Nelson Mandela said:
“If there is anything that would kill me, it is to wake up in the morning not knowing what to do.”
I have never had to confront that situation – – particularly on Fridays when I wake up knowing exactly what I am to do. I need to compile a Football Friday. And to get things rolling today, let me review last week’s ‘Betting Bundle”.
- College = 0-0-0 Final Season total = 21-10-0
- NFL = 5-1-0 Season = 26-27-0
- Money Line Parlays 1-1 Profit = $93 Season = 11-17 Profit = $8
College Football Commentary:
There are no games or practices happening these days so reporting on college football has to rely on other events for content. Let me give you a capsule summary of what is going on in three of the main sources of “news” related to college football:
- Jim Harbaugh is interviewing for jobs outside of Ann Arbor and simultaneously negotiating with the University of Michigan for a contract extension there. There are lots of moving parts here; but in the end, these events will likely produce more entropy than anything else.
- Deion Sanders has gone silent for a couple of weeks. When next he surfaces, he will need to make up for his public absence by saying something abjectly outrageous.
- Some players have chosen to declare for the NFL Draft and other players have chosen to return to the college game next year – – as it has been in the past and as it shall be in the future.
There is one piece of interesting news related to small school college football. Northwestern Oklahoma State is a Division II school in Alva, OK. Yesterday, the head coach there – – Ronnie Jones – – announced that he has hired a new defensive coordinator. That new addition to the football staff there is:
Glanville is 82 years old and has been a head coach in the NFL, and at the Division 1-A college level. Defense has always been his “specialty” along with his quirky habit of leaving tickets to games for Elvis at Will Call. One of Glanville’s famous quotes was:
“I haven’t heard from Elvis since his daughter married Michael Jackson. I think it killed him.”
Giants’ defensive coordinator, Wink Martindale, and Giants’ head coach, Brian Daboll are no longer colleagues. There had been reports more than a month ago that the two men were not getting along; Daboll denied and dismissed those reports around Thanksgiving, but it now appears that there was plenty of truth in them. In the last week, the NY Post reported that Martindale and Daboll had a “heated argument” and that Martindale “cursed out” Daboll as he stormed out of the Giants’ facility. Interestingly, Martindale’s contract with the Giants has another year to go so there would appear to be a need for either rapprochement or legal intervention regarding contract details.
Last weekend, I was happy to hear Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge again as the voices for the Texans/Browns playoff game. The last half hour or so of that telecast could not have been easy for those gentlemen; there was no mystery about the outcome. And I think they did a very good job under less than riveting circumstances.
Last week, I said there was an irony in the fact that the Browns and the Texans would meet in the playoffs and that Deshaun Watson would not be the QB for either team. Add to that the tidbit that Baker Mayfield – – run out of Cleveland by an owner who traded away a bunch of assets to acquire Watson from the Texans – – is now going on to the second round of the playoffs while the Browns are going on Caribbean cruises with their families. Redemption stories like that one are usually found in Hollywood scripts…
This entire season has been one of redemption for Mayfield. There was not a buzzing market for his services in the last offseason; he took the Bucs’ job on a 1-year deal at $4M with lots of incentives. It appears that he has already earned more than $2M in incentives with more possibly coming if the Bucs win this weekend. In any event, there should be a lot more interest in his services this off-season than there was last year. So, let’s pretend that you are an NFL GM, and your team is not one of the teams with a franchise QB.
- Where might Baker Mayfield fit into your vision for your team?
And while we are at it, add one other veteran QB to this thought experiment.
- Where might Joe Flacco fit into your vision for your team?
The only team I think that cannot even consider either Mayfield or Flacco for 2024 is the Cleveland Browns. If Deshaun Watson is to be the starter there and if Deshaun Watson has a couple of bad games, it might be very disruptive having either Mayfield or Flacco in the locker room given their recent history with the Browns. But you never know what jimmy Haslam will do next…
Last weekend we heard many, many times about the trade between the Lions and the Rams involving Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff. Stafford led the Rams to a Super Bowl Championship; Goff has led the Lions to their first division championship in 30 years and is one game removed from the NFC Championship Game. But there was more to that trade, and I think I have tracked down the other draft choices accurately; in addition to the QB swap, the Lions got three early round draft picks that produced Jahmyr Gibbs, Sam LaPorta and Jameson Williams. I would say that trade helped both teams.
Here is an interesting stat I ran across:
- These are the first NFL playoffs since 1998 where there is no one named Manning or Brady as a QB on any roster.
Let me review the wildcard round games from last weekend. There were lots of blowout games last week; only one game out of six was inside two scores.
Texans 45 Browns 14: Even without two Pick Sixes by the Texans on two consecutive possessions by the Browns, this game was not in doubt. The stats say it should have been closer, but watching the game never gave me the impression that the Browns were the better team on the field. Here is a key stat from this game:
- Texans: 44 offensive plays, 8,1 yards per offensive play
- Browns: 70 offensive plays, 4.6 yards per offensive play
There was a sub headline on Sunday morning at CBSSports.com which said that CJ Stroud “added to his legacy” in this game. Let’s not get too far ahead of reality here; CJ Stroud is in the process of building his reputation; anything resembling “his legacy” appears to be at least a decade into the future.
I pointed out last week that the Browns’ defense was not the same on the road as it was at home giving up 29.6 points per game on the road as opposed to 13.1 points per game at home. That trend was carried on even accounting for the 14 points the Texans got on those two Pick Sixes.
Chiefs 26 Dolphins 7: The stat sheet suggests that this game should have had a bigger margin. Consider:
- Chiefs’ Time of Possession = 34:05 Dolphins’ Time of Possession = 25:55
- Chiefs on Third Down = 6 of 15 Dolphins on Third Down = 1 of 12
- Chiefs’ First Downs = 25 Dolphins’ First Downs = 13
The Dolphins’ only score was a 53-yard pass to Tyreek Hill with 14 minutes left in the second quarter. At that point there were 44 minutes left in the game; here are the Dolphins’ possessions from that point on:
- 6 plays – – 21 yards – – 3:05 Time of Possession – – TURNOVER ON DOWNS
- 3 plays – – minus-10 yards – – 1:19 Time of Possession – – PUNT
- 2 plays – – 17 yards – – 0:18 Time of Possession – – Halftime
- 3 plays – – 6 yards – – 1:39 Time of Possession – – PUNT
- 7 plays – – 9 yards – – 4:42 Time of Possession – – PUNT
- 10 plays – – 53 yards – – 4:44 time of Possession – – TURNOVER ON DOWNS
- 12 plays – – 27 yards – — 1:36 Time of Possession – – TURNOVER ON DOWNS
- 4 plays – – 28 yards – – 1:08 time of Possession – – END OF GAME
So, in 44 minutes of playoff football, the Dolphins ran 47 plays gaining only 151 yards and they punted 3 times and turned the ball over on downs another 3 times.
The Dolphins’ accomplishments this year may have been overrated. Against winning teams, the Dolphins were 1-5 in the regular season. The high-powered Dolphins’ offense averaged 16.1 points per game against teams that made the playoffs and 35.6points per game against non-playoff teams.
Packers 48 Cowboys 32: So much for the idea that 7th seeds cannot beat 2nd seeds … If the Dolphins were shown to be a mirage (see above), then the Cowboys were exposed as a fraud. Do not be fooled; this game was not nearly as close as a 16-point differential would lead you to believe; at one point in the 4th quarter, the Packers led 48-16. The Packers led 27-0 at the half and had the game on cruise control for the remainder. For their first 6 possessions, the Packers scored 5 TDs and punted once. Oh, and in that same stretch of the game they had a “Pick-Six”. The Cowboys’ offensive stats this year were impressive, and they were wholly misleading:
- Cowboys led the league in scoring with 509 points – – but lots of those points came against the Giants (89 points) and the Commanders (83 points).
- Cowboys’ point differential of 194 points was second in the NFL but 135 of those “excess” points came against the Giants and the Commanders.
- Those stats are there and will remain there – – AND – – they are meaningless.
Dan Quinn, the defensive coordinator of the Cowboys was considered to be a “hot prospect” for the head coach openings this year. He did himself no favors with the way his unit performed on the “big stage”. On a day when the Cowboys’ offense generated over 500 yards on offense and converted 10 of 16 third-down tries, the Cowboys’ defense was a complete no-show for four quarters. On the TD pass to Luke Musgrave at the end of the third quarter, there was no Cowboys’ defender in the same area code as the receiver.
- Packers’ Offensive Plays = 54 producing 41 points (Packers’ defense produced 7 points)
- Cowboys’ Offensive Plays = 89 producing 32 points
. After the game, Mike McCarthy said the team was not ready to play on Sunday. Serious question here:
- How can professional football players not be ready to play in a playoff game?
Packers’ RB, Aaron Jones was surely ready for the game. He carried the ball 21 times for 118 yards and 3 TDs. Just for fun, he also caught a pass for another 13 yards in the game.
Cowboys’ fans demonstrated what front-runners they are – – mirroring their favorite team – – by abandoning the stadium for about all of the fourth quarter here. Late in the game, there were more “green and gold” colors in the crowd shots than there were “blue and silver”.
Lions 24 Rams 23: If you are a fan or either team, you are either ecstatic (Lions’ fan) or you are disconsolate/tormented (Rams’ fan). As a football fan, this was a great game for me because it was close from start to finish. Puka Nacua and Amon-Ra St. Brown put on a show here:
- Nacua: 9 receptions for 181 yards and 1 TD
- St. Brown: 7 receptions for 110 yards and 0 TDs
Bills 31 Steelers 17: Josh Allen was Superman in this game; he threw for 3 TDs and rambled 52 yards on a broken play for another TD. With RB, James Cook adding 85 yards from scrimmage and the Steelers’ defense producing no turnovers, the outcome was never seriously in doubt despite the stat sheet appearing to be balanced:
- Bills’ Total Offense = 368 yards Steelers’ Total Offense = 324 yards
- Bills’ 3rd Down Conversions = 5 of 12 Steelers’ 3rd Down Conversions = 5 of 11
- Bills’ Offensive Plays = 66 Steelers’ Offensive Plays = 63
The Bills and Eagles played on November 26th and the Bills lost that game in OT on a TD scamper by Jalen Hurts. That loss left the Bills with a 6-6 record and raised the Eagles’ record to 10-1. However, since that game the fortunes of the two teams have gone off on different vectors. The Bills won their last 5 games in a row to make the playoffs and win their division; the Eagles lost 5 of their last 6 games, limped into the playoffs and made only a cameo appearance there due to this next result from last week.
Bucs 32 Eagles 9: The collapse of the Eagles’ 2023/24 season was completed last Monday night. The Eagles only ran the ball 15 times in the game and gained all of 42 yards; when these teams met in the regular season, the Eagles ran the ball for 200+ yards. If that sort of game planning makes sense to you, I bow to your superior insights. The Eagles’ secondary made Baker Mayfield look like the second coming of John Unitas; here is Mayfield’s stat line:
- 22 of 36 for 337 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs
But wait, there’s more … The Eagles were 0 for 9 on 3rd Down Conversions and 0 for 2 on 4th Down Conversions. It is a tossup in my mind which NFC team was the bigger embarrassment in last week’s playoff games – – the Eagles or the Cowboys. Take your pick…
The Packers showing against the Cowboys has led some commentators to conclude that Jordan Love is the next Packers’ Hall of Fame QB in the footsteps of Brett Favre and then Aaron Rodgers. I think that is a bit premature even as I acknowledge that Jordan Love has been nothing short of outstanding from the first week in November until now. The following observation has no intent behind it regarding a shot at Jordan Love. Nevertheless, in the midst of all the gushing enthusiasm over Jordan Loves’s performance recently, please keep this in mind:
- The Packers had Brett Favre as their QB for 17 seasons from 1992 through 2007.
- The Packers had Aaron Rodgers as their QB for full-time QB for 15 seasons from 2008 through 2022.
- Both Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers deserve to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
- And yet, in that three-decade period with Hall of Fame leadership, the Packers took down only 2 – – as in TWO – – Super Bowl trophies.
I believe that jargon of the day calls for me to suggest to Packers’ fanboys to
This Week’s Games:
This is the point in the NFL schedule where my rooting interest in outcomes of the games becomes more focused. This is purely a personal opinion; I do not expect others to come at these games in a similar fashion.
From this vantage point in the season, I can assess the possible pairings for the Super Bowl game in 3 weeks. For me, watching the Super Bowl is not about witnessing the football version of “The Little Engine That Could” or seeing some plucky group of underdogs/overachievers try for “the ultimate prize. What I want to see is the two best teams possible meet in that game. I say “two best teams possible” because it has happened that my perception of the “two best teams overall” have been in the same conference so they could not both take part in the Super Bowl.
So, notwithstanding any selections I am about to make against the spread or involving the Total Line, here are my “rooting preferences” for this week’s games:
- Ravens over Texans
- Niners over Packers
- Lions over Bucs
- Bills over Chiefs
(Sat 4:30 PM ET) Texans at Ravens – 10 (43.5) : The Texans have been nothing short of amazing this year after recording a 3-13-1 record a year ago. Back in August/September, you could have gotten 200-to-1 odds on the Texans making it to the Super Bowl let alone winning it. And here they are with that possibility still alive and well. If CJ Stroud is not named the Offensive Rookie of the Year, he should demand a recount. Last week, the Texans sliced and diced the normally stingy Browns’ defense; this week they take on the Ravens’ defense which allowed the fewest points of any team in the league in 2023 (16.5 points per game). I think there are two key elements in this game:
- Can the Texans protect CJ Stroud and avoid negative plays?
- Can the Texans pressure Lamar Jackson and keep the Ravens’ passing game under a bit of control?
Lamar Jackson has been less-than-dominant in previous playoff games; his record has been 1-3 in the post-season. And a major part of why he has been less than successful in the playoffs is that he has turned the ball over 7 times in playoff games. The Ravens need to hope that does not happen this weekend.
Here is a trend to consider:
- The Texans have been underdogs in 8 games that Stroud has started this year.
- The Texans are 6-2 against the spread in those 8 underdog games”.
- Stroud is starting here, and the Texans are underdogs …
I like the Texans plus the points here and I like this game to go OVER; put those selections in the “Betting Bundle”.
(Sat 8 :15 PM ET) Packers at Niners – 9.5 (50): Eight teams continue their seasons into this weekend; seven of the eight are playing QBs drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft in whatever year those QBs were eligible. The only exception is Mr. Irrelevant, Brock Purdy, taken with the final draft pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Niners “philosophy” is to get a lead and then have their pass rushers torment the opposing QB. The Packers faced a team with the same “philosophy” last week; that is how the Cowboys like to play. So, what the Packers did was to get a lead by scoring a TD with a dominant opening drive that went 75 yards in 8 minutes. If the Packers can replicate that sort of early success here, we will get to see if Brock Purdy can win from behind instead of always winning from the front. The Niners’ offense this year has been solid; they average 28.9 points per game; so, getting a lead on the Niners may be easier said than done. The Packers were slightly more than a full TD underdog last week against the Cowboys and won the game outright; might they do anything similar this week? I do not have a strong feeling about the outcome of this game; I can talk myself into just about any outcome but in all of my ruminations, I like this game to OVER. Put that in the “Betting Bundle”.
(Sun 3:00 PM ET) Bucs at Lions – 6.5 (48.5): This is the only game this weekend where the line has moved significantly. The spread here opened at 4.5 points and has been hanging around at this level for the last couple of days. I don’t have any confidence in trying to predict how the Bucs’ offense will play in this game. Last week they were efficient and effective in beating the Eagles; two weeks ago, in a game they had to win to make the playoffs, the Bucs scored 9 points against the Panthers. The Lions beat the Bucs in the regular season; if you think that is the key to this game, just remember that the Eagles also beat the Bucs in the regular season and the Eagles are not the ones advancing to this round of the playoffs. I think this game will be exciting; both teams should be able to produce so-called “chunk plays”. I think the line is fat; so, give me the Bucs plus the points; put that in the “Betting Bundle”.
(Sun 6:30 PM ET) Chiefs at Bills – 2.5 (45): From a viewing standpoint, this has to be the Game of the Week simply because it will be Josh Allen versus Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes will be starting in his 16th playoff game, and this is his first road game in that sequence – – not counting of course neutral sites for Super Bowl games. He leads the team to the field in their 6th consecutive shot at the AFC Championship. These teams met in the regular season and the game came down to Kaderius Toney lining up offsides and negating a TD on a trick play. Both teams will have their excellent QBs facing excellent defenses on the other side of the ball. The Chiefs’ undoing this year has been the ability of their WRs to catch passes that hit them in the hands. Here is an interesting betting stat; make of it what you will:
- The Chiefs have been underdogs only 9 times with Patrick Mahomes at QB.
- The Chiefs are 8-1 against the spread in those 9 games.
- The only loss against the spread was when the Bills won and covered in 2022.
The Bills are banged up; five defenders did not practice this week and three more defenders were “limited” in practice. The Chiefs have been their own worst enemy in lots of situations this season. The weather forecast for Buffalo on Sunday calls for temperatures in the low 20s and only a slight chance of precipitation; hopefully Mother Nature will abide by that forecast. No pick in this game; I just want to sit back and enjoy.
So let me review the “Betting Bundle”:
- Texans +10 against Ravens
- Texans/Ravens OVER 43.5
- Packers/Niners OVER 50
- Bucs +6.5 against Lions
No Money Line parlays this week; none of the odds are particularly appealing.
Finally, let me close today with these words from former Alabama coach, Nick Saban:
“If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader. Sell ice cream.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………