmudgeon Central.  Demonstrating my inexhaustible capacity to absorb embarrassment, I try to make season-long predictions for the NFL.  Oh, but I do not build in some cover when I do that by sticking to generalized predictions; rather, I will set out here NFL coaches I think are on the hot seat and could be coaching for their job this year and – in an even more reckless endeavor – I will predict the final record for all 32 teams in the NFL.

This would be fun if I just waited until about December 15th and then quietly took down all evidence of these predictions such that there could be no “day of reckoning” once the 2019 regular season ends on 29 December 2019.  However, I do not take down the predictions; in fact, I will come back and give them grades once the regular season is over.  Believe it or not, this is what I call fun and games…

One more bit of boilerplate needs explanation now.  I do not love or hate any NFL team to the exclusion of any other team.  There is no deep-seated hatred to be found in these predictions.  When I inevitably underestimate one team’s record for 2019, that was not based on a longstanding grudge I have with that team or that city or the colors of its uniforms.  I do not owe the team or its fans any apologies; what I owe them – and everyone – is the admission that I was wrong in my prediction(s).  And, I shall do that…

I will begin with my list of NFL Coaches on the Hot Seat.  Last year, I mentioned 8 coaches.  I said one of them would be on a hot seat but ought not to be.  He was fired anyway.  Of the other 7 on my list, 5 lost their jobs.  Am I a hex on the NFL coaches who make it to this list?  If I were given to self-flattery, I might claim such a connection.

Anyway, here is my 2019 list of 8 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2019 – presented in alphabetical order lest someone infer much more to this screed that is intended:

  1. Jason Garrett (Cowboys):  He was on the list last year; when the Cowboys went 10-6 and won the NFC East, his job was saved – – but he did not get a contract extension and his deal is finished at the end of this year.  Garrett has been the Cowboys’ Head Coach since the middle of the 2010 season; over that period, his coaching record is 77-59.  Here’s the rub; he has been the head coach for 8 full seasons; he has only made the playoffs 3 times and his playoff record is 2-3.
  2. Jay Gruden (Skins):  Like Garrett, he too was on last year’s list and managed to survive despite failing to make the playoffs.  Who knows; did the catastrophic leg injury to Alex Smith save his job?  Gruden is on thinner ice that Garrett.  He has been the head Coach of the Skins for 5 seasons; his cumulative record is 35-44-1; last season the Skins were 4-12; Gruden’s teams made the playoffs only one time and the playoff record is 0-1.  I suspect that Jay Gruden needs to make the playoffs to keep his job at the end of this season.
  3. Doug Marrone (Jags):  After the 2017 season, the Jags had the Patriots on the ropes in the 4th quarter of a playoff game; what happened was another miracle comeback by Tom Brady and the Jags went into a funk that lasted through all of 2018.  After missing out on a real shot to play in the Super Bowl, the Jags laid a giant egg last year going 5-11.
  4. Bill O’Brien (Texans):  He has made the playoffs in 3 of his 5 seasons in Houston but his playoff record is 1-3.  Moreover, his overall regular season record is a not-so-hot 42-38.  He could become a target of fans in Houston if the team is mediocre again in 2019.
  5. Matt Patricia (Lions):  Year One in Detroit was an uninspiring 6-10.  The Lions spent some serious money in the free agency market this offseason, so I suspect the expectation for Patricia – – and to a lesser degree for Matt Stafford – – is a playoff appearance and at least a competitive effort in the playoffs.  That expectation is not likely to be fulfilled for the simple reason that the Lions are in a division with three teams with better rosters than the one in Detroit.
  6. Ron Rivera (Panthers):  I put him here because the Panthers have a new owner and the new owner inherited Rivera; he did not select Rivera himself.  Rivera has taken the Panthers to the Super Bowl – losing there to the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning – but in the “what have you done for me lately” atmosphere of the NFL, his Panthers have been 13-19 in the last two seasons.
  7. Dan Quinn (Falcons):  His team underwhelmed last year missing the playoffs and going 7-9 for the season.  This year, Quinn has a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator (Quinn will call the defensive plays himself to start the season).  He also changed out the special teams’ coach meaning that he is the last man standing in the coaching hierarchy.  If that change produces another 7-9 season, look for the next obvious change to be made and for Quinn to be looking for work elsewhere.
  8. Mike Zimmer (Vikes):  He is working on the final year of his contract and no extension was offered.  The Vikes went 13-3 in 2017 and then spent big bucks to sign Kirk Cousins as their QB only to go 8-7-1 in 2018 and miss the playoffs.  If anything like that happens again in 2019, Zimmer will be looking for work.

But that coaching stuff is merely the appetizer course here.  From here on out things will stray from logic to wild extrapolation.  It is time to go division-by-division through the NFL and to predict the exact record for every team.  For no particular reason, I shall start with the AFC West.  Based on my admittedly – – and proven over the long-term – – hazy crystal ball, this will be the best division in the NFL.  I believe the cumulative record for the 4 teams here will be 35-29.  Last year, the Chiefs and Chargers went toe-to-toe in the division until late December; both teams are back for this year with formidable talent.  I think the most interesting part of this division is what the “other two teams” – – the Raiders and the Broncos – – do in 2019.

  • I like the Chiefs to win the AFC West with a record of 13-3.  I know that it is fashionable to pick division winners to “take a step back” or to “come back to the pack” in the next season; nonetheless, I don’t think the Chiefs are going to do that sort of thing.  I say that while acknowledging that it is unreasonable to expect Patrick Mahomes to throw 50 TD passes again in 2019.  Their Achilles Heel last year was the defense; they have made changes on that side of the ball – – and presumably they know what they are doing.  Look … in their losses last year, the Chiefs scored an average of 39.7 points; NFL teams are not supposed to lose ANY games when they score that many points.  Frank Clark and Tyrann Matthieu are in KC to see that no such thing happens again this year.
  • I like the Chargers to finish second here with a record of 11-5.  Last year, the Chiefs and the Chargers fought it out to the end of the season – – and that could happen again.  I like the Chargers, but I am not thrilled by their WR corps.  In addition, their “situation”/”relationship” with Melvyn Gordon is sub-optimal to say the least.  Learning that Russel Okung will miss the first 6 weeks of the season – – at least – – is not a plus either.  The Chargers very well may have been able to sneak up on a couple of opponents last year and should not have that luxury this year.  I think they will take a minor step back this year and finish 11-5.
  • I like the Raiders to finish 6-10.  Before I am designated as persona non grata in the Black Hole – – where I would never choose to watch a game in the first place – – may I point out that this prediction represents a 50% improvement over last year’s 4-12 record.  If the Raiders are to be even more improved than my 50% estimate they will need to upgrade significantly their pass rush and their OL.  Adding Antonio Brown and Josh Jacobs to the offense is a help – – but neither addition addresses either of those two glaring needs and that assumes that Antonio Brown does not go “’round the bend” between now and December 1.  The Raiders host the Cincy Bengals in Week 11; that will allow Vontaze Burfict to renew acquaintances with his former teammates with Black Hole denizens looking on.  Let the good times roll…
  • I like the Broncos to bring up the rear in this division with a record of 5-11.  John Elway may indeed be the best all-around QB ever in the NFL; nevertheless, his ability to look at other QBs and figure out which one(s) might also be semi-great is totally suspect.  This year the Broncos will go with Joe Flacco at QB; Flacco is a Super Bowl winner whose career has been on a downslope since that victory in February 2013.  Bradley Chubb and Von Miller give the defense elite pass rushers as bookends on the defensive line.  Vic Fangio was a critical part of the top-rated Bears’ defense last year and he has some pieces to work with here in Denver…  I think a most important element here is the ability of WR Emmanuel Sanders to return from his injury and play at full speed.  If he cannot, I don’t know who will catch Joe Flacco’s throws.

For the AFC North, I project a weak showing in 2019.  I think the division’s overall record will be 29-35 making then tied with the AFC South as the worst division in the NFL.  Lots of folks are picking the Browns to win this division in 2019; for the record, the last time the Browns did such a thing was in 1989; and back then, there was no such thing as the AFC North.  Oh, and by the way, the team that did that back in 1989 is now known as the Baltimore Ravens…

  • I like the Steelers to win the division with a record of 10-6.  I think the Steelers will benefit from the lowered level of drama enveloping the team now that Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell are elsewhere.  Ben Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin are the “Steel City Survivors” of the controversy from the past year; if things do not quiet down, either or both might the next one with a ticket to “Anywhere Else, USA”.  The Steelers were not a bad team last year; they simply underperformed to “Steelers-standards”.  Yes, they limped home with a 9-7-1 record, but remember that they were also 7-2-1 in November last season.  I do not do Fantasy Football; I do not like Fantasy Football.  Nonetheless, if I were playing Fantasy Football, I would definitely want to have JuJu Smith-Shuster on my team this year.
  • I like the Ravens to finish 8-8.  For the first time in next to forever, the defense in Baltimore is something to question.  Terrell Suggs, CJ Mosely, Eric Weddle and ZaDarious Smith are all missing from the Ravens’ defense in 2019.  Make no mistake, none of those guys are youngsters; make no mistake, none of those guys are stumblebums either.  The Ravens’ offense will be totally different this year with Lamar Jackson at the helm in place of Joe Flacco.  Casting no aspersions on either QB, it might be difficult to identify two more different QBs in terms of style and versatility.  Adding Mark Ingram cannot hurt the offense; adding Earl Thomas has to help the defense.  Oh, by the way, in Week 7 on Sunday Night Football you can see Earl Thomas going against his former teammates and his former coach – – the folks he flipped off as he was motored off the field on a cart last season.  Good times…
  • I like the Browns to finish 8-8.  I know that everyone has the Browns as their “bold pick” for the AFC representative in the Super Bowl next February.  I do not share that euphoria.  Yes, the Browns were significantly improved in 2018 with a final record of 7-8-1.  However, recognize that the Browns were playing a “last-place schedule in 2018 and those 7 wins did not come against any of the NFL powerhouses.  This year the schedule is more difficult; while I believe the team will improve over last year, I don’t think the record will improve significantly.  The Browns’ defense gave up 5 yards per carry against the run last year; if that does not improve significantly, it will not matter how much the offense has improved.  The team has more talent on offense than it did last year; the team added help on the DL (Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson).  If it all blends seamlessly, the Browns may surprise me and win this division; if all those egos bubble to the top and rookie coach Freddie Kitchens is not able to tamp them down, the Browns could fall back to 5-11.  We shall see…
  • I like the Bengals to take up the rear in this division with a record of 3-13.  I would say the offense here is “OK” with a fully functional AJ Green; if he is even 10% hobbled, the Bengals’ offense could be “scoring challenged”.  The Bengals have a new head coach – Zac Taylor – and he has inherited a mess.  The good news for Bengals’ fans is that their very high draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft will be worth a lot to some team that thinks it is a player or so away from playoff glory.

Next up, I’ll tackle the AFC South.  This division prediction underwent a complete re-evaluation last week when Andrew Luck announced his retirement from the NFL.  Until that moment, I blithely figured that his calf injury that then morphed into a bone/ankle injury was just an excuse to hold him out of harm’s way in the Exhibition Season and the early practice sessions.  Perhaps that will give you an insight as to why Pollyanna is not a welcome visitor to Curmudgeon Central.  As noted above, I think the overall record for this division will be 29-35.

  • I like the Texans to win this division with a record of 10-6.  No team in the NFL was happier to hear the Andrew Luck retirement announcement than the Houston Texans. Last year, the Texans’ OL surrendered 62 sacks; that must improve in 2019 for my prediction to come true and for Deshaun Watson to remain ambulatory and – perhaps – for Bill O’Brien to keep his job.  The fact that they drafted two offensive tackles tells me that they recognize that they have a problem there.  The Texans will also take the path less traveled this year by doing without a GM; they will do this by committee and wing it.  The owner says this will be a leaner and flatter organization; 31 other NFL teams seem not to agree.  Somehow, that “leaner and flatter organization” was not able to come to terms with Jadevon Clowney over the past six months and that is an indictment on that “leaner and flatter organization”; shipping him off to Seattle in late August meant they got pennies on the dollar for Clowney.  Maybe the Front Office redeemed itself making a late trade to acquire Laremy Tunsil to play left tackle and – hopefully – provide some time and protection for DeShaun Watson.  Lamar Miller is out for the year; it might be interesting to see how this “leaner and flatter organization” deals with that.  The early schedule for the Texans is not going to be easy; they begin with at Saints, Jags, at Chargers, Panthers, Falcons, at Chiefs, at Colts.  And that just gets them to Halloween…
  • I like the Colts to finish second in the division with a 9-7 record.  Before Andrew Luck retired, I had the Colts winning this division handily at 12-4.  Since I have them only a game behind the Texans, they might still win the AFC South if they can sweep the two games with the Texans.  [Those games are October 20 and November 21.]  As they say on the TV show, The Price Is Right, Jacoby Brisset … come on down!
  • I like the Titans to finish third in the division with a record of 6-10.  I think we have come to the time when we need to ask a simple question.  Is Marcus Mariota a franchise QB or not?  Another burning question for the Titans as a team is this one.  Why is it that they can rise-up and beat just about anyone on one week and then turn around and lose to a certified bottom-feeder the next week?  New additions to the roster include Adam Humphries, Ryan Tannehill and Cameron Wake; they will certainly not hurt the team, but I doubt they are the engine that propels the Titans to playoff contention in 2019.
  • I like the Jags to bring up the rear in the division with a record of 4-12.  I have no doubt that Nick Foles will be an upgrade at QB over Blake Bortles, but I do not think that Nick Foles can carry a team by himself and the WR corps in Jax is not going to scare many defensive coordinators.  I know that the Jags have Leonard Fournette as a featured RB and that Fournette is plenty talented, but he is also one of the biggest meatheads in the league.  I would not be surprised to learn that his nickname within the organization is “WTF”.  The calling card for the Jags remains their defense which will be strong again in 2019.

[Aside:  Bortles in with the Rams this year.  Imagine if Jared Goff is injured and Bortles blossoms in Sean McVay’s “system”.  That would make the Jags’ coaches look like the dunces of the western world and would elevate the perception of Sean McVay’s football acumen to the level of Bill Belichick, Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi and Don Shula.]

Last in the AFC, will be the AFC East.  This division has been anything but inscrutable for the last decade-and-a-half.  The Patriots have won the AFC East in the last 10 consecutive seasons and have won it 15 of the last 16 years.  Last year, the Pats were 11-5 which was their worst record in 9 years – – and yet they managed to go on and win the Super Bowl.  I think the cumulative record for this division will be 31-33.

  • Absent a major disaster striking Foxboro MA, I like the Patriots to win the division with a record of 12-4.  Tom Brady embodies this team in a way that transcends his leadership and QB play.  Like the team itself, Brady is like Old Man River; he and the Pats don’t say nothing, they just keep rolling along.  The only question mark for this year in my mind is the receiving corps for the Pats.  Yes, they signed Julian Edelman to a contract extension and that is a good thing.  However, after that, there are good players with question marks all over them.  Is rookie N’Keal Harry the real deal?  Can Philip Dorsett do anything other than run fly patterns?  How long until Josh Gordon is suspended yet one more time?  Notwithstanding all those questions, the Pats will have the answers they need to win the AFC East once again.  Maybe the biggest question they will have to resolve is the sub for center David Andrews who will miss some/most/all of the season with blood clots in his lung.
  • I like the Bills to finish second in the division with a record of 9-7.  The Bills tried to upgrade their WRs in the offseason acquiring Cole Beasley and John Brown.  The team would have had the oldest tandem of RBs in NFL history with LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore sharing touches as the lead RBs.  Their combined age is 67 as of this morning.  However, McCoy’s advancing age in conjunction with his $6.3M pricetag for the year led the Bills to release him just last weekend.  I expect QB Josh Allen to show improvement in Year 2 of his career as he learns to play QB in ways other than relying on his natural athletic abilities.
  •  I like the Jets to finish third in the division with a record of 8-8.  I like what the Jets did by signing LeVeon Bell to take some of the pressure off Sam Darnold as he enters his second year as an NFL QB.  Equally important, I think the addition of Gregg Williams as the defensive coordinator is a step in the right direction.  Adam Gase and his staff need to clear the air in the organization; I believe the Jets are the only team in the NFL to lose 11 games in each of the last 3 seasons; that is a toxic atmosphere.  I am counting on a significant change in the approach that the Jets have to the season because I think they will double their win total from last year to this year.  Circle the Jets/Steelers game in Week 16 as an interesting one as LeVeon Bell and his former teammates get together…

[Aside:  I believe the longest road trip for the Jets in 2019 will be to Jax and to Miami in successive weeks in late October/early November.  The Jets never leave the Eastern Time Zone this year.]

  • I like the Dolphins to bring up the rear in the division with a 2-14 record.  With a QB tandem of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen – in whatever order you prefer – the Dolphins will probably lead the NFL in IQ points at the QB position.  Unfortunately for Dolphins’ fans, IQ points do not equate to scoreboard points.  Fans need to resist the temptation to look at the world through “Rosen-colored glasses”; he must show that he can produce wins in whatever system Brian Flores installs for the team. The new coach in Miami, Brian Flores, exudes energy and optimism; I doubt he will have the same bearing come December.  Yes, the Dolphins will be on the clock starting in early January 2020 with the overall #1 pick in the NFL Draft.  Moreover, they will be dominating in the draft for the next year or two having acquired multiple first round picks and a second round pick from the Texans in the trade for Laremy Tunsil.  [Aside:  With that trade, the Dolphins have given up any pretense that they are doing anything other than tanking 2019…]

To recap the AFC, here is my playoff picture:

  • Chiefs – – BYE week and home field advantage in the playoffs
  • Pats – – BYE week
  • Steelers/Texans – – depends on tie breakers; they do not play each other in 2019
  • Texans/Steelers – – depends on tie breakers … Is there an echo in here?
  • Chargers – – first AFC wildcard team
  • Colts/Bills – – depends on tie breakers; they do not play each other in 2019.

Moving over to the NFC, I will maintain geographic parallelism and begin with the NFC West.  I think the total record for this division will be 33-31.  There are two “new QBs” in the division this year if you count the returning Jimmy Garoppolo as a “newbie” since his tenure there last year was so short.  The teams at the top of the division have a lot more “certainty” going for them under center.

  • I like the Rams to win the division with a record of 12-4.  I don’t care what the Rams say or what the Rams’ doctors say or even what Todd Gurley says, but Gurley was injured to the point where he was a liability not an asset at the end of last season.  The Rams want/need him back to being Todd Gurley again and until he shows that in a real game, that is a significant question mark for the team.  One other thing from last year is that the Rams missed Cooper Kupp as their possession receiver a whole lot after he went down.  Presumably, he is back and ready to play at his normal level.  I am not an advocate for the “Super Bowl Hangover” theories, but the fact is that the Pats de-pantsed the Rams in that game last February.  If there is such a “curse”, it might take hold here…  The additions of Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews in the off season will provide veteran leadership to the defense.
  • I like the Seahawks to finish second in the division with a record of 10-6.  With the dissolution of the Legion of Boom, there were some questions on defense for the Seahawks including who will provide their pass rush [Answer:  Jadevon Clowney acquired from the Texans at the 11th hour.]  and who will be their shut-down cornerback [Still TBD…].  On the plus side, it appears that the team has assembled a competent OL after years of chaos there.  If that is the case and the Seahawks can run the ball a bit and Russell Wilson can play without fearing for his life every third play, the Seahawks will be a tough out in 2019.
  • I like the Niners to finish third in the division with a record of 7-9.  The Niners will get Jimmy G back from injury and RB, Jerrick McKinnon back from injury this year; those are two big plusses for the offense.  However, name the top 3 receivers on the team.  OK, name 2 receivers on the team.  How about any pass catchers?  Therein lies the problem for the Niners.  On defense, the team has clearly decided to focus on edge rushers trading for Dee Ford and drafting Nick Bosa.  The Niners won only 4 games in 2018; I think they make a big improvement in 2019.
  • I like the Cardinals to end up looking up at the rest of the division with a 4-12 record.  There is a chance that Kliff Kingsbury’s offense rattles NFL defensive coordinators for the first year the same way Chip Kelly’s unusual offense did.  However, I don’t know that the Cards have the same talent level that Kelly’s Eagles did.  With Patrick Peterson suspended for 6 games, you can add “defensive backfield” to the list of weaknesses for this team.  That is a bad thing because last year the Cards gave up an NFL high of 154.9 yards per game on the ground.  Lest anyone think I am banging on the Cardinals unnecessarily, please note that I project them to have more wins this year (4) than they did last year (3).

[Aside:  The Cards spent a lot of draft capital to get Josh Rosen last year and then jettisoned him for dimes on the dollar to take Kyler Murray this year.  If that works the Cards’ braintrust will be “NFL made men” for a decade or so; if it sinks like a lead turd, they will be looking for new jobs at a local Applebee’s.  Stay tuned…]

In the NFC North, the Bears are the defending champions and they relied heavily on an inordinate number of takeaways last year to propel them to that division title.  The tendency is for teams that stand out like that in a single season to regress to the mean in the next year.  Two other teams have significant question marks – – and then there are the Lions.  This was a most difficult division to analyze; I project its cumulative record to be 34-30.

  • I like the Bears to repeat as division champs with an 11-5 record.  I mentioned above how important takeaways were to the Bears last year.  They had 36 of them; most teams were in the low to mid-20s.  The Bears have a new defensive coordinator as Vic Fangio took over the top job in Denver; Chuck Pagano has been a successful DC before…  The Bears do have a “kicking problem”.  Their season ended in the playoffs against the Eagles on the famous “double-doink” field goal try.  The Bears had 8 kickers in camp at one point trying to find a new one.  It’s too easy to rain on the Bears for that “problem” but when that is a team’s biggest problem in August, that means things are looking pretty good.  Here is another geeky stat to think about …  In 2018, the Bears never trailed in 9 of their 16 games.  It is much more difficult to “play from behind” and the Bears and Mitch Trubisky rarely had to do that.  Can that sort of situation continue to obtain in 2019?
  • I like the Packers to finish “second” in the division with a 9-7 record.  There will be serious scrutiny on the Matt LaFleur/Aaron Rodgers “relationship” as the season unfolds.  Based on last year’s results, the Packers’ defense needed a whole lot more pass rushing so they went out and acquired “the Smith Brothers” – Preston and ZaDarius – in addition to drafting Rashan Gary with their first-round pick.  Hopefully, that will produce some positive results there.  The team lost two of its long-term assets in Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb in the offseason.  With Matthews and Cobb gone, Aaron Rodgers will need to find new partners for his State Farm commercials…
  • I like the Vikings to finish “third” in the division with a 9-7 record.  The Vikes and the Packers play each other twice; if one team sweeps that series, that team will finish “second in this division”.  If it is a split, then the tiebreakers get way too difficult to forecast.  This should be a put-up-or-shut-up season for Kirk Cousins, and it will lean toward the “put-up” side of that scale if Dalvin Cook can stay healthy for the entirety of the 2019 season.
  • I like the Lions to chase the rest of the division across the finish line in 2019 with a 5-11 record.  I said this was the most difficult division to analyze.  There is one thing that is reliably consistent here from year to year: The Lions will be … the Lions.  Believe it or not, this will be Matthew Stafford’s 10th year in the NFL; he has had the Lions in the playoffs 3 times in that span and the Lions have exited the playoffs in their first game all 3 times.  Notwithstanding Coach Matt Patricia’s defensive pedigree, the Lions defense was hugely inconsistent last year, and it does not look a whole lot better to me this year.  That defensive pedigree comes from Patricia’s time with the Patriots; but historically, time with the Pats as a coordinator has not translated into success as a head coach.  See Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, Charlie Weiss …

Before moving on to the next set of predictions, the 2019 NFL season – – the 100th such regular season – – will start with a classic NFC North match-up.  The Bears and Packers have played each other 198 times over the past 99 seasons; the Packers lead the overall series 97-95-6.  The teams split their games last year.  This is a fitting way for the NFL to start its centennial season.

Moving on to the NFC South, both the Falcons and the Panthers were bitten badly by the injury bugs last season and both waddled to the finish line with 7-9 records.  Surely, the football gods will not inflict the same plague on these teams again in 2019 – – right?  I have the cumulative record for this division at 34-30.

  • I like the Saints to win the division with a 12-4 record.  People talk about Super Bowl Hangovers for teams that lost in that game but if there is going to be any “hangover” team in the NFC, it would have to be the Saints who were the victims of such a bad call by the officials that the single play caused a massive rule change for the entire league.  Actually, the Saints have been eliminated from the playoffs for 2 years in a row on bizarre plays; remember in 2017 it was the “Minneapolis Miracle” that sent the Saints home.  Even with Mark Ingram gone in free agency, the Saints have what they need to have on offense; if the defense plays well, this is a team to fear in January.
  • I like the Falcons to finish second in the division with a 10-6 record.  The Falcons must improve their pass rush; they allowed QBs last year to sit in the picket and pick apart the secondary to the tune of 259.6 yards per game.  The Falcons have a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator and Dan Quinn is squarely on the hot seat this year.  Let me say here that I think Calvin Ridley is a top-shelf WR who is overlooked to some extent because Julio Jones is on the same team.  I think the Falcons home game on October 27 (Week 8) is a critical game for them.  That game will welcome the Seattle Seahawks to Atlanta, and I have both teams pegged at 10-6 for the season and – a tad of foreshadowing here – I think 10-6 is the record for the 2nd and final NFC wildcard slot.  So, the winner of that game in October will have the tiebreaker…
  • I like the Panthers to finish third in the division with an 8-8 record.  Cam Newton’s shoulder must be better than it was at the end of last year when he could not throw the ball more than about 35 yards in the air; that alone is a big improvement for the team.  With Norv Turner designing and running the offense, the QB must be able to throw the ball downfield; that is a major feature of Turner’s offensive philosophy.  The question for the big thinkers in Carolina is this:  Has Cam Newton reached – or even passed – the peak of his prime?  In addition, the team now needs to find some pass rush pressure from their defensive linemen…  Head coach Ron Rivera will take over the defensive play-calling duties this year.
  • I think the Bucs will finish last in the division with a 4-12 record.  Bruce Arians may have tired quickly of his color analyst job on TV last year but with this team to coach, he may want to rethink his re-entry into NFL coaching.  [Aside:  I hope he stays where he is because I thought he was miserable as a color analyst; but that’s just me…]  The burning question in Tampa is the same one that is smoldering in Tennessee:  Is Jameis Winston an NFL franchise QB?  He has been around since 2015; last year was his best year statistically and yet the Bucs went 5-11.  Bruce Arians has helped more than a few NFL QBs move their games up to much higher planes of existence in the past so, can he be the guy to make Jameis Winston look like a bona fide overall #1 pick in the draft?

Last but not least, here is the skinny on the NFC East.  The four teams here split nicely into two “Haves” and two “Have-Nots”.  Overall, I think this division’s total record will be 31-33.  I think the Cowboys and the Eagles will dominate the division and will both finish with the same record.  They will meet twice (Week 7 in Dallas on Sunday Night Football and then again in Week 16 in Philly).  Those will be the two most important games on the calendar for both teams; a sweep by either one will make them the division champ and relegate the other one to the #1 wildcard slot.

  • I pick the Eagles to win the AFC East via a tiebreaker with a record of 11-5.  I think the Eagles and Cowboys will split their games head-to-head meaning that the tiebreaker will have to get down to scheduling minutiae.  Looking at the schedules for the Eagles and the Cowboys, I think the Eagles have an easier one, so I’ll give them the tiebreaker somewhere down the line – – like Conference record.  [Aside: The early schedule with road games at the Vikes, Packers and Falcons is not a piece of cake!]  The Eagles must have Carson Wentz stay healthy and play the whole season – something he has not done for the last 2 seasons.  The addition of DeSean Jackson gives the Eagles a viable downfield threat – – something they have not had for a while.  I think the addition of Malik Jackson to the defensive line was a positive move for the team.
  • I like the Cowboys to finish second in the AFC East via a tiebreaker with a record of 11-5.  Obviously, this gaze into the crystal ball assumes that Ezekiel Elliott will be in a Cowboys’ uniform for most if not all the games in 2019; Zeke is the key to that offense not the QB or any of the pass catchers.  The weak link in the Cowboys roster last year seemed to be the defensive backfield and whatever changes were made there over this offseason seem to me to be cosmetic as opposed to transformational.  The late schedule for the Cowboys is no picnic.  After the Pats come to town on Thanksgiving Day, the schedule reads Bills, at Bears, Rams, at Eagles.  If my vision for the Bills is accurate, this schedule could evoke a comment along the lines of “Great googly-moogly, get me outta here…”  [h/t Stranded in the Jungle by the Jay Hawks]
  • I think the Skins are the better of the two “Have Not” teams and will finish third in the NFC East with a record of 6-10.  The absence of Trent Williams at left tackle on offense is more important than it might be to the casual observer.  The fact is that Trent Williams was the single best player on the team simply because he is one of the five or six best offensive left tackles in the NFL – – and no other member of the Skins’ roster can even pretend to make that claim.  We now know that the Skins will go with Case Keenum as the starting QB at the beginning of the season.  That is the rational decision meaning that it was probably taken over the objection of Danny Boy Snyder who has seemingly attached his lips to the buttocks of Dwayne Haskins as the QB of the future for this franchise.  The Skins have a ton of question marks in addition to the ones implied above to include…  Is Darius Guice for real?  He was out for all last year and the Skins relied on 34-year old Adrian Peterson to be the lead back.  Before the 2019 season even starts, Peterson already has 2825 carries in his NFL career.  Who is going to catch the passes thrown by Case Keenum and/or Dwayne Haskins and/or Joe Flabeetz?  Jordan Reed is injured again in the exhibition season; the Skins were trying to trade Josh Doctson and when that did not work they cut him; Jameson Crowder left in free agency…

[Aside:  Skins’ and Vikes’ fans need to circle Week 8 on their calendars.  That is when the Skins go to Minnesota for a game that will feature former Skins’ QB – – Kirk Cousins – – against former Vikes’ QB – – Case Keenum.  My suspicion is that neither fanbase will be happy with their incumbent QB by that time in the 2019 NFL season.]

  • I think the Giants will be in the caboose of the division with a record of 3-13.  This team needs upgrades no matter where you look – – except for running back where Saquon Barkley is an unusual talent.  The Giants had two high draft picks in this year’s NFL Draft; they are going to get another one next year; they need to make sure all those high draft picks turn into impact players sooner than later.  The Giants traded Odell Beckham, Jr. in the off season and are probably happy to be relieved of his “drama”.  Their problem is that they cannot be happy to be relieved of his talent.  Sterling Shepard broke his thumb in training camp; Golden Tate will serve a 4-game suspension; Corey Coleman will miss the entire year with an ACL injury.  The healthy WR roster is mediocre at best.  The early schedule for the Giants is not so horrific, but in November the schedule reads Cowboys, at Jets, BYE WEEK, at Bears, Packers, at Eagles.  Ouch!

So, here is my playoff prediction picture for the NFC:

  • Saints/Rams – – tie breaker determined by the winner of the head-to-head game on Sept 15.  Winner gets a BYE week and home field advantage throughout the playoffs
  • Rams/Saints – – tie breaker determined by the loser of the head-to head game on Sept 15.  Loser gets a BYE week in the playoffs.
  • Bears – – tie breaker over Eagles
  • Eagles – – loser of tie breaker to Bears
  • Cowboys
  • Falcons/Seahawks – – winner of the head-to head game on October 27.

So, there you have it.  That is how the NFL season will unfold between now and January 2020.  If you fall into a coma tomorrow, you can rely – – sort of – – on these projections to get you up to speed quickly once you wake up on New Year’s Day.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this observation in the Seattle Times a few weeks ago that seems pertinent to the upcoming NFL season in 2019:

“Students in Oregon can now take ‘mental health days’ as excused absences, just like sick days.

“Arizonans had something similar last year — better known as the Mondays following Cardinals games.”

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