Football Friday 10/16/20

It is a dreary, rainy day here in suburban DC; it is the kind of day that could tempt one to wake up, look out the window and then pull the covers back over one’s head to go back to sleep.  However, that is not the case in Curmudgeon Central – – because today is also Football Friday.

I shall begin with a review of last week’s Six-Pack – – which had 7 selections in it:

  • College:  1-2-0
  • NFL:  3-1-0
  • Combined:  4-3-0

Going back to the start of all this “Six-Packing” for the season, the records are:

  • College:  5-8-1
  • NFL:  10-6-0
  • Combined:  15-14-1

 

College Football Commentary:

 

The coronavirus seemingly set its sights on SEC Football over the last week – – or perhaps the relatively lackadaisical approach to dealing with the virus in SEC Country for the last several months is beginning to show the consequences of such an approach.  Whatever.  Let me review the bidding:

  • Vandy/Missouri game has been postponed.  This is not a big deal even giving a nod to Mizzou for its win over LSU.  The Tigers already have two losses in conference play and Vandy is probably one of the ten worst teams playing at the moment.
  • LSU/Florida game has been postponed.  This might be a big deal because Florida is one game behind Georgia in the SEC East.  LSU has two losses in conference and its defense has been shredded twice this year.
  • Alabama coach, Nick Saban, and Alabama AD, Greg Byrne both tested positive for the coronavirus.  Saban is at home in quarantine and will not be allowed to coach remotely in this week’s game between #2 ranked Alabama and #3 ranked Georgia.  Steve Sarkissian will be in charge on the sidelines for what is the best game on the weekend card.
  • Ole Miss played Alabama last week and Rebels’ coach, Lane Kiffin, said this week that the team had “some positive tests” but there has been no shutdown at Ole Miss and the game against Arkansas this weekend is still on.

All that good stuff happened after last weekend’s eruption by Florida Coach, Dan Mullen who thought that there were too many students in the stadium at Texas A&M and that their presence gave the Aggies the boost they needed to beat the gators.  Mullen ranted that he wanted 80,000 people in the stands at The Swamp this week for the LSU game – – COVID-19 protocols be damned.  For the record, the attendance at College Statin was 24,000 in a stadium that holds well in excess of 100,000; it was not “jam-packed”…

  • Memo to Florida Coach, Dan Mullen:  Not to worry coach; there will not be any fans in The Swamp this weekend and neither will you or your team be there.  The virus has intervened to cause the game to be postponed.
  • Take the week off and cut back on the caffeine…

And speaking of the SEC, I presume you have noticed that there seems to be a tectonic shift in SEC football so far this year.  For the last decade or so, the signature element of SEC football has been the presence of big, strong, tough and stingy defenses.  That is not quite the story of 2020 SEC football:

  • Florida has given up 495 yards per game and a total of 100 points in its three games.  Even so, the Gators’ record is 2-1.
  • Alabama has given up 473 yards per game and a total of 100 points in its three games.  The Tide’s record is a perfect 3-0.
  • LSU has given up 494.7 yards per game and a total of 96 points in its three games.  The Tigers’ record is 1-2.
  • You get the idea…

The SEC team that appears to be following the “old-school SEC script” in 2020 is Georgia.  So far, the Bulldogs are only allowing 236.7 yards per game and 12.3 points per game; that is the sort of football I have come to expect from a top-shelf SEC team.

Texas A&M beat Florida 41-38.  Florida was ranked #4 in the country at kickoff.  The Gators led 38-31 with 6 minutes left in the game but that porous Florida defense mentioned above could not seal the deal.  An 81-yard TD pass tied the game with 4:30 left on the clock and then the Aggies won it with a 26-yard field goal with 2 seconds left on the clock.  Florida may need to beat Georgia and then win out to be the SEC East champion this year.

Georgia beat Tennessee 44-21.  Tennessee led 21-17 at the half and then never moved the scoreboard again.  The Vols had been running the ball for 200+ yards per game  coming to the kickoff here.  I said last week that it would be interesting to see if they might be able to sustain that against an excellent Georgia defense.  In short, they could not.  Tennessee’s running game for the day was 27 carries for minus-I yards.  That stat may be a tad misleading since sacks count as negative rushing yards in college football.  In terms of real running plays where an actual running back is handed the ball on a designed play, the Vols ran the ball 16 times and gained 36 yards.  I guess that is a better stat line – – but it is still miserable.

Missouri beat LSU 45-41.  The LSU defense – something that has been  a source of pride in Baton Rouge for the last decade or so – simply collapsed once again.  Mizzou had 586 yards on offense and the LSU defense could not hold the 41-38 lead that it had at the end of the 3rd quarter.

Auburn beat Arkansas 30-28.  Maybe I need to begin to take Arkansas more seriously than has been the case for the last 3 years when they were outclassed by SEC competition.  Or … maybe … Auburn is not all that good and the glory that was Bo Nix may be nothing more than a phantasm.  Moreover, there was a controversial and critically important officiating call in the final 20 seconds that went Auburn’s way and that allowed the Tigers to connect on a 39-yard field goal on the next play to win the game.

Kentucky beat Mississippi State 24-2.  The Air Raid Offense was clearly grounded last week.  Two Bulldog QBs threw the ball a total of 70 times in the game; Kentucky intercepted 6 of those throws.  Do not get the idea that Kentucky was dominant here, however. The Wildcats’ offense was a meager 157 yards for the day and only managed to make 10 first downs.

Alabama beat Ole Miss 63-48.  I said last week that Ole Miss would not be able to stop Alabama on offense with what was the worst ranked defense in college football at the time.  Sixty-three points allowed would seem to validate that analysis.  That Ole Miss defense that ranked dead last in the nation as of last week gave up 723 yards to Alabama and 306 of those yards came on the ground.  Alabama recorded 37 first downs in the game.  At the same time, there was a meltdown by the Alabama defense which allowed 48 points and 647 yards for the game.  Let me do some math for you here; the total offense by both teams in this game was 1370 yards; that is the most ever in a regulation SEC game.

Oklahoma beat Texas 53-45 – – and it took four OTs to get to that ending.  Texas was down by 14 points going into the 4th quarter but managed to find a way to get the game to OT, but that was all she wrote for the Longhorns.  Both the Sooners and the Longhorns now have 2 conference losses opening the door for one of the other Big-12 teams to be the conference champ in 2020.

K-State beat TCU  21-14.  This was not a spectacular game in terms of scoring or eye-popping stats – – but – – K-State is undefeated in Big-12 games putting them 2 full games ahead of Texas and Oklahoma in that race.  This win is the second time this year that K-state has won a road game where they were underdogs.  For the record, Iowa State and Oklahoma State are also undefeated in conference play so far this year…

Clemson beat Miami 42-17.  The Clemson defense put the clamps on for the second half.  Miami only managed 210 yards of offense for the entire game; but in 8 possessions in the second half, the Miami offense produced these results:

  1. Punt
  2. Interception
  3. Punt
  4. Turnover on downs
  5. Interception
  6. Punt
  7. TD – – getting the score to 35-17
  8. Interception.

Meanwhile the Clemson offense was balanced and methodical gaining 292 yards in the air and 258 more yards on the ground.  Miami is a good team, but it is not quite ready for “Prime Time” as defined by Clemson and other CFP contenders.

Notre Dame beat Fla State 42-26.  The story for this game can be summarized simply and succinctly.  The Irish ran the ball for 353 yards in this game, more than 9 yards per attempt.  End of message…

 

College Games of Interest:

 

UNC – 12.5 at Florida State (64):  The spread opened at 8 points and has been expanding all week long.  One sportsbook has it at 13.5 points this morning and indeed this line could go higher before kickoff.  Rankings do not mean much in 2020 but UNC is ranked as high as #5 in the country in the AP poll this week and Florida State is a mess.  I am tempted to take the game to go OVER, but I will resist that temptation.  However, I do like the Tar Heels to win and cover even on the road; put it in the Six-Pack.

Pitt at Miami – 12.5 (47.5):  The Panthers have lost two games in a row when they were favored.  Miami is coming off a spanking by Clemson (see above).  It will be =interesting to see which team – if any – suffers from a “hangover” in this game.

Ole Miss – 1.5 at Arkansas (75):  Ole Miss cannot seem to stop anyone on offense, and no one has shut down the Ole Miss offense so far this year.  This could be an exciting game to watch.  Arkansas’ defense has been decent so far this year, but if Ole Miss can put up 48 points on Alabama, I wonder if the Hogs can keep pace.  I’ll take Ole Miss and lay the points; put it in the Six-Pack.

Texas A&M – 4.5 at Mississippi St. (54):  Which version of the Mississippi St. offense will show up here?

Georgia at Alabama – 4.5 (56.5):  I cited some Georgia defensive stats above that are impressive; here is another one:

  • In three games so far this year, the Dawgs have not surrendered a TD when the opponent has gotten to the Red Zone.

Meanwhile, Alabama is averaging 560.3 yards of offense per game and 51 points per game.  This is clearly the Game of the Week and it is on in prime-time tomorrow night…

BC at Va Tech – 13 (62):  Both teams are 2-1 on the season; both teams have outscored opponents by a total of 17 points for the season; BC does this by keeping scores low; Tech does this by scoring a lot and allowing lots of scores.  Given those similarities, I think that spread is very fat; I’ll take BC plus the points here; put it in the Six-Pack.

 

NFL Commentary:

 

The Raiders beat the Chiefs 40-32.  The Raiders were an 11.5-point underdog in the game and hung in with the Chiefs in a high scoring affair; most teams cannot do that.  Derek Carr played up to and equal to Patrick Mahomes in the game.  The Chiefs’ defense was spotty here letting the Raiders have the ball for more than 35 minutes in the game.  Also, the Raiders were 7-14 on 3rd down conversions and 2-2 on fourth down conversions.  This is a signature win for the Jon Gruden Raiders.

The Panthers beat the Falcons 23-16.  That result got both the coach, Dan Quinn, and the GM, Thomas Dimitroff fired in mid-season.  This was an “unusual” loss for the Falcons because it was not the defense that failed to perform; here it was the offense that underwhelmed.  Terry Bridgewater continued to excel as the Panthers’ QB throwing for 313 yards for the game.

The Texans beat the Jags 30-14.  I said last week I expected a “dead cat bounce” from the Texans in this game and they did indeed “bounce” to get their first win of the season over a miserable opponent.  Deshaun Watson threw for 359 yards and the Texans amassed 486 yards offense in the game.  Now, can they sustain that sort of play…?  The Jags just stink; there is no deep insight to be sought there.

The Steelers beat the Eagles 38-29.  In last year’s NFL Draft Analysis, I said that Chase Claypool did not look like a TE to me but looked as if he could be a WR in the NFL.  Well, that is what the Steelers have done with him and he merely caught 4 TD passes in Sunday’s game.   The Steelers’ defense gave up a lot of points here, but they did have 5 sacks and 2 INTs in the game.  The Eagles unveiled Travis Fulgham as a starting WR.  Fulgham was picked up off the waiver wire; he had been in camp with the Lions but did not make the team.  Remember, he is also the guy who caught the game winning TD against the Niners two weeks ago and here is what he did against a very good Steelers’ defense last week:

  • 10 receptions for 151 yards and 1 TD

So, here is a question:

  • Who did the Lions keep on their roster and their practice squad ahead of Travis Fulgham and when can we expect to see those guys unleashed on Lions’ opponents?

The Rams beat the WTFs 30-10.  Alex Smith not only got on the field; he played a bit more than half the game.  His stats would lead you to believe that he was awful – and he was surely not particularly good – but consider that he got nothing in terms of protection from his OL.  Smith’s stat line was 9 for 17 for 37 yards.  Last week, I said that Aaron Donald versus the WTFs’ OL would be something to watch.  Well here is what Aaron Donald did – and what the Rams defense did last week:

  • Donald:  4 solo tackles, 4 sacks, 1 forced fumble
  • Rams defense:  8 sacks and total yardage allowed of 108 yards.  Held the WTFs to 2-13 on third downs and 0-1 on fourth downs

The Cowboys beat the Giants 27-24.  The question going into this game was easy;  Would the miserable Giants’ offense be able to do any business against the miserable Cowboys’ defense?  The answer is that it could, and it did – – but not enough.  The Cowboys lost Dak Prescott to a gruesome ankle injury, but Andy Dalton came in and played well enough to get the Cowboys a win that they needed to take over as the NFC East division leader at 2-3-0.

The Cards beat the Jets 30-10.  The Jets led the game 7-3 in the first half, then reality set in.  Kyler Murray to DeAndre Hopkins continued to work like a charm here; the pair combined for 131 yards and a TD.  The question that comes out of this game is simple:

  • Just how bad are the NY Jets?
  • Are they 2-14 bad?  Or 1-15 bad?  Or …

The Ravens beat the Bengals 27-3.  The score pretty much tells you how this game unfolded; it was domination by the Ravens’ defense from start to finish.  The Ravens’ offense looked lethargic most of the day, but it really did not matter; the Bengals were never a real threat to get to double digits on the scoreboard.  Joe Burrow was sacked 7 times and the Bengals ran up a total of 208 yards of offense in the game.

The Dolphins beat the Niners 43-17.  If you just look at the score, you would figure that Ryan Fitzpatrick had a monster day and the Niners could not keep up.  Well, you would be half right; Fitzpatrick was 22-28 for 350 yards and 3 TDs; that is a rather good stat line for a game.  However, the real story here is the Dolphins’ defense which shut down the Niners’ offense to the point that Jimmy Garoppolo was benched in the second half for inefficiency; he was held to a miserable day:

  • 7 for 17 for 77 yards with zero TDs and 2 INTs

However, his replacement, CJ Beathard, did not do all that much better with a stat line of:

  • 9 for 18 for 94 yards with 1 TD and zero INTs

The Browns beat the Colts 32-23.  The Browns are not 4-1; this is not the same sort of team that we have seen fielded by the Browns’ organization over the last 5 years or so; these guys can run the ball and throw the ball and play defense.  This is a competent football team – – and that has not been the case in Cleveland recently.  The Colts are good on defense, but I thought they would be much better on offense with Philip Rivers at QB than they have shown so far in 2020.

The Seahawks beat the Vikings 27-26.  Leading 26-21, the Vikes had the ball at the Seattle 6 yardline 4th and 1.  The Seahawks had only 1 timeout and there were 2 minutes to go in the game.  The Vikes went for the first down that would seal the win; they did not get it and Russell Wilson took the Seahawks 94 yards in a minute and 42 seconds to win the game with a TD  pass to DK Metcalf.  I cannot fault Vikes for that decision; I have to give massive kudos to the Seahawks’ offense for that final drive.

The Saints beat the Chargers  30-27.  This one took OT and the Saints had to rally from a 20-3 deficit in the second quarter to get the win.  Drew Brees was effective when he had to be; Emmanuel Sanders caught 12 passes for 122 yards in the game.  Justin Herbert still has lots to learn about being an NFL QB, but all the tools are at his disposal.  He got the Chargers in position to kick a game winning field goal from 50 yards with no time left in regulation time – – but it doinked off the upright and the Chargers lost in OT.

The Titans beat the Bills 42-16.  To call this win “convincing” would be an understatement; the Titans answered any and all questions about their readiness after their COVID-19 engagement.  The Bills sealed their fate in this game with 3 turnovers.  Ryan Tannehill was not spectacular, but he was efficient going 21-28 for 195 yards and 3 TDs and no picks.

 

NFL Games:

 

There are two postponed games this weekend.  The Jets will not fly to LA to play the Chargers and the Dolphins will not visit the Broncos in Denver because the Broncos will be in New England to play the Pats as a result of a previous scheduling gyration.  Such is the 2020 NFL schedule.  So, to keep things interesting, the Jets will fly to Miami to play the Dolphins since both teams had a postponement this week.

There are 4 teams on Bye Weeks:

  1. The Chargers need to regroup after their OT loss last week.
  2. The Raiders can bask in the glory of last week’s upset over the Chiefs.
  3. The Saints are 2-2 and need to string some wins together.
  4. The Seahawks have things going their way – – and want to keep things that way.

There are two games this weekend where the lines have moved significantly as the week progressed; they will be noted below…

Chicago at Carolina – 1.5 (44.5):  Here are two trend stats that make me wonder how – and why – folks track this sort of stuff:

  1. Teddy Bridgewater is 30-9 against the spread as a starting QB
  2. Teddy Bridgewater is 17-4 against the spread as a starter after a win in the previous game.

I liked the Panthers in this game before I found those trend stats.  I like the way the Panthers’ defense is playing and I am not sold on the Bears’ offense regardless of who the QB might be.  Yes, the Bears’ defense is good, but it is not the Steel Curtain.  I like the Panthers at home to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.

Detroit – 3 at Jax (55):  For the first time, I am declaring a dead-heat in the race to be the Dog-Breath Game of the Week and this game is part of that dead-heat.  If this is the game in the Sunday afternoon early slot broadcast in your viewing area, I feel your pain.

Atlanta at Minnesota – 4 (54.5):  The Total Line opened the week at 57 points and has been slowly dropping all week long; one sportsbook has it at 54 points this morning.  This is the second game in the dead-heat for Dog-Breath Game of the Week; after all, the teams bring a combined record of 1-9 to the field.  Will the Falcons exhibit a “dead-cat bounce” here as did the Texans last week after jettisoning their coach and GM?   Does it matter? 

Houston at Tennessee – 3.5 (53):  Speaking of a “dead-cat bounce”, the problem is that the cat is actually dead [Forget Erwin Schrodinger here…] and it does not bounce twice.  This is a short week for the Titans having played on Tuesday night.

Washington at Giants – 3 (43):  Here we have the third game in the dead-heat as the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  You almost have to root for a tie game here because neither team gives any indication that it deserves to win one.  It is another game where the combined records of the teams is 1-9 and they have been outscored by a combined 105 points.  Feel sad for me, please; this is the game in the early Sunday afternoon slot that I will get to watch…

Cleveland at Pittsburgh – 3 (51):  This is my runner-up for Game of the Week.  In addition to pairing two teams that are playing well, there is the interesting storyline of Myles Garrett renewing acquaintances with folks on the Steelers’ offensive line – – and presumably with Mason Rudolph during the warm-ups.  The Browns are at their best when they run the ball and control time and tempo; the Steelers play tough run defense.  This should be a great game to watch.  Here is a trend stat for you:

  • The last time the Browns beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh was in 2003.

Baltimore – 7.5 at Philly (48):  You can find the spread on this game as high as 9 points as of this morning; I suspect the line will trend up between now and game time.  The Eagles’ DL leads the NFL in sacks – – but they look to struggle here against the highly mobile Lamar Jackson.  Speaking of struggling, everybody’s offense struggles against the Ravens’ defense.

Cincy at Indy – 8 (46):  The Bengals had to contend with the Ravens’ defense last week and now they go on the road to play the Colts’ defense.  Joe Burrow will not quit, but he and his running buddies are over-matched here.

Green Bay at Tampa Bay “pick ‘em” (55.5):  This is my Game of the Week.  Two Hall of Fame QBs have at each other.  The Bucs bring the statistically superior defense to the party yielding 55 fewer yards per game than the Packers.  On the other hand, the Packers bring the statistically superior offense to the party averaging 80.5 more yards per game than the Bucs.

(Sun Nite) Rams – 3 at SF (51.5):  Here is one of the games with an unusually large line movement.  The spread opened with the Niners as 3-point favorites and it has flipped; the line has moved a full 6 points.  The Niners played poorly last week and may be suffering from “Super Bowl Hangover”.  The Rams’ defense was dominant last week against the WTFs, but they will not have it nearly as easy this week – – right?  I like the  Rams to win and cover here on the road; put it in the Six-Pack.

Jets at Miami – 10 (47):  The spread in this game presents two interesting twists:

  1. This is the 22nd game for Brian Flores as the head coach of the Dolphins.  AND it is the 1st time in his tenure there when his team has been favored.  And by 10 points nonetheless…!
  2. In fact, the last time the Dolphins were favored in a game predates Flores arrival in Miami.  It was back in Week 16 of the 2018 season when the Dolphins lost outright to the Jags as a 3-point favorite.  The coach of that Dolphins’ team was Adam Gase.

There is not a lot of reason to want to see this game unless you think the Dolphins at 2-3 can rally and threaten in the AFC East.

Denver at New England – 9 (45):  The Broncos have a win this year; that is good news.  The fact that their win came over the Jets mitigates the value a bit.  As of now, the word is that both Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore will be ready to play; hence the 9-point spread…

(Mon Nite 5:00 PM ET) KC – 4.5 at Buffalo (57):  The Bills played last Tuesday and here they are playing on a Monday.  Keep this up, and they will think they are back in college playing a MAC schedule.  Both teams suffered their first loss of the season last week and neither one wants to make it two in a row.  The two young QBs here are both playing very well this year.  I smell a shoot-out here; I like the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack. 

(Mon Nite 8:15 PM ET) Arizona – 1 at Dallas (55) :  Here is the other game this week with major spread movement.  The line opened with the Cowboys as 3-point favorites, so the line moved 4 points and flipped the favorite.  The Cowboys will have Andy Dalton at QB; the Cards will be without Chandler Jones as their premier edge rusher.  I expect a heavy dose of Ezekiel Elliott in this game and a lot of playmaking out of Kyler Murray.

Let me summarize the Six-Pack:

  1. UNC – 12.5 over Florida State
  2. Ole Miss – 1.5 over Arkansas
  3. BC +13 against Va Tech
  4. Panthers – 1.5 over Bears
  5. Rams – 3 over Niners
  6. Chiefs/Bills OVER 57

            Finally, here is a cogent NFL observation from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Wishing: It’s a terrible thing the NFL did canceling the Pro Bowl game for this season. The league should get rid of it forever.”

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

 

 

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