Seventy years ago, Buffalo Bob Smith would begin kids’ TV show by asking, “What time is it?” The answer from the audience would come back:
- “It’s Howdy Doody time!”
Fast forward to the present here in Curmudgeon Central and ask me, “What day is it?” The answer, of course, is:
- It’s Football Friday!
Before venturing into this week’s commentary, let me review the results from last week’s Six-Pack:
- College: 2-1-0
- NFL: 3-0-0
- Combined: 5-1-0
Lest anyone think that I am going to crow about that opening weekend record, I must admit that if I were in the business of picking a “50-Star Mortal Lock Of The Week” within the Six-Pack, I would have named Iowa State as last week’s game with that label. You guessed it; that was the loss from last week. And that is why I do not do things like that…
Of all the college conferences, the SEC was always steadfast in the idea that it would play football this Fall, and that COVID-19 could be accommodated – if not controlled – as the schools did that. Teams in the conference have not been anything near transparent in terms of revealing testing results; and frankly, without a conference mandate, that is not surprising. That is why a statement from LSU coach, Ed Orgeron, was unexpectedly candid:
- “Not all of our players, but most of our players have caught it. I think that hopefully they won’t catch it again, and hopefully they’re not out for games.”
- Most of the LSU players have caught it? That is a lot of people and that surely makes one think that the virus can spread through a team effectively.
- Hopefully, they won’t catch it again? That is the SEC football equivalent of, “Let them eat cake.”
- Hopefully, they’re not out for games? Clearly, the man is focused on the well-being of his “student-athletes”.
I am not picking on LSU or Coach Orgeron here. Over at Texas Tech – in the Big 12 – news broke last week that a total of 75 Tech football players have tested positive for COVID-19 since the players returned to the campus in late June. College football games are happening and we can enjoy those games – or at least some of them – but it would be Pollyannish to think that the existence of those games means that the schools have found ways to control the coronavirus.
Florida State lost its opening game last week to Georgia Tech by a score of 16-13. Some folks went overboard and called it the “Upset of the Week”; it was not; in fact, this is the fourth year in a row that Florida State has lost its first game of the season. The game was surprising:
- Florida State scored 10 points on its first two possessions of the game.
- After that, Florida State had the ball 9 more times and managed only a field goal.
- On those 9 added possessions, the Seminoles amassed a total of 139 yards of offense – – 15.4 yards per possession.
- Meanwhile, Georgia Tech was seemingly trying not to win this game having 2 field goal attempts blocked in the process.
Opening the 2020 season could not have been fun for the Big 12 as a whole. Yes, Texas and Oklahoma blew out their opening day patsies as expected. The Longhorns beat UTEP by 56 points and the Sooners rolled over Missouri State by 48 points. Much of the rest of the news was not good:
- Iowa State was an 11-point favorite and lost by 17 points to La-Lafayette – – from the Sun Belt Conference.
- Kansas State was favored over Arkansas State – – another Sun Belt Conference team – – and lost by 4 points. By the way, Arkansas State came into the game having lost its opener to Memphis the week before.
- Kansas lost at home for the second year in a row to Coastal Carolina this time by 15 points. Coastal Carolina is another Sun Belt team. That 15-point loss was not as close as it looks; Kansas trailed 28-3 at halftime and scored meaningless points in garbage time.
- Texas Tech did win their game against Houston Baptist University by a slim 2-point margin. Houston Baptist is a Division 1-AA team in the Southland Conference. [Aside: There are 13 schools in the Southland Conference. I was able to identify all of 3 before resorting to Google. How many can you name?] To make things worse, the Texas Tech defense was a no-show for the game. Houston Baptist gained 594 yards of offense and 566 of those yards were through the air.
Syracuse lost to UNC 31-6 last week; that was not totally unexpected. Nonetheless, the Syracuse offense put on a less-than-fully-competent show. They had the ball inside the UNC 25 yardline 4 times and managed a total of 6 points for the game. The game was in doubt at the start of the 4th quarter when the score was 10-6; the Syracuse defense kept the game within reach for 45 minutes and then the floodgates opened.
Pitt beat Austin Peay 55-0. I mention this game only because the teams agreed – and the officials agreed – to play 10-minute quarters for the second half of the game. Pitt led at the half 42-0; the outcome was in little doubt. The Pitt defense allowed a total of 1 yard rushing in the game on 22 attempts by Austin Peay.
West Virginia beat E. Kentucky 56-10. I mention this game only because the Mountaineers had 11 of its players out with positive COVID-19 tests. Clearly, this was nothing more than a glorified scrimmage.
Army dismantled La-Monroe last week. Army had 436 yards rushing and 29 yards passing. Those 29 yards came on one play – – the only pass completed by the Cadets for the day. I said for last week’s Six-Pack that La-Monroe’s horrid run defense from last year would be in trouble against Army’s run game.
College Games of Interest:
Wake Forest at NC State – 1 (52.5): This is State’s first game of the year; last year, the Wolfpack offense was anemic on its better days. Wake played Clemson last week and lost 37-13. The problem is not the margin of that loss but the fact that 10 of Wake’s 13 points came in the 4th quarter when the game was already decided. I am tempted to take the UNDER here – – but I will resist that temptation.
UCF – 7 at Georgia Tech (62.5): UCF is one of the very good “Group of 5” teams; they may not have the stature and tradition of Florida state, but they are probably a better team. This will be a reality check for Tech in its home opener.
BC at Duke – 6 (51): This is the opener for BC; moreover, it is the first game in the Jeff Hafley Era at the school. Duke has a loss on its record this year – – but that loss was to Notre Dame and Duke covered the spread in that game. I like Duke at home to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.
Miami at Louisville – 2.5 (64.5): The Total Line opened the week at 61 and has risen steadily as the week went by. Louisville could not stop the run last year; it ranked 112th in the country in run defense. However, last week they shut down the run against W. Kentucky. Miami can run the ball and did so effectively against UAB last week. I do not want to think about a wager on this game, but the run stats could be illuminating here…
Syracuse at Pitt – 21.5 (50): Pitt romped last week; Syracuse was less than impressive. The Syracuse defense played well for 45 minutes last week and it has to be stouter than the Austin Peay defense last week that the Panthers dominated. That line looks fat to me; I like Syracuse plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack.
La Tech at So. Mississippi (59): This is the season opener for La Tech so there is nothing to go on in terms of making a pick. So. Miss opened two weeks ago and lost to South Alabama in such a dispirited game that the So. Miss coach resigned the next day. So, this is the first game under the interim coach who was on the staff that prepared the team to lose that opener. No way would I make a pick here, but the outcome might be illuminating…
USF at Notre Dame – 25.5 (48): The Irish failed to cover against Duke and did not dominate. Meanwhile, USF scored a grand total of 27 points against The Citadel last week; I do not expect them to light up the scoreboard in South Bend.
Speaking of The Citadel, they are matched up against Clemson this week and the Tigers are a 46-point favorite. Good luck…
The Washington WTFs sit alone atop the NFC East. Raise your hand if you thought that might ever happen in 2020.
There are reports that the Browns might be interested in trading Odell Beckham, Jr. Obviously, I have nothing to offer regarding the veracity of those reports, but I do wonder if there would be a big market for Beckham. He certainly talked and played his way out of NY and it seems as if his pouting combined with his play in Cleveland may be wearing thin. But do other teams want to take on that sort of drama? Here is my criterion for this story:
- If Bill Belichick – who needs a playmaking WR badly – does not express any interest, then either the Browns never REALLY dangled him or even Bill Belichick is not ready to take on the “OBJ Soap Opera”.
- Stand by for more data…
Here in Curmudgeon Central, the chronicling of “Bad News” is standard fare. There was plenty of “Bad News” from Week 1 in the NFL so let me put it in sort of a “Lightening Round”.
- Stephen Gostkowski kicked the winning field goal with seconds left in the game for the Titans – – but the reason that was necessary was that he had missed 2 field goal attempts and a PAT earlier in the game. Oh, and he had another field goal attempt blocked.
- Baker Mayfield’s passing attack produced 4.8 yards per completion last week. That is not per attempt; that is per completion. Really?
- The final 35 minutes of the Eagles/WTFs game was absolutely brutal. Carson Wentz held the ball way too long on just about every pass attempt and the Eagle’s OL – injuries be damned – was horrible yielding 8 sacks in the game.
- The Bucs’ offense was lopsided. There was no running game to support the passing game. If you remove a 21-yard run by Ronald Jones, the rest of the Bucs’ fun game was 25 carries for 65 yards. Tom Brady was the second leading rusher for the day. ‘Nuff said…
- DeAndre Swift dropped a game winning TD pass. You have seen that replay 5 times by now. That was just awful.
- The Jets’ offense was not good against a good Bills defense. Yes, the Jets have a young and still developing QB; yes, the Jets’ offensive line needs to improve to become mediocre; yes, the Jets’ pass catching corps leaves something to be desired; yes the Jets’ best RB, LeVeon Bell is on the IR now. With all that said, the Jets posed no real threat last week. The run game they must have to make the passing game marginally effective produced 52 yards on 15 carries; the longest run for the day was 8 yards. The Jets’ time of possession last week was 18 minutes and 44 seconds!
I want to pose a rhetorical question here based on the Week 1 Pats/Dolphins game:
- If the Pats are going to continue to run Cam Newton 15 times per game, how many games until he goes on the shelf?
Last Night, the Bengals and Browns played an entertaining game; the Browns won 35-30 meaning the Bengals covered the 6-point spread. The Browns’ defense throttled the Bengals’ run game holding the Bengals to 39 yards on 24 carries. That forced Joe Burrow to throw the ball 61 times in the game. For that effort he amassed 316 yards and 3 TDs. But that is no way to treat a rookie QB in the NFL…
The Seahawks beat the Falcons 35-28. The Falcons gained 506 yards on offense and still lost; that is clearly not a good omen. In addition, the Falcons failed on 4 fourth-down plays in the game. Russell Wilson was 31-35 and 322 yards 4 TDs and 0 INTs. Not a bad day for any QB…
The Packers beat the Vikes 43-34; it was not that close. The Vikes’ defense is supposed to be good; good defenses do not lose games when their offense scores 34 points. Aaron Rodgers was 32-44 for 364 yards with 4 TDs and 0 INTs. Not bad… Davante Adams caught 14 passes for 156 yards. Also, not bad.
- Interestingly, the Vikes’ time of possession was 18:44; same as the Jets. Somehow, the Vikes managed to score 34 points in that time of possession while the Jets scored only 17. Hmmm…
The Patriots beat the Dolphins 21-11. The Past defense held the Dolphins to 270 yards total offense for the game and the Dolphins turned the ball over 3 times. Meanwhile, the Pats’ ran the ball for 217 yards (5.2 yards per attempt) and achieved 18 first downs by running the ball.
I mentioned the Eagles/WTFs game above. Let me add here props to WTFs’ Coach Rivera for living up to his “Riverboat Ron” nickname by going for it on fourth-and-1 at the Eagles’ 4 yardline with the game tied 17-17 in the fourth quarter. Washington scored three plays later to take the lead for good.
The Ravens dominated the Browns in Week 1 by a score of 38-6. This was an organized ass-kicking from start to finish. Odell Beckham Jr (Trade rumors? See above) was targeted 10 times in this game and caught only 3 passes. Baker Mayfield did not impress at all (see “Bad News” above). Now, look at the score for the game; realize that the Ravens actually had less time of possession in the game than did the Browns – – very slightly less but still less.
The Chargers beat the Bengals 16-13. The Bengals missed a game-tying field goal at the end of the game that would have sent it to OT. Joe Burrow was OK in his first NFL game – nothing spectacular but OK. The Bengals did give him a running game for support in Week 1; they ran the ball for 122 yards on 28 carries. The Chargers run game was even more productive gaining 155 yards.
The Jags best the Colts 27-20. This game was a disaster for the Colts. Philip Rivers threw 2 INTs and the Colts had the ball inside the Jags’ 15 yardline twice without scoring on either drive. RB, Marlon Mack, had to be carted off the field and is done for the year. Gardner Minshew was the Jags’ offensive hero. He went 19 for 20 for 173 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs. The Colts produced 445 yards offense while the Jags amassed 271 yards offense. Those stats point to a win for the Colts, but those 2 INTs by Rivers were killers.
The Raiders beat the Panthers 34-30. This game was as close as the score would indicate.
- Raiders’ total offense = 372 yards Panthers’ total offense = 398 yards
- Raiders’ first downs = 23 Panthers’ first downs = 22
- Raiders’ time of possession = 31:12 Panthers’ time of possession = 28:48
The Saints beat the Bucs 34-23 lowering the temperature in “Tompa Bay” at least for a while. The Saints won despite Drew Brees only throwing for 160 yards. Two INTs (one a Pick-Six) by the defense helped a lot. Brady was OK in his debut in Tampa, but Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski were non-factors in the game. Evans caught 1 pass for a 2-yard TD and Gronk caught 2 passes for 11 yards. It was a sloppy game. There were 15 penalties enforced for a total of 22 yards; both teams were penalized for more than 100 yards.
The Cards bat the Niners 24-20. The Cards’ defense was the story here even though the Niners gained 382 yards of offense. That defense held Niners to 2-11 on third down conversions and 0-2 on fourth down conversions. Kyler Murray played as expected with 230 yards passing and 91 yards rushing, and DeAndre Hopkins caught 14 passes for 151 yards.
The Rams beat the Cowboys 20-17. Other than Aldon Smith who played really well on defense, the rest of the Cowboys’ defense was pretty mediocre here. Jared Goff was efficient all night long; the Rams ran the ball at will gaining 153 yards on the ground and giving the Rams 35 minutes and 38 seconds in time of possession. Meanwhile, Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald stood out for the Rams on defense. The Cowboys lost TE Blake Jarwin to torn ACL; he is out for the year. They also lost MLB Leighton Vander Esch to a broken collarbone and that will require surgery. He may return this year, but no timeline was given.
The Steelers beat the Giants 26-16. The Giants’ defense needs work – – particularly in the secondary, but the Giants are not a rag-tag bunch of guys off the streets who masquerade as a pro football team. I am not ready to anoint Daniel Jones as a star, but he shows me that he is going to be better than a lot of other QBs taken in the first round over the last several years. The Steelers’ defense is a certified monster, but the Steelers took several injuries on offense in this game. If they turn out to be long-term injuries, that could come back to bite the team. There was a telling point in the game. The Giants recover a muffed punt at the 3-yardline in first quarter and only get a field goal. You kind of knew than what the game outcome was going to be right there. By the way, the Giants had negative-3 yards rushing for the 1st half.
The Titans beat the Broncos 16-14 on a last second field goal (see “Bad News” for Stephan Gostkowski above). All I can say about that game is:
- What a slog … !
Just a note about the lines this week; there has been an unusual amount of significant movement. It is commonplace to see spreads move a point or even a point and a half in a week; total lines can move even 2 points in a week and few eyebrows will go up. Check out this week…
Rams at Philly – 1 (46): The spread here opened with Philly as a 3.5-point favorite; this morning the line is all over the place. The line here is the most common one but you can find the Rams favored by as much as 1.5 points and you can still find Philly as a 2-point favorite. Whatever… Given the way the Eagles’ OL stunk out the joint in Week 1, I cannot imagine how they plan to contain Aaron Donald in this game. If I were to pick this game – – which I am NOT going to do – – I would take it to stay UNDER.
Carolina at Tampa – 8 (47.5): The Panthers gave up 34 points to the Raiders last week; I think the Bucs’ offense is as good as the Raiders’ offense. The Panthers scored 30 points last week and I do not expect the Bucs’ defense to shut them down. I like this game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.
Denver at Pittsburgh – 7 (40.5) This spread opened at 5 points and I can find it this morning at various levels between 6.5 and 8 points. Meanwhile the total Line opened the week at 43 points and dropped to this level very quickly. Both teams are playing off a short week, but Denver has a long trip to arrive at the game site. I do not see the Broncos’ offense doing a lot of business against the Steelers’ defense and I do not think the Broncos’ defense can hold the Steelers down for 60 minutes. I like the Steelers to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.
Atlanta at Dallas – 4 (54): The spread opened the week at 7.5-points and the total line opened at 50 points. Those are major line moves. The Falcons’ defense looked bad last week – – but so did the Cowboys’ offense. That is the matchup that will determine this game because I fully expect Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offense to score at least 25 points and maybe closer to 35. Lots of question marks here except for one. There is no question that if the Cowboys win, Jerry Jones will heap praise on his guy – – Mike McCarthy.
SF – 7 at Jets (41): Both teams lost their opening game last week and the Niners have a 3,000-mile journey to get to the game. So why the full touchdown spread – – and why has the line gone up from 5.5 points to this level? As noted above, the Jets’ loss last week was not just a mark in the loss column; it was a glimpse into a team that might be preternaturally bad. I will not take the Niners in this situation and I cannot take the Jets until I see a lot more positive thing there.
Buffalo – 5 at Miami (41): I think the Bills are the better team, but they are on the road and they are not yet – in my mind – reliably good. Ryan Fitzpatrick was not particularly good in Week 1 throwing 3 INTs. He may be playing for his job with Tua Tagovailoa over there on the bench.
Minnesota at Indy – 3 (49): This Total Line opened at 46 point and has been climbing all week long. Both teams disappointed in Week 1. One of them will dig a hole for themselves when this game is over.
Detroit at Green Bay – 6 (49.5) The Total Line here opened at 46 points and jumped to this level quickly. Since the Lions’ defense made Mitchell Trubisky look like a Pro Bowler in the 4th quarter last week allowing a 17-point lead to disappear like donuts from Sally Struthers’ pantry, I cannot imagine that Aaron Rodgers will be shut down. By the same token, the Packers’ defense gave up 34 points to the Vikes in about 18 minutes of possession last week and Matthew Stafford is as good as Kirk Cousins in directing an offense. This should be a shoot-out. I like the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.
Giants at Chicago – 5 (42): I shall anoint this contest as the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. These are two bad teams and two inconsistent teams. The only meaning for this game is to determine which one is less worse on this particular day. Ho-hum…
Jax at Tennessee – 7.5 (44): The spread for this game opened at 11.5 points. It is a battle of the undefeateds; that is about the only hype I can give to this game. If the Jags were to win outright here and go to 2-0 for the start of the season, look at their schedule. The next two opponents for the Jags are the Dolphins and the Bengals neither of which are fearsome opponents. If the Jags win here, they might start the season at 4-0. Seriously… The titans’ offense was anemic last week even though Derrick Henry ran the ball 31 times. This game is not as bad as the Giants/Bears game above, but I would not waste 3 hours of my life watching it.
Washington at Arizona – 7 (47): I think the Cards are significantly the better team here and they are at home. That defensive line for the WTFs will have to chase Kyler Murray around in 105-degree heat. One team here will suffer its first loss of the season – – and it will not be the home team.
Baltimore – 7 at Houston (50): The NFL schedule maker must hate Bill O’Brien; they pen the season against the Chiefs and then come back with a game against the Ravens. The Texans looked over-matched against the Chiefs last week; I think that will be the case here too.
KC – 8 at Chargers (47.5): The spread for this game opened at 6.5 points and the total Line was 50.5 points. The Chargers’ defense is a good unit and it will have to keep this game close because I cannot see the Chargers’ offense coming back from a big scoreboard deficit.
(Sun Nite) New England at Seattle -4 (44.4): Last week, Russell Wilson threw the ball on 64% of the Seahawks’ plays; that is way above average for play calling in Seattle. Meanwhile, Cam Newton ran the ball 15 times for the Pats last week; that is more than Tom Brady ran the ball in about two months’ worth of games for the Patriots last year. Newton gained 75 yards on those carries last week; the last time Tom Brady gained more than 756 yards in a full season was back in 2011 when Brady ran 43 times for 109 yards in 16 games. This is the Game of the Week. It will be interesting to see how two defensive-minded coaches decide to play each other.
(Mon Nite) New Orleans – 5.5 at Las Vegas (49): Michael Thomas will not play in this game; I think that is why the spread is only 5.5 points. The Raiders’ defense had trouble with Teddy Bridgewater and the Panthers last week; even at age 41, Drew Brees is a more formidable threat than Teddy Bridgewater. The Raiders will need to control the clock by running Josh Jacobs again and again – – and then again. If this becomes a shoot-out, the Raiders will be outgunned.
If you have been keeping count, you will notice that this week’s Six-Pack is actually a Five-Pack. Rather than toss in another pick that I really do not like very much, I will just keep calling these things “Six-Packs” with the understanding that the numbers may not square with rigorous accounting standards. So, let me review this week’s Six-Pack:
- Duke – 6 over BC
- Syracuse +21.5 against Pitt
- Panthers/Bucs OVER 47.5
- Steelers – 7 over Broncos
- Lions/Packers OVER 49.5
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………