MNF And MLB Today…

Two weeks ago, I said that I had watched Monday Night Football via the “Peyton and Eli” game presentation on ESPN 2 and that I liked it a lot.  Evidently, the audience for the first version of that program liked what it saw and took the opportunity to tell their friends and family about it because the estimated audience for Week 2 was double what it was in Week 1.  Last night was Week 3; and while I cannot find any ratings numbers for last night, I thought the show continued to get better week by week.

I guess the ESPN execs and/or the Manning Bros figured that this format for game telecasts might need to come on gently for the public because after three great opening weeks, ESPN will have them off the air for the next 3 weeks.  Obviously, I will return to their commentary once the hiatus is over and I want to suggest that you give it a try once they are back.  It is different; it is refreshing; it is serious and light-hearted at the same time; it is entertaining in and of itself without taking anything away from the excitement or entertainment of the game.

If you choose to follow my suggestion when Peyton and Eli return to ESPN, it is a risk-free option for you.  I understand that the appreciation  for broadcast teams is completely a personal reaction, and if you tune in you may dislike what you see and hear.  However, if that is the case, all you need to do is flip the channel from ESPN 2 over to ESPN and there you will find the standard presentation of the Monday night game.  No cost and no obligation…

The finish line for the MLB regular season is clearly in sight and the only real uncertainty left involves the wildcard teams for the AL playoffs.  Yes, I know the Braves and Phillies have not settled on which team will win the NL East, but the odds against the Phillies overtaking the Braves are long odds.  Chelsea Janes covers the Nats and MLB for the Washington Post.  Back in late March and before the season began, the Post had a special Baseball Section and Janes had the responsibility to produce a paragraph on each of the 30 MLB teams regarding the upcoming season.  She chose to select a player for each team “who could make or break” the season for their team.  Here is a sampling of her hits and misses:

LA Dodgers … Trevor Bauer:  “It may seem counterintuitive that the lone addition to the defending World Series champions; already loaded rotation could somehow make or break their hopes of repeating.  But exactly how Bauer and his knack for controversy fit into the no-nonsense Dodgers’ clubhouse culture could be determinative for better or worse.  If he thrives, the Dodgers may be well on their way to a repeat.”

And …

Milwaukee Brewers … Josh Hader:  “The Brewers stocked up on defenders and bring back a promising rotation in 2021.  But their fortunes may pivot around fireballer Hader who was only somewhat dominant in a small sample last season but was nearly untouchable in 2018 and 2019.  If he returns to form, he and emerging star Devin Williams could give the Brewers an unhittable one-two punch in the back end of the bullpen.”

And …

LA Angels … Shohei Ohtani:  “The Angels have never been short on star power, but they have never exactly put it all together.  A full season of Ohtani on the mound and in the box would amount to the addition of an elite power starter to the rotation and hitter to the lineup, both units Manager Joe Madden and the Angels think are close to turning a corner.  With a healthy Ohtani, the Angels finally could have enough firepower to contend.”

Last week, Bob Molinaro had this cogent observation about MLB coverage in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Out West: It’s too easy poking fun at the triple-digit-losing Orioles. Save some derision for what’s truly the most disappointing, underachieving team — the talent-laden San Diego Padres.”

The Padres are indeed “talent-laden”; they spent lots of money in the offseason on free agents increasing the Opening Day salary commitment for 2021 to $174.1M – significantly greater than the Opening Day salary commitment for 2020 which was only $67.4M.  Nevertheless, as of this morning the Padres’ record is a pedestrian 78-78; they are 24 games out of first place in the NL West and they are eliminated from the wildcard slots in the NL.

The Orioles and the Diamondbacks have each lost 106 games as of this morning; the Pirates will probably lose 100 games by the end of the season; no one in the fanbase for any of those 3 teams is feeling elated today.  However, back in March, only delusional folks in those 3 fanbases would have held out any hope that those teams would be in contention for the playoffs in September.  There were no great expectations for any of those teams.  But for the Padres…?  That is why the Padres deserve the label “most disappointing, underachieving team.”

If anyone is to take the fall for the Padres’ underachievement, it will likely be manager, Jayce Tingler.  I think there are 3 MLB managers whose seats are fiery hot right about now.  Tingler leads that list and the other two are both in NYC:

  • Aaron Boone:  If the Yankees do not make the playoffs, I think he will not be back with the team next year.  His contract is up and the fact that the Yankees are 8 full games behind the Rays and have been eliminated from the AL East race for the final week and a half of the regular season will have the Yankees’’ brass “going in a different direction” if the Yankees do not take part in the post-season.
  • Luis Rojas:  The Mets have a new owner who gives me the impression that he would like to be seen as the latter-day version of George Steinbrenner in New York.  The Mets seem poised to clean house in the Front Office and if that happens along with the Mets’ late season collapse, I think Rojas is on the unemployment line.

Finally, with all the sturm und drang surrounding which NBA players have been vaccinated and which have not, I believe this observation by Oscar Wilde is relevant:

“Thinking is the most unhealthy thing in the world, and people die of it just as they die of any other disease.”

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

 

 

Add Arkansas To The List …

In last week’s Football Friday, I mentioned a few teams that had been positive surprises so far this year.  I did not include Arkansas on that list; I was wrong to leave them off that list.  To be fair, when I “omitted them” from my list of positive surprises, the Razorbacks were 3-0 but two of the three wins were against Rice (a genuinely weak team) and Georgia Southern (a team that will never be confused with Georgia).  The third win was over Texas which was a surprise but running up a good score against Texas when a team is at home is not something that particularly catches my attention these days.

Well, I am now ready to say that Arkansas is a significant positive surprise for the 2021 season.  Last week, the Razorbacks beat 8th ranked Texas A&M 20-10.  The Aggies may not be the best team in the SEC West, but they are probably the best team in Texas and there are a lot of teams in Texas.  What was impressive is how Arkansas won the game.

The Razorbacks ran the ball for 195 yards in the game.  Before you jump into the comments section to tell me that is nowhere near the collegiate rushing record for a game, please consider that Texas A&M has at least two players in their defensive front seven who are considered to be first round/early round draft picks in the NFL come next April.  Arkansas averaged more than 4 yards per rushing attempt on a good – not great but good – defensive unit.  Running the football has been important to Arkansas this year; as of this morning, they rank 8th in the country in rushing yards per game with 261 yards per game.

About 50 years ago, Arkansas was a national power; that has not been nearly the case for the last decade; the last time Arkansas had double-digit wins was in 2011 and they have had eight losing seasons since 2000.  I could not come up with the name of the coach at Arkansas who seems to be guiding this program  turn-around, so I went to Google to refresh my memory.  Actually, my memory did not need refreshing; the coach in Arkansas is Sam Pittman and until Google let me know about him, I was totally unfamiliar with his background in football.

Basically, Sam Pittman has been an offensive line coach for the last 20 years at a variety of schools in the Midwest and Southeast US.  Before getting the job at Arkansas, he was the OL coach at Georgia for 4 years and he took over the Arkansas program in 2020 which was a chaotic time in college football and in most endeavors in the US thanks to COVID-19.  Just to give you an idea of what he took over in 2020, the Razorbacks’ cumulative conference record in the SEC from 2017 through 2019 was a less than exemplary 1-23.

The upcoming schedule for Arkansas is anything but a stroll down primrose lane.  Here is what they are looking at for the next 3 weeks:

  • At Georgia
  • At Ole Miss
  • Vs. Auburn

I will be shocked if Arkansas runs that gauntlet and has a 7-0 record  in the middle of October – – and late in the season they have road games against LSU and Alabama.  Arkansas is not going to be part of the discussion for the CFP – but considering the state of the football program there for the last decade, the start to this season under Coach Pittman has been a hugely positive surprise.

Moving on …  About two weeks ago, I mentioned here that Ben Simmons’ demand to be traded was going to be a challenge for the Sixers’ Front office execs.  Simmons is an elite defender and an excellent passer, but his offensive game is close to non-existent.  That alone would tend to put a ceiling on whatever value the Sixers might extract from a trading partner.  However, consider the totality of the picture:

  • If I have added correctly, Simmons’ contract calls for him to make $146M over the next 4 years.  That is a lot of cheese for a player who does not score points.
  • He managed to get completely crosswise with the Sixers – reportedly refusing to take phone calls from the coach or from teammates and then declaring that he will not report to training camp.  Remember, his contract is guaranteed; so, the Sixers cannot simply release him and save the money from his contract to spend on someone who actually wants to play for and with the team.

Notwithstanding Simmons’ skills, the Sixers are probably at a point where trading Simmons for a bag of donut holes becomes addition by subtraction.  The problem is that front offices around the NBA must be similarly aware of the position that the Sixers are in.  Because the NBA demands that trades exchange players making similar amounts of money, the best deal the Sixers might pull off would be for another disgruntled “star player” with a big contract elsewhere.  I can think of two possibilities:

  1. John Wall:  I mentioned him a couple of weeks ago when I was talking about Simmons’ situation with the Sixers.  I thought then that such a trade would be a bad one for both teams.  I continue to believe that.
  2. Kristaps Porzingas:  Simmons and Porzingas have totally different skill sets.  The most common element in their careers is that neither has come close to living up to the hype they got early in their careers.  Both are overpaid and unhappy; maybe a change of scenery would make them simply overpaid.

Finally, let me close today with a comment from Laurence J. Peter – the originator of the Peter Principle”

“A bore is a fellow talking who can change the subject back to his topic of conversation faster than you can change it back to yours.”

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

 

 

Football Friday 9/24/21

Robinson Crusoe had a colleague he named Friday.  The TV show, Dragnet, had a main character named Sgt. Joe Friday.  Here in Curmudgeon Central, we have Football Friday.  There is plenty of stuff to consider this week, so let’s get started…

Last week’s Six-Pack was not anywhere near wonderful:

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

For the year, the cumulative totals are:

  • College:  2-3-0
  • NFL:  2-4-1
  • Combined:  4-7-1

 

College Football Commentary:

 

The Linfield College Wildcats had an impressive road victory last week in Redlands CA over the Redlands Bulldogs by a score of 51-10.  The Wildcats are 2-0 in their quest to keep alive their streak of winning football seasons that began in 1956.  This week, the Wildcats are on the road again; this week they play the Puget Sound Loggers.  Puget Sound arrives at the game with an 0-2 record and one of those losses was to Redlands by a score of 60-10.  Go Wildcats!

I know that the college football season is only 3 weeks old and that only about 5% of the conference games have already happened.  Nevertheless, there are a few teams that look as if they are going to be a lot better than I thought they were going to be and a few that are going to be worse than I thought they were going to be.  Here are the positive surprises to date:

  • BYU:  The Cougars are 3-0 and all three wins have come against PAC-12 competition.  They lost their starting QB from last year (Zach Wilson) to the NFL Draft so I thought they might “take a step back”.
  • Fresno St.:  They are 3-1 and that loss was to highly ranked Oregon by 7 points.  They also have a win over UCLA.  The Bulldogs have gone through the toughest part of their schedule; they could be a nine- or ten-win team this year.
  • Iowa:  The Hawkeyes are 3-0 and two of those wins have come against teams that were ranked in the Top 20.   Iowa gets the “Sesame Street Trophy” for the year by dominating the letter “I”.  They have beaten Indiana and Iowa State.

Here are the negative surprises to date:

  • Clemson:  Yes, the Tigers are 2-1.  However, I had them as a CFP team when the season started almost out of habit.  Other than a shellacking of a Division 1-AA foe, the Tigers have scored a total of 17 points in their other two games.
  • Miami:  There was lots of hype about the Hurricanes being on the verge of returning to a power position in the college football hierarchy.  I bought into some of that hype.  Miami is 1-2 on the season; the win was by 2 points over Appalachia State; the two losses were blowouts (see below).
  • Notre Dame:  Yes, I know the Irish are 3-0.  However, none of those three wins were anything near “dominant”.
  • Ohio State:  The defense is not up to Buckeyes’ standards so far this year.  It has allowed 86 points in three games.

Before the season started, there were rumblings that the PAC-12 might be on the upswing this year.  Washington was one of the teams expected to be relevant – – but an opening week loss to Division 1-AA Montana kicked that idea in the head. An overall look at the conference so far is far closer to “bleak” than it is to “rosy”.  Consider:

  • The only undefeated team is Oregon at 3-0 with a win over Ohio State and a #3 ranking in this week’s poll.  The rest of the picture is not pretty.
  • Arizona is 0-3 including a loss at home to a Division 1-AA foe.
  • Colorado opened with a win over a Division 1-AA opponent.  In its last two games – both of which were at home – the Buffaloes scored a total of 7 points.
  • Oregon St. is 2-1, but those two wins have been over less-than-formidable opponents.
  • UCLA looked as if it was going to be a bright spot for the conference when it beat LSU.  Then the next week they hosted Fresno State and lost.
  • Utah already has two losses and their starting QB has left the team.  The team did not get rid of him; he walked out. (see below)

Charlie Brewer was the Utah starting QB for the season; he is a senior who transferred to Utah from Baylor for this year.  Utah lost last week to San Diego State and Brewer was benched after posting the following stat line:

  • 14 of 26 for 104 with 0 TDs and 1 INT

Brewer was sacked three times before he was replaced.  His replacement, Cameron Rising, threw for 3 TDs in the game and almost pulled it out for the Utes; Rising is a sophomore.  Evidently, Brewer saw the handwriting on the wall and chose to leave the team rather than be Rising’s backup.  Here is the explanation of that whole situation by Utah coach Kyle Whittingham:

“Charlie has decided to move on, and we wish him the best.”

Before looking at individual games from last week, let me present the teams that are in contention for The Brothel Defense Award this year – – the defense that allows anyone to score a lot:

  • UMass has given up 46 points per game
  • UConn has given up 46 points per game
  • Rice has given up 46.7 points per game

I’ll start with games involving Big-10 schools…

Cincy 38  Indiana 24.  Cincy goes to 3-0.  Indiana was a Top 25 team in the pre-season and has lost 2 of its first 3 games.  Cincy trailed 24-23 at the start of the 4th quarter but took control in the final stages of the game to win comfortably.  It was not an “artistic game” by any measure.  There were 7 turnovers in the game (4 by Indiana) and there were 16 penalties (11 by Cincy) in the game.

Michigan St. 38  Miami 17:  Can we dispense with the lofty expectations and pumping sunshine up the butts of Miami fans? If this is a Top 25 team, then it is a bleak year in college football.  Miami had more yards on offense and more first downs in the game.  However, they turned the ball over 4 times.

Minnesota 30  Colorado 0:  Two weeks ago, Colorado lost to Texas A&M 10-7.  The offense for Colorado seems to be a bit lethargic.  The Buffaloes had total offense of 68 yards for the game including minus-14 yards rushing.  They managed all of 6 first downs in the game and turned the ball over twice.

Notre Dame 27  Purdue 13:  Purdue simply could not run the ball; they gained only 57 yards on 26 attempts.  Nonetheless the game was even on the field.  Notre Dame’s total offense was 343 yards and Purdue’s total offense was 348 yards.  The big difference was that Purdue turned the ball over twice and Notre Dame never turned it over.  Also, Notre Dame had 4 first downs on penalties against the Boilermakers.

Ohio State 41  Tulsa 20:  It’s a win – – but not a cover against a much lesser program.  That does not sit well with the heavy-hitting Buckeye boosters.

Oklahoma 23  Nebraska 16:  This is clearly the best showing by Nebraska this year.  The Sooners were a huge favorite and had to scramble to win.  The game was as even on the field as it was on the scoreboard.  The Sooners’ defense is mediocre, and their “potent” offense looked nothing more than “ordinary” against a mediocre Big 10 team.

Penn State 28  Auburn  20:  This is a big win for Penn State and a feather in the cap for the Big-10 as a conference.  Sean Clifford outdueled Bo Nix here; Clifford threw for 280 yards and 2 TDs; Nix amassed 185 yards and 0 TDs.

Duke 30  Northwestern 23:  Here are the results from SAT Bowl #1.  Duke led 24-0 in the first half and 30-7 at the half; and then, Duke was shut out in the second half.  Who knows?

Moving along to action involving SEC teams…

Stanford 41  Vandy  23:  Here are the results from SAT Bowl #2.  This game was a lot closer on the field than on the scoreboard.  Vandy had more first downs in the game and was 4 for 4 on fourth down conversions.  Nonetheless, Stanford dominated on the scoreboard.

Kentucky 28  UT-Chattanooga 23: Kentucky is 3-0…

Alabama 31  Florida  29:  Alabama was a 2 TD favorite in this game, and the Tide led early and looked as if they would put this game on ice; they led 21-3 at the end of the 1st quarter.  The Gators won the second half  20-10.  Florida gained 436 yards to only 327 yards for Alabama and ran the ball for 241 on the Alabama defensive line.  Alabama has now won 32 games in a row against SEC East teams and 8 in a row over the Gators.

Georgia 40  S. Carolina 13:  Georgia/Florida is going to be a great game this year and the winner could well be Alabama’s opponent in the SEC Championship Game.  I only saw highlights of this game against the Gamecocks, but Georgia looks awfully good to me.

In games involving ACC teams…

W.Va 27  VA Tech 21:  I really thought the Hokies were the better team here.  My bad.

Western Michigan 44 Pitt  41:  You can count on Pitt to toss in a clunker – and maybe two – every season.  This is their first one of 2021.  W. Michigan is 2-1.  The wins are over Pitt here and Indiana State last week.  The loss was a shellacking by Michigan (47-14) in Week 1.  Pitt turned the ball over 3 times in the game   Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett threw six touchdown passes and it still wasn’t enough for the Panthers.

Clemson  14  Ga Tech 8:  This is probably a negative mark for Clemson as it seeks to put itself back in the CFP spotlight.  Or maybe Ga Tech is a whole lot better than anyone projected?  My guess is that this is just a down year for the Tigers.  Clemson was a 4 TD favorite at kickoff; Ga Tech out gained them on the field 314 yards to 292 yards.

Wake Forest 35  Fla State 14:  The Seminoles have a new head coach who has been there for all of 3 games.  He came from a successful tenure at Memphis but that is lesser competition than the ACC and the expectations at Memphis are far more realistic than the ones in Tallahassee. Already there are little rumblings that Florida State may be looking at Deion Sanders to come in and take over the program.  Sanders was openly interested in the Florida State job when it was open last winter; Sanders took the job at Jackson State presumably to give him some coaching credentials.  This could get interesting…

UNC  59  Virginia 29:  There were some impressive stats in this game.  VA QB,  Brennan Armstrong threw for 554 yards and 4 TDs.  That was not enough – – even though it was better than UNC QB, Sam Howell who *only* threw for 307 yards and 5 TDs.  Somehow, I doubt any NFL scouts watching this game had a lot of positive notes on defensive backs out there on the field…

Moving along to the Big-12…

K-State 38  Nevada 17: I said last week that K-State is tough at home.  This was a 3-point spread at kickoff.

Baylor 45  Kansas 7:  All has come back to reality within the Jayhawks’ football program…

Texas 58  Rice 0: The Longhorns amassed 620 yards offense to only 272 yards offense for Rice.  This was a mismatch from the outset.  Rice is 0-3 and all the losses have been bad ones.  So far this year, Rice has been outscored 140-24.

Out in the land of the PAC-12 …

Washington 52  Arkansas St. 3:  I honestly believe that the Washington coach saved his job with this blowout.  Had he lost to another lesser program…

USC 45  Washington St. 14:  The Cougars led this game 14-7 at halftime and then the Trojans woke up and dominated the second half 38-0.  USC QB, Kedon Slovis was injured and a true freshman, Jaxon Dart, came off the bench to throw for 391 yards with 4 TDs and 2 INTs.  USC got 28 points in the 3rd quarter alone.

Fresno State  40  UCLA 37:  Not a good look for the PAC-12 – – but selfishly, I got the OVER pick correctly in last week’s Six-Pack.  Fresno St. dominated here gaining 569 yards on offense to 395 for UCLA.  Fresno St also had 32 first downs to only 19 for the Bruins.  The Bulldogs ran 91 offensive plays to only 55 for the Bruins.

And in a game of minimal importance, Army beat UConn 52- 21:  Remember, it is the former defensive coordinator who has been elevated to the head coaching job now that Randy Edsall has retired.  Army led 42-0 at the half and put it on cruise control for the win.

 

College Games of Interest:

 

(Fri Nite) Wake Forest at UVa – 3.5 (68.5):  Wake is undefeated so far this year; last week Virginia lost to UNC by 30 points.  The oddmakers are clearly unimpressed by Wake Forest.

(Fri Nite) UNLV at Fresno St. – 30.5 (59):  UNLV is a bad team and Fresno St. is one of my “positive surprise” teams so far in 2021.

Kentucky – 5 at S. Carolina (48):  Kentucky is unbeaten so far this year and S. Carolina got waxed by Georgia last week.  Make no mistake, Kentucky is not quite Georgia this year…

Notre Dame at Wisconsin – 6.5 (45):  This should be a good game, and this could be an important game in terms of rankings and “conference bragging rights”.  Wisconsin was off last week and has had 2 weeks to prep for this game.

San Jose St. at W. Michigan – 2.5 (63):  W. Michigan beat Pitt last week; now they are home against San Jose St. and are less than a field goal favorite?  Another example of the oddsmakers being unimpressed…

UMass at Coastal Carolina – 36 (65):  Coastal Carolina is ranked in the Top 20 and would surely want to stay there.  However, they are not a football blueblood so they need to continue to play “impressively” for voters who will not watch them play.  UMass is in the running for the Brothel Defense Award this week…

Akron at Ohio St. – 48.5 (67):  The Buckeyes’ defense has not been good at all this year; if they are to get themselves to a point where people think they might be half-decent, they need to put the clamps on Akron this week.

Kansas at Duke – 16 (57):  Kansas is not any good, but can you trust the Duke defense enough to spot another Division 1 team two TDs plus?

UNC – 12.5 at Ga Tech (63.5):  The fact that Tech held Clemson to 14 points last week obviously did not impress the oddsmakers.  The Total Line would suggest that the Tar Heels will score close to 40 points here…

Washington St. at Utah – 15 (53.5):  Neither team has looked impressive so far in 2021.  This game could be part of a race to the bottom…

Hawaii – 17 at New Mexico St. (62.5):  Hawaii is not nearly a powerhouse team, and this is a long trip for them to get from Hawaii to Las Cruces, NM (almost 6 hours in the air).  Nonetheless they are 17-point favorites; that tells you what the oddsmakers think of New Mexico State.

USF at BYU – 23 (54):  BYU is undefeated and should stay that way this week.  BYU has won its last 12 home games; USF has lost its last 7 road games.  But the Cougars are not winning because of their offense; their total margin of victory in 3 games is 27 points.  That is a big number for them to cover

Colorado at Arizona St. – 14.5 (45):  Remember, Colorado was shut out last week and only scored 7 points the week before that…

UCLA – 5 at Stanford (58.5):  Each team has a loss, but both are undefeated in conference games.  Stanford QB, Tanner McKee has  thrown 5 TDs with 0 INTs this year; he will face a UCLA pass defense that has been miserable.  The last two opponents for UCLA (LSU and Fresno St.) combined to throw 5 TDs and to amass 788 yards in the air.  With Stanford at home, taking points and facing a questionable defense, I like the Cardinal; I’ll take Stanford plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack.

Louisville – 1.5 at Florida St. (61.5):  I have exactly no sense of how this game might unfold.  Louisville’s two wins are at home; Florida State has lost twice at home and once on the road.  The Seminoles are 0-3 so far in 2021; the last time they were 0-4 was back in 1974; Gerald Ford was President in 1974.

K-State at Oklahoma St. – 6 (46.5):  Both teams are undefeated.  K-State looked good at home last week in beating Nevada.  Oklahoma State has 3 wins in 2021 by a total of 13 points.  I think this will be a low-scoring game where I prefer to take points; so, I’ll take K-State on the road plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack.

So. Mississippi at Alabama – 45 (58.5):  So. Miss gave up 9 sacks in a game against Troy; you cannot blame the So. Miss QB if he comes out a tad gun-shy here.  In that game against Troy, the Golden Eagles amassed only 156 yards on offense.  Here are the Money Line odds for this game:

  • So. Miss  =  +35,000
  • Alabama  = minus-105,000

Georgia – 35 at Vandy (53):  Vandy lost at home last week to Stanford.  Georgia is better than Stanford…

LSU – 2.5 at Mississippi St. (56.5):  Could be an important game for both teams.  For LSU, the fans will not be happy with a loss to one of the “lesser teams” in the conference.  For Mississippi State, it will be embarrassing if their so-called big-time offense cannot light up the scoreboard against a suspect defense.  We shall see…

SMU at TCU – 9.5 (65.5):  This is a rivalry game that does not draw a lot of attention.  The schools are about 30 miles from each other.

Tennessee at Florida – 18.5 (63.5):  The Gators rallied to make it a nail-biter last week against Alabama.  If they play the way they did in the second half, Tennessee will be blown out – – but might they suffer a let-down after that emotional game…???

Clemson – 10 at NC St. (47.5):  The Clemson offense has been AWOL in both games against Division 1-A opponents this season scoring a; total of 17 points.  However, the Clemson defense has kept things interesting because it only gave up 21 points in the Tigers’ 3 games.

Nebraska at Michigan St. – 5 (52):  State has been strong this year and Nebraska has been up and down.  Last week in a rivalry game with Oklahoma, they were up; if they play that way, they can handle anything Michigan St. might throw at them.  If they have a down day , however…

Rutgers at Michigan – 20.5 (49.5):  The Wolverines are undefeated and lead the nation in rushing.  The Scarlet Knights are undefeated and have only allowed 34 points for 2021.  Last year, these teams went to Triple OT to decide the game.

Cal at Washington – 7.5 (47):  Both teams are 1-2 for the season; both teams won last week; both teams are 0-0 in conference play.

Arizona at Oregon – 28.5 (59):  Oregon seems to be the class of the PAC-12 this year; Arizona seems to be the doormat of the conference this year.

 

NFL Commentary:

 

Last week was a bad week in terms of injuries to players who are important contributors to their teams.  There were four starting QBs who were injured in Week 2:

  1. Andy Dalton – Bears
  2. Tua Tagovailoa – Dolphins
  3. Tyrod Taylor – Texans
  4. Carson Wentz – Colts

Here are six other injuries from last week to players who are/were very important to their teams:

  1. Tyson Alualu – Steelers
  2. Brandon Brooks – Eagles
  3. Bradley Chubb – Broncos
  4. Brandon Graham – Eagles
  5. Jarvis Landry – Browns
  6. TJ Watt – Steelers

The Jags have begun the “Urban Meyer Era” at 0-2.  Frankly, that is not a surprise; the roster he inherited was significantly flawed and while teams can “turn around” quickly in this free agency era, the Jags had too much turning to do to start off strongly.  However, the Jags 0-2 record is not one that inspires hope and confidence and all those good things.  Consider:

  • Trevor Lawrence – the crown jewel of the roster – has been running for his life and has had no time to throw.  His stat line is 42 of 84 for 450 yards with 4 TDs and 5 INTs.  It is not his fault; the Jags’ running game does not scare anyone and the Jags’ pass-catching cadre does not have any All-Pros lining up.
  • The Jags have been outscored 60-34.  A team with a bad OL that cannot protect its QB cannot win giving up 30 points per game.
  • The Jags’ offense has gained a total of 584 yards in 2 games.  That is an “acceptable” average output; but remember, a lot of those yards came after the game was in the bag.
  • The Jags’ defense has yielded 847 yards in 2 games.  There is no amount of arm-waving and deflection that can rationalize such an average allowance.  That defense has stunk out the joint for two weeks.
  • The Jags’ losing streak is at 17 – – and counting…

Here is a stat – or a reality – that I picked up listening to Greeny on ESPN Radio this week.  The last 3 rookie QBs to have a game where they threw 0 TDs and also threw 4 INTs are:

  1. Mark Sanchez
  2. Sam Darnold
  3. Zach Wilson

Anyone see a pattern there…?

Then Saints have been vagabonds in 2021 thanks to Hurricane Ida who drove them out of New Orleans for Week 1; the Saints had to play in Jax.  The goal was to host the Giants on October 3rd, but the roof of the Superdome caught on fire this week leaving that game venue up in the air.  In the spirit of making chicken salad out of chicken s*it, how’s this for an idea:

  • See if the Saints can play that October 3 game in the Alamodome in San Antonio.  It could be an “audition” for fans there; and if the 64,000-seat stadium is packed, the NFL can use it for leverage in the next round of stadium building negotiations with existing cities.
  • Just a thought.  No fee…

Dick Vitale likes to refer to teams that are up one game and down the next as “Dow Jonesers”.  Well, I think we saw three such teams in the first two weeks of NFL play this year.  So, which version is closer to reality:

  • Saints dismantling of the Packers in Week 1 or Saints no-show against the Panthers in Week 2 – – OR – –
  • Steelers’ Defense in Week 1 at the Bills or Steelers’ Defense in Week 2 at home vs Raiders – – OR – –
  • The Week 1 Titans or the second-half-of-Week 2 Titans?

From games last week, WFT 30  Giants 29:  The team that made the last mistake lost the game; the fourth quarter was nothing more than a comedy of errors.  And maybe the final error was by the officials who called Dexter Lawrence offsides on a Washington field goal that sailed wide right and would have ended the game in favor of the Giants.  Whatever.  The game is in the books; the Giants’ defense is a mess; the Football Team’s defense – – a self-proclaimed Top 5 unit – – is also a mess.  The Giants are not going to score 29 points very often this season.

Panthers 26  Saints 7:  The Saints scored at will in Week 1 against the Packers winning 38-3.  In this game the offense was overwhelmed; the Saints’ total offense for the day was 128 yards.  Sam Darnold had a good day for the Panthers throwing for 305 yards and 2 TDs with 0 INTs.

Browns 31  Texans  21:  The Texans led the game 14-7 but starting QB, Tyrod Taylor, was injured and had to leave the game.  [Aside:  Can that guy ever get a starting job and avoid an injury early in the season?]  From that point on, the Browns defense took control.  The Browns’ running game was dominant too.

Niners 17  Eagles 11:  This game was close from start to finish.  The Eagles had a 91-yard pass completion in the game and did not score on that drive.  Hard to believe.  Eagles’ coach Nick Sirianni might be too cute as a play-caller.  The Eagles had the ball at the Niners 3 yardline and had 6 plays that resulted in nothing.  The strength of the Eagles’ offense is their offensive line; use it.  Jalen Hurts had a good day running the ball (82 yards on 10 carries and a TD) but a less-than-wonderful day passing (12 of 23 for 190 yards).

Bears 20  Bengals 17:  The Bears won this game on defense.  They sacked Joe Burrow 4 times, intercepted 3 passes one of which was a Pick-Six.  The game looks closer than it was; the Bears led 20-3 at the start of the 4th quarter.  Andy Dalton left the game with an injury; Justin Fields posted this stat line for his time against the Bengals:

  • 6 of 13 for 60 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT
  • Meh!

Pats 25  Jets 6:  At first glance, the stats would indicate a Jets’ victory here.  The Jets had 76 more yards on offense and ran the ball for 152 yards.  They had more first downs than the Pats and converted 5 of 13 third-down opportunities.  Here is the problem:  Zach Wilson threw 4 INTs in the game.

Raiders 26  Steelers 17:  This is a big win for the Raiders, and they deserved it.  Derek Carr controlled the game in the absence of RB, Josh Jacobs.  Both defenses played well; the Raiders’ defense  played better.  The Steeler’s defense will have to adjust to the loss of Alualu and maybe TJ Watt.  Alualu fractured his ankle and Watt had a groin injury that did not allow him to return to the game.  The Steelers’ offense is still dink-and-dunk and the Raiders’ defense picked up on that reluctance to throw the ball down the field.

Broncos 23  Jags 13:  Trevor Lawrence threw 2 INTs in the game and the Broncos’ defense was too much for the Jags who have now lost 17 in a row.  The Jags’ offense for the day was a meager 189 yards.  The Jags scored a TD on their first possession.  Then this is the result of their offense from that score until a final drive that produced a meaningless score:

  1. Punt
  2. Missed Field Goal
  3. Punt
  4. Missed Field Goal
  5. Punt
  6. INT
  7. Punt
  8. INT

Rams 27  Colts 24:  Cooper Kupp had another outstanding day against the Colts’ secondary; he caught 9 passes for 163 yards and 2 TD.  The Colts outgained the Rams here but were only 1 for 4 in terms of TDs in the Red Zone.  The Colts had  two possessions in the first half inside the Rams’ 10 yardline and they came away with nothing on the scoreboard.  In the first of those possessions, the Colts ran Jonathan Taylor four straight times and gained zero net yards.  The next time, the Colts ran Taylor inside again and were stuffed once more; and then, they ran Taylor inside again.  That yielded the same result.  So, the next thing out of the Colts’ bag of tricks was to have Carson Wentz came up with a shovel pass apparently to no one that was immediately intercepted by the Rams’ defense.

Bucs 48  Falcons 25:  Matt Ryan threw 2 Pick-Sixes in this game.  The Falcons are not nearly good enough to overcome that sort of thing.  Not all the blame belongs to Ryan here; the Falcons OL allowed way too much pressure most of the day.  Tom Brady had a good day at the office throwing 5 TD passes.

Titans 33  Seahawks 30  (OT):  The Seahawks seemed to be in control of this game; they led 24-9 at the half.  The Seahawks put up 397 yards on offense which is usually a good number for a win; however, the Titans countered with 532 yards of offense last week.  Derek Henry had a huge day carrying the ball 32 times for 182 yards and 3 TDs.  The Titans controlled the ball for just over 39 minutes in the game.

Cowboys 20  Chargers 17:  The game winner was a 56-yard field goal as the clock ran down.  The Dallas defense gave up yards but also managed to intercept Justin Herbert twice in the game.

Ravens 36  Chiefs  35:  For me, this was the most entertaining game of the weekend  The Chiefs’ defense was ineffective against the run; the Ravens ran for 251 yards on 41 carries.  Lamar Jackson was the leading rusher (with 2 TDs on the ground) and he completed 70% of his passes including another TD.  The Chiefs also melted down on offense turning the ball over twice in its final three possessions of the game.  However, these were two very accomplished teams going at each other and it was enjoyable to watch – – as it may be come playoff-time…

Cards 34  Vikes 33:  The Vikes’ kicker had a bad day.  He missed an extra point and then missed a game-winning field goal as time expired from the 38-yardline.   Kyler Murray was the offensive hero of the game throwing 3 TD passes and rushing for another score.

Bills 35  Dolphins 0:  Tua was hurt in the first quarter and did not return.  The Dolphins’ OL is simply not adequate; absent significant improvement there, the Dolphins are in for a long season.  The Bills pretty much did whatever they needed to do when they needed to do it.

Packers 35  Lions 17:  The Lions looked as if they were going to make a game out of this until a clock somewhere struck midnight and the Lions realized who they really are and folded like a bedsheet.

 

NFL Games:

 

Last night, the Texans went with Davis Mills at QB since Tyrod Taylor could not go against the Panthers.  Going into the final 2 minutes of the first half, the Texans’ offense had a net of 44 yards and did not cross the 50-yardline until 1:12 was left in the first half.  Nevertheless, the game was 7-6 at the half in favor of the Panthers.  Carolina won the game despite losing Christian McCaffrey to a leg injury; the Panthers simply have the better roster.  The Panthers are 3-0 for the season.

Arizona – 7.5 at Jax (52):  The Cards rank second in the NFL in offense early on in the 2021 season with 445 yards per game.  The Jags’ defense is not equipped to handle that – – unless the Cards self-immolate as they have been known to do.

Indy at Tennessee – 5.5 (48):  Assuming Carson Wentz cannot play, the Colts will be starting a rookie QB, Jacob Eason .  The Titans’ defense has not been noteworthy so far this year, but against a rookie QB in their house, that unit should have a good day.  Wentz is a month or so removed from foot surgery and he now has two sprained ankles.  The Colts need him on the field over the long haul, so they need to be judicious about when they re-insert him as their starter lest he go down for good this year.

  • [Aside:  Carson Wentz has achieved something that will never be eclipsed.  He has two ankle sprains at the same time.  Only a mutant could possibly break that record.]

Baltimore – 8 at Detroit (50):  I think the Ravens are a very good team, but I am not sold on the Ravens as a reliable team; I am fully sold on the proposition that the Lions are not good at all.  Last week against the Packers on MNF, the Lions exhibited some significant defensive shortcomings.  Last week, the Ravens exorcised some demons in beating the Chiefs and are ripe for a let-down game.

Washington at Buffalo – 7.5 (45.5):  This is a potentially excellent game.  Josh Allen has been inaccurate in the first two games of 2021; it is almost as if he is a rookie once again.  Notwithstanding that slow start to 2021, Allen has some quality WRs – – Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley – – to get open for him.  The Bills’ defense should force Tyler Heinicke to make his decisions quickly.  I am tempted to take Washington plus those points with a hook on top of a full TD – – but I shall remain above that temptation.

New Orleans at New England – 3 (42.5):  Which Saints team is going to take the field on Sunday?  Since I have no idea as to the answers to that question, this is a great game to watch – – with no monetary interest in the outcome.

Chargers at KC – 7.5 (54.5):  This is my runner-up as the Game of the Week.  Both teams lost last week; both teams have serious playoff aspirations, and those aspirations will not be enhanced by taking a second loss in the first three games.  The Chiefs’ run defense was awful against the Ravens last week, but this week they do not have to contend with Lamar Jackson running the ball.  I think the Chargers can keep this game close enough that it comes down to how the teams perform in the final few possessions.  I like that hook on top of a full touchdown’s worth of points; so, I’ll take the Chargers plus those points; put it in the Six-Pack.

Atlanta at Giants – 3 (47.5):  This is my Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  Both teams are 0-2; the Falcons have the worst point differential in the NFL at minus-49; the Giants are masters at giving games away.  Pay attention to other games…

Chicago at Cleveland – 8 (45.5):  Justin Fields gets his first start of the season with Nick Foles as his backup QB.  It appears Andy Dalton will be in street clothes for the game.  Here is a question I would like to see someone ask Andy Dalton:

  • Have you ever heard of Wally Pipp?

The Browns are clearly a better team, but they have been unimpressive to the point where it is fair to say they are underperforming.

Cincy at Pittsburgh – 3 (43):  The Raiders exploited the Steelers’ defense late last week but much of that exploitation came after two important injuries to Steelers’ defenders (see above).  TJ Watt is “questionable” for this week; so, I do not know what version of the Steelers’ defense will take the field.  The Bengals lost to the Bears last week and Joe Burrow has already been sacked 9 times in the first two games.

Miami at Las Vegas – 3.5 (44):  After two big wins against AFC North opponents, the Raiders host a lesser opponent whose starting QB is out with broken ribs.  Jacoby Brisset will be the Dolphins’ starter at QB this week and the Dolphins’ hopes must ride with their defensive unit keeping the game close.  I do not think that will be the case unless the Raiders come out flat and sleepwalk through the game.  I like the Raiders at home to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.

Jets at Denver – 11 (41.5):  The Jets’ offense has scored 20 points in two games.  The Broncos’ strength is their defense; it has allowed only 13 points per game.  I will avoid this as a selection only because I do not like double-digit spreads in NFL games.  As an indication of the way the betting public sees the game, the Jets are the highest odds on the Money Line at +480.  Even the Jags are lower at +295.

Tampa at Rams “pick ‘em” (55):  Here is the Game of the Week.  Both offenses can be explosive and both defenses – while very good – can be exploited by good offensive game planning and good quarterbacking.  I think there will be a lot of scoring here; so, I’ll take the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Seattle – 1 at Minnesota (55):  Both teams lost last week and both teams lost last week because of defensive flaws.  I am seriously tempted to take this game to go OVER – – but I will resist that temptation.  I would point out that Vikes’ coach, Mike Zimmer, is a defensive maven, but his defense stinks (yielding 30 points per game) and another bad loss here blamed on the defense could turn up the heat on his seat…

(Sun Nite) Green Bay at SF – 3 (50):  I gave this game fleeting consideration for Game of the Week; it will be a fun game to watch.  The Niners gain 124 yards per game on the ground and the Packers allow 139.5 yards per game rushing.  The Niners can control this game and minimize the time Aaron Rodgers has to work against the Niners’ defense.

(Mon Nite) Philly at Dallas – 3.5 (52):  The Cowboys have started the season with two road games; this is their home opener.  Jalen Hurts can make some big plays, but Dak Prescott will likely make more such plays.  I like the Cowboys at home to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.

So let me review this week’s Six-Pack:

  • Stanford + 5 vs UCLA
  • K-State + 6 vs Oklahoma State
  • Chargers +7.5 vs Chiefs
  • Raiders – 3.5 over Dolphins
  • Bucs/Rams OVER 55
  • Cowboys – 3.5 over Eagles

Finally, apropos of nothing, here is a comment by the novelist/essayist J. B. Priestley:

“There was no respect for youth when I was young, and now that I am old, there is no respect for age.  I missed it coming and going.”

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

 

 

The FIFA World Cup Every Two Years?

In yesterday’s rant, I had an item related to soccer and MLS.  Today, I want to look at another “soccer story” involving FIFA and the major European soccer leagues and clubs.  The idea has been floated that FIFA should hold a World Cup Tournament every other year instead of every four years as it currently does.  That idea did not come out of the blue; there is a history here.

Back in May, the FIFA congress commissioned a feasibility study regarding holding the World Cup tournament every two years instead of every four years.  Saudi Arabia was the country federation that put the issue before the membership, and it was supported by the FIFA president Gianni Infantino.  The vote by the FIFA congress was 166 votes in support of the study and 22 opposed to the study.

Another senior officer of FIFA is Arsene Wenger.  Wenger had been a long-term and successful manager of Arsenal FC in the English Premier League from 1996 to 2018; he is widely known in the soccer world and while he is generally considered to be studious and capable, he has also had a few less-than-collegial moments in his career.  Currently, Wegner’s job is as FIFA’s Chief of Football Global Development.

It is not clear that Wenger had already formulated a “2-year plan for the World Cup” prior to the motion made by the Saudi federation, but he championed that idea under the auspices of the study commissioned because of that motion.  Here are the current scheduling windows for “international breaks” where individual leagues take a pause and national teams can assemble, practice and play qualifying matches:

  • There are breaks in September, October, November and March.

Wenger says that is too many interruptions and his proposal is to condense all that into a single four- or five-week hiatus in October when all the qualifying matches could take place.  That all sounds good to me; I would not expect any violent opposition to that sort of thinking.

However, there is one other little gem in this recommendation:

  • There would be major tournaments every June of every year.
  • In even numbered years, there would be a World Cup Tournament
  • In odd numbered years there would be “continental championships” such as the European Championship tournament.

Cue Hamlet:  “Aye, there’s the rub.

An organization such as UEFA just had their tournament relegated because they only get to do it every other year and they now do it at least three years out of four.  Of course, that will not be the public position of UEFA on the matter; they will oppose the idea based on this statement by its president:

“To play every summer a one-month tournament, for the players it’s a killer. If it’s every two years it clashes with the women’s World Cup, with the Olympic football tournament…  The value [of the World Cup] is precisely because it is every four years, you wait for it, it’s like the Olympic Games, it’s a huge event. I don’t see our federations supporting that.”

The IOC has not taken a position on this proposal just yet.  Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine that it would want to have the World Cup Tournament in competition with the Olympic Summer Games every four years.  IOC president Thomas Bach said that he and others involved with the IOC are “in discussions” with FIFA and with “various continental associations.”

Players’ positions are split.  Some think it is a great idea; others think that every two years would diminish the prestige of the World Cup Tournament.  If this were to come down to a simple majority vote, the idea would likely pass because the World Cup revenue is split among all the membership of FIFA.  There are lots more “small national federations” than there are entities such as the English Premier League, Serie A or UEFA.  Those smaller entities can use the influx of more World Cup revenue to advance their own development.  [Aside: Remember Wenger is Chief of Football Global Development; that is one of his hooks into this issue.]

Another attraction for some of the smaller federations is that more frequent tournaments allow more opportunity for a smaller country to have a shot at hosting the event – – or at least being part of a multi-national hosting consortium.  Hosting obviously has the potential for economic benefit attached to it – – if countries do not overspend on facilities as did Brazil in 2014.

There is plenty of room for maneuvering and deal-making and politicking in this matter.  President Infantino says that he and the folks at FIFA will have a roadmap for evaluating this proposal by the end of 2021 and some have taken that to mean that Infantino plans to put this proposal before the next FIFA congress in early 2022.  As I said, it is hard to imagine the congress as a whole voting it down.

At the same time, the current position of UEFA is that European nations might choose to boycott the World Cup Tournament if it were to become a biennial event.  That is a nuclear option.  No offense to federations in South America, North America, Africa and Asia, a World Cup Tournament without European teams is a Junior Varsity event.  Can UEFA really hold firm in such a boycott position?  Do the world soccer mavens really want to find out?

And it is not just UEFA that opposes this idea.  There is an entity known as the European Leagues Group; it has 37 members including all the major – and minor – national club leagues in those countries.  Here is their reaction to this idea:

“The leagues have firmly and unanimously opposed any proposals to organise the FIFA World Cup every two years.

“The leagues will work together with the other stakeholders to prevent football governing bodies taking unilateral decisions that will harm domestic football which is the foundation of our industry and of utmost importance for clubs, players and fans across Europe and the world.

“New competitions, revamped competitions or expanded competitions for club and national team football both at continental level and/or at global level are not the solutions to the current problems of our game in an already congested calendar.”

Finally, today’s rant began because Arsene Wenger offered up an idea that would reshape the international soccer calendar.  So, let me close with an observation about ideas in general from essayist Emil Cioran that seem eerily appropriate here:

“The history of ideas is the history of the grudges of solitary men.”

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

 

 

Autumnal Equinox 2022

Many people consider Labor Day Weekend to be the end of summer and the beginning of autumn here in the US.  Astronomers know that today is the day when the sun crosses the equator from north to south starting astronomical autumn in the Northern Hemisphere.  Welcome to the Fall…

One of the bellwether calendar entries of the Fall is college football on Saturdays.  So far in this season, it seems to me as if there have been more interesting out-of-conference scheduled games than I recall from previous years.  For the Power 5 Conferences we have already had:

  • Auburn/Penn State
  • Clemson/Georgia
  • LSU/UCLA
  • Oklahoma/Nebraska
  • Oregon/Ohio State
  • Texas/Arkansas

This is a positive direction for college football in my mind but the divide that seems to be happening in the sport puts that “trend” in danger.  Notwithstanding how you may feel about the expansion of the SEC and/or the poaching of schools from one conference to another, if there are “polar camps” that develop in college football, the scheduling of quality out-of-conference games will become much more difficult.  And for fans of college football writ large, that is not a good outcome.

From the list above, Clemson/Georgia and LSU/UCLA paired teams from the SEC against teams from the so-called “Alliance of Conferences”.  To date, the “Alliance” has done nothing other than to announce its existence.  It has not explicitly declared war on the SEC, but it was clear to me that the “Alliance” came together as a response to the SEC poaching Texas and Oklahoma from the Big-12 thereby creating instability within other conferences.

If the existence of the “Alliance” alone is enough to avoid open warfare among the conferences, then it will be seen as a positive entity.  On the other hand, it could be an instrument of internecine warfare in college football.  To be clear, that would be a terrible outcome.

Because I firmly believe that TV money and its availability is at the core of all this restructuring and Alliance-making in college football, I think that the networks that pay the TV rights’ fees should be motivated to assure that they continue to get quality programming – – and the six games listed above would qualify as “quality programming”.  Those are “destination games”; I have no attraction to or affiliation with any of the schools on that list but those are six games that caught my attention and attracted my eyeballs to the screen.  From the point of view of a TV network exec, that is a big plus; and since it is the TV network execs who are handing out that coveted TV money, I would think they would want to assure that any rift that emerges between conferences or “Alliances” would not jeopardize the existence of these “destination games”.  Stay tuned; this story is not nearly played out…

There is another “sports on TV” issue floating around out there that has not gotten a lot of attention.  ESPN and FOX each have rights’ deals with Major League soccer (MLS) to televise games.  Execs at FOX have made an interesting scheduling decision for airing one of the MLS playoff games:

  • On Thanksgiving Day, FOX will televise the Bears/Lions game in the 1:00 PM EST time slot.  That puts the Cowboys/Raiders game in the late-afternoon EST time slot on CBS.
  • FOX will counter-program that late-afternoon NFL game with an MLS playoff game.

I read one report that accused MLS of hubris here as if to say it was folly to think that MLS could possibly compete for an audience with an NFL game.  While it is certainly correct to think the NFL game will dominate the ratings numbers, I disagree with that interpretation for two reasons:

  1. Since FOX is the one paying the rights’ fee, it has the loudest voice in deciding when it will put the game on the air.  It seems to me that FOX is the one who created this “competition”.
  2. Since the FOX execs know – they do not suspect”, they know – that CBS and the NFL will dominate the ratings for the time periods when the Cowboys/Raiders game is on the air, this is a smart move for them.  The rights’ fee they have paid to MLS is a sunk cost; why not put that event up against the ratings juggernaut instead of spending more money on some other programming that will also be overwhelmed in the ratings book?

Last year, the Cowboys played the Football Team in the late-afternoon TV time slot.  That game drew 30.6 million viewers; let me put that number into perspective:

  • That was the largest TV audience for any program since the Super Bowl in February 2020.
  • It would continue to be the largest audience until the start of the NFL playoffs several weeks after it aired.

I do not see this as a bold move by MLS nor anything related to hubris; I think this is simply a bottom-line decision to minimize costs by FOX execs for programming in that time slot.

Finally, since money and “economics” have been a thread through today’s rant, let me close with this observation by George Bernard Shaw:

“If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.”

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

 

 

Welcome Back – – Dwight Perry

Today calls for a hearty “Welcome back!” to Dwight Perry.  After a three-month hiatus from the pages of the Seattle Times, his column – –  Sideline Chatter – – returned to the paper on Sunday.  When athletes return to the field or the court after being out for a while, they often need a game or three to “shake off the rust”.  Not so with Professor Perry, here are some samples from his first “back-to-work offering”:

“A pipe burst during the Washington Football Team’s home opener, spewing raw sewage into the stands.

“Where’s one of Nixon’s D.C. plumbers when you really need one?”

And …

“Prince Philip’s will will be sealed for at least 90 years to protect the ‘dignity’ of Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family, a London judge has ruled.

‘Can we do that with our 2021 season?’ asked the Baltimore Orioles.”

Meanwhile, Greg Cote had this note in his blog on the Miami Herald website.  This tells me about almost everything I need to know about this subject:

FAU football received a $2.5 million grant from Michelle and Michael Hagerty to name the head coaching position as Hagerty Family Head Football Coach. So now it’s the Owls led by Hagerty Family Willie Taggert? Can’t make this s— up, folks …”

Naturally, a donation of this magnitude that focuses on something as visible as the head football coach for a university requires public acknowledgement and thanks from the university and a selfless statement from the donors about their motivation that led to such generosity.  Here is the statement from the President of FAU:

“FAU is building a national reputation for academic and athletic excellence, thanks to generous donors like Michelle and Michael Hagerty. Their gift will help our hard-working football players continue to thrive, both in the classroom and in competition. Thank you, Michelle and Michael Hagerty!”

And here is what the Hagertys have to say about all this:

“We are honored and excited to be a part of the FAU community. Coach Willie Taggart, as a committed leader of young adults, inspired us to support the FAU football program. We are grateful for the opportunity to team up with and elevate this amazing group of student-athletes. Best wishes to the FAU football team. Go Owls!”

My reaction is awfully close to Greg Cote’s reaction to all this.  I feel as if someone has drenched me in a concentrated solution of saccharine and I need a hot shower to get it off me…

In the wake of the kerfuffle at ESPN involving Maria Taylor and Rachel Nichols which culminated in Taylor leaving to go to NBC and Nichols losing her position as a studio host at ESPN, there has been an inordinate amount of scrutiny regarding assignments at ESPN given to female broadcasters.  People are actually keeping track of who gets to be the sideline reporter for various college football games on any of the ESPN networks and assigning some imaginary hierarchy to the games at which various reporters make appearances.  Presumably, this will allow the folks who follow this sort of thinking – if I may call it that – to deduce the “pecking order” among sideline reporters at ESPN.

[Aside:  Even if I were to stipulate for a nanosecond that such a methodology might reveal said “pecking order”, it is certainly not clear to me why I would care what the outcome of all the analysis might be.  As I have asked before, has anyone that you know ever made a decision to watch a game or not to watch a game based on who the sideline reporter might be?]

Let me put this into perspective.  For me, the single best sideline reporter – – the one who tried to inject some football analysis into the telecast – – was Tony Siragusa.  Having said that, it did not bother me even a little bit when FOX did not renew his contract about 5 years ago.

Changing the subject slightly, yesterday I got to watch the Eagles/Niners game as the “early game” on FOX.  The color analyst for that game was Mark Schlereth.  I have seen Schlereth on ESPN and on FOX in studio programing settings where he seemed to be insightful/knowledgeable, and he participated with others in conversation.  Yesterday, was the first time I remember seeing him as the color analyst on an NFL game.  Oh my …!

The music producer, Phil Spector, was famous for developing what became known as the ‘Wall of Sound” in his records.  All I can say is the Spector’s “Wall of Sound” had nothing on Mark Schlereth’s “Wall of Sound” yesterday.  The most appropriate adjective I can think of to describe his commentary after every play would be – – incessant.

I firmly believe that Mark Schlereth was vaccinated with a stereo needle…

Finally, let me close today with one more item from Dwight Perry’s column in the Seattle Times yesterday:

“More than 6,000 Raiders fans received their first COVID vaccinations Monday night at a pop-up tent at Allegiant Stadium so they could attend the team’s season opener.

“Some expressed disappointment, though, that the jab didn’t leave a black hole.”

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

 

 

Football Friday 9/17/21

Last week’s opening volley in what will be a series of Football Friday rants felt a bit choppy as I was doing it.  This week, the goal is for it to go from head-to-keyboard a bit more smoothly – – and hopefully with a better record for the Six-Pack.  So, let me begin with those Six-Pack results from last week:

  • College Games:  1-1-0
  • NFL Games: 1-2-1
  • Overall Games:  2-3-1

 

College Commentary:

 

The Linfield College Wildcats opened their season in McMinnville OR with a convincing win over Simon Fraser University by a score of 56-20.  The Wildcats go on the road this week for one more out-of-conference game on the schedule; Linfield will play in Redlands, CA against the University of Redlands Bulldogs.  So far in 2021, the Bulldogs are undefeated having outscored two opponents by a combined 84-24 score.  Go Wildcats!

I know the season is early and there is plenty of time for change to take place, but in my curiosity to track what I call the Brothel Defense – where all the opponents score at will – I found that there are two Division 1-A schools that are giving up more than 50 points per game this year:

  • Georgia State has given up 51.0 points per game
  • Akron has given up 52.5 points per game

In terms of Total Defense so far, those two teams are not at the bottom of the list.  Three teams give up more yards than Akron and eleven teams give up more yards than Georgia State.  Amazingly, Oregon – the team that upset Ohio State last week – has given up 12 more yards per game than Georgia State has.

Speaking of Akron football, the Zips host Bryant University – a Division 1-AA team from the Northeast Conference.  If Bryant hangs “half-a-hundred” on Akron, I will consider Akron a strong SHOE Tournament candidate…

Back in Week 1, the University of Washington suffered an embarrassing loss at home to Division 1-AA Montana.  Here is how Art Thiel reported on that happenstance at sportspressnw.com:

“In 2020, the University of Washington football team played in front of cardboard fans.

“In 2021, University of Washington fans watched a cardboard team.

“Unable and unwilling to muster the gumption to conduct business as a standard Power 5 conference team, the Huskies, attempting to celebrate the season-opening return of fans (64,053) to Husky Stadium, instead stunned them with a 13-7 defeat to a second-tier University of Montana team that played with an intensity absent in the big boys.”

There is no way to label that as “homerism” …

I mention that because Washington went on the road last week to play Michigan in Ann Arbor.  The Huskies lost that game too by a score of 31-10.  The stats from that game are interesting when juxtaposed:

  • Michigan had 387 yards offense – – 44 yards passing and 343 yards rushing.
  • Washington had 343 yards offense – – 293 yards passing and 50 yards rushing.

The biggest upset from last week was Oregon beating Ohio State 35-28.  The Ducks were a 15.5-point underdog at kickoff and the game was in Columbus, OH where the Buckeyes had not lost a game since 2017.  Those factors added to the fact that most folks had Ohio State penciled in as a CFP participant come January made this a huge surprise.  Ohio State marched up and down the field amassing 612 yards on offense, but the Buckeye’s defense needs plenty of work.  Oregon had a very balanced attack gaining 236 yards passing and 269 yards on the ground.

This week, the two teams face interesting games:

  • Oregon will host Division 1-AA Stony Brook.  Obviously, this is simply a payday for Stony Brook but how much of a letdown might Oregon suffer?
  • Ohio State will host Tulsa.  The Golden Hurricane lost its opener to Division `1-AA UC-Davis and then lost by only 5 points to Oklahoma State last week.  [Edit:  A reader pointed out correctly that I have confused Tulsa with Tulane.  Please ignore this bullet item.]

Virginia beat Illinois 42-14.  Unless Virginia emerges as one of the ACC’s power programs this season, that is not a good look for the Big-10 at all.

Rutgers won its second game of the season beating Syracuse 17-7.  The game was scoreless at halftime.

Purdue beat UConn 49-0. It looks as if making the defensive coordinator the interim coach for the rest of this season at UConn might not have been a great idea.  Look ahead to October 9th  when UConn goes on the road to play UMass in what has to be The Stink Bowl Game of the Day.

Penn State beat Ball State 44-14.  This was total domination from the start for the Nittany Lions.  As a Big Ten East team, they probably want to study closely the Oregon/Ohio State film for their upcoming game against the Buckeyes on October 30th.

Nebraska beat Buffalo 28-3.  My hunch that Buffalo could keep this one close was not a good hunch.  C’est la vie!  The Huskers will see a large step up in class this week when they travel to Norman, OK to play the #3 ranked Oklahoma Sooners.

Iowa beat Iowa State 27-17.  Iowa is 2-0 for the season and both wins were over teams ranked in the Top 20.  For the next two weeks, Iowa is at home against seemingly easy competition as Kent State comes to town followed by Colorado State.

Another big story from last week involves a team from “out west”.  Stanford beat USC 42-28.  Stanford was a 17.5-point underdog and won the game outright.  The score looks a lot closer than the game actually was; the score was 35-13 at the start of the 4th quarter.  I made a note to myself on my college football clipboard that said:

  • “Find screeches from USC fanboys about firing Clay Helton”

About 24 hours after penning that note to myself, I learned there would be no screeches to find because USC had indeed fired Clay Helton just two games into the 2021 season.  [Aside:  USC is no stranger to firing coaches in mid-season.  That happened to Lane Kiffin and also to Steve Sarkisian in the last 8 years.]  The interim coach is one of the assistants named Donte Williams.  Helton had been the head coach at USC for the last 5 full seasons; his record then was 39-19.  For a coach that won 67% of his games, Helton was never “embraced” by the USC fanbase.

BYU beat Utah in The Holy War by a score of 26-17.  BYU is now 2-0 for the season…

TCU beat Cal  34-32.  Other than the Oregon win, it was not a great week for the PAC-12.

In SEC country, Auburn beat Alabama State 62-0,  I guess that was an enjoyable game for some fans somewhere.

Pitt beat Tennessee 41-34.  The Panthers scored 27 points in the second quarter alone.

Georgia beat UAB 56-7.  The game was not as close as it looks…

Alabama beat Mercer 48-14.  That game was a tune-up for Alabama who face Florida this week.

Florida beat USF 42-20.  That game was a tune-up for Florida who face Alabama this week.

Arkansas beat Texas 40-21.  The Razorbacks ran for 333 yards and 4 TDs in the game.  Texas is destined for the SEC and Arkansas has not been one of the SEC powerhouses in recent years – – although it is ranked #21 this week after starting out the season with 2 wins.  As has been the case at Texas for several years now, they need to shore up their defense significantly.

Texas A&M beat Colorado 10-7.  “Strange game” does not begin to describe this one.  The Aggies were held to 3 points until the final minutes of the game when their offense put together an 82-yard drive taking 5 minutes off the clock using 11 plays.  Where was that offense hiding until that point?  Absent that last drive, the Aggies only had 206 yards total offense.

Mississippi St beat NC State  24-10:  I said last week that I was tempted to take OVER 55.5 for the Six-Pack.  Glad I resisted that temptation…

Kentucky beat Missouri  35-28.  Kentucky is 2-0 to start the 2021 season.

In ACC action, Notre Dame eked out another nail-biter of a win over what was perceived to be a lesser opponent.  First there was a 3-point OT win over Florida State (see below) and last week there was a 3-point win over Toledo at home in South Bend.  I know that a win is a win (Tautology alert!), but these are underwhelming showings by the Irish so far.  They actually trailed Toledo at the start of the 4th quarter.

Jax State beat Florida State 20-17 on a 60-yard Hail Mary play in the final seconds of the game.  Jax St is a Division 1-AA team from the Ohio Valley Conference.  The Seminoles paid Jax State $400K to come to Tallahassee with the idea that the Seminoles could play a “feelgood game” for its fans and alums.  That did not work out very well.  However:

  • Recall that Florida State took Notre Dame to OT in Week 1.
  • So, did Florida State take this opponent lightly?
  • Or is Notre Dame not that good?

Miami beat Appalachian State 25-23.  Miami was pushed around by Alabama in Week 1 and just beat a Sun Belt opponent by 2 points last week.  The Hurricanes were ranked in the Top 20 to start the season; that looks as if it was quite a reach.  Too bad Miami is not a city in Texas; if it were, I could say they have been all hat and no cattle.

Air Force beat Navy 29-3 on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack.

Temple beat Akron 45-24.  Both teams took a shellacking in Week 1; the Owls had a better time of it last week.

Coastal Carolina beat Kansas 49-22.  Jayhawks beat South Dakota by 3 points in Week 1 possibly leading to “irrational exuberance”  (h/t to Alan Greenspan) in Lawrence, KS.  Now back to reality folks…

Boise St. beat UTEP 54-13.  UTEP was 2-0 going into this game.  Perhaps another “irrational exuberance” situation was set straight last week.

Vandy beat Colorado State 24-21.  Both teams came to the kickoff having lost to Division 1-AA opponents in their opening game.

 

Games of Interest:

 

Michigan State at Miami – 6 (55.5):  After the way Miami has performed in the first two weeks, I would not touch this game with a fork.  Sparty is not the class of the Big-10 by any means, but this game is unpredictable.

UConn at Army – 34 (48.5):  Army is a 5 TD favorite?

Va Tech at W. Virginia- 3 (50):  I think the wrong team is favored here.  I like the Hokies to win the game so I will take them plus the points as gravy; put it in the Six Pack.

Nebraska at Oklahoma – 23.5 (63.5):  Many moons ago, these teams played each other, and the game was labeled as The Game of the Century.  Nebraska won that game 35-31.  If you think they can do that again, you can find the Huskers on the Money Line as high as +1150.

Cincy – 3.5 at Indiana (49):  Indiana was disappointing in its opener two weeks ago against Iowa; they were ranked in the Top 20 to start the season.  Cincy is not a soft spot in the schedule.  This should be a good game.

New Mexico at Texas A&M – 30 (49):  The Aggies scored all of 10 points last week against Colorado and the oddsmakers think this is a 30-point spread?

Nevada – 1 at K-State (50):  Kansas State is tough at home…

Purdue at Notre Dame – 7 (58):  The Boilermakers are 2-0 against marginal competition.  The Irish are 2-0 and both wins were unimpressive (see above).

Ga Tech at Clemson – 28 (52):  Clemson needs to win big when it can to stay in consideration for the CFP.

USC – 8 at Washington St. (62.5):  Washington State beat a Division 1-A team last week; USC has a new head coach already.

  • Memo to new USC Coach:  If you lose this game, hire a food taster.

Alabama –  14 at Florida (60):  I think this is the Game of the Week in college football.

Florida State at Wake Forest – 4.5 (62):  Wake is 2-0 against very questionable competition so far; Florida State is simply an enigma.

Tulsa at Ohio State – 24.5 (61):  Like Clemson, Ohio State cannot afford another loss nor can it eke out wins over ordinary opposition.  I think the Buckeyes will be primed to kick ass and take names here.  I know it is a lot of points, but I will take Ohio State to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.

Arkansas State at Washington – 16.5 (57.5):  The Huskies have not come close to meeting expectations this year; they were ranked #20 in the country before losing at home to Montana and then on the road at Michigan last week.  If they lose here, things could get very ugly in Seattle…

Auburn at Penn State – 5 (53):  This would be the Game of the Week were it not for Alabama/Florida…

Virginia at UNC – 7 (67):  The Cavaliers dispatched Illinois handily last week; UNC threw in a clunker in Week 1.

Stanford – 12 at Vandy (49):  Is this the SAT Bowl Game of the Day?

Northwestern – 2.5 at Duke (49.5): Or is this the SAT Bowl Game of the Day?

Oklahoma State at Boise State – 4 (57):  Cowboys against Broncos; why not?

Arizona State – 4 at BYU (50):  Two good teams square off here…

Fresno State at UCLA – 10 (62):  The Bruins beat up on Hawaii in the opener and then beat LSU two weeks ago.  They had a BYE Week last week. Fresno St. clobbered UConn in the opener and then lost to Oregon by only a TD two weeks ago.  They too had a BYE Week last week.  I see lots of scoring in this game so I will take the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

 

NFL Commentary:

 

I learned something when I went hunting for something else.  When the Jags lost to the Texans in Week 1, I realized that the Jags had now lost 16 games in a row.  After they won the opener last year, they went 0-15.  I could not remember how many consecutive games the Tampa Bay Bucs lost in a row when they entered the league with a roster of flotsam and jetsam, but I figured it would be an easy Google search.  I entered:

  • “longest nfl losing streak ever”

And that is where I learned that the Bucs only have the second-longest NFL losing streak.  Here are the data:

  • Chicago Cardinals lost 29 games in a row from 1942-1945
  • Tampa Bay Bucs lost 26 games in a row from 1976-1977.

The Jags have four of their next five games at home against the Broncos, Cardinals, Titans and Dolphins; the Jags will be underdogs in all those games, but at least they are at home.  Moreover, the only road game is at the Bengals which is not quite the same as visiting the Chiefs or the Bucs.  Only two NFL teams have ever lost 20 or more games in a row.  The Jags had better use this “home game cluster” as a way to snap their streak lest they join a list no team wants to be on.

Texans 37  Jags  21:  The good news for Jags is Trevor Lawrence threw 3 TDs;  the bad news for the Jags is just about anything else you might imagine.  The Jags got bum-rushed by a bad team; such a bad omen.  The Texans just signed Danny Amendola about an hour before game time and Amendola is not the second coming of Jerry Rice.  Not to worry, even he diced up the Jags defense with 4 catches and a TD.   I only saw the highlights here, but I could not find a lot to tell me that Trevor Lawrence is even remotely close to comfortable behind that OL.  Jags’ failure to address a weak offensive line already looks problematic and they’d better find a way to keep the first-overall pick in downs and distances that aren’t conducive to him taking a beating.  This is a potential Shakespearean tragedy.

I binged on NFL football in Week 1.  Of course, I saw the Bucs/Cowboys on Thursday night.  On Sunday, the games in my viewing area were Eagles/Falcons, Steelers/Bills, Packers/Saints, Chiefs/Browns; Sunday night was Rams/Bears and Monday night was Ravens/Raiders.  Here are some positive impressions from the weekend:

  • Jalen Hurts’ “escapability”
  • Steelers’ defense
  • Baker Mayfield’s accuracy – – until the final moments of the game
  • Patrick Mahomes being Patrick Mahomes
  • Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp being in sync

And, of course, here are some negative impressions from the weekend:

  • Packers’ everything
  • Chiefs’ defense in first half
  • Bears’ offense – – particularly the OL
  • Cowboys’ play calling – – 58 passes ?  Really?
  • Cowboys’ DL

When Cam Newton was released, there was no rush to sign him by teams who needed a backup QB and/or teams who were not thrilled by their current starting QB situation.  In an interview, Newton said he was ready and more than willing to play NFL football saying ,”I still have a lot of football in me.”  Given that he is in his early 30s, I can buy into that assessment.

However, here is why I think he does not have a job today – – even with Ryan Fitzpatrick going on IR in Washington where his former coach is in charge of football matters.

  • Cam Newton is not vaccinated against COVID-19.

That is certainly his choice.  The issue here is more than “ability”; it is the likelihood of “availability”.  No team wants to find out on a Friday that their starting QB cannot play on Sunday for any reason on Earth.  Given the NFL’s testing regimens and the protocols for isolation after “close contact” with someone who fails a COVID-19 screening, an unvaccinated player is at a greater risk of having to sit out a game.  The probabilities here are not high, but they are higher for an unvaccinated QB than they are for a vaxxed one.

The same argument holds for backup QBs.  A coach wants to have the guy he has invested in as the backup QB on the sidelines with him every week.  Were that not the case, the coach would surely expend the time and effort it took for him to “find his guy” for that job.  After all, backup QBs are not nearly as difficult to find as compared to “franchise QBs.”  I am not remotely surprised that no one in the NFL has even hinted that Newton’s unvaccinated state is in play here, but I believe that it is.

Bengals 27 Vikes  24 (OT):  the Bengals were the “disciplined team” here; that is not the label they used to wear in the past; the Vikes had 12 penalties for 116 yards in the game.  Joe Burrow did not have any eye-popping stats but when they needed a clutch throw, Burrow delivered.  Cautionary note here: the Bengals’ OL surrendered 5 sacks.  That must not become a recurring game story for the season.

Niners 41  Lions  33:  For backers of the Niners, this was a bad beat indeed.  The Niners led 38-10 giving 8 points.  The game wound up as a Push.  The Lions did not quit; that game had the look of the Lions and their new coach opening the season giving up “half-a-hundred” or more.  Deebo Samuel had a TD and 189 yards receiving in the game for the Niners.  Nonetheless, the Lions are tied for first place in the NFC North because all four teams lost.   On the other hand, the Niners’ defense gave up 33 to the Lions?  Is that an ominous sign or what?

Chargers 20 Football Team 16:  Washington’s defense gave up lots of yardage in the middle of the field but kept the Chargers out of the end zone in 4 of 6 trips to the Red Zone.  That is the good news.  The bad news is that Ryan Fitzpatrick was lost in the second quarter and that the Washington defense allowed the Chargers to covert 14 out of 19 third down tries.  The WFT defense is good, but it ran out of gas in the second half. The Chargers held the ball for 21:11 of the first half on a late summer day, and Washington couldn’t get enough pressure on critical third downs against Justin Herbert.

Panthers 19  Jets  14:  Sam Darnold got his “revenge” on his former employer.  There.  I said it.  Such nonsense.  The Jets’ running game was AWOL gaining only 45 yards on 17 tries.  The most important point here is that Sam Darnold did not play like a stumblebum; he was efficient and effective even if he was not “All-Pro Caliber” in his play.  Here is one of those NFL Facts that is not going to change any time soon:

  • The Jets’ OL is a mess.

Cards 38 Titans 13:  Kyler Murray threw for 4 TDs and ran for another, and Chandler Jones recorded 5 sacks and forced a fumble in this game.  Imagine trying to pick a “Star of the Game” for a post-game local radio show…  The Titans got their asses kicked; there is no polite way to put it.

Steelers 23  Bills  16:  The Steelers won this game by playing excellent defense, efficient offense and efficient special teams.  The Bills got into the Red Zone 4 times and managed only 1 TD.  The Steelers’ defense is for real; if they can get that offense balanced and productive, they can go a long way in 2021.

Dolphins 17  Patriots 16:  Neither team played well here.  The Dolphins played “less worse” on this day…

Seahawks 28  Colts 16:  Russell Wilson threw 4 TDs in the game – – two to Tyler Lockett.  Seattle’s  defense was even more impressive.  From 5 minutes to go in the second quarter until 10 minutes left to play in the fourth quarter, here are the Colts’ possessions:

  • Punt
  • Turnover on downs
  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Lost fumble
  • Turnover on downs

Broncos 27  Giants 13:  Teddy Bridgewater was the “Star of the Game” here with 28 for 36 for 264 yards and 2 TDs as his stat line.  As important is the fact that the Broncos were 3 for 3 on 4th down conversions.  The Broncos’ defense also corralled Saquon Barkley who was held to 26 yards rushing on 10 tries.

Eagles 32  Falcons 6:  The Falcons’ DL was dominated here; the Eagles averaged 5.6 yards per run attempt.  The Falcons’ OL held its own in the first half but was worn down in the second half when the Eagles inside pass rush scored 3 sacks in the 4th quarter.  The Falcons’ offense was productive until the red zone in the early part of the game.  In the first quarter the Falcons held the ball for eleven-and-a-half minutes; they ran 29 plays; they gained 146 yards – – and that produced only 6 points.  After that, the Falcons punted on the next six possessions and turned it over on downs on the next two possessions.  This was a sloppy game with a total of 26 enforced penalties.  The Eagles are alone in first place in NFC East.  Jalen Hurts played very well here.

Saints 38  Packers 3:  Here is an oddity of a stat line for just about any NFL QB – – and particularly for Jameis Winston who loves to “go long”:

  • 14 for 20 for 148 yards and 5 TDs with 0 INTs.

Winston just picked apart the Packers’ defense on those occasions when the Saints’ running backs were not running through the defense to the tune of 171 yards.  Meanwhile the Packers were a complete no-show for the day.  The Packers’ running game was all of 43 yards in the game and Aaron Rodgers threw 2 INTs.

Chiefs 33  Browns 29:  The Browns seemingly had this game in hand but three turnovers in the second half plus a miraculous 70-yard TD pass from Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill cost them the game.  Hill had 11 receptions for 197 yards and a TD for the day.  Here is a big change I noticed for the Browns.:

  • They have adult supervision on the sidelines; Kevin Stefanski is in charge and the players know it.

The Browns are for real; they will be a tough opponent week after week in 2021.

Rams 34  Bears 14:  Let the chants for Justin Fields begin…  The Bears’ offense was pedestrian here.  Not all of that was Andy Dalton’s fault; the Rams’ defense is really good, and it played well as a unit.  On offense the Rams had two TD passes of 56 yards or more in the game by Matthew Stafford.  Try not to blame those plays on Andy Dalton…

Raiders 33  Ravens 27:  The Ravens prefer to run the ball; the Ravens had better figure out how to do that without the presence of their top 3 running backs who are out for the season.  Their replacements are clearly – – replacements.  Derek Carr came up big in the 4th quarter with scoring drives to send the game to OT and then tossing the winning TD in that OT session.  For the night, Carr amassed 435  yards through the air.  Before the game started, Bruce Buffer welcomed the crowd to “the entertainment capital of the world”.  Las Vegas?  Really?

 

NFL Games:

 

New Orleans – 3.5 at Carolina (45):  The oddsmakers are obviously not blown away by the Saints 5 TD margin of victory over the Packers last week.  The Panthers sacked Zach Wilson 6 times last week; I suspect they cannot match that number against the Saints’ OL.  Nevertheless, the Panthers’ defense is a solid unit and should keep the game close.

Houston at Cleveland – 13 (48):  This could easily be a trap game for the Browns.  They had the Chiefs on the ropes last week and let them get away; now they have their home opener against the NFL’s rag-tag team.  Meanwhile, the Texans – who have heard nothing other than how bad they were going to be – went out and won their opener.  A buoyant Texans squad combined with an emotional letdown by the Browns could make this a close game.  But make no mistake, the Browns are the better team by a lot.

Cincy at Chicago – 2.5 (45):  This is my Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  The only saving grace for this game is that it appears as if it will be a close game meaning it could be interesting and entertaining down to the end.  Having said that, neither team is really worth watching unless the only option available to you is to watch reruns of My Mother, the Car.  Here is something surprising to me:

  • The spread has moved from 1-point to this level in the last day and a half.
  • That must mean that there are lots of people betting lots of money on this game.
  • If I met such a person, I would ever so politely ask, “WTF?”

Las Vegas at Pittsburgh – 6 (47):  Both teams played well last week winning their openers.  I was more impressed overall with the Steelers win on the road in Buffalo, but I was also very impressed by the resilience of the Raiders against a good Ravens squad.  I think this is a defensive game; unless there are short fields presented to these offenses, I do not see a lot of scoreboard activity; I will take the game to stay UNDER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Buffalo – 3 at Miami (47.5):  The Dolphins were the only AFC East team to win in Week 1.  I suspect that will change this week once Josh Allen realizes that this is not the Steelers’ defense he is playing against.

Rams – 3.5 at Indy (48):  The Colts did not look like a precision instrument against the Seahawks last week and the Rams’ defense is at least as good as the Seahawks’ unit.  Moreover, the Colts’ defense did not look like an elite unit against Russell Wilson whereas Matthew Stafford threw for 321 yards and 3 TDs.  I like the Rams to win and cover on the road; put it in the Six-Pack.

SF – 3 at Philly (50):  This is two games in a row in the Eastern Time Zone for the Niners.  There are plenty of question marks in this game, but I do think there will be plenty of points on the scoreboard.  I was tempted to take the OVER – – but took my “OVER selection” elsewhere (see below).

Denver – 6 at Jax (45):  This  is two games in a row in the Eastern Time Zone for the Broncos.  They won last week with their defense.  If unit shows up and plays similarly here, they should come away with a win.

New England – 6 at Jets (43):  Two QBs taken in the first round back in April will face each other in this game.  I think the Pats have the better roster, but they made a crucial mistake late in last week’s game that cost them a chance to win.  That is not the “Patriot Way.”  I lean toward the Pats here but not enough to put them in the Six-Pack.

Minnesota at Arizona – 4 (51):  I honestly do not know what to make of this game.  The Cards were dominant last week in ways that they have not shown recently.  The Vikes started out in a fugue state, then came to life to force OT and then stunk it out again.

Atlanta at Tampa – 13 (52):  At least the Falcons’ defense will not have to worry about chasing Tom Brady all over the field here; that unit showed it was not all that good at chasing Jalen Hurts last week.   However, the Bucs present a similar challenge that the Eagles exploited:

  • The Eagles’ have several defensive tackles that pressure the QB well and they wore down the Falcons’ OL to get 3 sacks and more than a few QB hits.
  • The Bucs have Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh at defensive tackle.
  • Let me just say that Matt Ryan is not exactly “Mr. Scramble” …

This game could easily get out of hand quickly for the Falcons but I really hate double-digit spreads in NFL games so I will pass up this selection opportunity.

Tennessee at Seattle – 6 (54):  The spread for this game is all over the place.  I can find it as high as 7 points and I can find it as low as 5.5 points.  This seems to be the middle ground there.  The Titans were not impressive at all last week against the Cardinals and going n the road to play in Seattle is hardly the way to “get right”.

Dallas at Chargers – 3 (54.5):  If you like offensive football, this should be the game for  you.  Dak Prescott and his receiving corps will move the ball against just about any team.  Similarly, just about any team will be able to move the ball against the Cowboys’ defense – – and the Chargers’ offense under the direction of Justin Herbert should do it very well.  I think this is a scoring fest so I will take the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

(Sun Nite) KC – 3.5 at Baltimore (54.5):  This is my Game of the Week in the NFL.  Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes by themselves make this game exciting but there is an added angle here because the Ravens lost last week and surely do not want to start the season at 0-2.

(Mon Nite) Detroit at Green Bay – 11 (48.5):  Last week, the Packers lost to the Saints by 35 points and were dominated in every phase of the game.  The Lions also lost last week, and they found ways to yield 41 points to the Niners.  But how many teams that lost by 5 TDs one week show up as double-digit favorites the next week.  So:

  • Is that a knock on the Saints dominating win?
  • Is that a statement about how bad the oddsmakers think the Lions are?
  • Is that a sense that Aaron Rodgers will not have two clunkers in a row?

So, let me review the Six-Pack for this week:

  1. Va Tech +3 against W. Virginia
  2. Ohio State – 24.5 over Tulsa
  3. UCLA/Fresno State OVER 62
  4. Rams – 3 over Indy
  5. Pittsburgh/Las Vegas UNDER 47
  6. Dallas/Chargers OVER 54.5

Finally, here is an observation by Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle:

“How many pages are there on that flip chart the 49ers’ quarterbacks wear on their left wrists? It looks like they’re getting ready to order off the TGI Fridays menu.”

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

 

 

Baseball, Basketball And Football Today…

Lots of folks who live in the so-called “fly-over states” think poorly of what they call the “coastal elites” to the east and to the west of them.  Because I cannot get into the mindset(s) of those folks, I choose not to try to consider if their political view(s) are right or wrong.  However, when it comes to MLB in 2021, the baseball fans in the heartland need to take a deep breath and focus their attention on those “coastal elite” strongholds.

A quick look at the standings this morning says that the tension/drama left in this year’s MLB season will happen on the coasts.

  • In the NL Central, the race has been decided for a while now; the Brewers aare12.5 games ahead of the Cardinals with 15 left to play.
  • In the AL Central, the White Sox have an 11.5 game lead with 17 games left on their schedule.
  • The AL West has a team in so-called “Middle America”; however, the Astros hold a comfortable 7 game lead with 17 games left.

Here is where MLB’s drama will be:

  • In the AL East, the Rays are comfortably in the lead; but as of now, the two wild card teams would come out of the AL East and the Yankees, Blue Jays and Red Sox are in a dead heat.
  • In the NL East, the division winner will be either the Braves, Phillies or Mets.  Only 5.5 games separate those three teams and only one is likely to make the playoffs.
  • In the NL West, the Giants lead the Dodgers by 1.5 games.  The Giants have clinched a playoff spot and the Dodgers have clinched at least one of the wild card slots.  The Padres are 19.5 games behind the Giants but are in the running for that other wild card position.

Out in the AL West, there is not likely to be much drama; but there is an interesting situation.  The Seattle Mariners are a half-game behind the second place Oakland A’s this morning with a record of 78-68.  As of this morning, the Mariners’ run differential is minus-65.  Compare these stats:

  • Mariners are 78-68 (.534) with run differential minus-65.
  • A’s are 78-67 (.538) with run differential + 60
  • Tigers are 70-76 (.479) with run differential minus-47
  • Braves are 76-68 (.528) with run differential + 98
  • Marlins are 62-84 (.425) with run differential minus-41

In news from the NBA offseason, John Wall has asked the Houston Rockets to trade him away.  Last offseason, Wall and Russell Westbrook were swapped in what was called a blockbuster; it was more like dull thud.  Westbrook is gone from the Wizards after one season landing in LA to play with LeBron James for a year or so; now Wall wants out of Houston.  So, here is the burning question of the morning:

  • How will Houston Rockets’ fans remember and commemorate the John Wall Era?

Wall joins Ben Simmons as a commodity on the “Trade Me Market”.  In a way, they are similarly – if not oppositely – flawed.  Wall is an offensive-minded player who relies on speed to score; he is not a good outside or mid-range shooter, and his defense is marginal at best.  Simmons is a defensive-minded player who is much better amassing assists than he is scoring points.  His ability to shoot is embarrassing for someone who has made it to the NBA, but his defensive game is elite.

Obviously, one could draw the conclusion that the Rockets and Sixers should trade Wall for Simmons, and all would be well in the NBA universe.  I doubt that will happen, and I am confident that trade would be one where neither team comes out ahead.

Moving on … The numbers are in from the first week of NFL football and the folks who were predicting the decline of the NFL about 5 years ago when ratings temporarily sagged are looking worse than they did last year.

  • The opening game last Thursday between the Bucs and the Cowboys drew an audience of 26.5 million viewers.  That represents a 19% increase over last season’s opening game.
  • [For reference, the TV show with the largest average audience in 2020 was NCIS which drew 15.4 million viewers.  In 2020, only 6 programs drew more than 26.5 million viewers.  Five of those six were NFL games and the other one was The Masked Singer premiere that aired right after the Super Bowl.]
  • Taking Week 1 as a whole, the average audience for the 16 games was 17.4 million viewers which represents a 7% increase over last season.

Since I mentioned “coastal elites” earlier on, let me close with these two observations by Truman Capote:

“In California, everyone goes to a therapist, is a therapist, or is a therapist going to a therapist.”

And …

“It’s a scientific fact that if you stay in California you lose one point of your IQ every year.”

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

 

 

The Peyton And Eli Show…

So, did you watch the regular telecast of Monday Night Football, or did you check out Peyton and Eli doing their brand of “commentary”?  I wanted to see how they were going to present the “chat-version” of this NFL telecast; so, I flipped over to ESPN2 to check it out.  Here is my Bottom Line:

  • I loved the Peyton and Eli show!

Let me put that assessment of their first presentation into context here.  I enjoy the regular broadcasting team that ESPN offers up on Monday nights; while they are not  a modern equivalent of the original MNF team with Dandy Don and Howard Cosell and either Keith Jackson or Frank Gifford, the current guys are very good:

  • Steve Levy is a sports lifer; he is solid in his delivery, and he does not have any annoying schtick that gets in the way of his play-by-play.
  • Louis Riddick is – in my opinion – a rising star.  He knows football and he expresses his thoughts and opinions clearly and concisely.
  • Brian Griese is the “weak link” here by comparison – – but he is as good as the color analyst on any network’s #3 broadcast team.

Please do not interpret anything I say here as a denigration of that announcing team.  The presentation by Peyton and Eli was refreshingly different.  They mixed it up; sometimes they “called the play as it happened”; sometimes they called it – or the defense – before the snap; sometimes they just chatted with their guests.  It was a different experience, and it was enjoyable.  Over and above different and enjoyable, it was educational; even if you rooted against both Manning brothers in every game they ever played, you must acknowledge that they know something about football.  And they shared lots of that with the audience; it was a football education sans tuition.

Next Monday will be the Lions at the Packers and I will once again check out Peyton and Eli’s presentation of the game.  Here is what I do not yet know:

  • Is this format sustainable?
  • I know that the format of a play-by-play guy along with one or two pleasant and knowledgeable sidekicks has been around for more than 50 years.  While I loved the first “show”, I have no idea if this new way of presenting football will be as enjoyable come Christmas time.
  • So, I am just going to “take it one week at a time” and see how this format evolves or stays the course.

[Aside:  One of the “guest commentators” was Russell Wilson.  I think Wilson should save copies of his contributions to this coverage if he aspires to a broadcasting slot once his playing days are over.  He was really good too.]

Moving on … here is a comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Moldy oldie: Proof that there’s no bottom to boxing — at least not in Florida — is allowing almost 59-year-old Evander Holyfield to climb into a ring Saturday for a potential eight-rounder against 44-year-old Vitor Belfort. The thing smacks of elder abuse.”

The prescience of that remark is demonstrated by the outcome.  The bout was scheduled for 8 rounds (two minutes each in lieu of the normal three-minute rounds).  The bout was originally supposed to have Oscar de la Hoya as the aged boxer in the match, but Oscar came down with COVID-19, so Holyfield took the bout on short notice – – as if everyone knew that a 58-year-old man would assuredly keep himself in shape to undergo such an activity at the drop of a hat or a positive coronavirus test.

The folks in California where the bout was supposed to happen would not sanction that switch; it is not clear if they would have sanctioned it without the “short-notice situation”.  But the promoters/organizers found that Florida would sanction the “fight” and so they moved it there.  [Aside: Score another point for Florida and common sense with that decision …]

Mercifully, the fight lasted less than one round.  The referee declared a TKO and Holyfield was the loser.  I hope the folks who paid to see this spectacle realize that they could just as well have set that amount of cash on fire and received similar levels of entertainment.

Switching gears …  I ran across an item in the Raleigh News and Observer reporting that the NC State Athletic Department “will reduce the traveling parties for away games in hopes to minimize exposure or the spreading of COVID-19.”  The only folks traveling to game venues away from campus will be “those who are vaccinated or who have an exception from the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity (OEID).”  To get an exemption from OEID, there needs to be a claim of a religious or medical reason why vaccination is out of bounds.

While I applaud NC State for incentivizing vaccination, it does beg the question a bit.  If indeed the goal here is to “minimize exposure or the spreading of COVID-19,” then how are those minimization goals kept in play for home games and practices at NC State facilities?  Senator Hiram Johnson once said, “The first casualty, when war comes, is truth.”

If a “war” is not a shooting war but merely a “political war” – and vaccination has become a political war zone –, I would argue that the first casualty is logic because truth has no place in any sort of political matter be it war or simple discourse.

Finally, here is another absolutely accurate analysis from Bob Molinaro:

Bad takes: Nobody can deny Derek Jeter’s Hall of Fame credentials. But even as a Cooperstown shoo-in, Jeter’s enshrinement is being greeted online with wildly fluctuating assessments of his talent. Overrated, say his detractors, who may suffer from Yankee envy or are weary of media godding up of The Captain. But those who anoint him the game’s greatest shortstop have also strayed far enough off base to be tagged out.”

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

 

 

A Tale Of Two Emails…

Let me begin today with an erratum.  Last week, while discussing the demand by Ben Simmons to be traded from the Sixers, I said that maximizing the return to the Sixers would fall to GM, Daryl Morey.  Over the weekend, a long-term reader of these rants from Philly sent me a note to inform me that Daryl Morey is the Sixers’ Team President and that the Sixers’ GM is Elton Brand.

Thanks for that correction…

I got another email from a reader over the weekend posing a question related to the issue of the Big-12 poaching 3 teams from the AAC as part of its expansion.  Here is the pertinent text of that email:

“You said that the AAC was the big loser in all of this.  So, what can or should the AAC do to continue to survive?”

Obviously, if I had an air-tight plan to keep the AAC relevant in football, I would be in touch with its Commissioner, Mike Aresco.   The fact that I am not trying to get through to him tells you that I consider these remarks only slightly above the level of superficial.  Let me start by setting the college football landscape.

  • The so-called Power 5 conferences are the ACC, Big-10, Big-12, Pac-12 and SEC.  That is where the big money is in terms of TV rights deals; that is where most Division 1-A football programs would prefer to be.  However, membership in that echelon of college football is “by invitation only”.
  • The so-called Group of 5 conferences are the AAC, C-USA, MAC, MWC and Sun Belt.  Until the AAC lost Cincy, Houston and UCF, the AAC was the best of these second-tier football conferences.

Imagine that all the transfers out of the Big-12 and then subsequently into the Big-12 that have been announced so far took place tomorrow morning.  That is not the case, but just pretend it is.  The effect on the AAC is that it would be down to 8 teams and would be looking to expand.  It could “entice” other programs to join it by selling the fact that it has been in recent times the best of the Group of 5 conferences – – but that selling point could be very fleeting if no other competitive programs jump at the opportunity to be part of the AAC.

At first glance, the AAC could turn to the “Independents” to try to coax them into signing on.  After all, those schools would suffer no financial penalty for breaking off an existing conference affiliation and since money is the driving force for all this realignment, the lack of an expense is a selling point.  Then you take a look at the seven Independents and realize that this is a relatively barren field:

  1. Army:  They could join Navy in the AAC and that might entice the folks at Army to give this serious consideration.  Army and Navy are not football powerhouses as they once were, but both schools have a large national following.  For the AAC, this should be “Priority Number One” as an acquisition.
  2. BYU:  Forget it.  BYU is the fourth school invited to join the Big-12 along with the 3 departing AAC schools.
  3. Liberty:  An intriguing thought …  Importantly, Liberty fits in the geographical footprint of the AAC schools.  If I were Mike Aresco, I would be on the horn to the AD in Lynchburg as soon as I finished pitching the AD at Army to come aboard.
  4. New Mexico State :  The Aggies do not fit in the conference geographical footprint and the football program there has been a weak sister in recent times.  They are an independent because their previous conference affiliation ended when the conference did the moral equivalent of showing them the door.
  5. Notre Dame:  Don’t be silly…
  6. UConn:  The entire program there is a hot mess; I have suggested elsewhere that it either abandon football entirely or drop down to Division 1-AA.  On the other hand, some of the schools in the AAC might want to invite a doormat to join to make their records a bit better…
  7. UMass:  Ditto what I just said about UConn…

Maybe, the AAC could coax Army and Liberty to join it bringing its membership up to 10 schools.  Now, where to find another two teams?  Well, the idea would be to poach two schools from lesser Group of 5 conferences – – preferably ones that are geographically convenient to the other schools and ones that have some TV interest attached to them.  Here are a couple of possibilities:

  • UTSA:  With SMU and Tulsa already in the AAC, UTSA fits geographically, and this is a program that has been ascending in the past several years.  The San Antonio TV market is not nearly what the Houston TV market is, but the team is competitive and therefore attractive.  UTSA is now in C-USA.
  • Air Force:  This is a real stretch – – but if the AAC can entice Army to join Navy in the conference, maybe they could also poach Air Force from the Mountain West?  Colorado Springs does stretch the geography a bit, but might it work?
  • Coastal Carolina:  The program is growing in visibility, and it is in the right geographical spot.  Coastal is currently a Sun Belt team.
  • Appalachian State:  About 15 years ago, they went to Ann Arbor and beat a top ranked Michigan team.  That upset was so stark that Appalachian State will be a recognizable name to college football fans for another 20 years.  App St is also a Sun Belt team
  • La- Lafayette:  La-Laf is geographically where the AAC might want it to be, and it has been upgrading its football program for the last several years.  La-Laf is also a Sun Belt team.

From my vantage point, the optimal quartet of teams for the ACC to acquire to get to a 12-team conference would be:

  1. Appalachian State
  2. Army
  3. Liberty
  4. UTSA

So, that is my recommendation for the AAC going forward; it is a scenario where the AAC is a “buyer”.  But there is another factor for the AAC Commish to keep in mind:

  • Has the Big-12 decided to remain a conference with 12 teams, or does it aspire to a larger size?

The PAC-12 says it has no expansion plans.  The Big-10 is not likely to try to acquire any of the AAC schools.  The ACC seems uninterested in expansion and the SEC would not look twice at an AAC school.  But might the Big-12 want to take another bite out of the so-called Group of 5 conferences?  In that case, the AAC and the Sun Belt and C-USA had better batten down the hatches because things could get very rocky very quickly.

The question posed by the reader involved what the AAC can do and should do.  What I have listed here is what I think they should do.  Can the AAC pull it off?  If it hopes to remain as the best of the Group of 5 conferences, it had better do so.

Finally, a football conference is sort of like an extended family.  So let me close today with an observation by the satirist, Alexander Pope:

“A family is but too often a commonwealth of malignants.”

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