This week, Football Friday falls on a Thursday as my wife and I prepare for our next set of weekend houseguests. Last weekend, we were away with friends meaning that I saw only a fraction of my normal weekend football viewing “live and up close” and had to rely on a lot of replay coverage after the fact. I will miss a lot of this weekend’s live coverage again – – but hope to return to a normal schedule for a couple of weeks after this one.
Before going through this week’s football review, let me note that the Six-Pack from two weeks ago went 5-1. The single losing pick was taking the Chargers – 2.5 points over the Lions who won the game outright. Here are the breakdown stats:
- Overall Six-Pack record is now 9-3
- Overall college games in the Six-Pack are now 4-0
- Overall NFL games in the Six-Pack are now 5-3.
- Past performance is no guarantee of future results…
College Football Commentary:
Two weeks ago, the Linfield College Wildcats traveled across 3 time zones to take on the Rowan University and won that game 35-14. Last week the Wildcats traveled to Redlands CA to take on the Redlands Bulldogs and lost that game 27-19. Linfield’s record as of today is 1-1 as they pursue yet one more winning season in football – as they have done every year since 1956. This week, the Wildcats are on the road again in Forest Grove, OR taking on the Pacific University Boxers. Pacific comes to the game with an 0-3 record on the season and this is the first Northwest Conference game of the year for Linfield. Go Wildcats!
Combining college football commentary over the past couple of weeks … UNC had won two close games to start the season with end-of-game heroics; that ended with a loss to Wake Forest 24-18. All good things must come to an end; so says Geoffrey Chaucer.
Two weeks ago, Kansas beat BC handily 48-24. Given that Kansas had lost to College of Charleston 12-7 the week before that, I would call this result something more than a “mild surprise”. Here is a bigger surprise:
- This was the first time in almost 11 years that Kansas had won a road game against a team in a Power 5 Conference. That last road win for Kansas took place in the latter stages of the George W. Bush administration.
Georgia and Notre Dame squared off in a big game for both schools. It was so big that the stadium in Athens, GA was not large enough to accommodate all the Georgia fans who had tix for the game plus the 8500 folks who bought ticket allotments for Notre Dame. The solution was temporary bleachers added to Sanford Stadium bringing the total capacity for this game to 92,750.
This game was a big game for Georgia and a huge game for Notre Dame. Notre Dame acquitted itself well in this road game despite losing by a TD. It was the Game of the Week.
Syracuse took on W. Michigan – and normally, that game would not merit even a glance let alone a comment. However, Syracuse was placed in the Top 25 in the first week of the season and proceeded to shut out Liberty University in the opening game. Not a big deal … Then, Syracuse lost two games in a row having its doors blown off by Maryland in Week 2 and then by Clemson in Week 3. The combined score in those two losses was 104-26. Based on those results, it is fair to suggest that Syracuse is not “Top 25 material” but how bad were they?
- Syracuse 52 W. Michigan 33
The Auburn/Texas A&M game paired two very good teams against each other. Auburn won the game 28-20 and the game looks closer than it really was because the Aggies rallied to score 17 points in the 4th quarter.
The Pitt Panthers did the CFP a humongous favor last weekend beating UCF 35-34. It was the first regular season loss for UCF in about 3 years and what it did was to alleviate any lobbying pressure on the CFP Selection Committee come December to take UCF seriously as a potential national champion.
- I give UCF all the props and high marks for their aggressive out-of-conference scheduling. Signing on to take on Stanford and Pitt in successive weeks is bold scheduling.
- Having said that, their next 8 games are against their AAC sister schools – and none of them are meaningful on a national stage. I am being most polite when I say that, too…
- This loss means that UCF might only be “considered” for a CFP slot if Pitt is also under consideration – – and that is simply not going to be the case.
- Ergo, Pitt handed the CFP Selection Committee a trump card to hold off any bleatings and pleadings from advocates of teams like UCF who “belong in the CFP.”
Before you drink that Kool-Aid, check out the rest of the UCF schedule here.
Cal beat Ole Miss 28-20 on the road in Oxford, MS. The Golden Bears are now 4-0 and just might be the class of the PAC-12. The Cal defense is for real and it is that unit that has taken the major role in formulating this 4 game winning-streak to start the 2019 season. That was anything but the case at Cal during the Jeff Tedford Era there…
Speaking of the PAC-12, Utah was on the road and favored over USC; that does not happen often, but it was the case last week. The game had serious implications for the PAC-12 South Division race and USC won the game outright using a 2nd string QB.
THE most bizarre result from last week had to be the UCLA win over Washington St. by a score of 67-63. How bizarre was this game?
- UCLA scored 50 points in the second half to come from behind to win.
- Washington St. led by 32 points in the third quarter – – and came from ahead to lose.
- Washington St. QB, Anthony Gordon threw for 9 TDs in this game – – and he was the losing QB.
- Washington St. allowed 2 TDs on special teams.
- Washington St. turned the ball over 6 times in the game.
SMU beat TCU 41-38. This is a major rivalry game that does not get the national focus that other rivalry games do. These schools are only about 40 miles apart – the distance from Dallas to Fort Worth.
Wisconsin beat Michigan 35-14 – – but the game was not nearly this close because Michigan scored its 2 TDs very late in the game when the outcome had long been a foregone conclusion. I saw a bit more than half of this game as a replay which was a good thing because I knew the outcome and that allowed me to ignore some of the “follow the ball” plays and focus on things like coverages and line play. Here is what I saw:
- Wisconsin ran the ball down Michigan’s throat and beat Michigan physically at the line of scrimmage on offense – and on defense.
- In Jim Harbaugh’s successful collegiate coaching stops before Michigan – University of San Diego and then Stanford – the team trademark was to win using smashmouth football. Michigan lost this game because Wisconsin was much the more dominant physical team.
Going into the 2019 season, there were more than a handful of pundits who thought that Michigan would be a contender for a CFP invitation. After seeing last week’s performance, there is no way I can see that happening and that brings me to wonder about Jim Harbaugh and his tenure at Michigan.
- Yes, he is an alum who was the quarterback for a successful Michigan team that defeated Ohio State in 1985.
- Yes, he was successful in the collegiate ranks AND at the NFL level taking the Niners to a Super Bowl after the 2012 season.
- Nonetheless, he has been at Michigan for a tad over 4 years now – – at a tidy $7.5M per year don’t you know – – and he has yet to beat Ohio State or Michigan State or Wisconsin on a regular basis.
- At what point do the folks who are ponying up that $7.5M per year begin to ask if this is all there is to the “Jim Harbaugh Experience”?
NCAA Games of Interest:
(Fri Nite) Penn St. – 6.5 at Maryland (62.5): The Terps had last week off as a BYE Week and if you look at the schedule, you will realize that the team has to have been pointing to this game since the beginning of Spring Practice 6 months ago. If Maryland pulls out a win here, this would be THE biggest win in Maryland’s tenure in the Big 10. I am not convinced that this year’s Penn State team is one of its finest products. I am tempted to take Maryland on the Money Line at +200 – – but I will resist that temptation and take the game to stay UNDER.
(Fri Nite) Arizona St. at Cal – 4.5 (41.5): As noted above, the Cal defense is for real; the oddsmaker thinks that both defenses will dominate the opposing offenses here. This is an important game in terms of PAC-12 standings for both teams.
UConn at UCF – 44 (64): Such is the competition in the AAC for UCF from here on out in the 2019 season …
Buffalo – 2.5 at Miami (OH) (46.5): What is interesting here is that Miami opened the week as a 2-point favorite. Miami lost last week by 71 points to Ohio State and they opened here as a favorite…?
Ga Tech at Temple – 8 (49): The interesting aspect here is that the coach at Temple last year is now the coach at Georgia Tech.
NC State at Florida State – 6.5 (61.5): Here you have two VERY unreliable teams. This game could be a blowout in favor of either team – – or it could go into quadruple OT…
Rutgers at Michigan – 28 (49.5): The Wolverines struggled against Army and then lost badly last week (see above). Most likely, they take out their frustrations against an over-matched Rutgers’ team here.
Washington St. at Utah – 6 (57): Both teams lost last week (see above). The Cougars’ loss was either “embarrassing” or “devastating”. We will find out how they play in this road game against a good opponent…
Ole Miss at Alabama – 38 (61): Cal held Ole Miss to 20 points last week. I would not be shocked to see Alabama to hold Ole Miss to 10 points this week.
Mississippi St. at Auburn – 10 (47): Is this a “trap game” for Auburn? They have Florida next up on their dance card. If the Tigers keep their focus, they can win this game handily…
UVa at Notre Dame – 12.5 (48.5): Notre Dame lost to Georgia but showed in that loss that they are one of the top teams in the country. UVa is not at that same level of competition. I like Notre Dame to take care of business at home, so I’ll put them in the six-Pack to win and cover.
Ohio St – 17 at Nebraska (67): I am not yet committed to the “Nebraska hype”; I think Scott Frost needs a bit more time to assemble a team that can take on the top-shelf teams in the Big 10. Even on the road, I’ll put Ohio St in the Six-Pack to win and cover.
UCLA at Arizona – 7 (71): Last week, the total score in the UCLA game was 130 points. Three weeks ago, the total score in the Arizona game was 105 points. Just saying …
About a week ago, I commented on the fact that there were two NFL games on the same weekend that had greater than 20-point spreads attached to them and that I could never recall such a thing in the past. I have often referred to a reader of these rants in Houston who maintains sports records and data far beyond anything I might have access to. I received an e-mail from the “Houston reader” shedding light on that situation:
“My computer records go back to 1993 and this is the first week since then where two teams were favored by 17 points or more.
“Prior to that, Week 5 of the 1987 season (Oct. 11-12) with replacement players in the strike-shortened year was the last time we had two 20-plus-point favorites in the same week.
“Since 1993, according to my records, only seven NFL games have closed with a point spread of 20 points or higher and those teams are 7-0 SU [Straight Up], but just 1-6 ATS [Against the Spread].
“Favs were the home team in each game:
1993 – SF -23.5 Cincy (21-8) Week 14
2001 – St. Louis -20 Carolina (48-14) Week 9
2007 – NE -24 Philly (31-28) Week 12
2007 – NE -20.5 NYJ (20-10) Week 15
2007 – NE -22 Miami (28-7) Week 16
2011 – NE -21 Indy (31-24) Week 13
2013 – Denver -26.5 Jax (35-19) Week 6”
Thank you to the Houston reader for the clarification here.
Two weeks ago, the Bucs beat the Panthers 20-16 in an ugly game. Watching parts of the replay of that game, I made the following notation on my clipboard:
“Sorry. Cam Newton does not look right to me. Whatever injury he had last year is not fully healed.”
I am not a physician or an expert in kinesiology by any stretch of the imagination. That notation simply means that to my eyes, he was not playing with the same “natural movement” I had come to expect from him in a football field; his throws looked labored and wrong. Unfortunately for Cam Newton – and Panthers’ fans – I might have been correct in my assessment. Carolina has already lost two home games and Cam Newton will miss his second consecutive game this week. Things are not looking up in Charlotte…
Bob Molinaro had this observation in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently. It is indeed one of those inexplicable matters of mathematics:
“Stat-ic: The Cowboys’ Dak Prescott and Ravens’ Lamar Jackson both finished their Week 1 games with perfect passer ratings of 158.3. But as Troy Aikman wondered on air Sunday, how can a quarterback have a perfect rating if he’s thrown some incompletions? A mystery for the ages.”
By the way, both the Lions and the Bills are undefeated going into Week 4 of the NFL season. Raise your hand if you had that situation obtaining back in August. I certainly did not.
The Jets and the Niners have their BYE Weeks already.
- The Jets have started 0-3 and have to hope that this week off will give Sam Darnold time to return to the field after his bout with mononucleosis to lead the Jets against the Eagles in Philly next week.
- The Niners have started the season 3-0 with two of those wins coming on the road. They will use the week to prepare for a visit by the Browns next week.
NFL Games This Week:
(Thurs Nite) Philly at Green Bay – 4 (46): The Eagles have a ton of injuries and are simply not playing very well. The Packers are not playing all that well either on offense, but the Packers defense has been responsible for the team’s 3-0 start to the season. The Eagles have not been able to mount any serious pass rush so far this year and if Aaron Rodgers is given plenty of time, this game could get very ugly very quickly. The Packers at home are always a tough out. In this situation, I think they are the dominant team; so, I’ll put the Packers in the Six-Pack to win and cover.
Carolina at Houston – 4 (47): The Panthers recorded 8 sacks against Kyler Murray last week. The Texans’ O-Line is not the source of the Texans’ strength; it had better find a way to protect Deshaun Watson in this game. Kyle Allen will make his second start for the Panthers at QB – both of those starts coming on the road.
Cleveland at Baltimore – 7 (45): Browns/Ravens games are always layered in emotional rivalry; in this case, the game is critical to the Browns; a Ravens’ win here would give the Ravens a 2-game lead over the Browns in the AFC North race plus the tie-breaker for the moment in that race. The Ravens are the better team overall – – despite the offseason hype that was heaped onto the Browns. Baker Mayfield has been disappointing so far this year; he has a QB Rating of 70.3. To give you a perspective on what a QB rating of 70.3 might mean, consider these career QB ratings:
- Kordell Stewart 70.7
- Bill Nelson 70.3
- Trent Dilfer 70.2
- Vince Ferragamo 70.1
Washington at Giants – 2.5 (49): The only redeeming feature of this game is that it is a division game. Neither team is very good. The Skins never seem to play well in the Meadowlands which is frightening to contemplate given how badly they have played in other venues this season. The question here is direct:
- Can Daniel Jones maintain his “mystique” and play to the level of the mania that accompanied his debut?
Oh, and by the way, he will have to try to do that without Saquon Barkley…
I will resist the temptation to take the OVER in this game even though I recognize that both defenses here stink.
Chargers – 15.5 at Miami (44): In the first three games of this season, the Dolphins have been outscored 133-16. This is a “body clock game” for the Chargers and the spread is more than 2 TDs. There isn’t any doubt where the talent lies in this game, but I would touch this game as a betting proposition any more than I would pet a cobra.
Oakland at Indy – 7 (45): The Raiders have not looked good since the first game of the season; the Colts played well against the Falcons last week.
KC – 6.5 at Detroit (53): Both teams here are undefeated – although the Lions have a tie on their record. This game has the potential to light up the scoreboard because both teams bring stronger offensive units to the field than defensive units.
New England – 7 at Buffalo (42): This is another game between two undefeated teams – – and it is a division game. That qualifies this as the Game of the Week. The last time the Bills started a season at 3-0 was in 2011. So far in 2019, the Pats’ defense has yet to allow a TD – even though the Jets scored 14 points last week. The Bills’ defense is excellent also. I see this as a low-scoring game; I see that the spread here is a full TD; I see that the Bills are the home team with an excellent defense. All that leads me to put the Bills plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack.
Tennessee at Atlanta – 4 (46): The Falcons are the better team here and that is why this game is not a wagering proposition. The Titans will play up to or down to the level of the opposition. The Falcons seem to have too many weeks where their talent goes into hibernation. Consider these stats and you will understand why there is no way to bet on this game:
- Marcus Mariotta was sacked 9 times last week by the Jags. That is absurd…
- Matt Ryan has thrown 6 INTs in 3 games so far in 2019. Really?
Tampa Bay at Rams – 9.5 (49): This is another game with the potential to turn ugly. Last week, Daniel Jones led the Giants to a win over the Bucs scoring 32 points. If the Giants can go “north of 30 points” on the Bucs’ defense, why can’t the Rams go “north of 40”?
Seattle – 5 at Arizona (48): The Seahawks simply laid an egg last week against the Saints; the Seahawks cannot afford to play like that very often. The Seahawks lost that game despite outgaining the Saints 515 yards to 265 yards; it is not easy to come out as the loser in a game like that. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are not as bad as the Dolphins, but they are demonstrably in the lower echelon of the NFL – particularly on defense. I think the Seahawks will rebound this week, so I’ll put them in the Six-Pack to win and cover.
Minnesota at Chicago – 2.5 (38): This game is an important division game in the context of the NFC North race. It was a strong contender for the Game of the Week. Both teams will bring excellent defensive units to the field and each team will bring a QB to the field who has “underperformed expectations”. Offensive scoring in this game should be infrequent. Here in Curmudgeon Central, the key to the game appears to be:
- Which excellent defense is going to make which underwhelming QB look worse?
Jax at Denver – 3 (39): This was the runner-up game for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Neither team has shown much this year; they are not division rivals. If forced to come up with a reason to care about this game, here is the best that I can do:
- Will Jalen Ramsey have recovered sufficiently from his “flu” to play in the game?
- Will Von Miller and/or Bradley Chubb finally record a sack in this game?
Pretty thin gruel there…
(Sun Nite) Dallas – 2.5 at New Orleans (47): This is a big game for both teams; the winner will likely have “open water” between their position atop their division and the second-place team in that division. People focus on the Cowboys’ offense and the stars on that side of the ball; quietly, the Cowboys’ defense has only allowed 44 points in the first 3 games of 2019.
(Mon Nite) Cincy at Pittsburgh – 4 (43.5): How can it be that ESPN has gotten another rotten egg game for Monday Night Football? Last week it had the Bears/skins snoozer; this week it gets a Bagel Game – where both teams bring Zeros to the game in the win column. Does the NFL have a vendetta against ESPN? Is there a warlock out there somewhere who has placed a hex on the MNF schedule? This game is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Let me present how these teams arrived at this game with 0-3 records:
- The Bengals led in the 4th quarter in two of those losses – and then gagged the game away.
- The Bengals have rushed for 126 yards in 3 games this season.
- The Steelers lost 2 of their games by 4 points or less after losing a blowout game to the patriots in Week 1.
- The Steelers rushing defense is in the bottom 5 in the NFL.
The Bengals have lost 9 consecutive “prime-time games” on the road. Maybe the best reason to tune into this game is to see what form of self-immolation Andy Dalton will employ to stretch that streak to 10 consecutive prime-time losses on the road?
Oh, by the way, in case you think that I am over-reacting to the miserable slate of games offered to and by ESPN on Monday Night Football this year, here is a bit of foreshadowing:
- October 28, 2019 the MNF game will be Dolphins at Steelers
Let me summarize this week’s Six-Pack:
- Penn St./Maryland UNDER 62.5
- Notre Dame – 12.5 over UVa
- Ohio St. – 17 over Nebraska
- Packers – 4 over Eagles
- Bills +7 against Patriots
- Seahawks – 5 over Cardinals.
Finally, let me close today with an observation by H. L. Mencken – often referred to as The Bard of Baltimore – regarding college football:
“College football would be more interesting if the faculty played instead of the students – there would be a great increase in broken arms, legs and necks.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………