Sports Curmudgeon 12/31/20
In another calendar anomaly, Football Friday will take place on a Thursday this week. Never let it be said that flexibility is absent here in Curmudgeon Central. As is customary, I shall begin with a review of last week’s Six-Pack:
- College: 0-0-0
- NFL: 2-2-1
- Combined: 2-2-1
In addition, the 4-team Money Line parlay went astray when the Browns lost to the Jets.
That brings the embarrassing season totals to:
- College: 17-22-1
- NFL: 26-32-2
- Combined: 43-54-3
- Money Line parlays: 0-1
A bit of foreshadowing – – this week’s Six-Pack will be the most crowded one of all. I have a lot of selections for you here.
College Football Commentary:
I know that the Heisman Trophy used to be a “running backs’ award” and that it has morphed into a “quarterbacks’ award” over the last couple of decades. Nevertheless, I want to suggest here that the best college football player in the country in 2020 – – at least of the ones I saw with my own two eyes – – was Alabama WR, DeVonta Smith. Opposing defenses sought to double cover him and he beat the double coverage by running past both defenders trying to contain him.
Going into the season, Smith was considered to be Alabama’s #2 WR; Jaylen Waddle was the consensus pick as their #1 guy on the outside. Waddle suffered a season ending injury and Smith merely took over to the point where the Bama faithful never had any regrets. I do not have a Heisman vote, but DeVonta Smith would get mine if I did.
Four Heisman finalists have been named. Smith will be the only non-quarterback under consideration. The other finalists are:
- Mac Jones QB Alabama
- Trevor Lawrence QB Clemson
- Kyle Trask QB Florida
For anyone who follows these rants, it will come as no surprise that I routinely downplay half of the major football conferences in the US and at least 25% of all the Division 1-A teams in the country in any given year. The gap in talent and coaching from the top-shelf of college football even only down to the middle levels of the good conferences is chasm-like. That observation got me to thinking about Power 5 teams perennially at the top of their conferences and teams perennially at the bottom.
- Atlantic Coast Conference: Clemson has been dominant in the ACC for quite a while now; most years, the teams from Miami and UNC are contenders. The doormats of the ACC are probably Duke and Syracuse.
- Big-10: Ohio State has been the dominant team here for quite a while. Occasionally Penn State or Michigan State or Michigan can give them a moment’s pause, but the Buckeyes rule this conference. The doormat here has been Rutgers – – but that may be changing. Another doormat used to be Minnesota – – and that appears to be changing. Another doormat used to be Indiana – – but that appears to be changing. So, I guess for now, the Big-10 doormat is Illinois.
- Big-12: Oklahoma is the boss of this conference. Once in a while they get a tussle from Oklahoma State or Texas; this year Iowa State was a good opponent; but the sooners are in charge in the heartland. The doormat for the league is easy; it must be Kansas. Over the last 11 seasons, Kansas has never won more than 3 games in a single year and the Jayhawks’ cumulative record for those 11 seasons is 21-108.
- PAC-12: Washington, Oregon and USC are probably the most consistently good teams in the conference. It is a toss-up for me whether Cal or Arizona is the most over-matched team in the conference. Cal – like Vanderbilt in the SEC – has academic constraints that make consistent competition impossible so I guess I would say that Arizona is the real doormat here.
- Southeastern Conference: Most years you can pretty much pencil in Alabama, Georgia, Florida and LSU as contenders. Vanderbilt is probably the league’s most reliable doormat, but Arkansas has been less than formidable in recent years.
College Games of Interest:
(12/31/20) Ball State vs. San Jose State – 10 (65.5): Ball State was a surprise winner in the MAC tournament. San Jose State wins on defense allowing only 17.9 points per game. I like this game to stay UNDER; put it in the Six-Pack.
(12/31/20) West Virginia – 7 vs Army (41): Army lives and dies running the football. In 11 games this year, the team has only attempted 70 passes and completed on 31 of those pass attempts. Cumulatively, the team has thrown 4 TD passes and 5 INTs. The reason I am harpoon on this is that West Virginia’s rushing defense is more than just “pretty good”; it ranks 24th in the country (out of 127 teams playing Division 1-A football this year). I like the Mountaineers to win and cover here in a low-scoring game; put it in the Six-Pack.
(1/1/21) Cincy vs. Georgia – 6.5 (51.5): I have touted Cincy – and particularly its defense – all season long. They are the best team that I saw from the so-called Group of Five conferences and I do not doubt that they are significantly better than a couple dozen teams from the Power Five conferences. However, Georgia is not one of those teams. Georgia was offensively challenged until they made a QB switch late in the season; since putting sophomore QB, JT Daniels under center, the Bulldogs have averaged 42 points per game. Add to that the fact that the Georgia defense is clearly the best defense that Cincy has faced all season long. Cincy will play with a chip on its shoulder, but I do not think that will be enough; give me Georgia to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.
(1/1/21) Notre Dame vs. Alabama – 20 (65.5): That 20-point spread is the largest spread in the history of the CFP – – not that the CFP goes back for half a century of anything like that. The game has a couple of interesting matchups:
- The Irish offensive line has 4 starters that many folks have tabbed for NFL careers. If Notre Dame QB, Ian Book, gets time to throw comfortably, the Alabama pass defense can be exploited (see Florida game and Ole Miss game as examples).
- Alabama sets up its explosive passing attack by forcing teams to defend the run particularly by Najee Harris. However, the Irish run defense ranks 15th in the country.
Notre Dame is tempting as an underdog getting almost 3 full TDs – – but I shall resist that temptation and watch the game purely for its enjoyment value.
(1/1/21) Ohio State vs. Clemson – 7.5 (66.5): Ohio State won all 6 of its games this year; they had some COVID-cancellations. The “problem” is that they did not beat any top-shelf teams this year. In the Big-10 the teams that are normally the “Big Dogs” – – Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin – – played like puppies. So, is Ohio State a powerhouse in 2020? I have no idea. I do know that Clemson is beatable this season – – because they lost a game. This is a game to watch and enjoy. I will not make a selection here.
(1/2/21) Texas A&M – 7 vs. UNC (65): I think the Aggies are the better team here even if the Tar Heels were going to be a full offensive strength. However, UNC will be without their leading rusher and their leading receiver for the game. I would take UNC plus the points if those players had not “opted-out” for the game. Under the circumstances, I think UNC is taking on a better opponent with one arm tied behind its back; give me the Aggies to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.
When the NFL expanded the playoffs to include a 7th team from each conference this year – – largely to take in some more revenue as a COVID-19 offset – – there were worries that a .500 team or even worse might make the playoffs as a wildcard team. Little did we know that the NFC East champion would be 7-9 at best. At the same time, I thought every 10-6 team would be a shoo-in let along a team that finished at 11-5. I was wrong on that one too.
In the AFC, there are 3 wildcard slots. Going into the final week of play, five teams in the AFC bring 10-5 records to the kickoff
The Tennessee/Indy pairing will resolve itself as one of the two will be the AFC South champions. That leaves 4 other AFC teams at 10-5 this morning and only 3 wild card slots for them to occupy. It is possible if all 5 of these teams win this weekend – none of them play any of the others – a team with an 11-5 record will be sitting at home watching the playoffs on TV.
In the NFC, the East will be decided over there in a side show; there is no possibility for any wild card relevance. For the three NFC wildcard slots, one is guaranteed to be taken by the Bucs who have a 10-5 record. The other two spots will be divvied up among
- Chicago at 8-7
- LA Rams at 9-6
- Arizona at 8-7
All 16 NFL games happen on Sunday this week and the early games tend to be ones that are either irrelevant or only marginally relevant. However, before any of the pre-game shows begin and before any of the color analysts offer up their “Keys to the Game”, let me get something off my chest. There is a new buzz-phrase in NFL-speak and it is annoying because it is inaccurate.
- Football pundits like to sound “in the know” when they tell fans that it is important for a team’s defense to “get off the field on third down”.
- What is wrong with plain English? What the team’s defense needs to do is to “hold the opponent short of the first down marker” or to “prevent a first down” or to “force a punt”.
- Here is what is wrong with “get off the field on third down” A defense can do that every time simply by allowing the offense to score a touchdown; it gets them off the field without question.
In last week’s action, on Friday (Christmas Day), the Saints beat the Vikes 52-33. Alvin Kamara ran for 6 TDs in the game; the two teams combined for 947 yards of offense; the Saints had the ball for almost 37 minutes and the Saints were never forced to punt. The loss eliminated the Vikes from playoff contention and the 52 points allowed by the Vikes was the most any Vikes’ team had allowed since 1963. By the way, the 1963 Vikes were still “an expansion team” having come into the NFL only 2 years before that.
On Saturday, there was a triple-header of NFL games. The Bucs beat the Lions 47-7. Here is all you need to know about that game:
- With the score 40-0 in the 3rd quarter, the Lions returned a punt for a TD “narrowing the score”. The returner was flagged for taunting on the play forcing the Lions to kick off from the 20 yardline on the next play.
- Cue Bugs Bunny: “What a maroon! “
The Niners beat the Cards 20-12. The loss does not eliminate the Cards from the playoffs, but it does mean that they need some help; if the Bears win their final game this week, they will be in the playoffs ahead of the Cards based on tiebreakers even if the Cards beat the Rams this weekend. The Niners had to go to their #3 QB for the game; CJ Beathard responded by throwing 3 TD passes and RB, Jeff Wilson, ran for 183 yards on 22 carries. Wilson was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018 having played college football for North Texas.
The Dolphins beat the Raiders 26-25. The Raiders took the lead at 25-23 on a field goal with19 seconds left in the game; the Dolphins won the game on a field goal with 1 second left in the game. Ryan Fitzpatrick came off the bench in the 4th quarter to lead the Dolphins to the win. Tua Tagovailoa had a dreary performance here. He completed 17 passes for all of 94 yards. This loss – the fifth in the last six games – eliminated the Raiders from the playoffs in 2020.
The Chiefs beat the Falcons 17-14. The Falcons led late in the game – – not by two or more scores but they did have the lead on the scoreboard. And then they lost. What’s new? The Chiefs hardly looked dominant here – – but teams have not needed to be dominant to beat the Falcons so far in 2020. Here is what Dwight Perry had to say in the Seattle Times about this game:
“Speaking of Christmas, the big man in red looks poised to deliver yet another belated holiday gift for Chiefs fans.
“But enough about Andy Reid.”
The Jets beat the Browns 23-16. Break up the Jets; that makes it two wins in a row for the Guys in Green. The Jets’ defense somehow held the Browns’ running game to 45 yards on 18 carries. The loss leaves the Browns with a record of 10-5 but without a guaranteed slot in the AFC playoffs. Are the Jets’ players trying to save Adam Gase’s job?
The Bengals beat the Texans 37-31. Brandon Allen started at QB for the Bengals and played the best game of his short NFL career. He threw for 371 yards and 2 TDs; the Bengals added to that performance with a running game that contributed 169 yards to the winning effort. This was a shootout, and you might have expected the Texans and Deshaun Watson to have been more successful in that sort of game – – but it was the Bengals won the day.
The Ravens beat the Giants 27-13. This game was not nearly as close as the scoreboard might indicate. The Giants trailed 14-0 at the end of the first quarter based largely on the fact that the Giants ran a total of 3 offensive plays in the first quarter. For the day, the Ravens recorded 6 sacks. The Ravens look like a team that is peaking around playoff time – – but they need to win next week to assure that they are part of those playoffs.
The Steelers beat the Colts 28-24. The Colts led 24-7 with about 3 minutes left in the 3rd quarter; then they had a meltdown. From that point on, the Colts did almost nothing right on either offense or defense. Meanwhile, the Steelers’ offense that had been in hibernation for about a month regained consciousness and scored the final 21 points in the game.
The Cowboys beat the Eagles 37-17. This was a must-win game for both teams and the Eagles ran out to a 14-3 lead in the first half; then reality struck.
The Panthers beat the WTFs 20-13. Dwayne Haskins – playing QB for the WTFs despite the drama he brought to the team over the previous week – was awful in this game. He lost a fumble, threw 2 INTs and averaged only 5.5 yards per pass attempt. Taylor Heinicke replaced Haskins in the second half and rallied the team to a late 4th quarter TD – – but it was not enough. The WTFs defense held the Panthers to 280 yards of offense but could not overcome 4 turnovers 3 by the offense and 1 by the punt return team.
On Monday, the WTFs released Dwayne Haskins; he has a fully guaranteed $4.3M coming to him over the next several years so do not feel too sorry for him. That money is addition to the approximately $10M he got as a signing bonus. Maybe he will use some of that money to hire a life coach who can instill in him something called “deferred gratification” or perhaps “work ethic”. If not, his NFL career is about over.
Haskins is – by my count – the 4th QB that Danny Boy Snyder has imposed on coaches for his team since buying it in 1999. They would be – chronologically –
- Jeff George – – 2000
- Patrick Ramsey – – 2002
- RG3 – – 2012
- Dwayne Haskins – – 2019
Ladies and gentlemen, that would be the superfecta of futility.
The Seahawks beat the Rams 20-9. The win gives the Seahawks the NFC West title and a guaranteed home game in the playoffs. The injury to the thumb of Rams’ QB, Jared Goff may be the most important thing to come out of this game; without him, the Rams are not nearly the same level of threat in the playoffs as they would be with him at QB.
John Wolford is the backup QB on the Rams’ depth chart. Wolford has never thrown an NFL pass before. In fact, his only professional football experience was back in 2019 when he was the starting quarterback for the Arizona Hotshots of the AAF. When the AAF went belly-up, he signed with the Rams. Prior to his time in the AAF, he signed with the Jets as an undrafted free agent out of Wake Forest; the Jets cut him out of training camp. So, the bottom line for this weekend is that the Rams’ playoff hopes are going to ride on the shoulders of a guy who was unable to make it to the Jets’ practice squad. But wait, there are reports that the Rams may be signing – – wait for it – – Blake Bortles this week. If that signing happens, Dwayne Haskins’ agent will need to sit Mr. Haskins down for what in diplomatic circles is known as a “frank and candid exchange” about Mr. Haskins’ perception around the league.
Here is the Rams’ playoff picture as I understand it:
- Rams are IN the playoffs with a win over the Cards this weekend
- Rams are IN the playoffs with a loss to the Cards AND a loss by the Bears.
- Rams are OUT of the playoffs with a loss to the Cards AND a win by the Bears.
Speaking of the Bears, they beat the Jags 41-17 last weekend. That makes it 4 weeks in a row that the Bears have scored 30 or more points in a game. The Bears are guaranteed a playoff slot if they beat the Packers in Chicago this week – – not an easy task. Mitchell Trubisky was 24 of 35 for 265 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT for the game. He also ran for another TD. With this loss – – and the Jets’ surprising win, – – the Jags have locked up the overall #1 pick in next year’s draft; the Jags are “on the clock” for the 2021 NFL Draft and it is not yet 2021. The Jags have lost 14 games in a row since beating the Colts in Week 1; they will close out the season with a rematch against those Colts this week.
The Packers beat the Titans 40-14 in a snow bowl game in Green Bay. You would have thought that the weather elements would favor the Titans and their power running game – – but that advantage went to the Packers from the start. The Titans’ defense has been a weak spot all year long and was again in this game. The Packers rolled up 234 yards on the ground and another 214 yards in the air. The Titans closed the score to 19-14 early in the third quarter and then surrendered 21 unanswered points to turn the game into a rout.
The Bills beat the Pats 38-9. This game was as big a domination as the score indicates. Yes, the Pats were missing two of their best defensive backs for the game; nonetheless, Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs sliced and diced the Pats’ defense all night long. The Pats simply cannot throw the football effectively. Cam Newton was 5 of 10 for 34 yards and got himself placed on the bench; Jarrett Stidham “came to the rescue” and was 4 of 11 for 44 yards – – if you can call that a “rescue”. The Bills recorded 31 first downs; the Pats managed only 11.
The Pats’ offensive situation is dire. The Pats rank 29th overall in the NFL in total offense; to give you an idea of what that means, the only teams with less offensive output this year are the WTFs, the Giants and the Jets. The problem is not the running game; the Pats are 5th in the NFL in rushing; they gain over 145 yards per game on the ground – – and that is in spite of the fact that defenses load up to stop the run against them. The Pats’ problem is the absence of a competent passing game and the failure of their passing game is not nearly a single-point failure.
- Using pass receptions by a tight end, the Pats have zero tight ends in the Top 50
- Using pass yardage by a tight end, the Pats have 1 tight end ranked 48th in the NFL and he has been on IR for six weeks this season.
- Using pass receptions by a WR, the Pats have zero WRs in the Top 50
- Using pass yardage by a WR, the Pats have 1 WR ranked 46th in the NFL.
- Conclusion #1: The Pats have a paucity of talent at the position that catches passes in the NFL in 2020.
Ranking QBs is an inexact science to be sure. I am not a fan of QBR, but it does give you relative groupings of quarterbacks in the league. For example, using QBR as the yardstick, the top 5 QBs for this year are Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, Ryan Tannehill and Josh Allen. The range of QBRs for this group of five QBs goes from 117.8 to 105.1. Most observers would agree that for the 2020 season, all five of those QBs were playing very well. So, using that measure, where do the Pats’ QBs rank?
- Cam Newton’s rating is 71.1 and he ranks 24th in the league.
- Jarrett Stidham’s rating is 23.6 and he ranks 44th in the league
- Neither Brian Hoyer nor Jake Dolegala (practice squad) have enough stats to be rated.
- Conclusion #2: The Pats are suffering from a lack of skill at the QB position for the first time in about 2 decades.
Yes, the QBs would be more proficient if they had Pro bowl caliber pass catchers to throw to; and yes, the pass catchers would have more catches and yardage gained if they had someone akin to Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball to them. Notwithstanding that interesting but irrelevant bit of imagination the problem facing the Pats is they need to fix a sizeable portion of the team all at one time. That is not an easy task.
Cam Newton has never been a pin-point passer even when he was the NFL MVP. With the trivial amount of separation achieved by this receiving corps, his lack of precision becomes a ticket to failure. Even with his dismal performances in the past several games, Bill Belichick has stuck with him as the starter; conventional wisdom would have it that Jarrett Stidham should be getting a baptism of fire so that the team can recognize what – if any – contribution he can make to the team in the coming years. His meager playing time suggests to me:
- Bill Belichick has already decided that Jarrett Stidham is not the “QB of the Future” for the Patriots so long as he is the coach.
[Aside: Yes, I know; I am engaging in mind-reading here and I have no skills in that discipline. But that is my conclusion…]
For years, the Pats had clearly the best QB in their division and had the luxury of tinkering with exotic frills regarding their roster and their game planning. Not anymore. Right now, the Pats’ QB crew is the worst assemblage of talent in the AFC East – and that includes the downtrodden NY Jets who are not going to acquire Trevor Lawrence in this year’s draft. Coaching is important, but players win games – – and it may be a while until the Pats can assemble the mix of players to win games consistently again.
Take a deep breath for a moment. Barring a cataclysmic event between now and Sunday night, the NFL will have gotten in all 256 of its regular season games within the time span of the schedule they produced back in the summer. Yes, they had to juggle a few things around, and we got to see NFL action on Tuesday night and on Friday night this year and on Saturday. Only Wednesdays never saw a pair of NFL teams tee it up.
I wonder what the Las Vegas odds were on the NFL schedule starting on time and finishing on time back in August 2020…
Jax at Indy – 14 (50): The Jags are 1-0 against the Colts in 2020 and they are 0-14 against the rest of the NFL. Does that give them confidence in their ability to win this game? Or does that circumstance piss off the Colts and make it such that they go out with the intention of humiliating a bad Jags’ team? The Colts are one of the 10-5 AFC teams looking for a playoff spot, so the game is important to them. Their only avenue to the playoffs is for a win here and then some help in other games involving AFC teams with 10-5 records. I will avoid a 2-TD spread here but the UNDER is tempting.
Green Bay – 5.5 at Chicago (51.5): If the Packers win, they get the BYE Week in the NFC playoffs. If the Bears win, they will remain alive for the playoffs. The oldest rivalry in the NFL comes down to the final game of the season and the game means something in the standings as well as to the players. Cannot ask for much more… The weather is forecast to be cold and windy – – no surprise for Chicago in January – – but dry. This is the Game of the Week.
Dallas – 2 at Giants (44.5): The spread opened as a “pick ‘em” game and moved quickly to this level. The Cowboys have won 3 games in a row and the winner here will be the NFC East winner if the Eagles beat the WTFs on Sunday Nite. So, forget that the combined records of these two teams is a measly 11-20; this game means something; one of these teams and its fans will be glued to the TV on Sunday Nite and rooting for the Eagles to beat the WTFs. I think that team will be the Cowboys; Andy Dalton has been playing well since returning from injury and the Eagles’ defense has been a mess for the ;last month or so. I like the Cowboys to win and cover on the road here; put it in the Six-Pack.
Pittsburgh at Cleveland – 10.5 (42.5): The spread opened the week at 6 points; then Mike Tomlin said he was resting some of the Steelers’ starters – – including Ben Roethlisberger and TJ Watt because the Steelers never really got a BYE Week this season as part of the schedule jockeying the NFL had to orchestrate to get the season in on time. Surely, the Browns will not take the game lightly; it was only last week that they lost to the Jets; they cannot want to lose again here to the Steelers’ JVs, right? And just as things seemed to be coming together in favor of the Browns came news that they had to close down their team facilities in mid-week due to COVID-19 protocols. In addition to the playoff meaning for the Browns and the playoff seeding for the Steelers, this game has one other interesting angle; it is almost as if a Hollywood screenwriter set up the angle.
- Mason Rudolph will play QB for the Steelers and Myles Garrett will play DE for the Browns.
- The only thing missing from the script here is that the two players will not be mic-ed up so that their verbal stylings will not be recorded for posterity.
Just spitballing here but suppose Mason Rudolph stinks out the joint here; I mean plays embarrassingly bad. Then given that the Steelers have a very good defense in place and given that Ben Roethlisberger’s career arc is trending downward, would the Steelers seriously go shopping for a QB in the offseason?
Tennessee – 7.5 at Houston (57): The Titans win the division with a victory here. The Texans seem to have checked out on the year and some of them at least are contemplating a week or so on a sunny beach somewhere in the Caribbean very soon. Last week the Texans gave up 37 points to the Bengals and 371 yards passing to Brandon Allen. The Texans’ defense is a mess and the Titans’ offense should do well here. [Aside: Derrick Henry needs 223 yards rushing in the game to reach 2000 yards for the season.] The problem for the Titans is that their defense is also a mess; that is why you see such a high Total Line on the game.
New Orleans – 7 at Carolina (48): The Saints are clearly the better team; the Panthers, however, are playing hard and with purpose under rookie coach Matt Ruhle. They may be outmanned here but they will not be outhustled or outhit. The Saints can still get the BYE Week in the NFC playoffs if both Seattle and Green Bay lose; so, they do have “something to play for”.
Jets at New England – 3 (40): Both teams have been eliminated from playoff consideration here. The Jets cannot improve or hurt their draft position; they will have the 2nd overall pick next April. The Patriots have a lot of players who have never been in the situation where there is nothing they can do to be part of the playoffs this season; it might be interesting to see how they react. The Jets arrive in Foxboro with a 2-game winning streak and a defense that has held the Rams and the Browns (two playoff aspirants as of this week) to 20 points or less in those two games. As noted above, the Pats’ offense is virtually non-existent. I think the Jets win this game, so I’ll be happy to take them plus some points; put it in the Six-Pack.
Minnesota – 7 at Detroit (54.5): Both teams are eliminated from playoff consideration here too. As an added bit of spice, the status of Lions’ QB Matthew Stafford is “up in the air” and we saw last week that his backups, Chase Daniel and David Blough, are not “emerging stars”. Neither defense has played well for most of the season but the Vikes’ offense has shown some cohesion from time to time – – except that for Sunday’s game, Dalvin Cook will be with his family due to the sudden death of his father. This game has no social redeeming qualities; this is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.
Atlanta at Tampa Bay – 6.5 (50.5): The perfect punctuation mark for the entirety of this goofy NFL season can be had in this game if it follows this script:
- Falcons lead 21-0 at the half.
- Falcons lead 28-10 at the end of the 3rd quarter
- Bucs – with Tom Brady at QB – win in OT 37-31
The Falcons came close to following that script just 2 weeks ago. The Falcons have played significantly better in December than they did earlier in the year, but it just has not showed in the standings. The key to this game comes down to motivation or lack thereof. The Bucs are in the playoffs no matter what; the Falcons are out of the playoffs no matter what; which team cares the most?
Baltimore – 13 at Cincy (44): The Ravens are one of the 10-5 AFC teams seeking playoff entry; the situation here is simple; the Ravens are ”in” if they win. Obviously, the Bengals can only be spoilers here; they have been playoff-irrelevant for quite a while. However, the Bengals have won 2 in a row, and the Ravens have won 4 in a row. Boy, that line looks fat to me; I must resist the temptation to make a pick in a game with that big a spread…
Miami at Buffalo – 2.5 (46): This line is all over the place; you can find it at 3.5 points at one sports book and at “pick ‘em” at one other sportsbook. The reason is that bettors do not yet have a sense of who will play and for how long for the Bills. The Bills have the #2 seed locked up with a win here; as noted above, this game is very important to the Dolphins and their playoff chances. Here is what I do know with certainty.
- The game is in Buffalo; the calendar says it is January; even Al Gore knows it is not going to be “balmy weather”. The lookahead forecast on Weather.com calls for temperatures in the mid-30s with snow showers and 8 mph winds.
The Dolphins’ defense has gotten the team to this point – notwithstanding the miraculous comeback win last week against the Raiders (see above). That defense will need to be at the top of its game here because Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense is on a roll over the last month. This game got strong consideration as the Game of the Week; if you can watch it, do so.
Chargers at KC (no lines): I have no idea who will play for the Chiefs and if the starters do play, for how long will they play. The game means nothing to the either team. I also expect the Chiefs to employ a lot of formations and a lot of plays that they have no intention of using once the playoffs begin just to give defensive coordinators something extra to worry about.
Seattle – 6 at SF (46.5): The Seahawks are the division winners, and they could be the #1 seed in the NFC if they win here and both the Saints and the Packers lose on Sunday. The Niners stepped things up last week and beat the playoff contending Cards with a solid performance from CJ Beathard. Problem is that the Seahawks defense is playing very well now and is better than the Cards’ defense.
Las Vegas – 2.5 at Denver (51): This is the third game on the card for this week where neither team has any part in playoff determination nor seeding. The Raiders are the better team – – but they have been the better team several times over the course of their 1-5 stretch since mid-November. The porous Raiders’ defense might be just the thing that Drew Lock needs to make the Broncos’ braintrust think he just might be “The Guy” going forward. Here is an interesting circumstance for this game:
- Raiders are 2-5-0 on the road for the season
- Broncos are 2-5-0 at home for the season.
- Is anyone up for a tie game?
I think the players and coaches here will play the game “loosie-goosey” and neither defense gives me confidence that they can stop “the other guys”. I like this game to turn into a shoot-out; I think the game will go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.
Arizona at Rams “pick ‘em” (39): Anyone who bets this game before the active lists are announced is someone just looking for action. Jared Goff will not play for the Rams (see above); in addition, the Rams put Cooper Kupp on the COVID list, and he may not be eligible by Sunday. For the Cards, Kyler Murray has a “lower leg injury” and may have to be scratched; his backup on the roster is Chris Streveler who was the QB for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers who went to the CFL Grey Cup last year. If the Cards win, they are in the playoffs; if the Rams win, they are in the playoffs; if the Rams lose, they might still get in the playoffs. Lots of possibilities here and none will mean much until you know who can play and who cannot.
(Sun Nite) Washington – 1 at Philly (43): The WTFs situation is simple; win here and they are in the playoffs; lose here and they go home. The Eagles situation is equally simple; they go home win or lose. The fact that Dwayne Haskins was cut so abruptly last Monday tells me that Ron Rivera is confident that Alex Smith will be a go for this game. Taylor Heinicke played OK in relief last week but if Smith were a no-go, Haskins would still be on the team for emergencies as opposed to Steven Montez a rookie from Colorado. I think the Washington defense wins this one; I like the WTFs to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.
Before reviewing this week’s Six-Pack, here is how the NFL Playoffs ought to look as of late Sunday night:
- AFC: The BYE WEEK belongs to the Chiefs no matter what. Then:
- #7 Colts at #2 Bills
- #6 Browns at #3 Steelers – – for the third time this year.
- #5 Ravens at #4 Titans – – Darrel Royal, Woody Hayes and Vince Lombardi will love this one; it is a rematch, and the prior game went to OT.
- NFC: The BYE Week will belong to the Packers. Then:
- #7 Cards at #2 Saints
- #6 Rams at #3 Seahawks – – for the third time this year.
- #5 Bucs at #4 WTFs
Here is the Six Pack for this week – – with 8 selections again:
- Georgia – 6.5 over Cincy
- Texas A&M – 7 over UNC
- West Virginia – 7 over Army
- Ball State/San Jose State UNDER 65.5
- Cowboys – 2 over Giants
- Jets +3 versus Patriots
- Raiders/Broncos OVER 51
- WTFs – 1 over Eagles.
Last week, I threw in a Money Line Parlay and hit 3 of the 4 games – – which means it was a loser. But it was fun, so here is another 4 team Money Line Parlay for this week:
- Clemson at minus-300
- Georgia at minus-260
- Jets at +140
- Bucs at minus-300.
- My calculation says this will pay out at +490.
Finally, here is another NFL-related observation from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:
“Ex-QB Peyton Manning is unveiling a Tennessee-based whiskey called Sweetens Cove Bourbon.
“To no one’s surprise, restaurateurs say it also goes well with Omaha steaks.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………