After two aberrant weeks where Holidays intervened to disrupt things here in Curmudgeon Central, Football Friday is once again coinciding with Friday on the calendar. F. Scott Fitzgerald told us never to accept a single defeat as a final defeat. He was right; simply through perseverance, Football Friday and the common calendar have come back into sync.
Therefore, let me begin with a look back on last week’s Six-Pack. It was another plain vanilla performance which makes it all but certain that this year’s cumulative record in Six-Pack selections will be less than .500.
- College: 2-2-0
- NFL: 2-2-0
- Combined: 4-4-0
- Money Line Parlay: 0-1
That brings the cumulative record for Six-Pack selections to:
- College: 19-24-1
- NFL: 28-34-2
- Combined: 47-58-3\
- Money Line Parlays: 0-2
College Football Commentary:
Texas fired Tom Herman and found a way to cough up $24M to buy out his contract. Texas football has lots of booster money at its disposal and Texas boosters seem not to be able to live with a successful football program that does not go beyond that level and become a dominant football program. Herman was the coach at Texas for 4 seasons; his teams registered a combined record of 32-18; he was the “hottest”/”sexiest” coaching hire on the market back in 2017; now winning about 2 of every 3 games is not enough…
Texas alums love to crow – after spending a lot of money and landing a “top-shelf new coach” – that Texas football is back. Maybe that will be the case this time; I will wait to see how the “new guy” makes that happen…
The “new guy” will be Steve Sarkissian who got the job on two bases:
- He is the offensive coordinator for Alabama and the Alabama offense is more than merely “very good”.
- He has cleansed many – if not all – of the stains on his previous coaching résumé in the penitence chamber of Nick Saban’s assistant coaches.
Steve Sarkissian may indeed be the second coming of Darrel Royal in Austin; time and results will decide if that is to be the case. However, let me suggest that you read this assessment of the hire from CBSSports.com.
What college football has left to present to its fans is a CFP Championship Game. Alabama and Ohio State will give college football fans a contest that is worthy of viewing and analysis. What happened last week in the CFP semi-finals was also an important presentation of college football; fans saw a lot of top-shelf college football players putting maximum effort out there for 60 minutes; nobody was “dogging it”; fans of college football – – as opposed to fans of a single team or a single conference – – got something they could appreciate.
Now, look at the rest of the bowl games for 2020/2021. There were fewer of them this year because COVID-19 mandated that there would be fewer of them. And, even with a smaller set of games to fill, how many of them were either important or interesting?
- Georgia 24 Cincy 21: This was interesting because Cincy is not a Power 5 team and Georgia is one of the better teams in the best of the Power 5 Conferences. The Bearcats had been undefeated going into the game; this game was meaningful, and it was competitive.
- Oklahoma 55 Florida 20: This game matched two “also-rans” near the top of two Power 5 conferences.
- Oklahoma St. 37 Miami 34: This game was between two good-if-not-great teams and it produced a close contest.
- Liberty 37 Coastal Carolina 34 (OT): These are two teams that are not in Power 5 conferences who brought a combined record of 20-1 to the kickoff and then delivered an OT game for the fans.
The rest of the bowl games – – and there were dozens more – – were either not competitive or not important. I bring this up only to suggest that the cries you will hear and read about expanding the CFP from 4 teams to 8 teams are not interesting. This year, I might entertain an argument that Texas A&M belonged in the CFP as opposed to Notre Dame. The Aggies won their bowl game over UNC handily. But that is where it ends. Yes, I know that in March Madness we finally saw a #16-seed beat a #1-seed. But did we REALLY enjoy watching all of the blowout games pairing those teams for all those years?
One last observation about this year’s bowl games:
- The ACC record as a conference was 0-6. Not impressive…
College Game of Interest:
(Mon Nite) Alabama – 8 versus Ohio State (75): Nick Saban traditionally has been a “defensive guy”; this year his defense has not been outstanding – – merely 32nd in the country in yards per game allowed and 13th in the country in points per game allowed. This year, the Alabama offense has the spotlight, and it puts 48 points per game on the scoreboard. Instead of offensive coaches trying to find ways to “trick” the Alabama defense into a mistake or two in a game, this year’s opposing offensive coaches have to be concerned about keeping pace with the Alabama scoring machine. From what I have seen, the Buckeyes have the speed on offense to do that AND they have a QB who can direct a big-play offense with poise and talent. Will Justin Fields be at his peak physically after suffering a chest/rib injury a week ago and being sent back into the game with a “couple of shots” and “no diagnosis”? Ohio State is +250 on the Money Line; Alabama is minus-270 on the Money Line. I will try for a “middle” here where I bet on both teams and hope to win both bets. I like Ohio State + 8 points AND I like Alabama on the Money Line. If the Crimson Tide wins by 7 or fewer points, I cash both bets. Put that pairing in the Six-Pack.
Last week, Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:
“Hardware: Aaron Rodgers is the NFL’s MVP; Buffalo’s Sean McDermott is Coach of the Year. No arguments will be entertained.”
Pardon me, Professor Molinaro; I do have two nominees to enter into this discussion and I believe that both merit consideration for these awards. If Aaron Rodgers and Sean McDermott ultimately wind up with the awards, I shall have no great sense of loss. I will not say the voting was rigged nor will I be so appalled by the choices that I would contest the voting process itself. Having said that:
- Derrick Henry needs to be considered as the NFL MVP for 2020. If you use the criterion of “best player for the season”, Henry’s 2000+ yards speak for themselves rather eloquently. If you use the criterion of “most valuable to his team”, I suggest that the Titans would not be in the playoffs without his presence in the backfield and his 397 “touches” in the 2020 regular season.
- Kevin Stefanski needs to be considered as the NFL Coach of the Year. He took over a Browns’ team that clearly lacked adult supervision and despite his “youth” (he is 38 years old), Stefanski got the Browns to a 11-5 record and a place in the playoffs for the first time since 2002. The last time the Browns won 11 games in the regular season was in 1994; you may have heard of the coach on the 1994 Browns’ team; it was Bill Belichick.
The NFC playoff teams present us with the possibilities of seeing Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady playing against one another this year as the games unfold. Even in Curmudgeon Central, there are no complaints about watching any or all those potential games.
Teams fight and claw to make it to the playoffs through the NFL regular season. Well, we have an expanded playoff set this year and maybe it makes sense to try to understand what these playoffs mean to some of the teams and players who are still playing:
- The Titans and Browns are in the playoffs this year. They are the only two teams making the playoffs this year that have never won a Super Bowl game. The Titans have been to the Super Bowl once; the Browns – in neither of their incarnations – have ever participated.
- Lamar Jackson has never won a playoff game having made the playoffs in both of his previous 2 seasons in the NFL. The Ravens bring a five-game winning streak to the kickoff against the Titans. That is the good news; the bad news is that those five wins came at the expense of the Cowboys, Browns, Jaguars, Giants and Bengals. The Titans should provide stiffer competition this week.
- The Bills have won six games in a row and all six victories were of the double-digit variety. Josh Allen threw 15 TDs and two picks in those winning games. The victims in those last 6 wins by the Bills were the Rams, Niners, Steelers, Broncos, Patriots and Dolphins.
- The Browns last playoff win came in January 1995. Their QB this week, Baker Mayfield, was not born until April 1995.
These playoffs could very well mean a lot for some NFL coaches – in addition to what the game might mean to players and franchises. Consider:
- Bruce Arians (Bucs): He is an “offensive coach” and this year he was presented with Tom Brady, Gronk and Antonio Brown in addition to what he had last year. I suggest the team had better score points.
- John Harbaugh (Ravens): He is in no danger of getting fired, but his reputation will not be enhanced even a little bit with a 3rd consecutive first-round playoff loss.
- Sean McDermott (Bills): He has lost his only two playoff games in the first round of the playoffs – – just like John Harbaugh has lost in the last two years. The huge difference here is that Harbaugh has a Super Bowl ring and McDermott does not.
- Matt Nagy (Bears): Making the playoffs is likely a “coaching career reprieve” for him – – unless the Bears are embarrassed by the Saints this weekend…
Speaking of the Bills and their appearance in this year’s NFL playoffs, here is a comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:
“In addition to game tickets, parking and antifreeze, the 6,772 fans allowed in to watch the Bills’ first playoff game will be required to pay $63 for a COVID-19 test on the way in.
“Make it an even $100, rumor has it, and they’ll even throw in a Dr. Fauci bobblehead.”
Last weekend was the grand crescendo for the NFL regular season. Let me mark the occasion by presenting some thumbnail comments on some – but not all – of last week’s games.
The Falcons did not force the Bucs to punt even once in their 44-27 loss last week. The Falcons have lots of work to do in the off-season on both offense and defense.
The Cards are another team with work to do in the offseason. They finished the season at 8-8 losing last week to the Rams quarterbacked by John Wolford in his first ever NFL start. Since their BYE Week in early November, the Cards went 3-6. Those three wins were:
- The “Hail Mary win over the Bills”
- A win over the NY Giants
- A win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
- Not impressive…
The Dolphins’ defense disappeared last week giving up 56 points to the Bills. Was the Dolphins’ “Top-10 Defense” from Weeks 1-15 a mirage?
What do the Jets need to do in the offseason. They need upgrades everywhere. They have lots of picks this year and plenty of cap space – – that is good news for Jets fans. Now, those picks and free agent signings must be productive…
The Pats very simply need to find a new QB AND they need to upgrade their pass catching cadre significantly. There is no coaching legerdemain or scheming that will overcome those deficiencies.
The Jags are going to take Trevor Lawrence with the overall #1 pick in the Draft, but he will not be able to help the Jags’ defense which gave up 492 points this year. The Jags have the Rams’ pick in the first round too and that one had better deliver a defensive stud.
Can Derrick Henry carry the miserable Titans’ defense through the playoffs? He had 250 yards rushing by himself last week; and yet, the Titans needed a doinked field-goal to provide a 41-28 win over the Texans who went 4-12 for the season.
The Ravens beat the Bengals 38-3 and have won 5 straight games; the Ravens have been dominant in all 5 of those games. The Ravens ran for 404 yards last week against the Bengals; of course, they won that game handily. Two things here:
- It is tough to beat a team that can dominate the line of scrimmage like that.
- Most playoff teams have a better run defense than the Bengals – – except maybe the Titans’ defense which is pretty miserable.
The Niners just need to get their starters healthy in the off-season. They were playing with one hand tied behind their back for most of the year. The team has talent; much of it was on the sidelines this year – – or up in the press box socially distanced – – and in street clothes.
The Eagles need to repair coach/player trust – – some of which had to have been lost when Nate Sudfeld was sent in to play the 4th quarter of last week’s game.
With all the focus on the miserableness evinced by the NFC East, the Bears enter the playoffs with some less-than-outstanding credentials. The Bears went 8-8; they had a six- game losing streak during the season; if I have counted correctly, they have played other playoff teams 7 times and have gone 1-6 in those 7 games. But at least, they are in the playoffs instead of sitting at home watching on TV.
The Raiders need to shore up their defense. They are pretty much good-to-go at QB, RB, TE and WR. The other side of the ball needs a talent infusion – – a large dose of new talent.
The Chargers may be searching for a new coach, but they have their franchise QB under contract. Justin Herbert is the real deal.
The Lions are out looking for a new coach and the team is rumored to be considering a trade for Matthew Stafford. I do not know if fans should be thrilled about that or not, but I think Matthew Stafford should be elated.
(Sat 1:00 PM EST) Indy at Buffalo – 6 (51): The Colts’ defense was a Top 3 defense for the early part of this season, but it has become middling-at-best over the last month or so. That is not a good way to approach a game against a Bills’ offense that is rocking and rolling. I noted above that the Bills have won 6 games in a row by double digits; in those 6 victories, the Bills have averaged 39.8 points per game. The Colts’ QB, Philip Rivers, is certainly the more experienced QB particularly in the playoffs; but his record in playoff games is not eye-popping. He has started 11 games in the playoffs and won only 5 of them; in those 11 playoff games, he has thrown 14 TDs and 10 INTs. The Colts’ rookie RB, Jonathan Taylor, has seemingly overcome his fumbling issues from earlier this season; he has rushed for 1169 yards and 11 TDs as a rookie. The key here is the ability of the Colts’ defense to keep the Bills from sprinting out to a big lead; I do not think they will do that; I like the Bills to win and cover at home; put it in the Six-Pack.
(Sat 4:30 PM EST): Rams at Seattle – 3 (42): These teams met twice in the regular season; this will be the rubber match; the home team prevailed in both regular season encounters. Jared Goff’s thumb injury happened in the second game against the Seahawks two weeks ago; the small spread on the game indicates to me that the oddsmakers and the bettors to date believe that Goff will be able to play here. The Rams’ defense has been successful against the Seahawks this year holding them to only 18 points per game in those two outings. The Seahawks’ defense was awful at the beginning of the regular season, but that defense has been mighty stingy since mid-November giving up only 16.0 points per game in the final 8 regular season games. I expect the game to be dominated by the two defenses but that Total Line seems awfully low to me; I’ll take the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.
(Sat 8:15 PM EST) Tampa Bay – 8.5 at Washington (44.5): This spread varies from 8 points to 9.5 points from sportsbook to sportsbook; this is the most common line as of this morning. If there is a merciful God, the announcers for this game will not harp on the Chase Young “calling out” of Tom Brady after the WTFs beat the Eagles last weekend to clinch this playoff spot. It was not worth the coverage it got last weekend; it became silly reporting early this week; it is now annoying, and I hope it is not a central storyline Saturday night. [Aside: Fat chance…] This is an opportunity for the WTFs’ young defense to present themselves; the Bucs’ offense has plenty of talent; can the young defense hold it down? The last time the WTFs’ defense gave up more than 20 points in a game was on November 15th. If you look at the Bucs’ offense, you will notice that it has averaged over 40 points per game in the last 3 games and that Tom Brady has thrown for a total of 1137 yards in those 3 games. That may lead you to conclude that the WTFs’ defense is simply overmatched. But wait; those last 3 games for the Bucs have been against the Falcons (twice) and the Lions. I believe I have tracked this down correctly:
- I believe this is the first time in his career that Tom Brady has been in a playoff game in the wildcard round where he has been on the road.
- Tom Brady has started 301 regular season games and 41 playoff games in his career. There are not a lot of “firsts” that he encounters these days…
The QB situation for the WTFs is “tenuous”. Alex Smith is competent and fragile; Taylor Heinicke is getting reps in practice with the starting unit. Is he going to be part of the game or is that a ploy to make the Bucs’ defensive coaches prep for something that is not going to happen? No matter; the WTFs are not going to win this game if it turns into a shoot-out. I think the game will stay close; I think the Bucs will win but they will have to work to make that happen; I’ll take the WTFs plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack.
(Sun 1:00 PM EST) Baltimore – 3 at Tennessee (54): Can the Ravens’ defense stop Derrick Henry? No. Can they keep him in check such that the Ravens’ offense has a chance to work on a porous Titans’ defense? That is the key to the game… Both teams would prefer to run the ball down the throat of the opponent; both teams should be successful to a point doing that. The Titans have beaten the Ravens the last two times they met – – including in last season’s playoffs where the Ravens were sent home after a dominant regular season. I think Lamar Jackson will have a big game here and break his “playoff jinx”. I like the Ravens to win and cover on the road; put it in the Six-Pack.
(Sun 4:40 PM EST) Chicago at New Orleans – 10.5 (47.5): From Week 13 through Week 16, the Bears’ offense seemed to awake from hibernation; in those 4 games, the Bears were north of 30 points every week and averaged 35 points per game. It was a mirage. Here are the defenses that were torched by the Bears in that 4-game run:
Three of those four teams were bad enough this year that they are out looking for new coaches as I type these words. Mitchell Trubisky will have difficulty against a good Saints’ defense; he will need all the help he can get from RB, David Montgomery. By the same token, the Saints’ offense will not waltz up and down the field over the Bears’ defense because the Bears will probably collapse the defense and dare Drew Brees to beat it deep. I do not think he can do that too often. I hate picking double digit spreads in NFL games; in the regular season, this game would never show up in a Six-Pack. But since these are the playoffs, I’ll make an exception; I’ll take the Bears plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack.
(Sun 8:15 PM EST) Cleveland at Pittsburgh – 6 (47.5): Can the Browns beat Steelers two weeks in a row? The Steelers lost by 2 points in Cleveland last week without the services of Ben Roethlisberger, TJ Watt, Cam Heyward and Maurkice Pouncey. Nevertheless, the Steelers have problems that have been exposed over the past five weeks where they have gone 1-4 to finish off the regular season.
- The Steelers do not run the ball well.
- The Steelers do not throw deep well.
- The Steelers lead the NFL in “dropped passes”.
If the Steelers are to win this game, it will likely be on the backs of their defense – – but that unit has had more than its share of injuries to top-shelf players Devin Bush and Bud Dupree jump to mind there. On the other hand, the Browns’ loss of Olivier Vernon will not help their defense. Browns’ coach Kevin Stefanski will have to miss the game under the COVID-19 protocols; given that I think he belongs in the discussion for Coach of the Year (see above), I believe that will be a significant issue. I do not expect any offensive fireworks in this game; the Browns will try to pound the ball with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt; the Steelers will dink-and-dunk far more often than they will do anything else. In the end, I think the Steelers are the better team and they will have their coach on the sidelines; I’ll take the Steelers to win and cover at home; put it in the Six-Pack.
Just for fun, I want to try one more Money Line Parlay this week. Give me:
- Alabama at minus-270
- Bills at minus-300
- Ravens at minus-180
- WTFs at + 300.
The payout here will be +850 – – if I did the math correctly.
So, let me review the Six-Pack:
- Ohio State +8
- Alabama on the Money Line at minus-270
- Bills – 6 over Colts
- Rams/Seahawks OVER 42
- WTFs +8.5 against Bucs
- Ravens – 3 over Titans
- Bears +10.5 against Saints
- Steelers – 6 over Browns
- Money Line Parlay of Alabama, Bills, Ravens, WTFs
Finally, Dwight Perry had this observation regarding one of this year’s minor bowl games in the Seattle Times last week:
“Wisconsin QB Graham Mertz — while dancing with the Duke’s Mayo Bowl crystal trophy after the Badgers’ 42-28 win over Wake Forest — fumbled it onto the locker-room floor, shattering it into hundreds of pieces.
“No need to tell this to Mertz when the replacement bauble finally arrives: Don’t hold the Mayo.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………