When Macbeth learns of Lady Macbeth’s death, he begins a soliloquy with:
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day …”
Well, at the normal petty pace, there have been seven tomorrows since last Friday and that means today it is time for another Football Friday. As is the custom, I shall begin by reviewing last week’s Six-Pack – knowing full well that getting the season record up to .500 is horribly unlikely:
- College: 1-1-0
- NFL: 3-3-0
- Combined: 4-4-0
That brings the cumulative record to an unimpressive:
- College: 20-25-1
- NFL: 31-37-2
- Combined: 51-62-3
College Football Commentary:
As is seemingly always the case, there is an undercurrent of consternation at the conclusion of the CFP this year. It was also the case with the late-but-not-lamented BCS Championship, and the common theme is that the opportunity to become the national champion is not sufficiently open to enough teams. As soon as that subject comes up, there is a reflexive reaction to recall the Boise State upset of Oklahoma demonstrating that – if given the chance – David can slay Goliath on a football field as he did in the Valley of Elah.
Indeed, that Fiesta Bowl game was a shock; but for just a moment, put that upset into a bit of perspective:
- That game took place on January 1st, 2007; that was 13 seasons ago. Since there have been no bowl game upsets of such importance that this game has been allowed to fade into memory, one might begin to conclude that “Davids” do not routinely rise up and slay “Goliaths”.
- The final spread on that game was 7-points in favor of Oklahoma; this was not a team winning outright when the oddsmakers thought it was a three-touchdown spread. Teams that are 7-point underdogs only pay about 3-to-1 to win the game outright; that is not much of a longshot.
- At the kickoff, Oklahoma was ranked #7 in the country and Boise State was ranked #9. Had that game taken place under those conditions in mid-October, I doubt the game would be remembered 13 years after it happened.
All that is a prelude to a simple and direct question for college football fans who paid attention to the games from October through last weekend:
- Did you see – with your own eyes – a college football team that was better week-to-week than Alabama?
I did not and I have no allegiance or rooting interest in any of the teams ranked in the Top 25 as of the end of the season. I do not mean to imply that this year’s Alabama team was invincible; of course, on any given Saturday … Nonetheless, that was the best college football team I saw all season long by a comfortable margin.
I am convinced that the CFP will eventually be expanded for reasons having exactly nothing to do with “fairness” or “expansion of opportunity” and having everything to do with increased revenues. And when that happens – my guess is in the next 5 years or so – it will be equally difficult for teams in minor conferences to get an invitation unless the field is expanded well beyond any logical limit.
Look at this year’s results as you ponder what might have been the field with a 6-team bracket handing BYE Weeks to the two highest ranking teams:
- Texas A&M would almost certainly have been the #5 seed.
- People who want to see “the little guys” get a fair shot would argue that undefeated Cincy should have been #6. I say, the results point in a different direction.
- Cincy got a shot in a bowl game against Georgia and lost in a close game. However, Georgia lost straight up to Florida by 16 points. So, how is it logical – not emotional – to say that Cincy belonged in the CFP instead of Florida?
- By the way, Florida had lost 3 games in the regular season and should never have been part of the CFP consideration – – and then, Florida lost its Cotton Bowl encounter to Oklahoma by 5 TDs.
It makes no sense to argue that the CFP Selection Committee does not put the “right teams” in the CFP and then say that by increasing the number of teams for them to select that they will “get it right”. The selection process is flawed because the people involved are not “neutral arbiters” and because they do not have the time to study enough to do their rankings efficiently and effectively. Those folks have full time jobs other than being on that Committee.
This annual emotional outburst at the end of the CFP has gotten tedious. The tedium is particularly evident this year when – I assert – Alabama was indeed the best college football team from October through January.
In a college coaching move, it appears as if Bill O’Brien will seek the calming and cleansing waters that are available to assistant coaches at Alabama. O’Brien left the Houston Texans under a cloud and with the team roster in shambles. His previous reputation took on a lot of mud in the process but now he will be the Offensive Coordinator for Nick Saban and those sorts of positions have a recent history of restoring a gleam to damaged coaching reputations.
Bonne chance, Coach O’Brien…
Urban Meyer has signed up to be the head coach of the Jags. I will wait until all the NFL coaching openings are filled to think about the scope of all the changes made in that area, but I will say this about Coach Meyer:
- In his 7 years at Ohio State, Meyer’s teams lost a total of 9 games.
- If his first year with the Jags results in the Jags losing fewer than 9 games, he might be the Coach of the Year in the NFL.
The Jets announced that Robert Saleh will be their new head coach; Saleh had been the Defensive Coordinator for the Niners for the past several years. There had been rumors that the Jets would hire recently fired Eagles’ coach Doug Pederson; those rumors were based on the previous working relationship between Pederson and Jets’ GM, Joe Douglas. Now that those rumors have been put to rest, let me offer a note of encouragement for Jets’ fans:
- A little more than 25 years ago, the Jets hired a recently fired Eagles’ coach and it did not end well at all. History does not always repeat itself – – but every once in a while…
- No matter the outcome of the Robert Saleh regime in NYC, he will not have an anvil labeled “Kotite” hanging over his head from Day One.
Before all the other vacancies are filled, I do want to make a comment about one report of a coaching interview. The Falcons reportedly interviewed Todd Bowles for the job in Atlanta. Notwithstanding a losing record with the Jets, I thought that Bowles did a good job there with the roster he had. The Falcons have a significant need for a roster upgrade and Bowles could be the guy to see them through the rebuilding stages.
So, what may we glean from last week’s playoff games? The Ravens beat the Titans 20-13. More important than the score is the fact that the Ravens held Derrick Henry to 40 yards rushing on 18 carries. The game also got the monkey off Lamar Jackson’s back as he won the first playoff game of his career. The Ravens fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter but dominated the game from that point forward. The Ravens turned the tables on the Titans; normally, it is the Titans that dominate the running stats for a game; here the Ravens outgained the Titans on the ground 236 yards to 51 yards.
The Saints beat the Bears 21-9. The Bears’ defense played well; holding the Saints to 21 points is an accomplishment; that matches the lowest output by the Saint’s offense for all of the 2020 season. The Bears’ offense, however, told a different story:
- The Bears had the ball for only 21 minutes in the game.
- The Bears ran 49 plays, and the Saint ran 75 plays.
- The Bears made only 11 first downs
- The Bears were 1 of 10 on third down conversions.
Added to those woes, the Bears were penalized 9 times in the game and 5 of those penalties gave the Saints a first down. On a few plays, Mitchell Trubisky made perfect throws; however, for most of the game, he looked mystified as to what he was seeing and what he should do about it. The Bears’ braintrust needs to do some heavy analysis of their QB situation for the future. That Bears’ defense is not getting any younger…
The Browns beat the Steelers 48-37. The Browns ran off to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter; if something could have gone wrong for the Steelers in that opening quarter, it did. The Steelers dominated the stat sheet – but to no avail:
- Steelers led in time of possession 32:46 to 26:40.
- Steelers had 34 first downs to Browns’ 20.
- Steelers gained 553 yards on offense to the Browns’ 390.
- Steelers were 8 of 15 on third down and 3 of 3 on fourth down conversions.
- Ben Roethlisberger threw for 501 yards and 4 TDs in the game.
So, how could the Steelers have lost by 11 points? Well, look no further than the five turnovers by the Steelers – 4 INTs and a fumble that was recovered by the Browns for a TD on the first play of the game. Once again, the Steelers demonstrated the absence of a running game gaining only 52 yards on 15 carries. Indeed, Roethlisberger threw for 501 yards – – but it took him 68 attempts to get to that mark. All they could do for most of the night was dink-and-dunk. And that leads me to wonder:
- Is Ben Roethlisberger finished? He will be in the Hall of Fame one of these days, but has Father Time come knocking on his door?
The Steelers have not won a playoff game in 4 years; this is not a team that needs a drastic “rebuild” because the defense is very good, and the pass catchers are more than adequate. The Steelers do need to shore up the OL in the off-season and they may just need to be in the QB market for the first time in an awfully long time.
The Bills beat the Colts 27-24. Like the Steelers above, the Colts dominated the stat sheet:
- Colts led in time of possession 34:17 to 25:43.
- Colts had 27 first downs to the Bills’ 22.
- Colts were 9 of 17 on third down to the Bills’ 2 of 9.
- Colts were 2 of 4 on fourth down conversions.
- Colts had 472 yards on offense to the Bills’ 397.
The Colts trailed 24-10 with eleven minutes to go in the fourth quarter but rallied to make a game of it. The Colts had a “Hail Mary” shot at winning the game on the final play. However, a decision in the middle of the second quarter loomed large at the end of the game. The Colts had the ball first and goal at the Bills 4 yardline with the Colts leading 10-7. The first three plays resulted in a net of zero yards; a short pass and a run from a wildcat formation got the ball to the 1 yardline where the Colts lost 3 yards on a running play. Now it is 4th and goal at the 4 yardline and the Colts decide to go for it and get nothing from the drive. Note, that the Colts lost the game by 3 points…
The Rams beat the Seahawks 30-20. The fact that All-World defensive tackle, Aaron Donald, had to leave the game with a rib injury must mean that this result is not an unalloyed success for the Rams. The fact that Jared Goff was able to be as effective as he was is a bright spot because he had had surgery on the thumb of his throwing hand – – several pins were inserted – – only 12 days prior to this game. He was needed once starter John Wolford had to leave the game with an apparent neck injury in the first quarter.
The Seahawks like to run the football, but the Rams outgained the Seahawks on the ground 164 yards to 136 yards and they held the edge in time of possession 33 minutes to 27 minutes. Neither team was particularly good on third down conversions; the Rams were 3 of 15 in that situation; the Seahawks were 2 of 14. Ho hum …
The Seahawks turned the ball over twice – – one was a Pick Six – – and those plays certainly did not help their cause. This was a defensive game from start to finish notwithstanding the total score of 50 points.
The Bucs beat the WTFs 31-23. You can look at the two QB performances here and see one as “business as usual” and the other as “wow, look at that”.
- “Business as usual” would be Tom Brady. He was 22 of 40 for 381 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs. Just another “day at the office”.
- “Wow, look at that” would be Taylor Heinicke. He was 26 of 44 for 306 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. Heinicke also led the WTFs in rushing with 46 yards on 6 carries and a rushing TD.
This game was in doubt to the end. At the start of the 4th quarter, the Bucs led by a tenuous 18-16 score; they extended the lead to 28-16 with 9 minutes left in the game but the WTFs closed to 28-23 with about 5 minutes to go. The Bucs added a field goal and then held the WTFs on downs to ice the game.
One of my “takeaways” from this game was that Tom Brady may be even less mobile than he was in the past and Tom Brady may not be able to throw the ball 60 yards downfield more than once a month – – and that does not really matter. What matters is his accuracy and his ability to hit receivers in stride such that they can gain more yards after they catch the football. Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees all excel in that phase of quarterbacking – – and that is why all three of them are still going to be on the field this weekend in their “football dotage”.
(Sat 4:35 PM EST) Rams at Green Bay – 6.5 (46.5): Anytime there is a football game in Green Bay in January, one should check with Weather.com to see if Mother Nature wants to be part of the action. The forecast for Saturday is for morning snow showers with a high temperature of 35 degrees and a low of 27 degrees; wind out of the NNW at 12 mph. So, this will not be a game that harkens back to the famous Ice Bowl game in 1967 when the temperature was 13 degrees below zero. However, if you are a QB with a recently surgically repaired thumb on your throwing hand, my guess is that you might encounter a small degree of difficulty gripping a football. If history is any guide, Aaron Rodgers will not have difficulty throwing or gripping a cold football so there is an advantage for the Packers there. The Rams’ defense ranked 1st in the NFL over the regular season in total yards allowed and it ranked 1st in pass defense allowing only 190.7 yards per game. Can Aaron Donald play effectively here? He is a big part of that defensive prowess. And in addition to watching the line play involving Donald and/or his substitute, here is the battle that will be interesting and perhaps determinant for the game:
- Davante Adams is one of the best WRs in the NFL and Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target. Jalen Ramsey is outstanding as a cover corner who routinely draws the opponent’s top receiving threat and usually holds that receiver in check.
- Let the game begin…
The other key to this game should be the ability of the Rams to run the football. The Packers’ defense ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game at 112.8. The Rams’ averaged 126 yards per game on the ground; if they can run effectively here – – as they did last week – – they can keep Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines under a parka and that would be a good thing.
I think the Packers will have difficulty running the football here, but I do not think Aaron Rodgers will be shut down even if Jalen Ramsey dominates Davante Adams; I think the cold weather will limit Jared Goff to some extent so Cam Akers running the ball will be critical. I like the Packers to win and cover at home in a low-scoring game; I also like the game to stay UNDER; put them in the Six-Pack.
(Sat 8:15 PM EST) Baltimore at Buffalo – 2.5 (49): Frankly, I am looking forward to watching this game more than any of the others this weekend. Both teams are peaking at the right time; the Ravens won 5 in a row at the end of the regular season and then won again last week; the Bills won 6 in a row at the end of the regular season and then won again last week. The game will put on display two of the best young QBs in the league. Now, as good as both young QBs are, I do not think either one is the key to this game:
- The Ravens are a running team. They can run inside with power and they can run outside with speed.
- The Bills are mediocre defending against the run. They ranked 17th in rushing defense over the regular season which sounds workable, but they also ranked 25th in the league in yards allowed per carry (4.6).
- I have no expectation that the Bills can stop the Ravens’ running attack; the question is if the Bills’ defense can keep it from dominating the game. Moreover, they will need to devise a way to do that which does not simultaneously allow Lamar Jackson to go off.
I almost do not want to make a selection here because I want to focus on the events of this game without having even as trivial a “rooting interest” as one of these Six-Pack selections. However, that would violate the spirit of these Football Fridays so, here goes … It does not look as if the weather in Buffalo will be a factor; I like the Ravens to win the game outright and so I will take them plus the points here; put it in the Six-Pack.
(Sun 3:05 PM EST) Cleveland at KC – 10.5 (56.5): Anyone who reads these Football Friday missives knows that I hate picking NFL games with double-digit spreads. The Browns will certainly try to control the clock here with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt carrying the ball. The Chiefs will do what the Chiefs always do; they will score points. If the Browns fall behind, I think it is game over; if the Browns get a lead and can run the ball to milk the clock … The Browns and Chiefs allowed the same number of yards to opponents this season (actually the Chiefs allowed 2 fewer yards total for the season but let us not pick nits). However, the Browns’ pass defense was not particularly good ranking 22nd in the NFL regular season. If Ben Roethlisberger could score 37 points last week and throw for 501 yards, what might be expected from Patrick Mahomes here?
- [Aside: Back in their college days, Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) and Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech) faced each other one time. In that game the two combined for 1279 yards passing in only 4 quarters of football. Baker Mayfield and the Sooners won that game 66-59. That will not be the outcome here…]
The Browns’ win last week over the Steelers was an emotional victory. They beat their biggest rival in the team’s first playoff game in next to forever; they did it with their coach in quarantine and on the road. Just looking at the players on the sidelines at the end of the game, you could see the emotion in their eyes. So, is the game this week possibly a let-down from that emotional high?
Because I hate double-digit spreads, I will forego a selection against the spread; I do think there will be a lot of scoring here so I’ll take the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.
(Sun 6:40 PM EST) Tampa Bay at New Orleans – 3 (51.5): The spread here opened the week as a pick ’em game but settled in at this level in mid-week. This is the third time this year we can watch Tom Brady and Drew Brees ply their trade in the same game; the Saints prevailed in the first two meetings. The Saints’ defense ranked 4th in the NFL for the regular season in total defense and 5th in the NFL in pass defense; they only allowed 217 yards per game in 2020. In both games this year, the Saints’ offense has been productive scoring 34 points in one game and 38 in the other. Having pointed out the Saints’ advantages here, let me also say that the Saints in 2020 are not a team designed to be able to come from behind; they normally do not produce lots of big plays in a game; they win by efficiency. So here is a key question for the Saints if they are to be the winner of this game:
- Can you avoid a sluggish start to the game that puts you behind by two scores early on?
The Bucs’ pass defense ranked 21st in the NFL this year giving up 246.6 yards per game; that unit can be exploited as was demonstrated by Taylor Heinicke last week ( see above). TV announcers like to say that it is difficult for a team to beat another team three times in a season. However, here is a stat that I ran across this week:
- Since 1990, teams that beat an opponent twice in a regular season were 12-5 against that same opponent when they met a third time in the playoffs.
I think Tom Brady is the better QB in this game; I also think the Saints are the better team in this game and football is a team game. I like the Saints to win and cover at home; and I like the game to go OVER; put those in the Six Pack.
So, let me recap this week’s Six-Pack – – which conveniently contains six selections:
- Packers – 6.5 over Rams
- Packers/Rams UNDER 46.5
- Ravens + 2.5 against Bills
- Browns/Chiefs OVER 56.5
- Saints – 3 over Bucs
- Saints/Bucs OVER 51.5
Finally, the Bills will be relying on Stefon Diggs to be a weapon in their game against the Ravens this weekend. Here is a comment related to Diggs from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:
“Cameras caught wideout Stefon Diggs flossing on the sideline in the Bills’ regular-season finale.
“Forget All-Pro — he’s an ADA first-stringer!”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………