Football Friday 11/13/20

Here in Curmudgeon Central, I always look forward to Friday morning in the Fall and early Winter because that is the time to create a new version of Football Friday.  About once a season, Friday the Thirteenth intersects with Football Friday making me wonder if making any selections under those circumstances makes even a shred of sense.  Today there is an extra burden:

  • Football Friday overlaps with Friday the Thirteenth … in the midst of 2020.

Oh well, I have already had a Six-Pack go 0-6-0 earlier this year, so how much worse can today be?  <He asks timorously.>

First a review of last week’s Six-Pack which only had 5 entries:

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

That brings the season totals – – embarrassingly – – to:

  • College:  9-13-1
  • NFL:  14-15-1
  • Combined:  23-28-2


College Football Commentary:


Since this is 2020 – – the year that will forever be known for COVID-19 – – I suppose it makes sense to acknowledge the breadth and depth of the coronavirus impact on college football for this weekend.  Long ago, when just about every sport in the US was shut down, I said that football had a more significant challenge to overcome than other sports that might be able to create a “bubble environment” or more significant challenge than baseball where social distancing is far more prevalent as part of the way the game is played.  Moreover, I said that colleges would have a more difficult time controlling viral spread than the NFL for cost reasons and because college players are also out and about in the general student population.  Well, this week’s cancellations and postponements give you a snapshot picture of the difficulties facing college football this Fall.

  1. Memphis at Navy – – postponed
  2. Texas A&M at Tennessee – – postponed
  3. Pitt at Georgia Tech – – postponed
  4. Ohio State at Maryland – – cancelled
  5. Air Force at Wyoming – – cancelled
  6. Coastal Carolina at Troy – – postponed
  7. Auburn at Mississippi State – – postponed
  8. North Texas at UAB – – cancelled
  9. La-Monroe at Arkansas State – – postponed
  10. Georgia at Missouri – – postponed
  11. Rice at La Tech – – postponed
  12. Alabama at LSU – – postponed

These twelve “schedule disruptions” have hit small programs and big programs and they are widely spread geographically.  Some conferences have some contingency openings in their concocted schedules for 2020 and others do not.  Four games in the SEC are postponed while one game in each of the Big-10 and the PAC-12 have been cancelled.

BYU beat Boise St. 51-17.  The game was in Boise and it was in doubt at the half; BYU led at that point by only 16-3.  However, an injury to Boise’s QB in the first half was a bad omen for the Mustangs; then, the floodgates opened.  BYU outgained Boise St 573 yards to 310 yards.  BYU QB, Zack Wilson had another excellent performance:

  • 21 of 27 for 359 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs

BYU is now 8-0 on the season.  As an independent, BYU has had to patch together a schedule and it is not a tough schedule by any means.  However, this sort of win could keep them on track for a New Year’s Day Bowl Game.  The Cougars have only two games remaining on the schedule they cobbled together for this year; both are at home.  They will be favored next week over North Alabama; they will likely be favored on December 12th over San Diego State.

The topsy-turvy results from Big-10 action last week fits right in with the strangeness of events in 2020.  Let me start with the fact that Maryland beat Penn State 35-19.  In the last 44 times these teams have met, Maryland has won only 3 times including last weekend.  Maryland led 35-7 at the start of the 4th quarter so Penn State made the score look much more respectable in garbage time.  Penn State is 0-3 on the season and may be on track for its worst season in a VERY long time.  There have even been some rumblings that there is dissatisfaction with coach James Franklin in Happy Valley.  I have no inside information on those rumors/rumblings but here is something about which I am confident:

  • If Penn State buys out James Franklin’s contract, he will land in a very plush coaching situation very quickly.

The Penn State program took another hit earlier this week when RB, Journey Brown, announced that he would need to stop playing football due to a heart condition.  It really has been a bad year in State College…

Iowa beat Michigan State 49-7.  What does this tell us about these two teams?  Who knows?  Michigan St lost to Rutgers in Game 1 and then beat Michigan in Ann Arbor.  Then it tossed this clunker out there for examination.  Iowa had lost two close games – – to Purdue and Northwestern – coming into this. So, …

  • Is Iowa really good?
  • Is Michigan State that bad?
  • By the way, what does that say about Michigan?

Speaking of the Wolverines, Indiana beat Michigan 38-21.  Indiana is not a team built on its defense – – but the Hoosiers were able to hold the Wolverines to 13 yards rushing for the game on 18 carries.  What that says to me about Michigan is that the Wolverines are not particularly good.

Northwestern beat Nebraska 21-13.  Northwestern is undefeated in the Big-10 West and Nebraska has yet to win a game.  The Huskers led 13-7 at the half but were shut out in the second half.  Strangely, the stats for this game would suggest a comfortable victory for Nebraska:

  • First downs:  Nebraska 28  Northwestern 14
  • Total offense:  Nebraska 442 yards  Northwestern  317
  • Turnovers:  Nebraska 2  Northwestern  2
  • Penalties:  Nebraska 9 for 55 yards  Northwestern  8 for 64 yards

Northwestern is 3-0 this year – – last year the Wildcats won a total of 3 games; things may be looking up in Evanston as much as they are looking bleak in State College…

In a battle of winless teams, Minnesota bludgeoned Illinois 41-14.  Here are two stats to demonstrate the dominance here:

  1. Minnesota outgained Illinois on offense 556 yards to 287 yards.
  2. Minnesota rushing offense = 325 yards; Illinois total offense = 287 yards.

There was one beacon of normalcy in the Big-10 last week.  Ohio State beat Rutgers 49-27.  The score was 35-3 at halftime; the final score was not close – – but it was much more respectable than it was at halftime.  Ohio State is the consistent performer in the Big-10 this year; and once again, Justin Fields was outstanding posting this stat line:

  • 24 of 28 for 314 yards with 5 TDs and 0 INTs

Fields now has thrown 11 incomplete passes this year and he has thrown 11 TDs this year.

In SEC action last week, Florida beat Georgia 44-28.  I said last week that Georgia’s injury-riddled defense would not be able to handle Florida; then that injured defense lost another starter due to a targeting call in the 2nd quarter.  Florida’s offense is for real; QB Kyle Trask threw 4 TD passes in the game and this is the 5th straight game he has done that.  This is the second loss for Georgia; it will take a miracle for them to remain relevant in the SEC let alone in terms of the CFP.  It looks today as if the SEC Championship will come down to Alabama and Florida.

Mississippi St. beat Vandy 24-17.  This was not exactly an offensive breakout for Mississippi State against a mediocre-at-best Vandy defense, but it was a win.  Vandy won the stat battle gaining 478 yards on offense to only 224 yards for the Bulldogs.  [Aside: Mississippi St. rushing stats for the day were 10 carries for minus-22 yards.  Ugh!]  Vandy turned the ball over 5 times in the game (3 INTs and 2 lost fumbles).  Therein lies the story…

Over in the Big-12, Oklahoma St. beat K-State 20-18.  The Cowboys are now 5-1; the Wildcats drop to 4-2 for the season.  Oklahoma State won despite gaining just 261 yards on offense.

Oklahoma beat Kansas 62-9.  Kansas is 0-7 and they are a mess.  This game was 31-3 at halftime; the score was 62-3 until Kansas scored a TD with 5 seconds left in the game.  In the passing game, the Jayhawks were notably inept:

  • 14 of 35 for 151 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs

Iowa St. beat Baylor 38-31.  It took a rally by the Cyclones to pull off this win after trailing at halftime 21-10.  In the span of about 16 minutes of the second half, Iowa State scored 28 unanswered points to turn the game around.  Iowa State is the “other Big-12 team” with only  1 loss on the year.

The PAC-12 got rolling last weekend and USC beat Arizona St 28-27.  With 3 minutes to play, Arizona St led 27-14 but USC rallied to pull it out at the end.

Colorado beat UCLA 48-42.  Neither defense chose to show up here; the two teams combined to rack up 1003 yards on offense.  UCLA turned the ball over 4 times and were still in contention throughout the game; Colorado did not suffer a turnover.

Cincy beat Houston 38-10.  Once again, the Cincy defense took a high scoring offense and held it down.  The Bearcats gained 510 yards on offense to 282 for the Cougars.  In the run game, Cincy had 38 carries for 342 yards (9 yards per carry).

There were several interesting results out of the ACC last week.  UNC beat Duke 56-24.  At halftime, the Tar Heels led 42-10 and cruised in the second half to this victory.  The important stat here is the UNC ran the ball for 338 yards (7.2 yards per carry).

BC beat Syracuse 16-13.  This was a nail-biter for BC against a 1-win Syracuse squad.  The BC defense deserves a lot of credit here holding Syracuse to only 240 yards total offense for the day.  BC had offensive troubles too gaining only 288 yards total offense.  This was a classic “sandwich game” for BC.  Two weeks ago, BC played Clemson to a close game; next week, Notre Dame comes for a visit.

Pitt beat Florida St 41-17.  The game was close at halftime with the Panthers on top 24-17.  Then the Pitt defense shut down the Seminoles for whole the second half.  Florida St. rushing stats look reasonable at first – – 35 carries for 146 yards.  In reality, the run game was marginal; 88 of those rushing yards came on a single TD run meaning the other 34 carries netted a total of 58 yards (1.7 yards per carry). Pitt also recorded 7 sacks in this game.

And in the biggest game of the day last weekend, Notre Dame beat Clemson 47-40 in Double OT.  This win keeps Notre Dame “CFP relevant” and could set up a rematch of these teams in the ACC Championship Game down the road.  An important stat from this game relates to the Irish run defense.  Clemson RB, Travis Etienne, was held to 28 yards on 18 carries.  Indeed, with Trevor Lawrence out of the game and in the COVID protocol, the Irish wanted to “stop the run”.  Nevertheless, holding the Clemson run game to 35 yards on 32 carries is most impressive.

And way down on the college football totem pole, La-Monroe lost again last week to Georgia State 52-34.  La-Monroe is now 0-8 but even a cursory glance at their record gives you an indication of why that record is on the books:

  • The Warhawks have given up 31 points or more in all 8 games.
  • The only time the La-Monroe offense scored more than 31 points, the defense yielded 52 points.
  • The Warhawks’ defense yields an average of 37.9 points per game.

La-Monroe gets a reprieve this week; As noted on the list above, its game against Arkansas State has been postponed until December 12th.


College Games of Interest:


(Fri Nite) Iowa – 3.5 at Minnesota (58):  Both teams have been disappointing this year; both teams had comfortable wins last week.

Arkansas at Florida – 17 (59.5):  The Gators must avoid a let down here after a big win last week over Georgia.  Arkansas has surprised a lot of folks this year, but they face a formidable task in controlling a Florida offense averaging 42.2 points per game.

Notre Dame – 13.5 at BC (50):  Talk about the potential for a let-down game…  BC has always played Notre Dame tough even though every year it looks as if BC is overmatched on paper.  This is my college football Game of the Week.

Miami at Va Tech – 2.5 (68):  The Hokies lost at home last week to Liberty and yet they are favored here.  Hmmm…

Wisconsin – 4 at Michigan (53):  The Badgers trounced Illinois in the opening game of the year and then had two games cancelled in the following weeks.  Wisconsin football has been its own little hotspot of COVID-19 for the past couple of weeks and it is not certain if QB, Graham Mertz is going to be out of the protocol and available for the game.  Meanwhile, Michigan is floundering with whomever they put on the field.  Call this a “mystery game”.

Indiana – 7 at Michigan St. (52):  Indiana is 3-0 so far this year and is ranked in the top Ten for the first time since 1969.  As a reference point, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969.  The last time Indiana started a season with a 4-0 record was in 1990.  As a reference point, the Gulf War took place in 1990.

Northwestern – 3 at Purdue (50.5):  Both teams are undefeated so far this year.  Purdue is 2-0 and has a point differential of only 11 points.  Meanwhile, Northwestern has only allowed 36 points in its 3 wins.

Illinois at Rutgers – 7 (52):  I mentioned above how Illinois was dominated last week by Minnesota.  Adding insult to injury, they are now a full touchdown underdog to Rutgers.  Normally, Rutgers is not a full touchdown favorite over anything other than Electoral College.  I ran across in interesting stat:

  • The last time Rutgers was favored in a Big-10 conference game was in 2014.

Cal at Arizona St. – 3.5 (46):  At one point, the entire Cal defensive line was in COVID-19 protocol isolation.  Are they rested, ready and recovered?

Penn State – 3 at Nebraska (56):  Two winless teams here…  Something’s gotta give.

[You will note that I have not put any selections from the college football lineup this week in the Six-Pack.  I did not forget to do that; I really do not like any of these numbers.]


NFL Commentary:


Unless you have been in a coma since the start of the NFL season, you must have heard folks talking about how Tom Brady and Drew Brees are trading back and forth the record for most TD passes in a career.  Well, I ran across another “competition” involving Tom Brady and another active NFL QB that has gotten little to no mention.  As of this morning, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger are tied for 3rd place all-time in the number of times they have been sacked during their careers.  Here are those “standings”:

  1. Brett Favre – – sacked 525 times
  2. John Elway – – sacked 516 times
  3. Tom Brady – – sacked 513 times
  4.  Ben Roethlisberger – – sacked 513 times.

It is reasonable to expect both Brady and Roethlisberger to “catch up to” Elway by the end of the 2020 season.  If either Brady or Roethlisberger has a masochistic streak and actually wants to “catch up to” Brett Favre on this list, they may need to sign up for another full season of NFL play.  Stay tuned…

Having mentioned Ben Roethlisberger here, I can segue easily into a mention of Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Again, you must have heard at least a dozen times by now that the Steelers are off to the best start of a season in franchise history at 8-0.  Well, that achieves something else as well; those 8 wins to start the season guarantee that the Steelers under Mike Tomlin will not have a losing season.  Why is that a big deal?

  • Tomlin has been in Pittsburgh for 14 seasons and the Steelers have never had a losing record in that span.
  • Marty Schottenheimer is the only other head coach to begin his NFL coaching career with 14 consecutive seasons without a losing record.

If anyone wanted to propose a “Mount Rushmore” of active NFL coaches, I think the three coaches who would be on the monument without much argument would be Bill Belichick, Andy Reid and Mike Tomlin.  You can argue among ourselves about who the other guy ought to be…

I must have heard this wrongly but just in case let me throw it out there.  When Jim Nantz and Tony Romo were doing the Dallas/Pittsburgh game last week, I think I heard Romo praise Cowboy QB, Garrett Gilbert, saying – – this is a paraphrase – –

  • He’s poised back there.  When he gets protection and his receivers get open, he gets the ball to them on time.

Remember, I am not sure that is what Tony Romo said but whatever I heard oor thought I heard made me do a double-take because if Joe Flabeetz gets protection from his OL and Joe Flabeetz’ receivers get open, the strong likelihood is that Joe Flabeetz is going to get the ball to the receiver on time.  If that were not the case, he ought not be on the field as a starter in an NFL game.  Gilbert played a fine game for his first start in the NFL, so I doubt that Tony Romo was giving him some sort of back-handed compliment.  But just in case…

The Chiefs beat the Panthers 33-31.  Conventional wisdom has it that the way to beat the Chiefs is to control the clock to keep Patrick Mahomes and company on the sidelines.  Well the Panthers did just that last week; they had the ball for 38 of the 60 minutes in the game.  Yet, it was not enough.  The Panthers benefited from the return of Christian McCaffrey who scored 2 TDs and accounted for 151 yards from scrimmage.  The Panthers did more than slow down the Chiefs’ running game (12 carries for 30 yards for the game) but Mahomes and his receivers found ways to get the win.  Travis Kelce caught 10 passes for 159 yards.

The Falcons beat the Broncos 34-27.  The Broncos trailed 27-6 and almost climbed out of that hole to send the game to OT.  The other way to look at this is that the Falcons ran off to a 27-6 lead and almost blew another big lead.  The Falcons have won 3 out of 4 games under interim coach Raheem Morris.

The Giants beat the WTFs 23-20.  The Giants led at the half 20 -3 and hung on to win.  WTF’s QB, Kyle Allen had to leave the game with a season-ending ankle injury and Alex Smith took over going 24 of 32 for 325 yards with 1 TD and 3 INTs – – two of those three INTs came in the last 5 minutes of the 4th quarter  Here are three fun facts:

  1. Daniel Jones record as a starting QB is 5-16-0.
  2. Four of his five wins have come over the WTFs.
  3. He is 1-16-0 against the rest of the NFL

The Giants ran for 166 yards in this game against the front seven of the WTFs – – a unit that has 5 first round picks in the group.  That is nominally the strength of the WTF’s defense, and it did not show up last week.

The Texans beat the Jags 27-25.  The Jags had a shot at a 2-point conversion with 1:30 left to play to send the game to OT – – but it was not to be.  Rookie QB Jake Luton played as well as you would expect for a rookie 6th round pick to play  (26-38 for 304 yards) ; you cannot pin this loss on him.  The Jags’ defense gave up two long TDs in the game (passes of 77 yards and 57 yards). That was the difference.

The Vikes beat the Lions 34-20.  The Vikes ran the ball for 275 yards here; Dalvin Cook got 206 of them by himself.  Matthew Stafford had a sub-standard day going 23 of 32 for 211 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs.

The Raiders beat the Chargers 31-26.  A goal line stand by the Raiders sealed this win; the Chargers had three shots at the end zone from inside the 5 yardline and could not get the ball in the end zone.  The only good news for Chargers’ fans is that they did not go off and lead the game by 20 points and come from ahead to lose the game.  The Chargers outgained the Raiders 440 yards to 320 yards and controlled the ball 34:44 minutes to 25:16 – – and still lost.  The Raiders averaged 6.2 yards per rushing attempt in the game (26 carries for 160 yards).

The football gods seem to be torturing the Chargers; maybe the football gods did not want them to leave San Diego; maybe the football gods are just being capricious.  If you are a Charger fan, you are painfully aware of these stats; for the rest of you…:

  • In 2019, the Chargers were 2-9 in one-score games
  • In 2020, the Chargers are 1-6 in one-score games

The Bills beat the Seahawks 44-34.  Pin this loss squarely on the Seahawks’ defense.  Look at game results from around the NFL last week:

  1. Packers score 34 points – – and win
  2. Falcons score 34 points – – and win
  3. Vikes score 34 points – – and win
  4. Dolphins score 34 points – – and win
  5. Chiefs score 33 points – – and win
  6. Raiders score 31 points – – and win.
  7. Seahawks score 34 points and lose by 10 points!

The Seahawks showed plenty of poor tackling and a lack of tight coverage in the secondary; Josh Allen and the Bills exploited that from start to finish.  Allen finished the day with 415 yards passing and 4 TDs – – one running and three passing.  The Bills’ defense sacked Russell Wilson 5 times and created 4 turnovers, but the Seahawks still scored 34 points in the game.  Somehow, the Seahawks must figure out how to stop an offense that is slightly more adept than a middle-school JV squad.

The Ravens beat the Colts 24-10.  Maybe the Ravens defense won this game; maybe Philip Rivers’ lackluster play lost this game.  You make the call…  Neither offense showed much last week.  If these teams harbor hopes of advancing through the playoffs, they are going to have to figure out how to get their offenses to do something to help the defenses.  I do not know if Rivers cannot throw the ball downfield or if the play calling is so focused on dink-and-dunk that there is no long-passing game.  But that is what showed up on the field in this game – – no downfield passing game.  Also, I do not know what happened to the Colts’ run game here.  Philip Rivers threw the ball 43 times and Jonathan Taylor carried it 6 times.  Really?

The Steelers beat the Cowboys 24-19.  I said last week that this could be a let-down game for the Steelers; it was their 3rd straight road game and they had just beaten two tough opponents coming into this game as a double-digit favorite over a team starting a QB in his first NFL game.  And that is what the Steelers showed – – lack of energy for the first 25 minutes of the game.  Garrett Gilbert looked particularly good starting for the Cowboys at QB, but Ezekiel Elliott looked like a journeyman RB here.  He just does not look right to me…

The Dolphins beat the Cards 34-31.  Last week, the Dolphins won because of Tua Tagovailoa and not despite him as had been the case two weeks ago.  Tua led a 4th quarter comeback from 10 points down to win this game.  The Dolphins’ defense also rose to the 4th quarter occasion shutting out the Cards for the final 17 and a half minutes in the game.  The Dolphins have won 5 of their last 6 games.

The Saints beat the Bucs 38-3.  The game was as lopsided as the score indicates.  The Bucs did just about nothing well in any phase of the game.  The Bucs abandoned the run in the 1st quarter of this game and only ran the ball 4 times in the game.  The stats say 5 times but one of those times was a kneel down at the end of the game to make it mercifully end.  Saints have now won 5 in a row and the rest of their schedule is soft.  Other than a game against the Chiefs, they do not play another team that has a winning record as of this morning.

The Pats beat the Jets 30-27.  For a game that ended with a field goal as time expired, this was not exciting.  Both teams showed significant flaws.  Seemingly good defensive plays and defensive stands always seemed tainted by the fact that neither offense was consistently good.  I am not a scout nor am I a sports kinesiologist, but it sure looks to me as if Cam Newton still has a shoulder “problem”.  On the few times he threw the ball downfield more than 10-12 yards, he looked to me to be “short-arming” the throw.  As someone who has a chronic shoulder injury, I know what short arming is and what it does, and it looks as if Newton is throwing the football that way.

Last night, the Colts went to Tennessee and beat the Titans 34-17.  The Titans had difficulty moving the ball on the Colts’ defense but that is not why the Titans lost the game.  The Colts ran up 430 yards of total offense on a Titans’ defense that was pushed around far too often.  On top of that the Titans’ special teams were less than proficient:

  • Shanked punt set up a Colts TD drive of only 27 yards
  • Punt blocked and returned for a Colts’ TD on the next possession.
  • Missed field goal


NFL Games:


The four teams enjoying a BYE Week are:

  1. Chiefs get a week off to prepare for an important division game against the Raiders next week.
  2. Cowboys get a week off to give Garrett Gilbert time to learn the names of his receivers.
  3. Falcons get a week off and are assured that they will not blow a double-digit lead this weekend.
  4. Jets get a week off to ponder why all of this is happening to them.

Cincy at Pittsburgh – 10.5 (49):  There is a question hanging around out there about Ben Roethlisberger’s availability for the game since he was in contact with another player who tested positive for COVID-19.  The fact that the line has not moved significantly from its opening for the week indicates to me that Roethlisberger will play.  If he has not practiced, can he be as effective as usual?  We shall see.  If the Steelers have to play Mason Rudolph at QB, that line is fat.  I am not ready to take a real plunge and take the Bengals on the Money Line (+375 this morning) but I think Joe Burrow and company can keep this inside the number.  I’ll take the Bengals plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack.

Washington at Detroit – 3.5 (46.5):  The Detroit Lions are favored by more than a field goal against another team comprised of players who also get paid to play football.  Really?  These are two bad teams; in a perfect world neither would get a win here.  Be thankful if your viewing area is not in or around  DC or Detroit; no other viewing area is going to select this game from the early NFL menu.  This is your Dog-Breath Game of the Week.

Houston at Cleveland – 3.5 (51):  The Total Line opened this week at 55.5 points.  Why the drop?  The best I can figure is that people are looking at and noticing that the forecast for Sunday is 80% chance of rain with winds at 31 miles per hour.  If that forecast is even close to correct, these teams could be hard-pressed to score; neither team has a dominant ground attack unless the Browns get Nick Chubb back in action and he plays up to his skill level.  I will go with the weatherman here; I’ll take the game to stay UNDER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Jax at Green Bay – 13.5 (51):  The Total Line here also opened the week at 55.5 points and seems to have dropped for the same reason as above in the Texans/Browns game. says that Sunday in Green Bay has an 80% chance of rain with a high temperature of 40 degrees with winds at 25 miles per hour.  I would obviously prefer to have Aaron Rodgers on my side of a selection than either Jake Luton or Gardner Minshew under normal circumstances; under adverse circumstances, that preference only increases.  However, I am not going to be laying almost two full TDs here; I will however take the game to stay UNDER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Philly – 3 at Giants (44):  These are not powerhouse teams, but it is a division game, and it does mean plenty to the Eagles who lead the NFC East at the moment.  Those factors rule it out of the Dog-Breath category.  There are conflicting trends at work here:

  • Giants are 3-11 in their last 14 games at home straight up.
  • Giants are 3-11 in their last 14 games at home against the spread.
  • Eagles are 10-1 in their last 11 games versus the Giants – – but – –
  • Eagles are 5-6 in their last 11 games versus the Giants against the spread.

I think the Eagles are the better team; I like them to win and cover here despite the last entry in that list above; put it in the Six-Pack.

Tampa – 5.5 at Carolina (50.5)  The Total Line here opened the week at 47 points and has risen slowly as the week went along.  I cannot concoct a weather-related reason for that.  The Panthers have played good opponents very tough this year and they have performed much better than I thought they would back in August.  However, this game could turn into a rout if Tom Brady and the Bucs’ offensive folks decide to show the world that they are not nearly as bad as they looked on national TV last week.  No selection here; I’ll pass…

Denver at Las Vegas – 4 (51):  The Raiders are squarely in the AFC playoff race at 5-3; the Broncos are not out of the playoff race – – but they have a steep hill to climb with a current record of 3-5.  It is too early to say this game is critical to the Raiders, but it is close to that.  One thing the Raiders cannot allow to happen is that they play lethargically here as they look ahead to next week and a meeting with the Chiefs.  Here is my vision for the game:

  • Raiders jump out to an early lead and build it to at least 17 points
  • Broncos wait until late in the 3rd quarter to come to life
  • Broncos rally furiously in 4th quarter to make it close – – but still lose the game

With all that scoring frenzy ongoing, I like this game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Buffalo at Arizona – 2.5 (56.5)  Here is your Game of the Week; the Total Line opened at 49 points and has risen by more than a touchdown’s worth of points since then.  Later on, there is a game matching two rookie QBs who have been impressive so far; this one matches a pair of young – but not rookie – QBs who have been more than impressive so far in 2020.  This game has “shootout” written all over it; it should be fun to watch.

Seattle at Rams – 2 (53.5):  The Seahawks lead the Rams in the NFC West by a game  [Aside:  Remember the Cards are in the mix here with the same record as the Rams.]  This game is important in terms of the NFC West outcome for next January.  The Seahawks have given up 243 points this year; to put that in perspective, that is 3 points more than the Lions have given up this season – – and the Lions stink.  It is not clear to me how the Seahawks will stop the Rams’ offense.  At the same time, the Seahawks have scored 274 points this year – – almost 35 points per game.  The Rams have a good defense, but the Seahawks seem to be able to score on anyone.  I see lots of big plays in this one; I like the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

SF at New Orleans – 10.5 (48.5)  There has been lots of line movement here.  The spread opened at 6.5 points and the Total Line was 53.5 points.  The Niners have an injury list beyond what is normal.  I would have taken the Saints if the spread had stayed where it was set but I am not going to lay two scores with that hook on top of the 10 points.

(Sun Nite) Baltimore – 7 at New England (43.5):  The outcome of this game depends on the Pats’ defense because the Ravens’ defense is going to hold the Pats under 20 points in the game.  I will not be surprised to see Jarrett Stidham at QB for the Pats late in this game.

Chargers at Dolphins – 1 (48.5):  Here are two rookie QBs who are lighting it up this year playing one against the other.  The oddsmaker set the spread so that this would turn out as a one-score game and we saw above what happens to the Chargers in one-score games.

(Mon Nite) Minnesota – 2.5 at Chicago (43.5):  This game is intriguing; the spread opened with the Bears as 2.5-point favorites and then it shifted to the Vikes being favored by the same number.  There are conflicting signals here:

  • Bears are home underdogs and have the better defense.  Usually a good selection criterion.
  • Bears have lost 3 games in a row.  Usually a bad selection criterion
  • Vikes have won 2 games in a row – including a win over the Packers who are better than the Bears.  Usually a good selection criterion
  • Vikes have Kirk Cousins at QB in a “Prime Time Game”.  Usually a bad selection criterion.  [Kirk Cousins in 0-9 in games on Monday Night Football.]

Dalvin Cook has been a monster since coming back from an injury earlier this year.  The Bears’ defense will key on stopping him first and putting the ball in Cousins’ hands.  Therein lies the key to the game because the Bears cannot rely on their offense to light up the scoreboard against anyone.

Finally, here is an observation by Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times regarding a ludicrous incident in a recent NFL game:

“The NFL suspended Bears receiver Javon Wims for two games for cheap-shotting the Saints’ C.J. Gardner-Johnson — one game for the blows and, presumably, another game for being stupid enough to repeatedly punch a guy’s helmet.”

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




One Positive Today And One Negative Today

Let me set the stage for a moment here.  I have a relative – – the son of a niece – – who is a senior in high school.  He is an excellent student with a superior GPA while taking multiple AP courses; he could go on and do just about anything he wants to do as a career.  Right now, what he wants to do is to be a sports journalist.   [Aside:  When I was his age, my goal was to be a radio play-by-play announcer for major league baseball; life does not always turn out the way we might prefer…]  Whenever I think there is a topic that might interest him in one of these rants, I send him an email link to the rant and often he responds with a comment or criticism.

Yesterday’s rant about the President of Notre Dame and his campus actions relative to the “field-storming event” seemed to me to be something this young man might find interesting and so I sent the link to him.  Last evening, I got a response from him that I want to share here.  Remember, this is written by a senior in high school:

“ … the field storming was a clear and obvious violation of campus protocol for COVID-19 spread prevention. At first, I was inclined to take the ‘hypocrite’ route with Notre Dame’s president after all the (justified) press he got for his negligence during the Justice ACB ceremony. However, I must say I’m dissuaded from that stance by what you raise: The Reverend did not allow his own embarrassing misstep to prevent taking action that is ultimately in the student body’s (and community’s) best interest. One might say he had no choice, but in fact he did. There’s been inaction (with dire effects) in plenty (plenty being too many) institutions nationally. Rev could have thrown his hands up to basically cover his behind from the ACB event, essentially throwing a ‘We’re all even now’ back to the student body. But ND had virus issues early this academic year, and my thought is the president doesn’t want any part of that again, which is a highly responsible objective.”

When I was a high school senior, I was fortunate to be able to put two sentences back-to-back that had the following characteristics:

  1. They were both grammatically and syntactically correct – – and – –
  2. The two sentences related one to the other in at least a semi-logical fashion.

Kudos to this young aspiring sports journalist…

A lot – and perhaps too much – attention has been paid to the NY Jets failure to win a single game to date this year.  Many folks have opined that the team is “Tanking for Trevor” to set up next year’s NFL Draft; plenty of other folks have called for Adam Gase’s head on a plate; ownership – in the person of Christopher Johnson – has been assailed as so dumb that it took him 3 years to learn how to grunt. I believe there is an aspect of the Jets’ situation that has not received nearly the attention it deserves purely based on the standard it may set.

  • Gregg Williams is the Jets’ defensive coordinator, and the team may in fact finish the season with an 0-16 record.
  • Gregg Williams was the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns in 2017 when the Browns finished with an 0-16 record.

Imagine for a moment that the Jets finish 0-16 making Williams the defensive coordinator for two of the three most embarrassing seasons in NFL history.  The only other person on the planet who would be in position to tie his ignominious record would be Joe Barry who was the defensive coordinator of the Lions back on 2008 when they proved to the world that an NFL team could indeed lose all 16 of its games in a single season.

By no means am I trying to imply that Gregg Williams bears even the majority of the responsibility for the frustration felt by Jets’ fans this year.  The roster is a mess; the team culture cannot be all that great when the best players on the roster from last year all forced their way out of town; the drafting has been “spotty at best”.  Gregg Williams does not have a ton of talent to deal with.

At the same time, the 2020 NY Jets are within shouting distance of a record that no team wants to have:

  • In 1981, the Baltimore Colts finished that 16-game season with a point differential of minus-274 points.  [For the record, the expansion Bucs in 1976 finished a 14-game season at minus-286 points but I choose to look at the record for comparable season length here.]
  • In 2020, the NY Jets point differential after 9 games is minus-147 points.  Doing a linear extrapolation, they would finish the year at minus-261 points.

There is an amazing trifecta to follow here:

  1. The Jets may join a rather exclusive club as the third team never to win a game in a 16-game season.
  2. Gregg Williams may be the defensive coordinator on two of the three teams never to win a game in a 16-game season.
  3. The Colts’ record of minus-274 point differential for a 16-game season is within the reach of the 2020 NY Jets.

Finally, since I mentioned a young and aspiring sports journalist above, it is important to note that the profession of journalism sprang from the invention of the printing press and moveable type.  So, let me close with a pertinent definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Gutenberg, Johannes:  Fifteenth-century printer who originated the mass production of moveable type.  If someone could have gone back in time to let Gutenberg know that his invention would lead to such things as The Bridges of Madison County, Dianetics and a magazine called Family Circle, perhaps he would never have gone through with it.”

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



Kudos To The President of Notre Dame

Last weekend, Notre Dame beat Clemson in a football game that went into Double OT.  After that game, students stormed the field in celebration – – and in violation of campus regulations about gatherings in these days of COVID-19.  Many folks pointed to this behavior as partial confirmation that young folks cannot always be expected to behave responsibly and with long-term judgment.  Other social pundits suggested that this demonstration showed that there should not be any problem with opening up stadiums and arenas to fans for sporting events – – even in these days of COVID-19.  While I do not completely buy into either extreme interpretation of that display of emotion last weekend, I am more inclined toward the former than the latter.

The President of Notre Dame – The Rev. John Jenkins who has himself previously tested positive for COVID-19 – took the situation for what it was and then acted.  A former colleague once described “leadership” in this way:

“Leadership is when you act positively and forcefully to do what you know to be right.”

If you happen to agree with my former colleague – as I do – then Rev. Jenkins demonstrated leadership this week.  Basically, he sent a letter to every student at Notre Dame.  He said that he was disappointed by their behavior which violated campus regulations and that he has heard from local health officials that some of the students have been less than fastidious in adhering to those COVID-19 protocols during the semester.  Faced with that situation – and in light of his contracting the virus in a venue where he was not fully attentive to common sense COVID-19 protocols – Rev. Jenkins acted to support what he knows to be right.

  • Virus testing for students is now to be expanded – – and it will be mandatory.  The penalty for not being tested is that students will not be allowed to register for Spring classes nor will they be able to access their transcripts.  He presents a simple choice for students and sets forth a clear and strict consequence for failure to comply.
  • Moreover, students are not to leave the campus in South Bend to go home for the holidays until they have been tested AND have gotten the results back on those tests.  The same sanction applies here; violate this rule and the student records will be frozen.
  • Finally, there are rules in place about social gatherings involving students on campus and off-campus.  Rev. Jenkins has declared a zero-tolerance policy for violations of those rules and protocols saying that hosts of such event will face “severe sanctions”.

I mentioned that Rev. Jenkins has himself tested positive for COVID-19.  He was one of the people in attendance in the White House Rose Garden ceremony where Justice Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice.  Put aside any sociopolitical views for a moment; Justice Barrett was a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Notre Dame’s law school and Justice Barrett has been on the faculty of the Notre Dame law school for almost 20 years.  Rev. Jenkins’ presence at that swearing in ceremony was proper and respectful; he was there at least in part to represent Notre Dame University – the institution that he heads.

What puts Rev. Jenkins in a “dicey situation” is that it appears that he contracted the coronavirus at that “super-spreader event” where he was photographed “mask-less and shaking hands” with others in attendance.  It is easy to argue that Rev. Jenkins should have known better and that he was not “leading by example” in that situation.  He has taken his lumps in the court of public opinion on that matter and now I think it is time to recognize that he knows what is right and he knows that what he did was wrong.  Moreover, he is not going to retreat from doing the right thing now because it might bring more embarrassment to him.  Metaphorically, he is willing to pick the scab off that previous injury because there is an underlying infection that needs treatment now.

I could accuse Rev. Jenkins of hypocrisy here, but I choose not to do that.  I think he did the wrong thing in the White House Rose Garden, recognized his mistake and moved forward in a positive direction.  Kudos to Rev. Jenkins…

Let me switch gears here and talk about one of Notre Dame’s football rivals – – the University of Michigan.  The football program there and the athletic department/administration have a situation that seems balanced on a knife edge.  Consider:

  • Jim Harbaugh has been the coach there for five-and-a-half years and his contract expires at the end of the 2021 season.
  • He – and the Wolverines by extension – will face a recruiting disadvantage this year and possibly next year if Harbaugh is a lame duck coach without a contract extension.
  • A contract extension will not come cheap to the school and in these times of COVID-19, even the big-time football programs are not flush with cash.
  • Moreover, Michigan right now is an embarrassing 1-2 with losses to rival Michigan State (who has already lost to Rutgers and gotten blown away by Iowa) and to Indiana (a team that last beat Michigan in 1987).  Selling a contract extension of any kind – let alone an expensive one – in these circumstances would not be easy.
  • During Harbaugh’s time at Michigan, the Wolverines have gone 3-3 against rival Michigan State and have gone 0-5 against Ohio State.  Those results might not motivate some deep-pocketed alums to chip in to extend the coach.

If there is a fairy tale solution to that dicey situation in Ann Arbor, it would be for the NY Jets to fire Adam Gase at the end of this year (highly likely) and to come calling for Harbaugh to be the guy to rebuild the Jets franchise in the Meadowlands.  Just tossing it out there…

Finally, here is an item from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle regarding sports and the coronavirus:

“Scientists and medical experts say masks are effective for slowing the spread of the coronavirus, but tinfoil hats are not. Still, many sports figures prefer the hats.”

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



The Masters And The EPL

This weekend the sporting world will experience something difficult to understand logically.  We will witness an event that bills itself as “A tradition unlike any other…”  The problem with 2020 is that this is the first time in its history that The Masters has been played in the Autumn as opposed to the Spring.  I have difficulty getting my mind around anything that is happening for the first time and yet calls itself “a tradition”.

There will be a few modifications regarding the tournament this weekend that may be more subtle than simply the placement on the calendar:

  • As a result of the placement on the calendar, there will be no azaleas in bloom.  Hence, there will be no references to “Spring” and “rebirth” and “the PGA tournament entering its serious season”.
  • As a result of the coronavirus, there will be no spectators – – pardon me, there will be no patrons.
  • As a result of the coronavirus, a former Masters champion, Sergio Garcia, has had to withdraw this year.

In addition to and as a result of the placement on the calendar and related to the astronomical reality of November in the Northern Hemisphere, it is going to make the daily rounds finish much earlier.  Back in April, thanks to being several weeks after the vernal equinox when days get longer and with the benefit of Daylight Saving Time, sunset in Augusta, GA was close to 8:00 PM.  Players could – if necessary – continue to play until 6:30 or 7:00 PM.  This year, the tournament is going to be about 7 weeks on the downside of the autumnal equinox and without the benefit of Daylight Saving Time.  Sunset in Augusta, GA this weekend will be at 5:27 PM.  Players will not be able to play much beyond 5:15 PM.

I cannot know for sure, but I believe this astronomical reality is behind a format change in The Masters for 2020.  Normally, the “cut line” on Friday evening to determine which golfers may continue to play over the weekend has been to allow any player within ten strokes of the leader to continue to play.  That could make for a crowded field over the weekend and could allow sunset to “interfere with the tournament”.  So, in 2020, the “cut line” will be the fifty golfers with the lowest scores in the first two rounds – – no matter how close or how far they are from the leader.

Moving on from The Masters, let me turn to the English Premier League where a controversy is brewing.  Back in the summer, the EPL returned to the pitch to complete its season after a hiatus thanks to the coronavirus.  When it did that, it recognized that some players may not have been in perfect condition due to the layoff and the EPL expanded the substitution rule to allow 5 substitutions per game as opposed to the normal 3 substitutions per game.  Unless I missed it entirely, there was no revolt among the people in the UK over that change nor were there any dangerous geopolitical implications related to that change.

The new season has begun.  Teams have played 7 or 8 games; Leicester City, Tottenham and Liverpool sit atop the EPL Table while Sheffield, Burnley and West Brom Albion are bringing up the rear.  There is no great shock in those placements early in the season.  The issue is that several teams have multiple players with ‘muscle injuries” and one of the hypotheses for the occurrence of these ‘muscle injuries” is the shortened off-season between filling out last year’s EPL Table and the start of this season.  I have no idea if that is a proper diagnosis and it really does not matter; the issue is that several teams have proposed that the EPL go back to the “5 substitutions” rule used last summer.

Support and opposition to the proposed rule change devolve in very predictable ways:

  • The Professional Footballers Association – the union that represents players in the EPL – is in favor of expanding the substitution rule from 3 to 5.
  • Managers of the “big clubs” – the ones with the deepest pickets – are in favor of expanding the substitution rule from 3 to 5.  Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal for example have all declared their support for such a change.
  • Managers of the ‘little clubs” – the ones with not so deep pockets – do not favor expanding the substitution rule from 3 to 5.  Sheffield has specifically come out publicly against the proposed change saying it would give an even larger competitive advantage to the “rich teams” who can better afford to expand their benches.

Here is the rub.  The EPL rules require a vote of 14 of the 20 teams in the EPL to make the change.  There have already been two votes on this issue this year and both votes have been “relatively conclusively in favor of three substitutions.”  That is the phraseology used by the CEO of the English Premier League in a discussion with the Government’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee and if that remains the forum in which the controversy will be decided, it looks as if the “big guys” are not going to get their way.

I mention this because there is another interesting statement from the EPL’s CEO to members of that Select Committee:

“Our job is to make sure we create a calendar which fits with our broadcast commitments, we’ve made very clear broadcast commitments, and try to do our best – as we always do – to work with clubs to create a fixture calendar that has player welfare at its core … We can’t always do everything that everybody wants us to do but where there’s flexibility we try to help.”

Here you have an example of someone akin to a “Commissioner” in US sports exhibiting transparency and candor.  The league needs to fit a schedule to the needs of the “broadcast partners” because those are the people who are paying the freight for the EPL as a whole.  This is why rich people buy EPL teams; this is why players in the EPL earn the salaries that they do.  Somewhere in the cosmos, Howard Cosell is smiling and saying that this guy tells it like it is.

Finally, since part of today’s rant focused on The Masters, let me present here the definition of golf from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Golf:  A so-called sport whose strolling, lackadaisical participants are so unaccustomed to the consequences of physical exertion that all eighteen of their playing areas include a place to wash their balls.”

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



NBA Musings Today …

It appears that a bit of clarity regarding the 2020/2021 NBA season has begun to emerge.  The league and the players’ union have agreed to begin the new season on December 22nd and the next season will be 72 games in length instead of the normal – prior to  the last season – 82 games.  The NBA Draft will happen on November 18th and training camps will open on December 1st.  Fans with nothing better to do on Christmas Day after the presents are opened and before Christmas Dinner can rest assured that they will have NBA basketball to watch on TV.

This is not to say that the NBA will be returning to normal and that the only noticeable difference between next season and years past is the number of games in the season.  For example, reports indicate that the NBA would like to limit travel for health/safety reasons and to allow for player recovery time during the compressed schedule.  Yes, there will be fewer games – – but there is also a shorter time from season start (12/22/20) to the end of next season (5/16/21).  [Aside:  Reduced travel also means reduced travel costs for teams; after the “revenue issues” in the 2020 season, do not ignore that aspect of the allure of reduced travel.]  I doubt the league would try this, but here is a potential way to achieve that end:

  • Eliminate inter-conference games.  That gives teams much shorter distances to travel and it sets up an interesting dynamic for the playoffs wherein the teams in the finals will not have played each other prior to that series.  [Aside:  If you want to get really crazy, once you winnow down the playoff teams to four, play “first place East” against “second place West” and vice-versa.]

There is another economic question hanging out there to be resolved by negotiation.  It has to do with the salary cap and the luxury tax.  When the formulae for calculating those threshold numbers were negotiated and devised, no one ever built in any sort of provision for what happens in a season where revenues declined significantly.  The cap and the luxury tax numbers are simply percentages of what is called “basketball-related income” and the sticking points in all the previous negotiations have been over what percentage of that income should flow to the players and what should stay in the pockets of the owners.  Last year, the salary cap was $109M; reports say that the salary cap next year – – if there is no cap modification – – could be as low as $88M.  For those of you keeping score at home, that would be a 19.3% drop.

If the league applied the formula directly, this year’s free agent crop would be seriously disadvantaged since most teams would be near or over the cap before signing any free agents; that would put teams in “luxury tax territory” meaning any new signees would cost even more than the figures contained in their contracts.  There is going to have to be give-and-take on both sides of the table and it is going to have to happen toute de suite because the target date for the start of the free agency season is November 19th or 10 days from now.

One other thorny area is what to do with the vagabonds known as the Toronto Raptors.  As of this morning, there is a pesky little problem caused by the Government of Canada.  That pesky problem makes complete sense so it is not likely to be swept away just because it is inconvenient to the NBA and the fact that the problem is created by the Government of Canada means that it cannot be resolved by NBA negotiations with the NBPA.  Here is the deal:

  • As of this morning, anyone arriving in Canada from another country must quarantine for 14 days as a measure to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Eventually, that restriction will be lifted – – but I do not think it would be a good bet to assume that it will be lifted by December 22nd when the NBA season is to begin.  Ergo, what does the league do with the Raptors?

I mentioned the revenue losses for the NBA last year that will lead to salary cap crunches this year without some sort of negotiated way out of the jungle but I do not want to leave the impression that once those negotiations are finished everything is hunky-dory on the economic front.  Front Office Sports reported the following economic losses by the NBA in the interrupted season that just ended; they estimate the NBA saw a reduction of $1.5B in revenue last season and here were the major components of that reduction:

  • $800M lost in arena revenues due to lack of fans
  • $400M lost in sponsorship deals and merchandise sales
  • $200M lost due to “tensions with China”.

Let me stipulate that I have no reason to doubt the numbers cited above nor am I privy to any “inside information” regarding league revenues.  With that caveat in mind, it is not clear to me how the NBA is going to eliminate those “reduction factors” in the upcoming season.

First, I cannot think of any NBA city that is going to allow the league to pack 20,000 people into an indoor arena for 3 hours to watch a basketball game any time soon.  Remember, last season, the NBA played to normal fan attendance from November until mid-March meaning that teams took in about 75-80% of regular season gate revenue before the shut-down occurred.  There may be some cities that will allow greatly reduced attendance at games, but it is not clear to me how that $800M in “lost arena revenues” will be recouped.

Second, at least some of the revenue taken in from sponsorships and from merchandise sales depends on factors outside the control of the league.  Local or regional companies that may want to sponsor some aspect of NBA games or possibly purchase advertising banners in arenas will need to be financially able to justify that expenditure.  Fans who want to buy official league-branded merchandise need to have discretionary income in their accounts to do so.  Those are factors determined by the economy at large and not with the NBA and its schedule accommodations to COVID-19.

Third, the NBA ‘s “tensions with China” exist in a totally different dimension than the one that I live in.  It just may be that those “tensions with China” exist in a totally different dimension than the one NBA players and execs live in too.  That revenue loss factor may be cured overnight, or it may not be cured for a decade or so.  C’est la guerre…

Finally, since I mentioned China in passing today, let me close with this definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Great Wall of China:  A remarkable testament to what several million slaves can accomplish when an emperor puts his mind to it.”

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



Football Friday 11/6/20

Over the last few days, election officials around the country have gone to great lengths to align themselves with “transparency” as they tabulate votes and make the results known to the public.  Similarly, I have a dedication to transparency here in Curmudgeon Central.

  • I declare that I am fully committed to producing Football Friday whenever possible.

So, let me begin this week with a review of last week’s Six-Pack:

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

Here are the Six-Pack results since the beginning of the football season:

  • College:  8-12-1
  • NFL:  13-13-1
  • Combined:  21-25-2


College Commentary:


Natural selection seeks to explain the adaptation of life forms to the habitat they populate.  Charles Darwin observed different beak shapes for varieties of finches in the Galapagos Islands where each beak shape was optimally efficient for opening the prevalent seeds on the various islands.  Much less dramatically, football coaches evolve too.  They do not modify their “beak shape” but they modify their outlook about the game.

Take Nick Saban as an example.  If you go looking, you will find a time when Nick Saban was a “defense-first” coach and that he thought the idea of college football moving toward spread formations and hurry-up offenses was not good for the game nor was it good for the health and safety of the players.  That was then; this is now.

Alabama is still a good defensive team; they may not be the best in the country, but they are certainly better than most.  However, it is on offense that Nick Saban’s team has shown significant change.  So far in 2020, Alabama averages:

  • 47.2 points per game
  • 380 yards passing per game
  • 172 yards rushing per game
  • 552 yards total offense per game

Not bad for a defense-first team…

Even before the calendar flipped into November, there were no Big-12 teams left undefeated.  There were two of them as of last Saturday morning and both lost on Saturday afternoon.

  • Three teams (Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State) have 1 loss.
  • Three teams (Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia) have two losses.

If the Big-12 is going to offer up a serious candidate for the CFP Selection Committee to consider, it will surely come from those teams with only 1 loss.  The problem is that only Oklahoma State can point to the fact that its loss came at the hands of a team that most fans have heard about.  Iowa State lost its opening game to La-Lafayette; K-State lost its opening game to Arkansas State.  Oklahoma State’s loss was at the hands of Texas; the Longhorns are not an elite team – – but most fans would assert that they know more about Texas than either La-Lafayette or Arkansas State or both.

There is a constant in the Big-12 this year; Kansas stinks.  The Jayhawks are 0-6 which is bad on its face.  In addition, 4 of those 6 losses have been by 30 points or more.  There are not enough plastic surgeons in the world to put a good face on that record.  This week Kansas will visit Oklahoma and they are currently 38-point underdogs.  The Les Miles Era at Kansas is not shaping up very well so far…

In looking at the Big-12 conference schedule, I got off on a tangent and started to look ahead to big games coming over the rest of the season.  What I found was that this week is prime real estate for important games; there are five of them.  Looking at this weekend:

  1. BYU/Boise St. Tonight:   BYU is undefeated so far; Boise St. just started its Mountain West Conference season.
  2. Florida/Georgia  Tomorrow:  Winner here takes control of the SEC East.
  3. Clemson/Notre Dame  Tomorrow:  Both teams are undefeated and ranked in the Top 5.
  4. Oklahoma State/ K-State  Tomorrow:  Two of the three Big-12 teams with only 1 loss.
  5. Cincy/Houston:  Tomorrow:  Houston averages 37 points per game and has only 1 loss; Cincy is undefeated; its defense only allows 12 points per game and the Bearcats have an eye on a New Year’s Day Bowl Game.

Here are some other big games scheduled for later on:

  • Alabama/LSU Nov 14
  • Oklahoma St/Oklahoma  Nov 21:  Game is always  one to watch and it might be a key game to determine who plays in the Big 12 Championship Game.
  • Auburn/Alabama  Nov 28:  Always an important college football game.
  • Ohio St/Michigan:  Dec 12:  Always an interesting college football game even when it is not all that important.

West Virginia beat K-State 37-10.  So much for the Wildcats being the best team in the Big-12…  Yes, West Virginia is always a tough out at home, but this was not a contest.  K-State was shut out in the second half, gained only 221 yards (41 on the ground) and gave up 485 yards of offense.

Texas beat Oklahoma St.  41-34 in OT.  Ok. St had 530 yards on offense and Texas had 287.  Texas only converted 2 of 15 third down situations; Texas was penalized 13 times for 142 yards – – and they won the game.  Four turnovers by Ok. St. made that possible.  Three times Texas started a drive in the Red Zone thanks to those turnovers.  Texas also got a kickoff return for a TD in the game.

Alabama beat Mississippi State 41-0.  It was not nearly that close.

Georgia beat Kentucky 14-3.  I said last week this could be a “look-ahead game” for the Dawgs.  Kentucky held Georgia to 131 yards passing and intercepted two of Georgia’s pass attempts.  The Georgia defense is elite – – but the offense is anemic.

Auburn beat LSU 48-11.  The game was 21-3 at the half and 42-3 after 3 quarters.  “Bad LSU” showed up last week; “Good LSU” stayed home in Baton Rouge…

Clemson beat BC 34-28.  The stats for this game are strange.  Clemson outgained BC by 173 yards; usually that means a bigger win than 6 points.  Clemson RB, Travis Etienne had 224 all-purpose yards and 2 TDs; no one on BC even came close to that.  BC won the turnover battle 1-0 but that still does not explain the close score.  BC scored on a 99-yard scoop-and-score and a miracle catch in the end zone for another TD in first half.  Clemson trailed 28-10 with 1 minute to go in the first half.  Clemson remains unbeaten – – but they got a scare here without Trevor Lawrence in the game.

Notre Dame beat Ga Tech 31-13.  This week the Irish have Clemson come to visit in South Bend and Trevor Lawrence is not going to be the QB in that game.  This is huge spot for Notre Dame.

Virginia beat UNC  44-41.  Last week, I said that the small spread with UNC as the favorite surprised me; well, the outcome surprised me even more.   The Tar Heels won the stat battle because they were behind for most of the game and were throwing the ball a lot.  Virginia’s attack was balanced gaining 210 yards on the ground and 208 yards in the air.

Michigan St. beat Michigan 27-24.  This is a week after the Spartans lost to Rutgers and Michigan dominated Minnesota. This result was no fluke; the stats were even.  One difference is that Michigan gave Michigan St. 5 first downs on penalties in the game.  Michigan was a 24.5-point favorite at kickoff and the game was in Ann Arbor.  This is a terrible loss for the Wolverines.  Jim Harbaugh is in his sixth year at Michigan.  His record against Michigan St. is 3-3 and his record against Ohio State is 0-5.  He was not hired and paid the huge bucks to lose to those two schools.

Ohio State beat Penn State 38-25.  Ohio St. QB, Justin Fields is really good.  He was 28-34 for 315 yards and 4 TDs with 0 INTs.  The Buckeyes converted 10 of 18 third-down tries and 2 of 3 fourth-down tries in the game.  I know it is early, but it sure seems to me as if Ohio State is the class of the Big-10 with a large gap between the Buckeyes and whoever is #2.  Consider this amazing stat for Ohio State QB, Justin Fields:

  • After 2 games, Justin Fields has thrown 6 TDs and 7 incompletions – –  not interceptions, incompletions!

Indiana beat Rutgers 37-21.  Maybe Indiana is for real?  Maybe Rutgers got a one-time pass from the football gods in Week 1 blowing out Michigan State?  Three turnovers in this game did not help the Rutgers cause.

Maryland beat Minnesota 45-44 in OT.  The Gophers are 0-2 to start the season; some folks thought that Minnesota was the class of the Big-10 West.  A 25-point loss to Michigan in Week 1 followed by a loss to Maryland makes me skeptical about those prognostications.

Cincy beat Memphis 49-10.  Memphis had been scoring aplenty this year and the Cincy defense took care of that shutting out Memphis in the second half.  Moreover, Memphis was held to 5 yards rushing for the game.  Memphis had scored 154 points in its previous 4 games this year (38.5 points per game).

Rice beat So. Mississippi  30-6.  I wrote last week about how So. Miss was on their 3rd head coach of the year.  Well, the new regime did not provide much of a boost last week.  On the bright side, Coach #3 has not resigned yet.

Georgia Tech has lost its last 3 games by a combined score of 152-47.  They have a BYE Week this week; they probably need one…

For the record, La-Monroe is the only team in the country with an 0-7 record.  This week, they will be 20-point underdogs in their game at Georgia State.


College Games of Interest:


(Fri Nite) BYU – 3 at Boise St. (61):  BYU is scoring 44.4 points per game and yielding only 13.4 points per game.  Boise State is probably the toughest team on the schedule of this independent, so this is an interesting game.  If you get a chance to see BYU and its QB Zack Wilson, do so.  I think Wilson will be a high draft pick in next year’s NFL Draft.

Houston at Cincy – 13.5 (54.5):  The spread opened with Cincy as a 10.5-point favorite and has been expanding all week.  Additionally, the Total Line opened at 58.5 and has been contracting.

Michigan – 3 at Indiana (54):  The Hoosiers squeaked by Penn State in Week 1 and then beat Rutgers last week.  They are undefeated – – but are they good?  Michigan looked powerful against Minnesota in Week 1 and then wet the bed last week against Michigan State (see above).  Are they any good?

Michigan St. at Iowa – 6.5 (45.5):  The most interesting thing here is the Total Line which opened the week at 56.5 and has collapsed by eleven points.  That does not happen often.

Oklahoma St. – 12.5 at Kansas St. (45):  As noted above, this is a big game in the Big-12.  I think these two teams will be able to move the ball on each other, so I think the Total Line is easily within reach.  K-State scores 31 points per game and Ok. St. scores 29.6 points per game.  I like this game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Nebraska at Northwestern – 4 (54):  Northwestern is one of the undefeated teams in the Big-10.  Nebraska leads the conference in being annoying.

Florida at Georgia – 3.5 (52.5):  The winner of this game is in the catbird’s seat in the SEC East.  Georgia’s top-shelf defense is missing 3 starters; Georgia’s offense may be hobbled by the good health of QB Stetson Bennett who has underperformed this year.  Last week he only threw 14 passes in the game – and 2 of them were interceptions.  I think Florida has too many advantages in this game; I’ll take Florida plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack.

Vandy at Mississippi St. – 19.5 (44):  The Air Raid offense has sputtered mightily the last 3 weeks scoring 16 points in those 3 games.  Vandy is a mess; if the Air Raid offense cannot score in this game, there could be unrest in Starkville.  Vandy ranks 99th (out of 115 teams) in the country in pass defense giving up an average of 292.8 yards per game.

Clemson – 4 at Notre Dame (50):  If Clemson loses without Trevor Lawrence, they will likely still get the benefit of the doubt by pollsters down the line.  If Notre Dame loses at home without having to face Trevor Lawrence, I believe their hopes of being in the CFP will be seriously damaged.  In fact, Notre Dame’s path to the CFP- –  if they lose here – – may require them to win the ACC Championship Game over Clemson in mid-December with Trevor Lawrence on the field.

UMass at Marshall – 44.5 (55):  Independent UMass rescinded their season cancellation and came back for games like this?


NFL Commentary:


Figuratively speaking, LB, Avery Williamson, was on death row and just got a “pardon from the governor”.  What actually happened was that Williamson was traded from the Jets (NFL death row so to speak since it is the only winless team in the league) to the Steelers (the only undefeated team in the league).  The Steelers need linebacker depth in the wake of a season ending injury to Devin Bush.  For that reason, the trade seems lopsided to me:

  • Steelers get Williamson plus the Jets 7th round pick in 2022
  • Jets get Steelers 5th round pick in 2022
  • Bottom Line:  Jets move up 40-50 slots in back end of the 2022 draft and Steelers get linebacker depth they need.

At one point in the Star Wars movie, Darth Vader declares that “The Force is strong in this one”.  I believe that in real life:

  • The Force of Habit is strong in football coaches.

Pay attention to coaches on the sideline who are wearing masks and calling in plays – – offense or defense – – over the headset.  Those mask-wearing coaches – – kudos to them for doing that – – also take their playsheets and cover their faces with the playsheets as the call goes in.  That is “Force of Habit”.

  • Memo to Mask-Wearing Coaches:  Lip-reading through the mask you have on is sufficiently difficult for opposing coaches and players without having to add the extra layer of protection provided by the playsheet.

Antonio Brown has served his NFL suspension and has been signed by the Tampa Bay Bucs.  Reports say he could be activated for this week’s games.  Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot offered this cogent observation on that situation:

Fact check: Now that the troublesome Antonio Brown is joining Tom Brady’s Bucs, people need to stop saying that everybody deserves a second chance. By rough estimate, this is Brown’s fourth.”

Before going to last week’s happenings, let me ask a serious question and then provide one answer to it:

  • Question:  Which team – the Chargers or the Falcons – has put together the more frustrating season in 2020?
  • The Chargers have lost 3 games where they led by 17 points or more during the game.
  • The Falcons have lost 2 games where they led by 16 points during the game and they have lost 2 games on the final play of the game.
  • Answer:  We shall find out on December 13th.  On that day, the Falcons will make their way to Los Angeles to play the Chargers.

The Dolphins beat the Rams 28-17.  Tua Tagovailoa started the game and the Dolphins won but the win was despite Tua’s performance.  Here is his stat line:

  • 12 of 22 for 93 yards with 1 TD and 0 INTs
  • 2 carries for 0 yards

The Dolphins got TDs from a 78-yard “Scoop-and-Score” and an 88-yard punt return in the span of a minute-and-a-half in the second quarter.  In the second half, the Dolphins’ defense played bend-not-break style and won the game.  The Rams had the ball for more than 36 minutes here and won the stat battle 417 yards of offense to 145 yards offense for the Dolphins.  The Rams turned the ball over 4 times in the game.  This was a nice win for the Dolphins putting them at 4-3 for the season but will that mode of play post many more wins in the future?

The Bengals beat the Titans 31-20.  Joe Burrow was efficient and effective in the game; the Titans did not sack him even once in the game.  Equally important is the fact that the Bengals’ defense kept Derrick Henry from dominating the game with his running; the Bengals had the ball for almost 36 minutes.  There was only one turnover in the game, but it was a timely one by the Bengals’ defense; they intercepted Ryan Tannehill when the Titans had marched to the Red Zone.

The Vikes beat the Packers 28-22.  Dalvin Cook simply ran wild in this game scoring all four of the Vikes’ TDs.  He carried the ball 30 times for 163 yards, and he caught 2 passes for another 63 yards.  The Packers outgained the Vikes for the day but the result on the scoreboard is what matters.  The Packers’ defense allowed the Vikes to gain 5.1 yards per rush attempt.  Just to clarify, that is not good…

The Colts beat the Lions 41-21.  The Colts’ defense sacked Matthew Stafford 5 times and contributed a Pick-Six to this game.  The Lions could not run the ball at all gaining only 29 yards on the ground for the entire game.  Meanwhile, the Colts dominated the clock; in the first quarter of the game, the Colts had the ball for 13 minutes and 15 seconds.  With the Titans losing last week, the Colts and Titans are tied atop the AFC South – – and they have both of their head-to-head matchups still to come.  (Colts at Titans on Nov 12th and Titans at Colts on Nov 29th.)

The Chiefs beat the Jets 35-9.  Patrick Mahomes had a big day here throwing for 416 yards and 5 TDs.  The Jets’ total offense for the day was 221 yards and 0 TDs.  The Jets never got into the Rad Zone; this game was a classic beatdown.

The Steelers beat the Ravens 28-24.  Last week, I said this was the Game of the Week and that it was going to be a great game to watch.  Allow me to dislocate my shoulder while I pat myself on the back; I got both of those comments right.  The Steelers’ defense played a great game sacking Lamar Jackson 4 times, intercepting 2 passes (one was a Pick-Six) and recovering 2 fumbles.  The Ravens had the ball for 35:22 in the game and outgained the Steelers 457 yards to 221 yards, but when the Steelers got to the Red Zone, they were 3 for 3 in getting TDs.  The Ravens got there 5 times and got a TD on only 3 of those visits.  The Ravens dominated play in the first half running 45 offensive plays to only 20 for the Steelers.  But the Steelers found ways to hang in and keep it close enough to win in the 4th quarter.

The Steelers have now beaten the Titans and the Ravens on the road in successive games.  This week, the Steelers appear to get a breather with the Cowboys – – but the game is in Dallas so this will be the third-consecutive road game for the Steelers…

The Bills beat the Pats 24-21.  This is the fourth consecutive loss for the Pats and there seems to be a theme to the way they lose.  The offense is lackluster and the Pats fall behind; then, the offense then wakes up – – but the Pats’ offense even at its best is not one that is designed to come from behind…  The Bills’ defense had difficulty stopping the Pats’ running game last week giving up 188 yards (5.5 yards per carry).  The Bills rightfully have their sights set on the playoffs in 2020 but they will need to have a better run defense in place if they expect to do any damage in playoff games.

I can see lots of reasons for Pats’ troubles this season.  Tom Brady left, and they had 7 players opt-out for 2020 due to COVID concerns.  But there’s more.  The Pats have not fared well at the top of the NFL Draft for quite a while:

  • 2017:  No first-round picks or second round picks here .  In the third round they took Derek Rivers and Antonio Garcia.  Rivers is on the roster but has played in only 12 games with the Pats; Garcia never made the team.
  • 2018:  Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel were first round picks who have played well but not stayed healthy.  Duke Dawson taken in Round 2 has played a bit but not with any great distinction.
  • 2019:  N’Keal Harry in the first round has been a disappointment to say the least – – especially considering that Deebo Samuel was still on the board when the Pats took Harry.  Joejuan Williams from Round 2 is merely OK.  The best player from this draft came in Round 3 – Chase Winovich.
  • 2020:  No first-round picks last year.  Kyle Dugger and Josh Uche (Round 2) have played a bit as have Anfernee Jennings and Devin Asiasi (Round 3) – – but no one is touting any of these guys as “Rookie of the Year” material.

The Broncos beat the Chargers 31-30.  The Chargers led 24-3 with 7:44 left to play in the third quarter – – and manufactured a way to lose the game.  In the 4th quarter, the Broncos scored 3 TDs and the Chargers settled for 2 FGs.  I want to focus on the fourth quarter of this game here and do a bit of math.  Here is Broncos’ QB, Drew Lock’s stat line for the game:

  • 26 of 41 for 248 yards with 3 TDs and 1 INT

Now, here is Drew Lock’s stat line for the fourth quarter:

  • 13 of 16 for 150 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs

Ergo, for the first 3 quarters of that game, the Chargers’ defense was making Drew Lock look like he was overmatched with a stat line of:

  • 13 of 25 for 98 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT


The Raiders beat the Browns 16-6.  The weather conditions for this game were awful and had a lot to do with keeping the score down.  It was pretty obvious early on that the wind and rain was going to make the passing game problematic for the day.  So, the Raiders resorted to a bludgeoning run game featuring Josh Jacobs and Devin Booker who carried the ball a total of 36 times for 157 yards.

The Saints beat the Bears 26-23 in OT.  The Bears’ defense played well.  The Bears’ offense rallied from 10 points down with 10 minutes left in the game to force OT, but Alvin Kamara was the spark that set up the Saints for the winning FG in OT.  Kamara had 67 yards rushing (on 12 carries) and he caught 9 passes for 96 yards in the game.

The Eagles beat the Cowboys 23-9.  This was an ugly game on both sides.  How or why the Cowboys’ offensive braintrust managed to ignore Amari Cooper is bizarre.  Cooper caught 1 pass for 5 yards for the whole game.  Ben DiNucci played as well as one could expect from a 3rd string rookie QB taken in the 7th round of the Draft just 7 months ago.  Just to clarify, DiNucci was overmatched…  There were 6 turnovers in this game and the total offense by BOTH teams was a measly 487 yards.

The Seahawks beat the Niners 37-27.  DK Metcalf had a monster of a game catching 12 passes for 161 yards and 2 TDs.  The Seahawks’ defense held the Niners to 351 yards – – which is about 130 yards below the Seahawks’ average coming into the game.

Last night, the Packers dominated the Niners from the start of the game to the end winning the game 34-17.  Do not be fooled by the final score; the Niners scored 2 classic “garbage time touchdowns” to avoid abject embarrassment.  The Niners put up a struggle but with 8 starters out of the lineup from the outset, they brought brass knuckles to an axe fight.  The most important thing that I saw in this game was that the Packers’ defense did indeed know how to tackle an opposing player with the ball.  That had not been evident in last week’s loss to the Vikes.


NFL Games:


            Here are the teams on their BYE Weeks:

  • Bengals:  Raise your hand if you thought the Bengals would go into their BYE Week with a record better than 6 other NFL teams.
  • Browns:  They have shown that they can beat bad and mediocre teams but cannot hang with the “the big guys”.  Can a BYE Week provide answers?
  • Eagles:  They lead the NFC East this morning; they will lead the NFC East after their BYE Week is over.  Hi ho…
  • Rams:  They are squarely in the playoff picture – – but when they have an “off game” they look as if they belong in the SEC as opposed to the NFL.

Seattle – 3 at Buffalo (55):  I worry about “body-clock games” for West Coast teams playing in the Eastern Time Zone at 1:00 PM ET.  For some reason, that phenomenon seems not to affect the Seahawks.  Consider:

  • Seahawks are 7-1-1 against the spread in the ET zone since 2018
  • Russell Wilson is 18-7-2 against the spread in the ET zone since he came into the NFL in 2012.

I do not think the Bills’ defense is up to the task of containing the Seahawks’ offense; unless last week was the dawning of awareness for the Seahawks’ defense, it is not up to the task of stopping anyone.  I think the key here is that Russell Wilson is fundamentally a better QB in 2020 than Josh Allen is; I think the Seahawks can win and cover on the road; put it in the Six-Pack.

Denver at Atlanta – 4 (49.5):  The Falcons are 2-1 under the leadership of interim coach, Raheem Morris.  The Broncos are riding high after a miracle comeback win last week over the Chargers (see above).  The Falcons’ defense is prone to give up big plays; it has given up more passing yards (1508) than any other team in the league.  Actually, I do not trust either defense here; I think the game will go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Chicago at Tennessee – 6.5 (47):  Both teams have lost two games in a row, but their problems/issues are divergent.  The Titans’ defense is a mess; the Bears’ offense is a mess.  The Titans’ offense is good – – but inconsistent; the Bears’ defense is excellent.  Two stats will collide in this game:

  1. Titans’ defense is the worst in the NFL allowing 62% on third-down conversions.
  2. Bears’ offense is 31st in the NFL converting 35% in third-down situations.

Detroit at Minnesota – 4 (52):  There are two highly unreliable teams from week to week.  Will Kirk Cousins throw multiple INTs this week?  Will Dalvin Cook continue to look like a latter-day version of Emmitt Smith?  Matthew Stafford is questionable to play due to COVID protocols and if he does, will he throw 4 TDs or get sacked 6 times in the game?  Just ignore this game…

Baltimore – 1.5 at indy (48):  This spread opened the week at 4 points and you can find it as low as “pick ‘em” this morning.  Almost assuredly the reason for such a contraction is that the Ravens have reported 7 defensive players on the “COVID List” including their 3 starting linebackers and 2 more backups at that position.  Do not be surprised to hear that the Ravens put in a call to Dr. Anthony Fauci later today – – not for the purpose of learning about the coronavirus but to ask if he things he could step in and play linebacker on Sunday.

Carolina at KC – 10.5 (52.5):  The Panthers are on a 3-game losing streak and the NFL schedule maker has decided to send them to the mid-west to play the Chiefs this week.  That comes across to me as sadistic.  Christian McCaffrey might be back and ready to play in this game – – but that will not be enough for the Panthers to prevail here.

Houston – 6.5 at Jax (50): The spread opened here at 4 points and the Total Line at 56 points.  Both line movements are large enough to notice.  The record for both of these  teams is 1-6 on the season, and both are well out of contention in the AFC South race.  To be sure, there is Dog-Breath Game of the Week potential here.  However, I see potential value here because even though Jax had a BYE Week last week, I do not think this is the start of something special in Jax given that Gardner Minshew will be replaced at QB by Jake Luton – – a 6th round draft pick last April out of Oregon State.  If the Jags are going to start Luton at QB, their game plan must focus on the run game for two reasons:

  • First, the odds are that Jake Luton is not going to light up the scoreboard with multiple TDs in his first start.
  • Second, the Texans defense gives up 5.2 yards per rushing attempt – – tied for worst in that category in the NFL.

On the other hand, Jax is not a pass-rushing juggernaut having recorded a total of 6 sacks in 7 games.  If Deshaun Watson has time to throw the ball, he will pick apart the carcass that is the Jags’ secondary.  I like the Texans to win and cover on the road; put it in the Six-Pack.

Giants at Washington – 2.5 (42):  I know; this is a division game, and the NFC East is bad enough as a whole that either of these flawed teams might wind up in the NFL playoffs come January.  Now that I have paid due homage to the reality that the football gods present us with, this is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  Since I am not going to be in the DC suburbs this Sunday, there is a possibility that I will not have this game pollute my television screen at 1:00 PM EST on Sunday – – but I am not far enough away from the DC suburbs to be assured of that possible blessing.  I like to watch teams play good defense; in this game, there may be a mirage of “good defense”.  Consider:

  • Giants rank 29th in the NFL in yards per offensive play (4.9 yards per play).
  • WTFs rank 31st in the NFL in yards per offensive play (4.6 yards per play).

The Giants arrive here off a short work week; the WTFs had a BYE Week last week.  Somehow, I do not think any of that matters even a whit…

Las Vegas at Chargers “pick ‘em” (51.5):  The spread opened the week with the Chargers favored by 3 points.  Apparently, the betting public has had enough of the Chargers finding ways to lose games straight up and against the spread.

Pittsburgh – 14 at Dallas (42):  I hate double-digit spreads in NFL games.  The Eagles beat the Cowboys by 14 points just last week – and kept them out of the end zone for the whole game.  The Steelers are better than the Eagles – – particularly on defense.  I would not bet on this game with your money, but I will note that the Cowboys will be starting someone other than Ben DiNucci at QB for this game.  Di Nucci grew up and played high school football in Gibsonia, PA which is a suburb of Pittsburgh.  The Cowboys’ decision to start either Cooper Rush or Garrett Gilbert over DeNucci means that any sort of “homecoming mojo” has been eliminated.  This is a classic “let-down game” for the Steelers; it is their third straight road game and their last two victories on the road have come over clearly superior opponents – – the Titans and the Ravens.  As of this morning, the Steelers are at minus-1000 on the Money Line.  Dwight Perry reported in the Seattle Times what a successful bet at minus-1000 odds returns to the bettor:

“A bettor plunked down $8,600 on No. 1 Clemson — at minus-1,000 odds — to beat Syracuse and collected $8.60 from FanDuel for his troubles.

“That’s like shelling out for the Kobe beef and Maine lobster just to get the after-dinner mint.”

Miami at Arizona – 4 (49):  This spread began the week at 6 points and has contracted since then.  If I had to guess, I would say that the Dolphins’ win over the Rams last week has been the major motivator for contracting the spread on the game.  The Dolphins have yielded the fewest points to opponents in their 7 games (18.6 points per game).

(Sun Nite) New Orleans at Tampa Bay – 4.5 (50.5):  This spread opened at 6 points and has been slowly eroding as the week progressed.  Meanwhile the Total Line opened at 56 points.  The original oddsmaker and many bettors remain at loggerheads; the betting public sees this as a closer game than the oddsmakers did last weekend.  Because these are two good teams and because this game has great significance regarding the NFC South race, this is my Game of the Week.

(Mon Nite) New England – 7.5 at Jets (41.5):  This was a close runner-up in the race for Dog-Breath Game of the week.  It features one team – the Patriots – that have not won a game in the last month against a team – the Jets – that has not won a game this season.  This is one more bad game for the folks at ESPN to try to make palatable.

So, as I go back to review this week’s Six-Pack, I notice that it is only a Five-Pack.  There is an old adage that tells you that you get what you pay for.  In the case of Six-Pack selections, they are totally free – – immediately establishing their intrinsic worth.  Ergo, I shall live with the situation of a mislabeled Six-Pack for this week:

  1. Oklahoma St./Kansas St. OVER 45
  2. Florida +3.5 against Georgia
  3. Seahawks – 3 over Bills
  4. Broncos/Falcons OVER 49.5
  5. Texans – 6.5 over Jags

Finally, apropos of the weekly Six-Pack, a former colleague often said:

“Everyone should make at least one bet a day.  If he doesn’t, he could be walking around stupid-lucky and never realize it.”

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



ESPN Stuff Today…

The NFL is about to begin negotiations with TV networks regarding new TV contracts; obviously, the NFL expects to increase revenue from those sources, and they have a powerful argument on their side of the bargaining table.  I read somewhere that for the calendar year 2020, 37 of the biggest TV audiences for televised events were NFL games.  To me, that is a sufficiently powerful argument but wait, there’s more…  Three of those “biggest TV audiences” were political debates; since there will be no more political debates on TV for the next 4 years, the projected score would be 37 of the largest 47 telecasts (79%) were NFL games.

That just sets the stage.  Reports say more specifically that ESPN – – via its parent Disney Corp – – is interested in making a run at Sunday Night Football.  At the moment, SNF is a huge bargain; it consistently gets sky-high ratings, and it costs far less than the other TV network deals.  ESPN currently has the Monday Night Football deal; rather than focusing on getting some other part of the NFL TV package, I think that ESPN needs first to get a new bargaining team on their side.  I will not pretend to know all of the provisions of the various NFL TV contracts in place now, but there are some glaring items there which tell me that ESPN did a bad job getting the MNF package last time around.  Consider:

  1. Super Bowl telecasts:  ESPN gets none as part of the MNF package; NBC is “in the rotation” to telecast Super Bowl games along with FOX and CBS.  Clearly this is an advantage for NBC.
  2. Playoff telecasts:  ESPN gets to show one playoff game; NBC gets to show two playoff games thanks to the new expanded playoff structure this year.  Obviously, NBC has the advantage here.
  3. Scheduling:  ESPN has a fixed slate of games set in stone when the NFL schedule is released sometime in the Spring; NBC enjoys flex-scheduling for some games meaning they can swap-out a “Dog-Breath Game” for a more interesting game as the season unfolds.  For the networks, better games lead to better ratings lead to higher charges to advertisers for time slots during the telecast.

I hope it would not take me long to convince you that NBC has the advantage in all three areas noted above.  Now consider the critical element of the SNF and the MNF deals that leads me to conclude that ESPN needs better folks negotiating for them this time around:

  • Cost:  NBC pays the NFL $950M a year for Sunday Night Football with those 3 items noted above.  ESPN pays the NFL $2B a year for Monday Night Football with those 3 items noted above.

It seems to me that SNF will always enjoy the advantage of flex-scheduling over MNF.  In addition to the logistical burden placed on two visiting teams to adjust travel and accommodation plans from Sunday to Monday or vice-versa, changing the date of two games will impose problems for fans with tickets to the games.  Changing a game from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night can be a problem for some fans; there is no question about that; changing the date of two games from Sunday to Monday or Monday to Sunday is going to impose a larger burden on a larger number of fans.  TV is the big moneymaker, but the NFL does not want to serially piss off the fans who show up at the game venues; owners really do like the revenue that game attendance provides.  I could be wrong, but I do not expect the next MNF deal to include flex-scheduling.

However, if SNF continues to hold onto the other advantages it now enjoys with regard to playoff and Super Bowl telecasts, I would expect the cost of SNF to go through the roof and the cost of MNF to increase only slightly from its present level.

It is important to note that Disney Corp also owns ABC.  So, it is possible that ABC could enter the bidding for one or both of the Sunday afternoon packages now held by CBS and FOX.  There are lots of moving parts here and formal negotiations have not yet begun, but this is a subject that should be interesting to watch.

While on the topic of ESPN, the radio arm of ESPN did a major shake-up of its programming about 3 months ago.  Two of the programs in the mid-day/early afternoon time slots are now manned by “known quantities” in Mike Greenberg and Max Kellerman.  Frankly, I like both programs for different reasons.  Mike Greenberg’s program is a leisurely paced program where interviews with guests are actual discussions on a sports topic.  Too many sports radio interviews are transparently a situation where the host lobs softball questions at a guest who has pre-formed answers for the questions.  That is not the case with Greenberg and his guests; those interviews are interesting.

Max Kellerman may be the most under-appreciated person at ESPN.  He is smart; he is opinionated without being obnoxious; he is analytical and rational.  Even when you disagree with one of his positions, you think about what he has said because you recognize that it is not just some “hot-take” that he concocted to try to attract interest to his program.

The new program on ESPN Radio that I still have not decided that I like or dislike is the morning-drivetime program featuring Keyshawn Johnson, Jay Williams and Zubin Mehenti.  Sometimes these guys are entertaining; sometimes these guys are almost cringeworthy.

  • Keyshawn Johnson:  Wherever she may be in the cosmos, my 12th grade English teacher who graduated from Mount Holyoke must get an electric shock traversing her nervous system at least 5 times an hour when Keyshawn mangles English grammar and syntax.  I mentioned above that Max Kellerman rarely resorts to “hot-takes”; Keyshawn seems to love to wade into that pool of thinking.
  • Jay Williams:  His wheelhouse – obviously – is college basketball and to a lesser extent the NBA.  When the subject is football or baseball, I sometimes wonder if Williams took off his headset, left the set and got himself a smoothie.  He had some interesting things to say about the NBA playoffs but on other topics he is almost a “no-show”.
  • Zubin Mehenti:  If you could build a rocket ship that ran on enthusiasm and you put Zubin Mehenti on that ship, you would have the makings of an interstellar transportation vehicle.  Here is the issue; some mornings when I get up and decide to turn on the radio, I am not ready for high energy radio that borders on cheerleading.  Other mornings, that sort of assault on my senses is refreshing.

Here is what I think is the essential difference between the “morning guys” and the “early afternoon guys” on ESPN Radio:

  • Keyshawn, Jay and Zubin are often entertaining.  When they are annoying, I just turn off the radio
  • Mike Greenberg and Max Kellerman are usually entertaining AND they are informative at the same time.  That is the standard the “morning guys” need to achieve much more regularly.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this observation in the Seattle Times regarding the analytics-driven removal of Blake Snell from Game 6 of the World Series that sparked yesterday’s rant:

“Look at the bright side of Blake Snell’s premature exit from Game 6, Rays fans:

“When he pitches the 2021 season opener next April 1, he’ll be working on 156 days’ rest — not to mention 2 or 3 bonus innings of nonwear and tear.

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



Bob Costas And Baseball Analytics

I want to ask your indulgence this morning.  I would like you to listen to a commentary by Bob Costas on a recent episode of The Rich Eisen Show.  Please follow this link; click on the picture in the Tweet and listen to Costas’ comments.  It takes about 7 minutes; it is worth your time; I will wait here for you to come back.

That commentary would have been excellent if it had been written out beforehand and “read into the record”.  Rather obviously, that was not the case; that was an extemporaneous analysis and opinion piece.  And … there is so much truth in there.  Those two “standing ovations” from the producers and staff of The Rich Eisen Show were perfectly appropriate.

Even though many folks had said previously what Costas said in his comments, his eloquence adds weight to the arguments.

  • Being a slave to analytics is not good strategy or tactics in baseball.
  • Fans do not really care about newfangled stats such as launch angle and exit velocity and spin rate.  They cannot see any of them on TV or at the ballpark.
  • Pace of play is working against MLB as an entertainment product.

The Rays got to the World Series by adhering – – for the most part – – to a tactical situation where their starting pitcher did not go through the opposing lineup more than twice.  Obviously, that had worked for them because they were in the World Series and 28 other teams were not.  In Game 6 of the World Series every “analytics acolyte” would choose to pull Blake Snell because “the numbers” show that doing so is a path to success.  The problem is that “the numbers” they rely on allow them to ignore some other numbers:

  • Snell had thrown only 73 pitches.  I understand that starting pitchers in 2020 are far more fragile than pitchers in the past – – but if 73 pitches becomes a “burdensome load”, there is almost no reason to differentiate between starting pitchers and relief pitchers.
  • Snell had struck out 9 batters in 5 innings – – and had struck out the guys who were due to come up to face him in the 6th inning.
  • Those numbers are not statistical trends; those numbers represent what was happening on the field in that game on that night.  They were ignored so that the same guys who brought you “stadium-adjusted OPS+” would be happy.
  • That analytical decision backfired spectacularly.  No one will ever know if Blake Snell would have crashed and burned in an even more spectacular fashion had he been left in the game until it appeared that the Dodgers had figured out how to get some hits off him.

Bob Costas makes a great point in that rant when he referred to the old Strat-O-Matic baseball game.  Every player has a card that represents his statistics for a season or a career.  The “Ted Williams Card” had far more chances to get a hit or draw a walk than did “The Sparky Anderson Card”.  The “Sandy Koufax Card” produced more strikeouts than did “The Humberto Robinson Card”.  Every player in Strat-O-Matic brought the same “effort” and “energy” to the table in every game.  And that is simply not the case in real life.  Every great player has an off-day; every mediocre hitter has an at-bat that produces a grand slam (e.g. Bill Mazeroski).  Analytical stats come from the past and the game on the field is happening in the present.  That is why a slavish addiction to analytics has not worked in baseball even though it has been around a LONG time.

Take a moment and recall Billy Beane and “Moneyball”.  It was all the rage about 25 years ago; Michael Lewis wrote a book about it and they made a movie based on the book.  It was a totally different way to evaluate players as an executive went though the process of building a roster.  And it worked – – to a degree.  The “Moneyball” teams in Oakland never got past the Division Series in the AL let alone get to or win a World Series.  The teams were very “cost effective” in terms of wins per dollar spent on player salaries – – but that is not how baseball seasons are decided.

To my mind, the problem is not “analytics” per se; the problem is using them to the exclusion of what is happening in front of one’s nose.  Another aspect of analytics that is troubling is that it is spreading into the world of football.  Players and teams now get a DVOA rating; DVOA stands for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average.  When you tune into a college game this Saturday or possibly to an NFL game on Sunday, send me a note telling me where you observed someone’s DVOA on the field.  I often miss it…

One more thing here…  Another problem with the “analytics acolytes” is that they cannot ever admit they were wrong.  A part of the reason for that is the infallibility of the calculations of past performances that led to the critical judgment of what needed to be done.  If you do not believe in that infallibility, then you are only partially committed to analytics and/or a reactionary.

Analytics has a seat at the table in terms of evaluating players and game situations.  Unfortunately for the “analytics acolytes”, human behavior and performance cannot yet be completely modeled by mathematics.

Costas’ other major point was that pace of play was hurting baseball as an entertainment product.  Given the revenue streams for MLB, television is the critical element of the game as we know it today.  Too few people seem to recognize the criticality of television to MLB – – and to the NFL and the NBA and other sports as well.  The owners, the players, the umpires, the announcers and everyone else involved with bringing the game to the public has to understand that they are all in a partnership to produce a TV series that attracts viewers.  If MLB ceases to do that, it will be relegated to a sporting status alongside things like horseracing and boxing and tennis.  All those sports can be enjoyed on TV – – sporadically, but not as a steady diet.

Would that Bob Costas – or someone who thinks as he does – had been named Commissioner of Baseball somewhere along the path of the last 30 years or so.  We can never know how the game would be different – and presumably better – had that happened because one can never describe fully events derived from a contrafactual statement.  Too bad…

Finally, a former colleague – and an avid Denver Broncos’ fan – sent me an email back in the middle of the summer as we were all going through the potential for restarting sports and dealing with COVID-19 and witnessing the ramping up for our Presidential election.  He was bemoaning the chaos of 2020 and wondering how and why we got to where we were.  The way that Game 6 of the World Series played out leading to the Bob Costas commentary here would seem to add another layer to his outcry:

“Remember, everything was under control until the Chiefs won the Super Bowl.”

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



A Correction From Yesterday …

I must begin today with a correction from yesterday.  An email from a reader pointed out to me that I was incorrect in saying that Willie Wood was the cornerback opposite Herb Adderley on the great Packers’ teams of the 1960s.  In fact, the reader is correct to note that Wood was one of the safeties in that defensive backfield.  Both men are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and both men died in 2020.

May they both rest in peace…

Late last week, the Chicago White Sox lured Tony LaRussa out of retirement to manage the team.  LaRussa is 76 years old and one of the questions raised by several commentators had to do with his ability to “relate to today’s young players”.  The line of thought in many of those pieces is that LaRussa is very old-school and a true believer in the “unwritten rules of baseball” which govern conduct during games.  [Aside:  Someone once told me that baseball’s unwritten rules were not worth the paper they were printed on.  Whatever…]  I prefer not to plunge headfirst into that argument because it does not take long in one’s analysis there to require mind-reading skills that I do not have.

Tony LaRussa is in the Baseball Hall of Fame – – and I am on record that I do not believe that he deserves to be there.  My objection has nothing to do with his records or his stature as “old-school” or anything else of that ilk.  My position is that his managerial record – 2728 wins, 2365 losses and 4 ties – is improperly inflated.

  • Almost 700 of those wins came during the 1990s with the Oakland A’s where a significant portion of the roster was using illegal steroids.  LaRussa was the manager there for 10 years; and for me to believe that he never had an inkling of what was going on around him, I would have to cast him in the role of Sergeant Schultz.
  • After leaving the A’s, he took over the Cardinals managerial job.  LaRussa was in charge in 1998 when a reporter noticed the bottle of androstenedione in Mark McGwire’s locker and wrote about it.  That kicked the snowball off the cliff for MLB’s Steroid Scandal.  LaRussa remained in charge of the Cardinals until the US Congress shamed MLB and the MLBPA into banning steroids and testing for them.  The Cardinals won another 500 games under LaRussa in the time it took for the Steroid Era to be subject to testing.

I doubt seriously that Tony LaRussa encouraged any player to use steroids; I doubt equally seriously that he was totally clueless about the use of steroids by members of his teams for a period of about 12-15 years.  If I had a vote – – which I do not, never did and never will – – I would not vote for Tony LaRussa to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Speaking of baseball – obliquely – free agency began on Sunday.  As usual, there are dozens of players available who can fit nicely into a team structure and add value there; but there are less than a dozen players who look to be “major acquisitions” or “instant change agents” for the teams that sign them.  Looking over some lists of available free agents, here are five position players that I believe are in the category of “major acquisitions”:

  1. Jackie Bradley, Jr. – Red Sox
  2. Marcel Ozuna – Braves
  3. JT Realmuto – Phillies
  4. George Springer – Astros
  5. Justin Turner – Dodgers

Spending big bucks to acquire a free agent pitcher seems to be more of a gamble than signing on an expensive position player.  I do not see any pitchers on this year’s free agency lists for whom I would “back up a Brinks’ truck full of cash” to sign.  Here are the four pitchers that I think are the best available:

  1. Trevor Bauer – Reds
  2. Mark Melancon – Braves
  3. Marcus Stroman – Mets
  4. Masahiro Tanaka – Yankees

Let the bidding begin…

After the LA Clippers crashed out of the NBA Playoffs, ownership decided to shake things up.  Doc Rivers was fired as the coach – – and got a new job with the Sixers in less than a week.  Tyron Lue was hired to replace Rivers and one of the recurring things I read about the reason for his selection for the job is that he demonstrated an ability to “bring a team together” during his days with the Cavaliers.  Since I had never heard anything that would have led me to believe that Doc Rivers was a divisive force on a team, I wondered why that was an important résumé entry.

Over the last couple of weeks, reports have come out of LA that several members of the Clippers were “disgruntled” about the “special treatment” given to Kawhi Leonard.  Supposedly, Leonard was late for team flights and could “dictate” when he would be removed from games and was allowed to set his own schedule for “load management”.  I do not know if any of that is true but let me say this as clearly as I can:

  • Kawhi Leonard is the best player on the Clippers’ roster.  Any other player on the roster who does not recognize that fact is living in a delusion.
  • It is not news that star players get preferential treatment – – simply because they are star players.  They get preferential treatment from coaches, from officials and from the media.  Some star players turn into divas; others do not.
  • Kawhi Leonard – along with Paul George to play Robin to Leonard’s Batman – gives the Clippers a chance to reach the NBA Finals or even to win a championship.  The presence or absence of any of the nominally disgruntled players has no effect on the Clippers’ chances to be serious contenders for the NBA Finals or championship.

I will go out on a limb here and guess that if Kawhi Leonard is “late for the team flight” on the first Clippers’ road trip in 2021, Tyron Lue will not order the plane to take off and leave Leonard behind.

Finally, here is an entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Genghis Khan:  Thirteenth-century leader of the Mongol Horde.  Or, as the position is known today: mall security.”

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



Rest In Peace, Herb Adderley

Herb Adderley died last Friday at the age of 81.  Adderley and Willie Wood were the cornerbacks on the great Packers’ teams in the 1960s; they had not yet invented the term, “shut-down corner”, but that is what Herb Adderley was.  Adderley won 5 championships with the Packers and another one with the Cowboys during his Hall of Fame career.

Rest in peace, Herb Adderley…

Yesterday, Tua Tagovailoa made his debut as the QB of the Miami Dolphins.  The Dolphins won the game notwithstanding a lackluster performance by Tua – I will have more to say about that later this week on Football Friday – but there was something else interesting about his play yesterday.  Tua Tagovailoa is left-handed and it has been a while since there has been a left-handed starting QB in the NFL.

Statistically, about 10 percent of the population is left-handed.  The NFL has 32 teams and each team has 3 QBs somewhere in their organization; round that up a bit and at any given time, there ought to be 10 QBs who are left-handed; three of them ought to be starters.  That simply is not the case and I am not sure why that is the case.

Over the history of the NFL, there have been some excellent left-handed QBs.  Steve Young is of course the first one that leaps to mind but with about 5 minutes of thinking, I came up with this list:

  1. Mark Brunell
  2. Bobby Douglass
  3. Boomer Esiaison
  4. Matt Leinart
  5. Ken Stabler
  6. Tim Tebow
  7. Michael Vick
  8. Steve Young
  9. Jim Zorn

Bobby Douglass and Ken Stabler were playing about 50 years ago and in the intervening time, that list of 9 left-handed QBs is all that I can drag from my memory.  That list of nine is smaller than the number you would expect to be on NFL rosters this morning just by random chance.  A discrepancy that large should have an explanation – – but I am not sure I can provide it.

My first guess would be that the pool of young athletic left-handed boys is tilted in favor of baseball where certainly more than 10% of MLB pitching staffs are comprised of left-handers.  The problem with that “hypothesis” is that I do not think that many kids sufficiently analytical at a young age to make the determination that “playing baseball” might be more career-friendly twenty years in the future than “playing football”.  I guess that some parents might make that sort of “calculation” and steer their sons toward baseball, but I do not find that whole line of thinking satisfactory.

Also in baseball, there are a few positions where left-handedness(with regard to throwing not batting)  is a disadvantage.  A left-handed second baseman would have difficulty turning double plays; left handers at shortstop or third base would have awkward throwing positions on many plays at first base.  In the history of baseball, there have only been 5 players to have caught more than 100 games.  Therefore, left-handed kids who show a proclivity for baseball would not be equally distributed among the positions on a team so more of them might gravitate toward pitching.

There are probably a few PhD dissertations in anthropology and/or psychology contained in the reasons why so few left-handers become NFL QBs and I will not pretend to be able to evaluate them once they have been published.  Rather, I will offer a simplistic hypothesis here because it is the best I can come up with.

  • In youth sports, there are camps and coaches that focus on teaching specific skills to elite young players – – the ones who are identified at an early age as “special players”.
  • Many of the “pitching coaches” or “pitching gurus” for youngsters were pitchers themselves and there are plenty of left-handed pitchers out there to teach a left-handed kid how to pitch.
  • Many of the “QB coaches” or “QB whisperers” for youngsters were QBs themselves and there just are not as many of them walking the streets to be available to teach a left-handed kid how to play QB.

Sticking with football, there is a minor benefit that derives from the ongoing pandemic.  There are 5 of the meaningless college football bowl games that will not be played this year.  They are:

  1. Bahamas Bowl – normally played before Christmas.  The game matches teams from the MAC and the Sun Belt Conference.
  2. Hawaii Bowl – normally played on Christmas Eve.  Not too surprisingly, Hawaii has been one of the teams in this bowl game 9 different times.
  3. Holiday Bowl – normally played between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  This year’s game would have matched a PAC-12 team with an ACC team.
  4. Quick Lane Bowl – normally played on December 26th.  Teams involved here appear to be randomly chosen from the Big-10, the ACC and the MAC.
  5. Redbox Bowl – normally played between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  The game matches also-rans from the Big-10 and the PAC-12 – sort of a poor relative of the Rose Bowl.

Finally, here is an observation by Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times about futbol – – not football:

“Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood were dropped by England’s national soccer team for breaching quarantine rules by bringing women to the team hotel in Iceland.

“That’s what you call playing the wrong kind of friendly.”

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