Anyone who has been reading these rants for even a short period of time has surely come to the realization that Football Friday is an important calendar entry here in Curmudgeon Central. Nevertheless, Football Friday is being moved to a different calendar entry this week to make way for Christmas this Friday. Even though my long-suffering wife and I will be spending Christmas Day using Zoom and WhatsApp to connect with family, those virtual celebrations take precedence over banging out Football Friday on its normal schedule.
Call this “Touchdown Thursday” if you want. I shall begin as usual with a review of last week’s Six-Pack which had 8 selections crammed into it:
- College: 2-2-0
- NFL: 2-2-0
- Combined: 4-4-0
Those results bring the cumulative results for the 2020 season to this less than laudatory status:
- College : 17-22-1
- NFL: 24-30-1
- Combined: 41-52-2
College Football Commentary
College football is poised to step aside in its pursuit of the spotlight within the US sports world; its regular season is over; its playoffs will not happen for another week or two. College football will seek to fill some of that time with bowl games that are generally meaningless and uninteresting. From this afternoon through Saturday evening, there will be eight bowl games; only two of those eight games caught my attention for more than a microsecond:
- Liberty vs. Coastal Carolina: The teams will meet in something called “The Cure Bowl” in Orlando, FL on Saturday at 7:30 PM EST. This is an interesting game because Liberty is 9-1 on the season and Coastal Carolina is 11-0. Even though these are second tier teams from second tier conferences, it might be an interesting game.
- Marshall vs. Buffalo: The teams will meet in something called “The Camelia Bowl” in Montgomery, AL on Christmas Day at 2:30 PM EST. This is an interesting game because Buffalo has a running back named Jarrett Patterson who has averaged 178.7 yards per game and 3.2 TDs per game this season.
The CFP pairings are set. Frankly, I am a bit surprised that there was only a murmur of controversy regarding the naming of the 4 entrants this year; I would have expected the lackluster showings of both Ohio State and Notre Dame in their final games to have created a more vocal advocacy for other teams such as Texas A&M, but that never materialized. The CFP semifinals will occupy the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl this year; that leaves the so-called New Year’s Six with the following matchups:
- Cotton Bowl Dec 30th 8:00 PM EST: Oklahoma vs. Florida. These are two good teams with plenty of offensive firepower. I will not be surprised if the losing team scores 30+ points in the game.
- Peach Bowl Jan 1st 12:30 PM EST: Cincy vs. Georgia. Cincy is undefeated; Georgia has lost twice – – to Alabama and to Florida. Both teams are strong on defense.
- Fiesta Bowl Jan 2nd 4:00 PM EST: Oregon vs. Iowa State. I am afraid I will miss this game; my calendar calls for me to rearrange my sock drawer at that time.
- Orange Bowl Jan 2nd 8:00 PM EST: Texas A&M vs. UNC: The Tar Heels average 43.0 points per game; The Aggies allow 21.1 points per game. This should be interesting.
Other than games mentioned here, I count 11 other college football games that will happen between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. I find precisely none of those games to be interesting let alone compelling. If you are an alum of any of the 22 schools that will be participating in those 11 games or if you have a blood relative who is attending any of them, tune in to see what happens. I plan to be busy trying to reach the unreachable star. (Hat Tip to The Man of La Mancha.)
Two games from last weekend produced strange happenings on the field that bear passing mention even though the season is over.
Penn State beat Illinois 56-21. The score at the end of the first quarter was 21-21. Here are the scoring drives for that first quarter:
- Penn State 1 play 75 yards
- Illinois 4 plays 16 yards
- Penn State 100-yard kickoff return (BTW there is 10:51 still to go in the 1st quarter at this point.)
- Illinois 3 plays 75 yards
- Illinois 4 plays 63 yards
- Penn State 10 plays 75 yards
And then, the Illinois offense went into hibernation for the rest of the game…
Army beat Air Force 10-7 to retain the Commander in Chief trophy for 2020. The Army passing attack produced this highly unusual stat line:
- 1 of 2 for 0 yards with 0 TDS and 0 INTs
Meanwhile, the Air Force passing attack was marginal at best:
- 6 of 14 for 107 yards with 1 TD and 3 INTs
With the regular season ended, I can now announce that the winner of the inaugural Brothel Defense Award – the defense that is most easily scored on – is Kansas for giving up 46.0 points per game. Let’s hear it for the Jayhawks…
There are no college football games that merit placement in this week’s Six-Pack so I shall move on to the next standard section for Football Friday.
I am fast coming to the conclusion that Dwayne Haskins is a meathead. Last season there were hints that he had difficulty remembering how to call various plays in the huddle after he got the signal from the sideline. When he lost his starting job this year, there were stories that coaches had to teach him how to take notes during film study to make that film study productive. And now – – after he regained his starting QB job due to injuries to Kyle Allen and Alex Smith – – Dwayne Haskins finds himself front and center in the mind of Roger Goodell. Here is the deal:
- After losing to the Seahawks last weekend, Haskins went out to a ”local exotic club”; losing the game must have put him in need of solace so that he might arrive at club HQs next week alert and ready to absorb the game plan being devised by the coaches. No big deal, right?
- Did I mention that he was photographed in the “exotic club” without a mask on his face? That is a violation of the NFL’s COVID-19 protocol.
- Oh, by the way, this is the second time Haskins has been in violation of the NFL’s health and safety protocols. That means he could suffer a 4-game suspension if The Commish so decides.
[Aside: Kyle Allen is out for the year; Alex Smith’s availability for this week’s game is uncertain; the other QB on the active roster is Taylor Heinicke. If the WTFs win out, they are in the playoffs; they need their QB suspended like a moose needs a hat rack.]
Naturally, Dwayne Haskins issued a public apology for this meatheadedness. Here is what he said; tell me if you think you have heard this sort of thing somewhere before.
“I want to publicly apologize for my actions this past Sunday. I spoke with Coach Rivera yesterday and took full accountability for putting the team at risk. It was irresponsible and immature of me and I accept responsibility for my action. I also want to apologize for creating a distraction for my team during our playoff push.
“I will learn and grow from this and do what’s best for the team moving forward.”
Amazingly, his previous transgression regarding the COVID-19 protocols did not enable him to learn and grow from that incident not did it get him to realize what constitutes irresponsible and/or immature behavior. But now, things will be different…
Lest you think I am being too harsh on someone who is only 23 years old, take a moment and follow this link to read what Sally Jenkins has to say on the subject in Wednesday’s Washington Post.
Last week, the Seahawks beat the WTFs 20-15. Dwayne Haskins played the best game of his career here in a loss. Here is his stat line:
- 38 of 55 for 295 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs plus 3 carries for 28 yards.
That is not a great stat line for an Aaron Rodgers or a Patrick Mahomes; but importantly, Haskins was poised for much of the game and did not stare down his receivers. It may not be good enough to convince the WTFs’ coaches to put up with Haskins’ immaturity and meatheadedness as noted above, but it was his best showing to date. As usual, the WTFs dug themselves a hole trailing at the half 13-3 and then trailing at the end of the 3rd quarter 20-3.
The Cards beat the Eagles 33-26. The Eagles could not have asked for much more than they got from Jalen Hurts in this game. Here is his stat line:
- 24 of 44 for 338 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs plus 11 carries for 63 yards and 1 TD.
The Eagles’ problem here was the defense that gave up 526 yards total offense. Even though the Eagles “won the takeover battle” 3-0, it was not enough.
The Cowboys beat the Niners 41-33. You should not conclude from the Cowboys’ total of 41 points that they marched up and down the field at will against the Niners. The Cowboys got 24 points because of short fields set up by recovering 2 fumbles and intercepting 2 passes; then with the score 34-27, the Cowboys returned an onside kick for a TD. In fact, the Cowboys were outgained 458 yards to 291 yards.
The Bills beat the Broncos 48-19. The Bills clinched the AFC East title with this win; that is the first time the Bills have won the division since 1995. The star of the game had to be Josh Allen; the Bills’ QB threw for 359 yards and 2 TDs plus he ran for 33 yards and 2 more TDs. Stefon Diggs was on the receiving end of 11 passes from Allen gaining 147 yards in the process. The Broncos made a game of it in the first half trailing only 21-13 at the intermission but the second half got ugly pretty quickly for Broncos’ fans.
The Packers beat the Panthers 24-16. The Panthers defense showed up ready to play. They sacked Aaron Rodgers 4 times and held him to 143 yards through the air. Packers’ RB, Aaron Jones, gained more yards rushing than Aaron Rodgers gained passing; that does not happen often. The Panthers’ offense was not efficient here; they got to the Red Zone 4 times and only came away with 1 TD.
The Bucs beat the Falcons 31-27. When I saw that the Falcons led 17-0 at halftime, I made a note on my pad saying:
“The Bucs have them right where they want them.”
Early in the third quarter, the Falcons led 24-7. And then, as if on cue, the Falcons squandered a three-score lead once again. In the fourth quarter of the game, the total offense for the Falcons was 35 yards.
The Titans beat the Lions 46-25. Just to point out the dominance of the Titans in this game, consider only these two stats:
- Titans were in the Red Zone 5 times and came away with 5 TDs
- Titans converted 9 of 11 third-down situations.
Maybe the folks in Detroit looking for a new coach and GM should consider the possibility that the team could use an influx of talent on the field as much as it needs better leadership on the sidelines and in the front office?
The Ravens beat the Jags 40-14. The Jags started Gardner Minshew at QB in this game but that did not provide much of a spark; the Jags failed to score a point in the first half of the game. As an indicator of how much the Ravens had this game under control, they did not punt at any time in the game.
The Colts beat the Texans 27-20. The Texans had a good chance to tie this game and send it to OT but lost a fumble at the Colts’ 1 yardline with 19 seconds left on the clock. Deshaun Watson played well here throwing for 373 yards and 2 TDs in a losing effort.
The Bears beat the Vikes 33-27. Mitchell Trubisky was efficient if not spectacular here. His stat line was:
- 15 of 21 for 202 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT plus 8 carries for 34 yards
Dalvin Cook had a good day for the Vikes gaining 132 yards rushing and scoring 1 TD. The Vikes sputtered when it mattered; they were 4 of 11 on third down conversions and 0 for 2 on fourth down conversions.
The Dolphins beat the Pats 22-12. When I took this game to stay UNDER 41.5 in last week’s Six-Pack, I said that the first team to 20 points would be the winner. Voila! For the first time since Tom Brady missed an entire season with a knee injury more than 10 years ago, the Pats are not going to be in the playoffs. The Dolphins ran for 250 yards in this game and controlled the ball for just over 37 minutes. The Dolphins converted 7 of 12 third down situations while the Pats were only 2 of 9 in the same circumstances.
The Jets beat the Rams 23-20. The Jets are off the schneid; they have a win on their record; they also now do not possess the overall #1 pick in next year’s draft; that pick now belongs to the Jags based on tiebreakers. The Rams were 17-point favorites in the game and the Jets were +675 on the Money Line; so how did this happen? Sam Darnold was efficient and effective at QB; the Jets’ defense limited the Rams to 303 yards and held the Rams to 2 of 11 on third down conversions; the Jets’ special teams blocked a punt. I suspect a whole lot of survival pools shrank significantly when the final whistle sounded here…
The Chiefs beat the Saints 32-29. The Chiefs looked awfully good against a very good Saints’ defense here; the only issue for the Chiefs is that two of their RBs, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and LeVeon Bell, suffered injuries in the second half of the game. The Saints had Drew Brees back from the injured list and he looked rusty for most of the first half of the game.
The Browns beat the Giants 20-6. After trailing at the end of the first quarter 3-0, the Browns dominated the game. The next time the Giants scored was with 4 minutes left in the game to make the score 20-6. The Browns held the ball for 34 minutes in the game and converted 9 of 13 third-down situations. The Browns’ receiving corps of Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones may not be household names, but they are very good. And maybe just as importantly, they are not divas who demand attention at all times.
The Bengals beat the Steelers 27-17. The Bengals were energized for this game; they outhustled the Steelers from start to finish. This is the third loss in a row for the Steelers; they are in the playoffs but have not yet secured the AFC North title. Ben Roethlisberger is going to the Hall of Fame one of these days but his performance in this game was abjectly awful. Twice he threw into triple coverage which had to mean that he missed an open receiver somewhere unless the Bengals had 13 men on the field; the reason neither of those passes were intercepted is that he was so far off target that no one could get to the ball. The Steelers’ defense played well; the Bengals only gained 230 yards in the game, but the Steelers’ offense was almost non-existent.
Just to summarize, here is the playoff picture going into this week’s games:
- In the NFC, Packers have clinched the NFC North. The Seahawks and Saints have clinched a spot in the playoffs. That’s it; the five other slots are up for grabs.
- In the AFC, the Bills and the Chiefs have clinched their divisions and the Steelers have clinched a spot in the playoffs. That’s it, the five other slots are up for grabs.
By making these picks a day earlier than usual, some of the lines for Sunday’s games could move significantly relative to where they are now. C’est la guerre…
(Fri 4:30 PM EST) Minnesota at New Orleans – 7.5 (51): Drew Brees started out last week’s game miserably but played much more like himself in the second half of the game. The Vikings do not have much of a pass rush, so Brees ought to be able to pick the Vikes’ secondary apart. I do not like that hook on top of a full TD in the spread so I will pass on this as a selection for the Six-Pack.
(Sat 1:00 PM EST) Tampa Bay – 10 at Detroit (54): The line opened at 8 points and suddenly expanded to 10 points at those sportsbooks where the game was not taken down entirely. Here is the deal:
- The Lions had a positive COVID-19 test. Not good but not a disaster either…
- Problem is that interim head coach, Darrell Bevell and the entire defensive coaching staff are marked as “close contacts” with the infected person.
- It is not as if the Lions’ coaching staff is made up of top-level strategists and tacticians, but it probably behooves the team to have someone there to do some decision making. Right now, it is not clear who will be there to do that.
(Sat 4:30 PM EST) SF at Arizona – 5 (48.5): The analysis for this game is simple and direct. The Niners are eliminated from the NFC playoffs; the Cards are in the playoff picture but need this game to stay afloat.
(Sat 8:15 PM EST): Miami – 3 at Las Vegas (48): In last week’s so-called “look-ahead line” the Raiders were favored by 1.5 points but the injury to Derek Carr made the Dolphins the favorite when this week’s betting began, and they have remained the favorite all week long. Dolphins rookie QB, Tua Tagovailoa may not be lighting up the NFL stat sheets, but he has started 7 games and is 6-1 against the spread. That would make him a strong contender for Rookie of the Year by folks who have been backing him and the Dolphins this season. The Raiders have lost four of their last five games and it is the Raiders’ defense that is on the spot. In those last 5 games, the Raiders have allowed 36 points per game; a change in defensive coordinator did not result in significant change on the field. I like the Dolphins to win and cover in this important game in their playoff run; put it in the Six-Pack.
Denver at Chargers – 3 (49): The Total Line opened the week at 51 points and dropped rather quickly to this level. Often, late season games involving the Broncos have a dropping Total Line when the game is outdoors in the elements of Denver in December. Such is not the case here. The Chargers offense is hitting on all cylinders; Denver has been in-and-out for most of the season. The Chargers have won their last two games; the Broncos have lost 5 of their last 7 games including last week’s shellacking at the hands of the Bills. I like the Chargers to stay hot and to win and cover at home; put it in the Six-Pack. I also like this game to go OVER; put that in the Six-Pack too.
Cleveland – 9.5 at Jets (47.5): The Browns can all but lock up a playoff spot with a win here; the Jets will hit the field as winners of their last game; that will be a new sensation for these guys. Did the Jets wake up last week? Were the Rams over-confident?
Cincy at Houston – 9 (46): After the way the Texans played last week, I am shocked to see that they are 9-point favorites over anyone let alone a team that played as well as the Bengals did last week. Yes, the Bengals must go on the road on a short week; yes, this is a home game for the Texans after three straight games on the road; yes, the Bengals were jacked up for a division game last week and are not likely to play at the same intensity level this week. But 9 points…? That line is fat; I’ll take the Bengals on the road plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack.
Indy – 2 at Pittsburgh (44.5): If the Steelers’ offense does not come back to life here, the Steelers are going to lose their 4th game in a row. The Steelers have not scored more than 17 points in any of their last 4 games; the Colts have a good defense, one that is better than the Bengals’ defense that held the Steelers down last week. Three questions relative to the Steelers are in the air here:
- Can RB, James Connor make it back from injury for this game?
- Would that be enough impetus if he can play?
- Is Ben Roethlisberger’s career over – – or has it just looked that way for the past 3 games?
Chicago – 7.5 at Jax (47.5): You can find this line at 9 points at one sportsbook this morning; almost all the others have it at 7.5 points. Take a deep breath here while I remind you that the Chicago Bears have scored 30 or more points in each of their last 3 games. The Jets gifted the Jags with the overall #1 pick in the draft last week by beating the Rams; will the Jags return the favor here? The Bears are still alive in the playoff chase; if they blow their chances against the 1-13 Jags, there will be a major outbreak of dolore di stomaco in the Windy City…
Carolina at Washington – 2.5 (43.5): The fact that this line is where it is tells me that the bettors are convinced that the NFL is not going to suspend Dwayne Haskins for this game (see above). I suspect they are correct; even Roger Goodell who likes to polish his “tough-guy image” periodically may be reluctant to put that sort of barrier in front of the WTFs who lead the NFC East for now.
Giants at Baltimore – 11 (44): Both teams are still playoff contenders – – but a loss for either team could be fatal. Did the Ravens figure out what had been bothering them last week? If so, they will win this game in a walk. If not…
Atlanta at KC – 11 (54): The spread opened the week at 13 points; this morning you can find it as low as 10 points at one sportsbook. Here is a fun Fact about the Falcons in 2020:
- The team is eliminated from the playoffs with a 4-10 record. Nonetheless, the point differential for the Falcons is +2 for the season.
- Other 4-10 teams (plus the Eagles at 4-9-1) have point differentials from minus-33 points to minus-71 points.
The Chiefs are 13-1 and could secure the playoff BYE Week in the AFC with a win here.
Rams at Seattle – 1 (47.5): The spread for this game opened at 3 points; this morning you can find it anywhere from 2 points to “pick ‘em”. Maybe you can explain the Rams; loss to the Jets last week as it being a “look-ahead game”. If so, the Rams need to come out smoking in this one because a loss to the Seahawks will guarantee that the Rams will not win the AFC West. A win for the Rams will put them atop the AFC West based on the head-to-head tiebreaker for the season.
Philly – 2 at Dallas (49.5): The game opened the week with the Cowboys as 2-point favorites and then it flipped. I have no explanation for that change. I also have no explanation for why anyone would want to bet on either of these teams this weekend.
(Sun Nite) Tennessee at Green Bay – 3 (56): The spread for this game opened at 5 points and has been eroding to this level during the week. Darrick Henry should have a big day against the Packers’ defense; Aaron Rodgers should have a big day against the Titans’ defense.
(Mon Nite) Buffalo – 7 at New England (46): The Pats have looked miserable on offense for a while now. The Pats scored more than 20 points only once in the last 5 games; their defense is good but not that good. Defenses are loading up to stop the run and daring either Cam Newton or Jarret Stidham to do damage with the cadre of pass catchers on the Pats’ roster. It is just not working. The last time the Bills were a road favorite over the Patriots was back in 1999. I think the Bills will dominate here; I like them to win and cover on the road; put it in the Six-Pack.
Let me review this week’s Six-Pack – – with only 5 entries this week:
- Dolphins – 3 over Raiders
- Chargers – 3 over Broncos
- Chargers/Broncos OVER 48.5
- Bengals +9 vs. Texans
- Bills – 7 over Pats
Lest anyone feel cheated by the lack of a sixth selection above let me throw in a Money Line Parlay just for fun:
- Bears at minus-360 plus Bucs at minus-440 plus Browns at minus-440 plus Bills at minus-320
- This is a Money Line Parlay from Sesame Street; it is brought to you by the letter “B”.
- By my calculation, if it hits, the parlay will pay out at +149.
Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in the Seattle Times last weekend:
“Ex-Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville — the newly elected U.S. senator from Alabama — hinted he’ll join a potential challenge to the electoral-vote count when Congress reconvenes in January.
“Ever see a red challenge flag thrown across the senate floor before?”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………