It’s playoff time; it’s Friday. Can it be anything other than Football Friday? No, it cannot…
Last week’s Six-Pack – diminished as it was having only three entries – was as bland as possible. Last week’s record was 1-1-1. Back when Gene Mauch managed the Phillies, someone asked him how he felt after the team rallied in the second game of a double header to get a split in those two games. Mauch offered this metaphor:
- “Splitting a double header is like kissing your sister through a screen door.”
That pretty much sums up how I feel about last week’s Six-Pack. Here are how those predictions have turned out for the season:
- Overall: 43-28-4
- College: 20-7-1
- NFL: 23-21-3
College Football Commentary:
I know that these things run in cycles; but for the past 15 years or so the SEC has been the best college football conference top-to-bottom. The best teams in the conference have always been part of the discussion when the topic is “best team in the country”; the teams there who were “in the money but not on top” have been very good; the mediocre teams have had ways to surprise the football world a couple of times a year. Of course, there were always bottom feeders that could beat up on the worst teams from other conferences but who were non-competitive in the SEC. Overall, the only time SEC football was uninteresting – or even boring – was when teams there scheduled out of conference doormat opponents – and all of them have done that.
Over the last month, SEC football has gotten even more interesting than it was. First, Ole Miss hired Lane Kiffin as its head coach. Lane Kiffin attracts attention and controversy like a picnic blanket attracts ants. This week Mississippi State – less than 100 miles as the crow flies from Ole Miss – hired Mike Leach as its head coach. To say that Mike Leach is “different” from your average football coach would be like saying mustard is “different” from your typical milk shake flavors.
Lane Kiffin’s teams have been good offensively – save for that brief interlude with the Oakland Raiders. That seems to have been the general heading for Ole Miss teams in recent years; Kiffin would seem to be an attempt by the Rebels to hit the gas pedal even harder.
Mike Leach clearly embraces the idea of winning by outscoring the opponent. He was at Texas Tech before Klif Kingsbury was there and the Red Raiders were often north of 40 points – win or lose. Consider these stats from his team at Washington State last season:
- Six times the Cougars scored more than 40 points in a single game. Their record in those games was 5-1. The loss came against UCLA by a score of 67-63.
[Aside: For the sake of symmetry, the Cougars won a game where they gave up 53 points; that was against Oregon State and the score was 54-53.]
- Cumulative scores for the Cougars’ schedule last year were Wash State 470 and Opponents 377. The typical Washington State game saw 65.2 points on the scoreboard by both teams; that is more than a point a minute.
I have no idea if Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense will translate to SEC competition, but it should be fun to watch. Moreover, it will be interesting to see how some of Mike Leach’s idiosyncrasies play out. He seems to be obsessed with pirates and has some views about aliens that – politely put – are not akin to mainstream science.
The SEC just got even more interesting…
College Game This Week:
(Mon Nite) Clemson vs LSU – 6 (69): Back in August, plenty of college football fans and pundits had Clemson as a participant in this Championship Game. If anyone outside Baton Rouge thought that LSU would be here, I must have missed that pronouncement. Both teams arrive here undefeated. LSU has had only two games where the margin of victory was less than 10 points; Clemson’s schedule duplicates those outcomes. LSU QB, Joe Burrow deservedly won the Heisman Trophy with a spectacular performance over the entire 2019-20 season; Clemson QB, Trevor Lawrence might be the first “generational talent at a QB” since Andrew Luck. If you are a college football fan, you will make time to watch this game – or record it and watch it later. I’ll put two selections on this game in this week’s Six-Pack:
- I like Clemson plus the 6 points
- I like the game to go OVER 69 points
People have spent a lot of time over the last month or so complaining about the NFC East as the worst division in the NFL and why it was unfair for that division champion to host a playoff game. That sort of whining is well beyond annoying because it is irrelevant; the NFL is thriving with the playoff system that is in place; they are not going to change it based on a year or two of unbalanced performance. Recall that it was not all that long ago when the NFC South was the weakest division and the Panthers won that division with a record of 7-8-1. Notwithstanding the impotence of all that wailing about the NFC East, the fact is that this year’s performance by that division was pathetic. Consider:
- Each NFC East team played 10 games outside the division. In those 40 games the NFC East record was 12-28. That is a winning percentage of .300.
Lots of folks are heaping praise on the Seahawks because they win their close games. Ten of their wins this year have been by one score – – if you count one game with an 8-point margin of victory as a one-score game. Only one loss was by a single score. There is good reason to praise the Seahawks for that performance.
However, the obverse should be considered too. The LA Chargers record in one-score games this year was 2-9. Just as the Seahawks should be praised for winning ten close games this year, the Chargers should be criticized for their record in close games.
Last week was an unusual week in NFL football. Jameis Winston did not throw a single INT …
The Dolphins fired their offensive coordinator, Chad O’Shea. [Confession: I could not pick him out of a line-up with the WNBA All-Star Team.] His replacement will be Chan Gailey who has been retired from NFL coaching activities since 2016. When I read this announcement, my immediate reactions were:
- So what?
I have not come up with a response to the first question above but perhaps this is why the Dolphins made their move:
- The Dolphins’ team was constructed to lose games and to get well with the top pick in the Draft along with other first round picks garnered in trading away what few quality players the Dolphins began the season with.
- The Dolphins won 5 games; they overachieved.
- That performance cost the Dolphins the top pick and “control” of this year’s Draft.
Maybe Chad O’Shea was fired for thwarting the strategic objectives of the team…
There were some Highlights from last weekend’s games:
- Derrick Henry ran over, under, around and through the Pats’ defense for 204 yards from scrimmage. The Titans won the game despite only gaining 72 yards passing.
- Deshaun Watson led the Texans to a win despite being sacked 7 times in the game.
- Kirk Cousins played like a $28M per year QB.
There were also a few Lowlights from last weekend’s games:
- The Patriots’ lack of top-shelf talent at WR and TE was prominently on display over the weekend.
- Drew Brees’ first fumble of 2019 – he dropped the ball; it was not knocked from his grasp – was a kill shot for the Saints. The Saints had the ball at the Vikes’ 20 yardline late in the 4th quarter leading 20-17. Also, Brees only averaged 6.8 yards per catch (5.4 yards per attempt) against the Vikes. Those are Blake Bortles numbers…
NFL Games This Week:
One overall observation here… Usually in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, most of the games have tight spreads; having one game of the four with a full TD spread is not out of the ordinary. This year, three of the four games have wide spreads; two of them are 10 points or more.
(Sat 4:30 PM EST) Minnesota at SF – 7 (44): I think this is the key to the game:
- The Vikes’ OL is not all that good at protecting Kirk Cousins – – unless Dalvin Cook is running well thereby keeping the defensive front honest.
- The Niners’ DL is going to pressure Cousins severely all day if Dalvin Cook is not running well to keep them honest.
- See the essence of the issue emerging here?
Teams have been able to run on the Niners’ defense this year. That unit ranks 23rd in the league against the run in yards per carry allowed. That is why I think Dalvin Cook is the key to this game. If the Vikes can bring the same defensive energy/precision that they had last week against the Saints, they might just steal the game on the final drive. I think it should be a close game. I’ll put the Vikes plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack.
(Sat 8:15 PM EST) Tennessee at Baltimore – 10.5 (47): The spread on this game started the week at 9.5 points; this morning it is at either 10 or 10.5 points just about everywhere with one Internet sportsbook offering an 11-point spread. The trend is clearly “up”. The Ravens come to the field with 12 consecutive wins on the books. They have only lost two games this season and those came in back-to-back weeks in September:
- 9/22/19: The Ravens lost to the Chiefs in KC; understandable…
- 9/29/19: The Ravens then lost to the Browns at home; say what?
Ravens’ RB, Mark Ingram, did not practice Wednesday due to a “calf injury”. Is that a precaution or is this a serious injury that might limit Ingram’s participation on Saturday?
Derrick Henry is the key to this game for a slightly different reason than Dalvin Cook is the key to the Vikes/Niners game The Titans need to get the lead and then control the tempo – – and the offensive options left to the Ravens as they play from behind. If this game starts out as a shoot-out, the Titans will not keep up.
Last week, I put the Titans in the Six-Pack as a Money Line pick and the Titans won outright. I don’t think the Titans can win this one, but their defense is solid, and they should be able to run the ball. I think the line is fat, so I’ll put the Titans plus the points in this week’s six-Pack.
(Sun 3:00 PM EST) Houston at KC – 10 (51): Historically, Andy Reid’s teams do very well after a BYE Week; his teams are 17-3 straight up in their last 20 games after a BYE Week. The Chiefs’ defense has come to life late in the season. Back in Week 6, the Texans beat the Chiefs 31-24; I do not see that happening again That is a big spread but I think that if there is a possible blowout game on the card for this weekend, this is it. I’ll put the Chiefs in this week’s Six-Pack to win and cover.
(Sun 6:40 PM EST) Seattle at Green Bay – 4.5 (47): If the game is in January and the venue is Green Bay, one must always consider the “weather factor”. The forecast is for light snow on Saturday followed by cold temps on Sunday. At game time, the temperature should be around 20 degrees with a light wind. Compared to what is possible in Green Bay in January, that is “ideal weather”.
I think the key to this game is the Packers’ pass rush. I do not think that the Seahawks’ OL will provide Russell Wilson with lots of leisure time to throw the ball; it has not done so all year long. The question will be if the Packer’s rushers can keep Wilson from making plays out of the pocket. Given that these guys practice against Aaron Rodgers all year long, you would think they would have seen that sort of thing before.
I really don’t have a good selection for this game – but since I have put 5 selections in the Six-Pack above, it behooves me to fill in that blank. Purely a hunch, I’ll put the Seahawks plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack putting my confidence in Russell Wilson who deservedly got a few votes as the league MVP this season.
So, let me review this week’s Six-Pack:
- Clemson +6 against LSU
- Clemson/LSU to go OVER 69 points
- Vikes +7 against Niners
- Titans +10.5 against Ravens
- Chiefs – 10 over Texans
- Seahawks +4.5 against Packers.
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………