The Coronavirus, King Louis XIV And The NFL…

The novel coronavirus – the one that causes folks to come down with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) – is a center of attention for many categories of folks in the US.  Scientists and physicians work to try to understand the virus to find ways to “eradicate it”.  Politicians focus on actions they have taken – or would take if they had the chance – to mitigate the spread of the virus and the number of citizens who become infected.  Ordinary citizens choose the amount of caution they will accept in their normal lives to avoid contracting the disease while still being able to survive financially.  You get the idea…

Another category of folks focused on the coronavirus is the group of people who are trying to run business enterprises while everything else is going on.  One such entity in the middle of all this is the National Football League.  Looking at the arc of the NFL’s attempts to deal with the virus while still trying to maintain revenue streams, here is what I see:

  • Early on, the NFL shut everything down – no workouts, no OTAs, no people in team facilities.
  • To keep the league alive, it began to adapt by doing things virtually – including the NFL Draft.
  • However, there is no way to play the games virtually …
  • Faced with the economic necessity of “re-opening” the league spent time working to come up with mitigating strategies to add health and safety protocols to their extant team rules and regulations.  [Aside:  Some might say the NFL squandered some of the time it had to do this by trying to wish the virus away.  I think worrying about answers on that dimension is not a fruitful way to spend my own time and energy.]

And now the NFL must deal with the behaviors exhibited and the choices made by the 3000 or so folks who get the product on the field and on TV which is where the revenue comes from.  The NFL protocols were never going to be as draconian or as effective as those imposed by the NBA in its “Orlando Bubble”.  Nonetheless, the NFL got to a stage where the number of positive tests was exceptionally low meaning that the positivity rate for that subset of the general population was something the scientists and politicians would hope to achieve everywhere.   Now with a tip of the hat to King Louis XIV of France and a minor modification of his declaration:

Après cela, le déluge.

For the first three weeks of the season, the virus appeared to be held at bay.  There were positive tests here or there, but nothing that might be seen as the virus having breached the defenses erected by the league.  There were some “poor choices” and “improper behaviors” demonstrated by coaches who chose not to wear masks/PPE on the sidelines during games; the league dealt with that the way it deals with most things by fining the coaches and the teams.  I believe – but certainly cannot prove – that some of the NFL execs figured out that fines were not going to be sufficient to get the attention of millionaire players and coaches or billionaire owners so the league floated the idea that fines might be escalated to suspensions and or loss of draft picks in the event of future flaunting of the rules.  Amazingly, those coaches began immediately to “make better choices”…

Even with all the precautions and the protocols and the rapid assessments of penalties for violation the protocols, the NFL now faces an outbreak.  The Tennessee Titans have about 2 dozen players, coaches and team personnel who have tested positive.  The Titans’ game against the Steelers last week had to be postponed and the NFL schedule for several teams had to be juggled to accommodate the time when the titans/Steelers game could be replayed.  The Titans went into lockdown; things appeared to be on the mend – – and then there were several new positive tests “in the building”.  [Aside:  The NFL should be thankful that the Vikings, who played the Titans just days before the rash of positive tests among the Titans, did not experience any wave of positive tests among their players/coaches.]

There are reports that the NFL is investigating how this outbreak may have begun and one report said that the Titans may not have followed the prescribed rules for bringing in a new player for the roster.  If that is the case and it can be shown that the current problems can be linked directly to that evasion of the protocol standards, I am not sure there are sufficiently severe punishments available to the Commish.  The largest fine he can impose on a team is $5M; that would be pocket change to an NFL owner…

There are more examples of “bad choices” exhibited by NFL folks.  Reports say that the Raiders’ tight end, Darren Waller was fined $30K – and about a dozen of his teammates including Derek Carr were fined $15K – for participating in a charity event.  Say what?  It turns out that the players raised $300K for Waller’s foundation that helps people with drug and alcohol addiction and did so in public without wearing masks.  The NFL protocol – negotiated with the NFLPA – says that players will wear masks in public so long as these protocols are in effect.  There is plenty of photographic evidence that the players chose not to follow those rules and hence the fines.

Somewhere in the cosmos, Al Davis has a smile on his face.  The Raiders have racked up the most fines as a team for violation of these protocols which would not have been welcome elements to Davis’ credo of “Just win, Baby.”  Coach Jon Gruden was one of those coaches fined for not wearing masks in Week 1 drawing a $100K fine for setting a bad example.  [Aside:  Raise your hand if you believe that fine might be “reimbursed” to Coach Gruden somehow, someway.]

Keep an eye on this developing situation.  The NFL is out to protect a business entity that takes in $15B a year without any intervention from the novel coronavirus.  The teams and coaches are comprised of young men who see themselves as invincible and who – in many cases – have never had to worry about things like maturity and accountability for their actions.  The season is only 25% in the books and  the behaviors of coaches and players could take several courses from this point on:

  1. Very positive course:  Players, coaches and others see what has happened with the Titans and the Raiders and commit themselves to adherence to the protocols in a way where they even might go over and above the strictures contained in those protocols exhibiting in reality “an abundance of caution”.
  2. Not so positive course:  The protocol restrictions become more and more annoying and the sense of “invincibility” and the attitude that the rules don’t apply to me may set in leading to more outbreaks among more teams down the line.

Finally, since I mentioned King Louis XIV of France above in a snarky sort of way, let me close with one of his very cogent observations – which would be deemed politically incorrect in 2020:

“I could sooner reconcile all Europe than two women.”

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

 

 

The First NFL Head Coach To Be Fired In 2020 Is …

Here is a link to my NFL Pre-Season Analysis for this year.  I said there that Bill O’Brien would be fired as the GM of the Texans and that Coach O’Brien would be fired as part of that process.  It was Prediction # 21 for those who care.  Well, it happened earlier this week and not at the end of the season.  Bill O’Brien is the first coach and/or GM to lose his job in the NFL this season.

As a coach, O’Brien did well enough until this year’s 0-4 start – – even though those first 3 losses were to the Chiefs, Ravens and Steelers.  The 2020 version of the Texans is unimpressive at best.  Having said that, the problem with this team is about more than the coaching than it has gotten.  Fundamentally, this team is not as good as it could be – or ought to be – because of decisions made by the GM in assembling the roster.  In the case of the Texans, that GM and that coach happen to be one and the same hominid.

Here is something I said in that Pre-Season Analysis linked above:

“If I tried to tell you that I understand the reasoning behind most of the Texans’ off-season moves, I would be a big enough liar to run for the US Senate.”

The Texans have made some head-scratching personnel decisions over the past couple of years:

  • They gave up multiple first-round picks for Laremy Tunsil and then signed Tunsil to a bloated and team-unfriendly contract from a salary cap standpoint.
  • They traded away Jadeveon Clowney for next to nothing.
  • They traded DeAndre Hopkins for David Andrews – – say what?
  • They acquired Brandin Cooks – – a very good WR who is 27 years old and is now with his fourth NFL team.

The Texans have a franchise QB – – if they can figure out how to assemble an OL that will keep him from going to the morgue any time soon.  That roster is a mess and a half; and, in this case, the coach rightfully takes the fall for the roster because the coach and the GM are one and the same.  Here is why I think “Bill O’Brien the coach” is competent and is collateral damage in this firing of “Bill O’Brien the GM”:

  • He has won the AFC South 4 times in 6 seasons – – and finished 2nd in the Division in one other season.
  • He has won with both Brock Osweiler and with Brian Hoyer as his QBs.
  • I think that shows that he can coach – – but it also shows along with some of the personnel moves listed above – – that he would not recognize a good personnel move from a team perspective if it ran into the room and bit him on the ankle.

Do not delude yourself; the Texans’ ownership did not make this move because it has a strategic vision for the future and the “next Bill Belichick” already under contract and waiting in the wings.  Taking over on an interim basis will be Romeo Crennel.

I have no reason or interest in trashing Romeo Crennel.  He is the interim coach here because he is the only coach on the staff that I can find who has ever been a head coach in the past.  He must be a wonderful person because he keeps getting head coaching opportunities with the thinnest of credentials:

  • He has been the head coach for 83 games; his record is 28-55-0.  Basically, he wins 1 of every 3 games.
  • In his 5 full seasons of coaching, his teams have had a winning record 1 time; in those 5 full seasons of coaching, his teams have suffered double-digit losses 4 times.

In a sense, Romeo Crennel may take over the Texans at a propitious moment.  With an 0-4 record on the books so far, there is no realistic way he can do any worse over the next 4 weeks.  And the NFL schedule-maker has put a gift-wrapped opportunity in front of Coach Crennel:

  1. The Texans play the Jags next weekend at home.
  2. The Texans get to play the Jags again on November 8th in Jax.

Romeo Crennel has two games against one of the worst teams in the NFL over the next month; they are clearly winnable games; if he wins both, he will be seen as a successful interim coach as compared to the 0-4 start to the season by the “Texans under previous management”.  Not to worry though, Romeo Crennel will not be the coach of the Houston Texans come next year; Crennel is now 73 years old; and the Texans will be in a rebuilding mode for at least another year or two.

For the record, this is not a particularly attractive job even though it is one of only 32 jobs of its kind in the world.  The Texans’ roster needs an overhaul, and they will not have a first round or a second-round pick in next year’s Draft.  It is always important to a young and upcoming coach to land in a spot where he can have success in the early stages of his career; it sets his narrative on a positive vector.  The Texans do not look as if they will provide such an environment for a “young and up-and-coming type” come next January when Romeo Crennel will revert to a defensive coordinator job somewhere.

Moving on …  Last Sunday, I had to watch the Ravens/WTFs game here in Northern Virginia; it was the only game on in the early time slot.  There was a shot of Alex Smith on the sidelines as the game went on.  I want to be on record here unambiguously before anything like this takes place:

  • If – – I said IF – – Alex Smith sees the field for even one play this season and even if it is for a “kneel down” to end a half or a game, Alex Smith deserves to be the NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
  • Over the past 2 years he has had 17 surgeries and at least one stint in an ICU where his life was in the balance.  Moreover, he has rehabbed from a devastating leg injury to the point where he has been able to take part in team practices.
  • Any jamoke can put on a uniform and a tuck a helmet under his arm and stand on the sidelines, but Alex Smith is doing that this year after a monstrous trek through the medical system of the US.  If he makes it across those sidelines and into action in 2020, he would get my vote unequivocally as the Comeback Player of the Year.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in the Seattle Times recently:

“The Yankees — for the first time in their 120-year history — hit into five double plays and committed four errors in the same game in a 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Marlins.

“Or as the 1962 Mets used to call such an occurrence, Friday.”

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

 

 

Rest In Peace, Bob Gibson

Bob Gibson died last Friday.  In an era when pitchers dominated MLB, he was as dominant a figure on the mound as any of the greats from that time.  In 1968, he pitched more than 300 innings to an ERA of 1.12.  Please do not waste your time looking for any pitcher with remotely comparable stats over the last 40 years. Oh, did I mention that in that 1968 season he also threw 13 shutouts, 28 complete games and struck out 268 batters?

His ferocity as a competitor was legendary.  Tim McCarver tells the story that Gibson was in some difficulty in a game and McCarver went to the mound to say something to Gibson.  Gibson’s response was classic and ultimately dismissive:

“The only thing you know about pitching is that it’s hard to hit.”

Rest in peace, Bob Gibson.

With regard to MLB today, the playoffs are down to 8 teams – – where I would have preferred for them to begin.  Obviously, the biggest surprise is the presence of the Miami Marlins in the MLB analog to the Elite Eight.  Other than losing 105 games just last season there was every reason to believe the Marlins would still be playing baseball in October.  Dwight Perry had this in his Seattle Times column regarding the Marlins:

“Retired baseball writer Jim Street, via Facebook, on the only thing more shocking than the Marlins making the NL playoffs: ‘They also tied for the MLB lead in home attendance.’”

Speaking of leagues in the midst of their playoffs – – and using a particularly awkward segue – – the TV ratings for the NBA Playoffs are down significantly this year.  Moreover, according to reports, the decline is even worse than the raw numbers because for the first time, Nielsen has included “out-of-home” viewership in the ratings number.  This means that Nielsen has adjusted the numbers to reflect one venue where large numbers of viewers were present – – such as a sports bar where an NBA Playoff game might be on some of the sets in house.  These “Out-Of-Home (OOH) Adjustments” cannot possibly have diminished the Nielsen estimates for numbers of viewers.

Notwithstanding that upward adjustment, none of the Lakers/Nuggets games in the Western Conference Finals could attract 5 million viewers nationwide.  For perspective, the Western Conference Finals in 2002 when the Lakers beat the Kings in a controversial Game 7, the estimated viewership – – with no “OOH Adjustment” – – was 23.8 million viewers.  I know; 2002 was a long time ago; but that is a staggering decline in TV attraction nonetheless.

Some folks have opined on the reason(s) for this year’s decline e.g.:

  1. The champs this season are always going to be “asterisk champions” in the minds of fans so why pay close attention to these playoffs?
  2. NBA player protests diverted attention from the games to social justice issues and sports fans prefer to watch sports than social justice lectures.
  3. LeBron James fatigue – – every year the Finals are the same story with LeBron James versus the rest of the basketball world.

I do not think any of those three explanations hit the mark although I will concede that each of the three might have a secondary or tertiary effect on the low ratings.  I think the problem is:

  • The Calendar.

2020 is nowhere near a “normal year” but a lot of folks have accommodated the fact of its “novelty” and are in the process of reconciling their lives to the “Year of the Pandemic”.  It is October; in October, the NBA is not normally playing basketball; in October, the NBA is just about to open up training camps so that they can start their season around November 1st with 6-8 weeks of games everyone is primed to ignore.

The NBA Finals “belong” in May/June.  When that happens in a normal year, the NBA Finals go up against a different set of other attractions than this year.  Normally, the NBA Finals contend with the Stanley Cup Playoffs/Finals, mid-season MLB games, the Triple Crown in some years and MLS games.  From a TV ratings perspective in the US, that is not a difficult set of opponents for the NBA.

This year is quite different.  MLB is having its playoffs now and while the early series of NBA games were going on, they had to compete with an MLB regular season where every game had a magnified importance due to the truncated season.  That was a minor effect because the major effect is that this year’s NBA playoffs and finals are up against football – – college and pro – – and the NBA playoffs never had to worry about that kind of competition for attention in the past.  A random regular season NFL game in prime time will comfortably draw 15-20 million viewers and sometimes 30 million.  A look at the Washington Post sports section last weekend showed the following amount of coverage on Sunday 4 October:

  • NFL:  243 column inches of content
  • Coll Football:  144 column inches of content
  • MLB:  45 column inches of content
  • NBA:  30 column inches of content
  • MLS:  22 column inches of content
  • Preakness:  21 column inches of content
  • Tennis:  20 column inches of content
  • World soccer:  18 column inches of content
  • WNBA:  15 column inches of content
  • NASCAR:  10 column inches of content
  • Golf:  10 column inches of content

October is “football time in the US” and not basketball time.  The TV ratings reflect that, and the “area” devoted to football in the Post’s sports section reflects the perception of sports fans’ interest in various sports in the moment.  The NBA mavens must figure out a way to avoid a conflict with “football season” in the future because the comparison is not a good look for the NBA.

Finally, Bob Molinaro posed this question about rescheduling in college basketball for the upcoming season:

“Hoop du jour: Now that the Maui Invitational featuring college basketball teams from around the country has been moved to Asheville, North Carolina, because of COVID-19 concerns, will coaches ditch their colorful Hawaiian shirts for red flannel?”

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

 

 

Football Friday 10/2/20

Dragnet featured Sgt. Joe Friday.  Robinson Crusoe had a servant named Friday.  Here in Curmudgeon Central, we have Football Friday.

Let me review the results from last week’s Six-Pack:

  • College:  0-1-1    =>    Season Total:  3-3-1
  • NFL:  2-2-0    =>    Season Total:  7-3-0
  • Combined:  2-3-1    =>    Season Total:  10-6-1

 

College Football Comments:

 

At halftime last week, Texas A&M held a tenuous 7-5 lead over Vanderbilt.  I imagine there were a few tight sphincters among the moneyed set in College Station who dug deep to hire Jimbo Fisher a couple of years ago for a truckload of cash.  In a Hollywood script, Fisher would have taken his team to the locker room, given them a tongue-lashing and the young lads would then emerge onto the field for the second half and show those upstarts who’s the boss.  What happened is that the Aggies slogged through the second half too and won the game 17-12 despite being a 28-point favorite.  Some folks say that a win is a win no matter the margin of victory; I wonder how the folks who are footing the bill for Jimbo Fisher’s livelihood view the situation…

In another part of Texas, there was a wild and woolly game between Texas and Texas Tech.  The Longhorns prevailed 63-56 in OT.  Last week, I said that there would be “points aplenty” in this game; there were 119 points scored.  Texas had to rally with 2 TDs and a 2-point conversion in the final 3 minutes to force overtime and then win the game.  I am sure lots of folks in and around Austin see the positive aspects of that come from behind victory, but I see it differently:

  • Texas should have lost that game; not only did the defense allow 56 points, the team was penalized 10 times for 100 yards in the game.
  • Texas’ opponent beat Division 1-AA Houston Baptist in the first game of the season by 3 points and gave up 600 yards of offense to Houston Baptist.  And Texas needed a furious rally and then OT to win the game?

Miami and Florida State renewed their rivalry last week.  There was a time when the outcome of this game had a major bearing on the national champion for the season; such is no longer the case.  In fact, the rivalry is diminished because of the severely reduced stature of the Florida State football program.  Last week, the halftime score had Miami comfortably in command 28-3; the final score was 52-10.  The Seminoles yielded 500+ yards, lost by 42 points and were penalized 12 times in the game.  If they continue to play like that, they might just earn a new nickname, the Tallahassee Lassies.  [Hat Tip to Freddy “Boom-Boom” Cannon…]

In SEC action, Florida beat Ole Miss 51-35.  Florida has been strong on defense under Coach Dan Mullen, but they gave up 35 points to Ole Miss here.  Does that mean the Ole Miss offense is really potent under new coach Lane Kiffin?  That could be worth watching.  Another hypothesis you can take from this game and look for verification down the road is this:

  • The Ole Miss defense needs work.

Last week, I said the Mississippi state/LSU game would be a “Game of Interest” because it matched Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense against LSU where strong defense is a way of life.  It was more than a Game of Interest; it turned into a major upset as Mississippi State won the game outright 44-34.  That result was no fluke; State threw the ball 60 times and gained 623 yards in the air for the game.  Someone charted those pass plays and said that there were 5 receivers in the pattern on 48 of the 60 plays; I think it is fair to say it was a “wide-open offense”.  [Aside:  State’s total offense running the football was 9 yards.]  The score was tied at 34 with just under 10 minutes left to play and from that point on it was all Mississippi State.  One more interesting stat from this game:

  • The 623 yards passing by Mississippi State was the most passing yards in a game in the history of the SEC.

Georgia beat Arkansas 37-10; that is not a surprising result.  However, if you tuned in at halftime you would have seen that Arkansas led 7-5 and then Arkansas took the lead at 10-5 soon after the second half began.  Then reality set in…

In another upset from last week, K-State beat Oklahoma 38-35.  You could call this a major upset – – except that this is the second year in a row that K-State has beaten the Sooners straight up.  I said last week this would be an “organized ass-kicking” but thought it would be Oklahoma delivering the kicks and not receiving them.  K-State scored 24 unanswered points in the final 17 minutes here to win the game.  I ran across this stat earlier this week and have not even tried to verify it:

  • This is the 6th time since 2009 that OU has lost outright to a 20-point (or more) underdog.
  • Do the math; that averages out to once every other year…

Another embarrassing factor for Oklahoma here is the K-State played the game with 7 of its starters out or action.  That is not quite like allowing the K-State JV to rally and win the game – – but it’s close…

Another big surprise of this early football season is that UTEP is 3-1.  The Miners beat La-Monroe last week 31-6.  The reason this is a surprise comes from a comparison to the UTEP combined record over the past three seasons.

  • UTEP in 2020:  3-1-0
  • UTEP in 2017 – 2019:  2-34-0

Tulane beat So. Mississippi 66-24.  Recall that Tulane lost  to Navy two weeks ago after leading 24-0 at the half.  The So. Mississippi program appears to be in deep yogurt now:

  • The record is 0-3.
  • One loss was by 11 points to South Alabama – – a Division 1-AA school.
  • The head coach resigned the day after that loss to South Alabama
  • The combined score in the losses is 119-75 (almost 15 points per game).

 

College Games of Interest:

 

Auburn at Georgia – 7 (45):  Both teams are ranked.  Auburn handled Kentucky last week in a workmanlike fashion; Georgia had to struggle to overcome Arkansas (see above).  Both teams play solid defense so I agree with the oddsmaker here that this will be a low-scoring game.  To me, that line looks fat; I like Auburn on the road plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack.

Texas A&M at Alabama – 18 (51.5):  If there is agita in College Station after squeaking out a win over Vandy, there might be episodes of projectile vomiting come Saturday night.  The Aggies managed only 17 points against the Vandy defense; odds are that the Alabama defense is just a bit better.

South Carolina at Florida – 17.5 (57):  As noted above, the Gators’ defense was torched last week even though Florida won the game.  This game could be a litmus test for that defensive unit…

Arkansas at Mississippi State – 17 (69):  The Air Raid offense scored 44 points against LSU.  Granted, LSU lost lots of very good defenders to the NFL last Spring, but I have to believe that the LSU defense with their “replacements” is at least as good as the Arkansas defense.  I am tempted to take the game to go OVER – – but I will resist that temptation because I do not have a handle on the Arkansas offense and it is a lot to expect for State to take thee game over – – or nearly over – – all by itself.  However, I like Mississippi State to avoid a letdown in its home opener against a bottom-dweller in the SEC; I like Mississippi State at home to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.

LSU – 20.5 at Vandy (51):  Vandy held Texas A&M to 17 points last week; is that defense good enough to hold LSU down?  LSU ought to be up for this game after losing at home to Mississippi State last week – – or is this just not LSU’s year?  We will get some answers from this game…

NC State at Pitt – 14 (47):  The Pitt defense is very good.  The Pitt offense – – not so much.NC State is an up-and-down team.  Could be an interesting game that provides insight down the road…

UNC – 14 at BC (54):  BC is 2-0 under new coach Jeff Hafley and they are at home.  UNC has not played in the last two weeks.  So, why the big spread…?  Well, the two wins by BC have come over a less-than-fearsome Duke team and then over Texas State by a field goal.

Va Tech – 11 at Duke  (54):  Va Tech beat NC State last week with almost two dozen players and coaches out of action and they won by 3 TDs.  Duke is winless this year; turned the ball over 7 times last week and simply has not been able to run the ball this year.

UVa at Clemson – 28 (55):  Clemson is ranked #1 in the country; Virginia is 1-0 on the season having beaten Duke last week.  Clemson wants to retain their record and their ranking because they have an eye on the CFP down the road; to see the Cavaliers in that light would require a lot of “magic mushrooms”.  I think Clemson wins in a romp; I usually avoid picking games like this, but I like Clemson to win and cover at home; put it in the Six-Pack.

TCU at Texas – 11 (63):  The OT win last week by the Longhorns was not something the team should be proud of (see above).  The Texas defense has something to prove now.  TCU lost at home last week to Iowa State.

Oklahoma – 7 at Iowa State (63):  Good news for the Sooners here is that they are not favored by 20 points or more?  (See above)  Iowa State has not been impressive so far this year.  Other than looking for info pertinent to future games, this contest elicits a hearty “Meh!”

Navy – 7 at Air Force (45.5):  This is the first game of the season for Air Force; Navy is 1-1.  The reason this is a Game of Interest is that it is a Service Academy game and they are always interesting.

Oklahoma State – 22.5 at Kansas (54):  I am not sure if Oklahoma State is particularly good this year, but I am confident in saying that Kansas at 0-3 is awful.

Ole Miss at Kentucky – 7 (61.5):  Ole Miss scored 35 points against Florida last week; are you sure the Kentucky defense is significantly better than Florida’s?  That line is fat; I like Ole Miss on the road plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack.

 

NFL Comments:

 

Surely, you are aware that the NFL is celebrating its 100th anniversary this season; they have been beating us over the head with references to that for a while now.  However, tomorrow October 3, 2020 will be the 100th anniversary of the first NFL game ever played:

  • The game took place in Dayton, OH between the Dayton Triangles and the Columbus Panhandles.  [Aside:  I understand the Florida panhandle and the Texas panhandle and the Oklahoma panhandle – – but Columbus, Ohio?]
  • The Triangles won the game 14-0.
  • Contemporary reports said that the attendance was 4000 people and admission was $1.75.
  • Each player in the game was paid $50.

Things have come a long way since then.  The Dayton Triangles joined other teams in the formation of the NFL by paying a “Franchise Fee” of $25.  The “Franchise Fee” for an expansion team in today’s NFL would surely draw something around $1B.

The Dayton Triangles were very good in that first NFL season posting a 9-1 record for the season.  Eventually, the Triangles were sold to a NY syndicate that moved the team to NYC and became known as the Brooklyn Dodgers – – obviously before the days of trademarking team names.  The football Brooklyn Dodgers morphed into the Brooklyn Tigers until the Tigers folded in 1944.  The Brooklyn Tigers were hardly a successful franchise; after missing the NFL playoffs for 13 straight years, the Tigers went 0-10 in their final season.  So much for the history lesson…

NY  Jets’ fans have expressed frustration and anger on sports radio and in various blogs; there is an online petition seeking the firing of Adam Gase; you get the picture; that is pretty standard stuff for an angry fanbase.  However, it looks as if there is something even worse afoot in NYC – – apathy about the hometown lads.  A fan tried to organize a protest outside the Jets’ team practice facility.  Fans were urged to show up wearing masks and to practice social distancing, but only a handful of folks bothered to show up.  Moreover, the TV ratings in NYC for last week’s Niners/Jets game was not the most watched TV program in its time slot let alone for the day.  The Jets last appearance in the NFL Playoffs was back in 2010; since then the team has been above .500 only once – – and it is not going to be above .500 once again in 2020.

In fact, with 3 games in the books, the Jets have not led for a single second in any of those three games.  That changed in the first quarter of last night’s game against the Broncos; nonetheless it was the case for more than 180 minutes of NFL football in 2020.  Moreover, that dynamic changed on a 45-yard scramble by Sam Darnold – a feat that may never be replicated in this life.  The irony wrapping around all this is that Adam Gase is supposed to be an offensive mastermind.  Here is why Jets’ fans may be seeking solace in apathy:

  • The Jets’ roster had three bona fide top-shelf players back in July.  CJ Mosely just cannot get on the field and stay there; LeVeon Bell has a hamstring injury this year after spending much of last year feuding with the coach; Jamal Adams forced the Jets to trade him and then lampooned Gase’s leadership abilities on his way out of town.
  • Fans cannot show up at the games with paper sacks on their heads to vent their spleen because there are no fans allowed at the games.  So, maybe apathy is the only refuge available…

Last night, the Thursday game between the Jets and Broncos could have had several monikers:

  • It could have been the Bagel Bowl – both teams were 0-3 at kickoff.
  • It could have been the Burnt Butt Cheeks Bowl – – both coaches are on a hot seat.
  • It could have been the No Score Bowl – – the Jets are averaging 12.3 points per game and the Broncos are averaging 15 points per game.
  • You get the idea…

On a much brighter note, the Green Bay Packers are on an offensive roll.  The Packers average 459.7 yards per game and 40.7 points per game so far this year.  Over the course of the off-season, there was a lot of speculation about how Aaron Rodgers might take to the fact that the Packers drafted a QB in the first round of the Draft instead of getting him more “weapons” at WR.  We have not heard much about that lately…

Mitchell Trubisky started the season at 2-0 as the Bears’ QB and he won one of those games with a miraculous 4th quarter comeback rally over the Lions.  Then, in the third game he was benched in the second half with his team trailing.  I cannot recall a starter being pulled under those circumstances in the past.   No matter; it worked; the Bears rallied again – under Nick Foles this time – and won the game over the Falcons.

If the Bears squander their 3-0 start this year and wind up under .500, there will be a call for Coach Matt Nagy’s head on a plate.  Let me go on record here well before that sort of thing is anywhere near the surface to point out that Matt Nagy is NOT the guy who did the scouting and made the drafting decision to take Mitchell Trubisky with the #2 overall pick in the NFL Draft ahead of both Patrick Mahomes and DeShaun Watson.

Last week, the Dolphins beat the Jags 31-13.   That was a different Dolphins’ team than had showed itself in the first two weeks.  “Fitz-Magic” got the best of “Minshew Mania” even though the Dolphins only gained 160 yards in the air.  Ryan Fitzpatrick was 18 for 20 in the game.  The Jags turned the ball over twice in the game and were penalized 8 times.

The Bears beat the Falcons 30-26.  Stop me if you have heard this before, but the Falcons had a double-digit lead in the second half and managed to lose the game.  Nick Foles came into the game trailing 26-10 and rallied the Bears to a win on a TD pass to Anthony Miller with just under 2 minutes left in the game.  The Bears may have a “QB controversy” on their hands, but they won this game and are 3-0 to start the season.

The Falcons – on the other hand – are 0-3 for the season and appear to be in disarray.  In blowing that 16-point lead in the second half last week, the Falcons became the only team in NFL history to blow a 15-point (or more) lead in the second half twice in a season.  That is not the sort of list you seek to be at the top of.  The Falcons’ offense had the ball five times in the fourth quarter and scored zero points to protect its lead; meanwhile, the Falcons’ defense was collapsing.  Chris Berman used to say, “No one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills.”

Well, in 2020, no one blows leads like the Atlanta Falcons and this has been going on for a while now.  Is it fair to ask at this point:

  • Who is drafting the players on defense and who is “coaching them up” and should those folks still have the jobs they have?

The Browns beat the WTFs 34-20.  The game was an implosion for WTFs’ QB, Dwayne Haskins.  He threw 3 awfully bad INTs and he lost a fumble on a strip sack.  Those 4 turnovers led to 24 points for the Browns which was more than the WTFs’ offense could produce in the game.  Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined to run the ball 35 times for 154 yards and 2 TDs.  The WTFs actually led the game 20-17 with 11:14 left in the game but then the floodgates opened.

  • As a result of this loss, Washington’s all-time record as an NFL franchise dropped to 604-605-28. This means they are under .500 for the first time in 45 years.

The Niners beat the Giants 36-9.  The Niners had 9 of their starters out of the game due to injuries but not a problem.  Nick Mullens stepped in at QB and went 25 for 36 for 343 yards and 1 TD with zero INTs.  Rookie WR, Brandon Aiyuk, caught 5 passes for 70 yards and ran the ball 3 times for another 31 yards plus a TD.  Here is how bad the Giants’ offense was in that game:

  • Playing against a depleted defense, the Giants never snapped the football inside the Red Zone for the entire game.

The Bills beat the Rams 35-32.  The Bills led this game.  The Bills led the Rams 28-3 with 8 minutes to play in the 3rd quarter.  The Rams came back to take the lead at 32-28.  [Aside:  If you want a primer on how to blow a 28-3 lead, check out the Falcons in the Super Bowl against the Pats…]  The Bills managed to stage one final TD drive scoring with 15 seconds left on the clock to win the game.  The Rams gained a total of 478 yards on offense and ran the ball for 167 yards.  The Bills had the ball in the Red Zone 5 times and scored TDs on all 5 opportunities.

The Pats beat the Raiders 36-20.  Like the Bills in the game mentioned above, the Raiders got into the red Zone 5 times.  The difference is that they only scored 2 TDs on those drives – – and the second of those TDs came at the end of the game in “garbage time”.  On the Patriots’ last 8 possessions in the game (from the end of the first quarter to the final whistle), here are the results:

  • Field goal, Field Goal, TD, Kneel to end the 1st half, TD, Field goal, TD, Kneel to end the game.

The Pats dominated time of possession by running the ball 38 times for 250 yards and 2 TDs.  Sony Michel and Rex Burkhardt led the charge on the ground.  Just to be clear, that Patriots’ tandem of running backs will never be confused with the tandem of Jim Brown and Bobby Mitchell.  Adding insult to injury, the Raiders lost 3 fumbles in the game.

The Steelers beat the Texans 28-21.  The Steelers had to overcome a 14-3 d3eficit in this game and they did it on the backs of the defense.  The Texans managed only 29 yards rushing for the day and the Steelers sacked Deshaun Watson 5 times.  The Steelers ran the ball on a porous Texans’ rush defense 38 times for 169 yards controlling the ball for almost 37 minutes in the game.  This is not new for the Texans; here are stats from their first three games in 2020:

  • Chiefs:  166 yards rushing and time of possession = 34:47
  • Ravens:  230 yards rushing and time of possession = 34:51
  • Steelers:  169 yards rushing and time of possession = 36:51

The Titans rallied to beat the Vikes 31-30.  Dalvin Cook ran for 181 yards and rookie WR, Justin Jefferson had a big day catching 7 passes for 175 yards and a TD.  The Vikes led 24-12 with 8 minutes left in the 3rd quarter; after the Titans rallied to take the lead 25-24, the Vikes scored a TD and missed a 2-point conversion to lead 30-25 with 10 minutes left in the game.  Then the Titans managed two field goals in that remaining time to win by a point.  The hero for the Titans has to be Stephen Gostkowski who kicked 6 field goals in the game three of which were longer than 50 yards.

The Bengals and the Eagles played to a tie at 23-23.  Joe Burrow attempted 44 passes in the game and was sacked 8 times.  Given the state of the Bengals’ OL and Burrow’s status as a rookie, dropping him back that many times might be considered the NFL equivalent of child abuse.  The game was a stinkpot from top to bottom; as an example, consider that the Eagles were penalized 11 times in the game.  Nothing important happened on the field in this game so let me point to a group of folks who went through agony on account of this game:

  • The Total Line for this game was 46.5 points.  When the game went to OT at 23-23, folks with the OVER were probably counting their winnings and folks with the UNDER may have thrown their tickets away in disgust.
  • There was no point in the OT when either team pretended that it intended to score a point.
  • In the OT, the Bengals had 4 drives consisting of 12 plays and generating a net of 14 yards.
  • In the OT, the Eagles had 3 drives consisting of 14 plays and generating a net of 31 yards.
  • The folks with the UNDER wagers cashed even though that was a low-probability event at the start of the OT.

The Colts beat the Jets 36-7.  As noted above, the Eagles, Bengals, Vikes, Falcons and Giants stunk last week.  And then there were the Jets who made all of them look marginally respectable.  Sam Darnold threw a pair of Pick-Sixes and the Jets offense yielded a safety in the game.  The Colts won with their offense on cruise-control.

The Lions upset the Cards 26-23.  Kyler Murray threw 3 INTs.  Unlike previous games this year, the Lions shut out the opponent in the 4th quarter while generating two field goals – one with  4 seconds remaining on the clock – to win the game.  Adrian Peterson ran 22 times for 75 yards here.  For the Cards, DeAndre Hopkins continued to shine catching 10 passes for 137 yards.

The Panthers upset the Chargers 21-16.  Normally, when a team scores 21 points in a game, it is with 3 TDs and 3 PATs.  Not the Panthers…  they scored their 21 points on 5 field goals, a TD and a missed PAT.  Not to worry, they do not award style points in the NFL standings.  The Panthers had 6 trips into the Red Zone and got points as noted here in all six visits.  Two weeks ago, Justin Herbert  looked great subbing for Tyrod Taylor at the last minute.  This week was not quite as good.  Herbert was 35 for 49 for 330 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT.

The Seahawks beat the Cowboys 38-31.  The Co0wboys’ special teams were a bubbling mess in the game.  Somehow a kickoff was mishandled and recovered at the half-yardline; that error led to a safety.  Also, the Cowboys missed 2 PATs.  That is the sort of thing you might expect to see in an Ivy League game not an NFL game.  Dak Prescott had a fine day, but it was not enough to overcome defensive and special teams collapses.  Prescott was 37 for 57 for 472 yards with 3 TDs and 2 INTs; he also ran the ball 6 times for 26 yards.  Did I mention that the Cowboys were penalized 10 times in this game?  On the other side, Russell Wilson had an “other-worldly game”.  Wilson was 27 for 40 for 315 yards with 5 TDs and zero INTs; he ran the ball 6 times for 22 yards.  This is two games in a row where Wilson has thrown 5 TDs and zero picks.

The Bucs beat the Broncos 28-10.  Short and sweet, here is how that happened:

  1. Tom Brady threw 3 TD passes
  2. The Bucs’ defense had 6 sacks and recorded a safety.
  3. The Bucs’ special teams blocked a punt.

The Packers beat the Saints 37-30.  The Packers won another shoot-out game; as noted above, the Packers’ offense is running smoothly and efficiently.  As to the defense, I think it might be a good idea for the team to have some tackling drills.  Alvin Kamara had a great game running the ball 6 times for 58 yards and catching 13 passes for 139 yards and 2 TDs.

The Chiefs beat the Ravens 34-20 on MNF.  The game was not that close.  The Ravens had the best scoring defense in the NFL entering the contest yielding only 22 points in the first two games.  That defensive unit saw the Chiefs put up 34 points and gain 517 yards on offense.  Here is a stat that will give you an idea of how dominant the chiefs were on Monday night:

  • The Chiefs were 10-13 on third down conversions – – and one of the “failures” was in the final 2 minutes when the Chiefs were just running down the clock.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs defense held Lamar Jackson to 97 yards passing – – his lowest total in his still young career.

 

NFL Games:

 

In the 14 games listed here, the road team is favored in 6 of them.  That is more than usual.  Should anyone try to divine some deep meaning in that observation, there is none other than this:

  • Six road teams this week are better than the rivals they will travel to meet.

Indy – 2.5 at Chicago (43):  The spread for this game varies all over the place.  You can find it as high as 3 points this morning and as low as 1 point. Both teams arrive undefeated.  Which starting version of Nick Foles will show up for the Bears:

  1. The Nick Foles who lost his starting job to Gardner Minshew last year in Jax?
  2. The Nick Foles who threw 27 TDs with only 2 INTs in a season for the Eagles several years ago?

New Orleans – 4 at Detroit (54):  The Saints did not look good last week losing at home to the Packers – particularly on defense.  The Lions surprised the Cards; can they win two in a row?  It is awfully early in the season to think about “must-win games” but the Saints are 1-2 and need to start playing a lot better – – starting here.  I am tempted to take the game to go OVER – – but will resist that temptation.

Arizona – 3 at Carolina (51):  Was that the “real” Panthers’ team on display last week or was that a fluky win over the Chargers?  The Cards have a franchise history of losing to teams they ought to beat and here is a team that – on paper – they ought to beat handily.

Jax at Cincy – 3 (49):  With the Thursday Night game between the Broncos and Jets off the weekend schedule, this game was an easy choice as the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.

Cleveland at Dallas – 4.5 (56):  This is a confirmation game for the Browns.  Their record is 2-1, but after getting slapped silly by the Ravens in Week 1, those two wins came at the expense of the WTFs and the Bengals – – not exactly the NFL elite.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the Cowboys are “elite” either but I do think they are a step up from the WTFs and the Bengals so maybe we can find out where in the picking order the Browns belong in 2020?  Here are two trends that say the Browns have a tough row to hoe here:

  1. In their last 11 road games against the NFC, the Browns are 0-11.
  2. In their last 30 road games of any sort, the Browns are 4-26.

The Browns can run the ball.  The Cowboys’ rush defense ranks 23rd in the NFL giving up 128 yards per game.  That is the matchup that I think will determine the outcome here.

Minnesota at Houston – 4 (53.5):  Yes, I know the combined records here are 0-6 and the combined records for Jax and Cincy are 1-4-1 but this game is a better game simply because these are better teams that are underperforming.  Also, remember that the Texans have lost to the Chiefs, Ravens and Steelers.  The Texans cannot protect Deshaun Watson; he is running for his life on way too many plays.  Fortunately, the Vikings do not rush the passer very well this year, so maybe he can take a moment to read a defense without having a defensive end taking him to the ground?  The Vikings offense came alive last week; is that an aberration or the start of something new in Minnesota?  I think the Texans are the better team here, but I am not going to try to pick a game where neither team has shown they know how to win a game.

Seattle – 6 at Miami (54):  I was not a geography major, but I do believe that the trip from Seattle to Miami is the longest one a team can make without playing in London.  Russell Wilson has been on fire so far in 2020; I do not see the Dolphins’ defense being able to stop him.  At the same time, the Seahawks’ pass defense – – mainly the secondary – – is not particularly good so there is plenty of potential for a “Fitz-Magic” game.  The temptation to take this game to go OVER is strong – – but not strong enough.

Chargers at Tampa Bay – 7.5 (43):  These are two teams with good defenses.  It is still not completely clear if the Chargers will play Justin Herbert or Tyrod Taylor at QB, but I do not think either of them will be super successful against the Bucs’ defense.  Tom Brady will do well enough against the Chargers’ defense to get a win here, but I am not going to pick the game with that hook on top of a full TD in the spread line.

Pittsburgh at Tennessee:  Postponed due to COVID-19

Baltimore – 13.5 at Washington (45):  The Ravens’ defense got torched by Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid on Monday night.  Meaning no disrespect whatsoever, Dwayne Haskins ain’t no Patrick Mahomes and Ron Rivera is not Andy Reid.  If the Ravens’ defense shows up in a nasty mood with the intent of demonstrating that they are indeed an elite defense in 2020, the WTFs are going to be hard pressed to score.

Giants at Rams – 13 (48):  The spread opened the week at 10 points and has climbed steadily to this level as of this morning.  It could go higher by game time since there is one Internet sportsbook that already has the game at 14 points.  The Rams played their guts out in the second half last week and lost a heartbreaker to the Bills (see above).  They should face no such adversity in this game.

New England at KC – 7.5 (53):  And here we have the easy choice for the Game of the Week.  The Chiefs were excellent on Monday night dominating the Ravens (see above).  But if the Pats can run the ball successfully here – they lead the NFL averaging 178 yards per game – they can effect the best tactical maneuver possible against the Chiefs:

  • Don’t let the offense on the field.

I like ;both teams here and I think these two coaches are the two best in the league at this time.  I say that to be sure no one takes my pick here as a slight of any kind.  I like the Patriots plus the points in this game – particularly that hook on top of a full TD – so put it in the Six-Pack.

Buffalo – 3 at Las Vegas (53): This is such an interesting game that I gave it a fleeting shot at being the Game of the Week.  The Raiders have looked quite good on offense this year; the Bills have looked less than expected on defense this year.  The Bills’ offense has been able to stand in there in games that became shoot-outs in 2020, the Raiders defense has allowed 30 points per game on defense.  This is a long trip to the game venue for the Bills – – but I think the coaches and the team see plenty of value in staying undefeated in this first quarter of the 2020 NFL season.

(Sun Nite) Philly at SF – 6 (46):  This game could easily be the “Medicare Bowl” or the “Radiology Bowl” given the number of significant injuries sustained by both teams so far in the 2020 season.  I think the Eagles are in complete disarray while the Niners are merely shuffling the chairs in a multi-dimensional game of musical chairs.  But with both teams playing without very good starting players, who knows what can happen.

(Mon Nite) Atlanta at Green Bay – 7 (56.5):  The Falcons’ defense has gagged away two games in a row and now get to play against Aaron Rodgers and an offense that is dominating NFL defenses to this point in the season (see above).  At the same time, the Falcons’ offense should be able to move the ball and score a bit against a Packers’ defense that has allowed 28 points per game this season.  I see the potential for the scoreboard operator to suffer a seizure from the flashing lights there; I’ll take this game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Let me review this week’s Six-Pack:

  1. Auburn +7 against Georgia
  2. Clemson – 28 over UVa
  3. Mississippi St. – 17 over Arkansas
  4. Ole Miss +7 against Kentucky
  5. Pats +7.5 against Chiefs
  6. Packers/Falcons OVER 56.5

            Finally, it is important for everyone to understand that all the picks here – – and the implied selections here – are subject to being horribly wrong.  For that reason, I think it is worthwhile to contemplate this entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Fallible:  What you are praying that most store-bought pregnancy tests often are.”

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

 

 

A Little Of Everything Today

It is still way too early to use anything that happens in the MLB Playoffs to be definitive/indicative regarding the World Series.  Nevertheless, the game between the Braves and Reds yesterday that went to the 13th inning before the only run in the game came across the plate was an entertaining contest.  If I have counted correctly, there were 373 pitches tossed in that game; since the game ended as a 1-0 walk-off win for the Braves in the 13th inning, that means that every one of the 372 preceding pitches could have changed the trajectory of the game.  The game was not exciting/riveting because of the offensive fireworks on display; it was exciting/riveting because of the pitching and defense on display.

There were a bunch of commentators who seemed overly enthusiastic about dancing on the NFL’s grave after Week 1 TV ratings showed a double-digit decline as compared to last year.  Jason Whitlock has attributed that sort of reporting to a hidden “war on football” and I completely disagree with that thesis.  Nonetheless, there is a segment of the sports reporting cognoscenti that seems to take pleasure in reporting negative TV information about the NFL – – but is conspicuously focused on other things when NFL TV information is positive:

  • Week 2:  Monday Night Football ratings were up 26% in 2020 over comparable ratings for Week 2 in 2019.  [Saints/Raiders was a good matchup but not the best matchup of the weekend as compared to Pats/Seahawks or even Chiefs/Chargers.]
  • Week 3:  Monday Night Football ratings were up 36% in 2020 over comparable ratings for Week 3 in 2019.  [This was THE best matchup on the NFL schedule for the week.]

Lest anyone plan to dance on the grave of the NFL for its television popularity, the Chiefs/Ravens game on last Monday drew an average of 14.2 million viewers.  Ask any of the NFL doomsayers to point to any one or two television programs on that evening that drew as many as 75% of that many viewers (10.65 million viewers).  I tried to find even one program that achieved that  status and could not…’

Before I go any further, let me offer congratulations to the Tampa Bay Lightening as the Stanley Cup Champions in 2020.  I watched some of the Capitals/Islanders series and some of the Flyers/Islanders series; and then, I saw a couple of the Stanley Cup Finals games between the Lightening and the Dallas Stars (including the Stars’ Double OT win).  To a very untrained eye, it appeared to me that the Lightening were bigger, faster and more focused on what they were doing than were the Stars.  I will leave it at that lest anyone start to get the impression that I know anything more than the most superficial aspects of ice hockey.

I enjoyed what I saw in the NHL playoffs; I will cede the floor to others who can provide meaningful analysis of what happened there.  For those who did not see any of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, I would suggest that you missed some exciting and very interesting “Sports on TV”.

Let me set the stage for my next item today.  #1 son is an NFL fan, and #1 son is singularly responsible for the genesis of “Sports Curmudgeon rants” going all the way back to 1994.  If anyone is interested in that backstory, keep goosing me to write a memoir about Sports Curmudgeon rants.  I have tried 3 times in the past and those have been disastrously horrid examples of exposition.  In any event, I got an email from #1 son earlier this week and his intent was to diminish the qualifications of Eli Manning for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  To make his case, #1 son compared Eli Manning’s career stats to those of Jay Cutler.  Consider these stats – – which I have confirmed:

  • Games Played:  E. Manning = 236  Cutler = 153.
  • Completion %-age:  E. Manning = 60.3%  Cutler = 62.0%
  • Career QB Rating:  E. Manning = 84.1  Cutler = 85.3
  • Yards per Season:  E. Manning = 3866  Cutler = 3674
  • TDs per Season:  E. Manning = 24.8  Cutler = 23.7
  • INTs per Season:  E. Manning = 16.5  Cutler = 16.7

Looking at those career numbers, it is difficult to argue that Eli Manning’s career numbers were significantly better than Jay Cutler’s career numbers.  And #1 son is completely right to assert that there are lots of people touting Eli Manning as a shoo-in to the Hall of Fame whereas no one thinks that Jay Cutler should get more than a courteous nod from the voters who determine that honor – –   EXCEPT FOR – – the fact that Eli Manning has two Super Bowl rings and was twice voted Super Bowl MVP.

Let me be clear, # 1 son is not trying to make a case for Jay Cutler to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame; as a transplanted citizen who matured as a sports fan in Chicago, that is not even close to his intent.  His point – and it is a valid one – is that over their careers, Jay Cutler and Eli Manning were more similar than different in terms of their career stats.  The one huge difference is those TWO SUPER BOWL RINGS.

However, #1 son concludes his email message to me by  saying that if those two Super Bowl rings are so important in the minds of voters, then they also need to enshrine Jim Plunkett who was also the QB for two Super Bowl winning teams in the 1980s (Raiders) and who earned one Super Bowl MVP honor.  .

Stats tell an important story as #1 son has laid out here.  There is also what I call the “eyeball test”.  I saw plenty of games played by Jay Cutler, Eli Manning and Jim Plunkett.  Stats aside, here is my “eyeball rating”; if you gave me the choice of these there QBs in their college graduating days as the guy I would want to build my franchise around, here is my order – – and the gaps between the three are easily discernable:

  • #1:  Eli Manning
  • #2:  Jay Cutler
  • #3:  Jim Plunkett

Having said all of that, #1 son – – and none of you – – need worry about this because I do not have a vote for the Pro Football Hall of Fame nor will I ever…

Finally, let me leave you today with an item from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Facebook:  An Internet destination for people who want to be found by everyone who used to beat them up in high school.”

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

 

 

COVID-19 And The Tennessee Titans

Here is a link to my rant from just over two weeks ago in case anyone wants to read it for context.  I wrote this back on 14 September, just after the NFL had gone through Week 1 of the regular season, here are two excerpts from that rant:

“There were 13 NFL games yesterday –  following the season opener last Thursday night –  and there is some behind-the-scenes action going on today that is very important to the NFL.”

And …

“… this week there will be testing and re-testing around the league to see if the NFL’s testing regimen to date has been sufficiently tight so as to keep the virus away from players and coaches who are involved in the games.  Just as it is logical to look at an NFL game and identify it as a potential virus super spreader event, it is equally logical to look at an NFL game and assume that if no one involved has the virus to spread then there will be no spreading of the virus.”

The NFL teams/players made it through the first two weeks of the season with a minimal COVID-19 impact.  Then came Week 3 and the testing after those games showed an outbreak of cases on the Tennessee Titans.  According to reports, eight new positive tests came back on Tuesday (3 players and 5 staff members); the league and the players’ association are working with the testing folks to be sure these are not “false positives”.  Remember, that happened earlier in the NFL ‘s testing history.

Last Sunday, the Titans played the Vikings and so it is possible that one or more of the newly detected infections might have been communicated to a member of the Vikings because epidemiologists have determined that an infected person may spread the virus before that infected person shows any symptoms of having the virus in his system.  That has to be the nightmare scenario for the NFL, the players, their “broadcast partners”, fantasy team owners, Las Vegas casinos and just plain old ordinary football fans.

The NFL has responded at first by “shutting Tennessee (Titans) down until Saturday”.  That directive from the league means that players, coaches and other “football people” cannot be in the Titans’ facilities.  The league and the players’ union are working together on this; frankly, if there is to be any positive outcome from a 2020 football season affected by COVID-19, it could be that the league and the union learn how to work together on solving a problem without turning the process of resolution into a Texas Chain Saw/Loser Leaves Town/Death Match akin to something scripted by the WWE.

Most of the Las Vegas sportsbooks have taken the Titans/Steelers game and the Vikings/Texans game scheduled for this weekend off their boards.  Many of the offshore Internet sportsbooks still have the game live on their boards, but at least one of them has taken it down.  It seems to me that there are different considerations for those two games:

  • Vikings/Texans:  If the Vikings show no new infections after exposure to the Titans last week, you could make the case that this game might be played safely.  As noted above, even though an NFL game might be seen as a potential “super-spreader event”, if there are no infected people involved in the game, there will be no spreading.  Amid all the turmoil and testing, the Vikings may have lost a day or so of “normal preparation” for the game, but that is equivalent to playing a game on a “short week” so it is not an outrageous disadvantage to the team.  In a so-called “abundance of caution”, the game could also be postponed; this decision is another area where the league and the union might work together to come to a joint resolution of the issue.
  • Titans/Steelers:  On the assumption that these 8 new infections are not “false positives”, I do not see how this game can be played this weekend.  Even if all 8 of these folks are cleared to get back to football action by tomorrow, I think there would be a significant competitive disadvantage for the Titans in playing the game due to a loss of two days of preparation.  There are reports that say the Titans’ coaches have alerted players that if need be, they will play on Sunday even if they have no practices for the week and only a walk-through on Saturday.  I think that is a bad idea.

The NFL rules and schedules and protocols exist in large measure to assure that one team is not obviously at a disadvantage at the time of the kickoff for a game.  That is an unspoken part of the league mantra that “On any given Sunday …”  In the extreme scenario cited above where the Titans have no practices for the week, that would be a disadvantage at the time of kickoff that could not be “swept under the rug”.  I understand that there are real reasons why the league wants to stay on schedule; the NFL is not like MLB in the sense that a postponed game can usually be made up without a lot of fanfare as a double-header – even a double-header with each game shorter than a normal game – later in the season.  Consider:

  1. Both the Steelers and Titans are undefeated now and both could be in the mix for a playoff slot and playoff seeding come January.  The NFL tiebreakers are sufficiently complex without having to add situations where two of the teams in the mix may have played one or two fewer games than the other potential playoff teams.  [This assumes that the game canceled this weekend cannot be made up somewhere down the road.]
  2. If for some reason, both the Vikings/Texans game and the Titans/Steelers game must be postponed, that sets up a rescheduling situation that could ripple out over much of the league.  I will not even try to figure  out how that might be resolved; it might take “IBM Watson” to go through all the permutations and combinations of schedule options to come up with a reasonable solution here; that is well over my pay grade.  Intuitively, rescheduling the Vikings/Texans game should be the more difficult task because the teams are in different conferences meaning schedule overlap becomes more complicated.

This is the sort of challenge scenario that the league and the union had hoped to avoid but one that someone had to have planned for.  We will never know all of what is not taking place – and will take place over the next few days – inside whatever they are calling the COVID-19 Command Center.  What we will be able to do is to judge how effective the actions taken yesterday and in the next several days are in the preservation of the 2020 NFL regular season.

Finally, let me attempt to get out of here on a lighter note.  Bob Molinaro had this observation related to the NFL and television advertising in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently:

“TV timeout: What do you make of Bill Belichick in those Subway commercials? I think he’s remarkably lifelike.”

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

 

 

Some Of This; Some Of That…

The LA Clippers fired Coach “Doc” Rivers.  As I have said here before, the Clippers were huge disappointments in the NBA playoffs losing out to the Nuggets after leading 3 games to 1 in the quarterfinals.  However, unless there is a large “palace revolt” ongoing inside the team that we do not know about, it is surely not clear to me that Rivers was primarily responsible for that collapse.  [Aside:  And IF there is a “palace revolt ongoing”, I would need to know a lot of the details before picking sides between Rivers and the “Revolutionaries”.]

“Doc” Rivers has been an NBA coach for 21 years and has won 58% of the games he coached. His teams have been in the playoffs 16 of those 21 seasons and he won an NBA Championship with the Celtics.  I am not sure there is a “free-agent coach” out there looking for work with a stronger résumé.  One of the nominally insightful phrases in modern parlance is:

“Haters gonna hate.”

My parallel to that deep and insightful observation is:

  • The Clippers gonna clip.

Moving on to the world of college football, there has been scrutiny to a microscopic level applied to the decision makers at schools in the BIG-10 and the PAC-12 as those conferences worked to reinstate football this Fall.  Lost in all of the scrutiny and analysis is a decision by the Mid-American Conference – – the MAC – –  to return to the gridiron this fall.  The MAC is one of the so-called “Group of Five” conferences in football which is a polite way of saying that they are a minor league of college football who often serve as punching bags for the top-shelf programs who pay them to come and take a beating at the big-boys’ stadium for the entertainment of the big-boys’ fans/alums.  The MAC was the first Division 1-A Conference to cancel football back in the late Spring/early Summer, but now we can say accurately and in rhyme:

  • The Mac Is Back.

The truncated season for MAC teams will be 6 games long and all games will be against conference opponents.  The season will start on a Wednesday night – – 4 November – – and most of the MAC games will be on weeknights until after Thanksgiving when games will move mainly to Saturdays in December.  According to reports, the players, coaches and staff for the MAC teams will be tested for COVID-19 four times a week using tests that produce rapid results.  Moreover, there will be no attendance or tailgating at the venue site for any of the MAC games this Fall.  The schools have restrictions in place aimed at minimizing the spread of the virus as a result of the “return to football”; diligence will be necessary in order that those restrictions will be effective.

I would imagine that there were smiles in and around EPSN HQs in Bristol, CT when this decision was made.  Now ESPN will have live MAC games to put on the air on Tuesday and Wednesday nights for a short period meaning fewer replays of various “30 for 30” productions and/or reruns of Texas/Oklahoma games from 1991.

Granted all the conferences that are now back in the business of college football are playing shortened schedules and mainly in-conference schedules, but of the 130 schools in Division 1-A, only three schools will not participate at all in this 2020 football season:

  1. New Mexico State
  2. Old Dominion
  3. UConn

Based solely on last year’s performance, none of those three teams will be sorely missed.  Here are their records from 2019 and a couple of “trends”:

  • New Mexico State – – 2-10.  The Aggies have had 2 winning seasons since 2000.
  • Old Dominion – – 1-11.
  • UConn – – 2-10.  The Huskies have won 3 or fewer games in 7 of the last 8 seasons.

Since I mentioned ESPN in passing above, let me segue here to another recent announcement involving the Worldwide Leader in Sports.  I ran across a report that contained this language:

“ESPN has announced two multi-year agreements with both Caesars Entertainment Inc. and DraftKings Inc. The partnerships will include co-exclusive link integrations through ESPN digital platforms connecting fans to sportsbooks.”

At the most basic level of understanding here is my interpretation of those two sentences:

  • “ESPN and two companies that make money via sports wagering are going to work together in a way that will let ESPN earn some of that money because the other two companies figure that having ESPN on board will increase the amount of money they will make even after sharing some of it with ESPN.”

Other than that basic level of understanding, I have no idea what will happen that I will notice as a result of these multi-year agreements.  Additionally, the idea of something being “co-exclusive” is not immediately obvious to me nor do I understand the concept of “link integrations” other than to say they are probably much more appropriate than “link segregations”.

I need a nap…

Finally, Dwight Perry had this commentary related to sports and COVID-19 and live attendance in his Sideline Chatter column in the Seattle Times recently:

“Because of coronavirus restrictions, only 1,000 fans per day will be allowed into this year’s French Open at 35,000-seat Roland Garros Stadium.

“In other words, plenty of good seats not available.”

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

 

 

Sports, Television And Money

This week will see the start of the MLB Playoffs and it will see the start of the NBA Finals.  Am I the only one who thinks there has been minimal energy or pizzaz associated with this year’s NBA Playoffs to date?  The Nuggets/Jazz series was interesting and produced there or four very good games but most of the rest of the games and series have been marginally better than “ordinary”.  What brings this to mind this morning is a headline on a report at CBSSports.com:

“Allen Iverson says he regrets not having a better relationship with Kobe Bryant: ‘Killers respect killers’”

Seriously?  The NBA Finals are about to start, and that report makes it onto the front page of CBSSports.com today?  There is nothing more interesting happening related to professional basketball?  [NOTE:  I did not say “more important”; I said “more interesting” thereby setting a much lower bar.]

Kobe Bryant died in a tragic accident with his young daughter eight months ago.  One might concoct some linkages between Iverson and Bryant:

  • Bryant is from the Philly area and Iverson played most of his career in Philly.
  • Bryant and Iverson were in the same NBA Draft Class.
  • Bryant and Iverson are both in the Hall of Fame.

A feature story of that kind might have been interesting – not important, mind you – a week or so after the helicopter crash that killed Bryant and his daughter.  Eight months later … it does not even merit a hearty “Meh!”

Bob Molinaro had a succinct reaction to the elimination of the Clippers from these NBA Playoffs in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Oversell: Anyone who watches sports knows that TV talkers throw around superlatives like confetti at a gender-reveal party. After the Clippers’ surprising elimination, a noted NBA insider said that Paul George failed to play like a superstar. That’s because he’s not now nor has ever been a superstar.”

Preach on, brother…

As I mentioned above, the MLB Playoffs will begin tomorrow, and the Miami Marlins are in the mix.  In the first round of the expanded 2020 playoffs, the Marlins will play a 3-game series in Chicago against the Cubs.  In order to keep the schedule compressed and to avoid some travel, the first round series will be played exclusively in the home park of the higher seeded team.  The Marlins have not been part of the playoff picture since 2003 and last season, the Marlins’ record was 57-105.  Nevertheless, they are in the playoffs this year.

Speaking of MLB, the NY Post reports that Warner Media – the owner of Turner sports – has signed a deal with MLB that extends MLB’s presence on TBS for seven more years through 2028.  The full package will bring $535M per year in revenue to MLB.  In future years, TBS will be the major broadcaster of playoff games in terms of number of games although the World Series will still be part of the FOX package.  This deal comes a year ahead of the expiration of the current Warner Media/MLB deal which is interesting because the ESPN/MLB broadcast rights deal is set to expire this year and I have not seen any reports on negotiations there.

The new Warner Media/MLB deal will include a nationally televised Tuesday night game next year and a new studio show on TBS featuring Ernie Johnson, Curtis Granderson, Jimmy Rollins and Pedro Martinez.  I have heard from all four of those men in baseball commentary situations and all four of them are insightful and entertaining.  Unless a situation develops where two or more of them develop a blood feud off camera, I would suspect that program will be worthwhile viewing.

Meanwhile, there are other reports about an extension/renewal of a TV contract that I am far less enthusiastic about.  Last week, reports surfaced that FOX Sports was about to sign Skip Bayless for a reported “small raise” over his current $6M per year salary.  Bayless teams with Shannon Sharpe on FS1 in a concocted debate show format called Undisputed.  The program name is ironic in the sense that Bayless and Sharpe never agree on anything including:

  1. The day of the week
  2. The compass point at which the sun sets – – and/or – –
  3. Who put the ram in the ram-a-lam-a-ding-dong.

This sarcasm is not directed at Skip Bayless individually or at Undisputed specifically; I do not like any of those faux debate program formats such as  Speak for Yourself (FS1), and First Take (ESPN).  It does not take me long to tire of listening to two people who cannot or will not agree with each other about anything.  If I found that sort of thing interesting, I would plop myself down in the gallery of the US Senate every day and listen to the august members of that organization speak past one another.

About 60 years ago, then FCC Commissioner, Newton Minnow told an audience of broadcast execs that television programming was a “vast wasteland”.  I shudder to think what he might say about sports programming on TV in 2020 were he still a sentient being exchanging oxygen in the biosphere…

Finally, Dr. Harry Edwards is a noted sociologist who has spent a long time as an observer and a critic of sports as they impact Black athletes’ lives.  Over the weekend, I ran across a Tweet from him related to the decision by the PAC-12 schools to reverse course and play football this Fall:

“For PAC12 programs to use ‘our student-athletes want to play’ as a PRINCIPAL reason for restarting football/fall sports programs while soft-peddling COVID risks to athletes, denying MONEY considerations significantly driving this decision is disingenuous , delusional,& dangerous.”

Preach on, brother…

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

 

 

Football Friday 9/25/20

We have rolled around to another Friday meaning it is time for another Football Friday.  To get things started, let me review last week’s Six-Pack – which was really only a Five-Pack.

  • College:  1-1-0
  • NFL:  2-1-0

That brings the season totals to:

  • College:  3-2-0
  • NFL:  5-1-0
  • Combined:  8-3-0

 

College Commentary:

 

The news of the day – – not all that unexpected – – is that the PAC-12 will emulate the Big-10 and reverse course to play football this Fall.  The season will be shortened to 7 games and all those games will be against PAC-12 opponents.  No fans will be in attendance for any games – – at lest for now – – and the conference will stage a conference championship game just in time for the CFP Selection Committee to consider a PAC-12 representative in that playoff structure.

The PAC-12 conference has 6 schools in Oregon and California where there have been severe limitations on gatherings of people as a response to community spreading of COVID-19.  Those restrictions have eliminated the possibility of football practice or football games but there appears to be an easing of those restrictions in sight allowing the PAC-12 to anticipate a football season.  Hopefully, that 2020 season can be seen through to a conclusion.

As I noted above the Big-10 is also returning to action on the football field.  There was, however,  a hiccough in the events surrounding the announcement of their reinstatement of a football season:

  • The day after the announcement of the return of Big-10 football, Wisconsin announced that 40 players on the football roster and the football staff had tested positive for COVID-19.

The Big-10 is not alone in this situation.  Notre Dame – –  playing an ACC football schedule this season – – had to cancel its game this week against Wake Forest because of a coronavirus outbreak.  The city of Boulder, CO has just issued new restrictions that apply to the University of Colorado campus there due to a rash of COVID-19 cases.  Even though the motivation behind the various conferences desire to return to football is crassly economic, you have to give the schools credit for trying to put together a patchwork of a season.  So, in the absence of disastrous consequences from a return to the field that could have been avoided by sticking to the original plan to sit out the 2020 season, let us not make perfection the enemy of progress.  The slogan for the 2020 college football season ought to be:

  • Something is better than nothing.

The SEC returns to the field this weekend playing a conference-only schedule.  LSU is the reigning national champion.  All it must do in order to repeat this year is to navigate a difficult schedule through the SEC West Division while digesting:

  • The loss of their Heisman-winning QB
  • The loss of their offensive coordinator
  • The loss of their defensive coordinator
  • The loss of a lot of talent now on display on Sunday afternoons.

It would appear that the SEC West will come down to LSU and Alabama while the SEC East will focus on Florida and Georgia.  The Georgia Bulldogs have an interesting QB situationo0n their hands.  The presumed starter for this year opted out due to COVID-19; the presumed backup QB has what the team described as a “knee issue” and that has demoted him on the depth chart.  So, the starting QB for a team with big ambitions this year is a redshirt freshman named D’Wan Mathis.

  • Welcome to the spotlight, son.  This is your chance to show everyone you are D’Wan.

There are a couple other SEC-focused items that will be interesting to watch as the season unfolds:

  1. The two teams in Mississippi have new coaches and both bring reputation with them.  Lane Kiffin takes over at Mississippi after a highly successful stint at Florida Atlantic and some other more “controversial” coaching stops along the way in his career.  Mike Leach brings his law degree and his fascination with pirates to Mississippi State along with a penchant for wide open passing offenses.  Both schools are in the SEC West.
  2. Arkansas in the SEC West and Vandy in the SEC East do not play each other.  Therefore, it is reasonable to keep an eye on both teams to see if they can win a game this year.  Arkansas is a 28-point underdog this week against Georgia and Vandy is a 30-point underdog this week against Texas A&M.

I know the season for many schools is only 2 weeks old but there are two teams that have made me take notice – – and not in a good way.  The first is Syracuse.  Two years ago, Syracuse averaged 40 points per game and close to 500 yards per game on offense.  The defense was marginal so the team was not any sort of national powerhouse, but they were interesting, and they were not a team you could count out easily.  So, what is the Syracuse status in 2020?

  • The team is 0-2 having lost to UNC and Pitt
  • In two games Syracuse has scored a total of 16 points – – giving up 52 points
  • In two games Syracuse has gained a total of 373 yards on offense.

The other team that has begun the season in a state of disarray is Middle Tennessee.  Consider:

  • The Blue Raiders lost to Army 42-0 then lost to Troy 47-13.  [Aside:  In a scheduling oddity, they will play Troy again on November 21st.]
  • The Blue Raiders have given up 290 yards rushing per game – – 5 yards per carry.
  • Meanwhile, the Blue Raiders’ offense has only averaged a total of 212.5 yards per game.

In case you are wondering, Syracuse and Middle Tennessee do not play each other this year…

The run defense for Middle Tennessee is awful but early season stats can be deceiving.  Two of the leading run defenses at this stage of the season belong to Texas (gave up only 1.3 yards per carry against UTEP) and to Texas Tech (gave up only 1.17 yards per carry to Houston Baptist).  Texas and Texas Tech meet this weekend and rush defense stats aside, I think the game will be a high scoring affair (see below).

Here are a few quick comments about game results from last weekend:

  • Oklahoma St beat Tulsa 17-7.  Another Big-12 team that aspires to “national stature” did its reputation no favors here.  It is not as bad as than other conference-mates losing to Sun Belt teams, but the game was closer than it should have been if OK St. deserved to be ranked as the #11 ranked team in the country.   Tulsa recorded 6 sacks in the game; let me go out on a limb here and suggest that there will not be 2 first round picks from the Tulsa defensive line taken early in the NFL Draft next spring.  The Cowboys’ defense played well; they held Tulsa to 7 points and 0-11 on third down conversions and 1-4 on fourth down tries.
  • Navy beat Tulane 27-24.  The story here is that Navy trailed at the half 24-0 and came back to win with a field goal in the final 5 seconds of the game.  Navy may have salvaged their season with that comeback.  In the first game of the season, Navy was blown away by BYU 55-3.  Navy is off this week and plays Air Force in Colorado Springs next week.
  • Pitt beat Syracuse 21-10.  Pitt was a 21.5-point favorite in the game; they would not have covered even if the defense had pitched a shutout.   Pitt won despite seven penalties, three missed field goals and two turnovers. Aside from a 69-yard touchdown pass, the Panthers defense allowed 102 yards on 55 snaps.
  • BC beat Duke 26-6.  The stats say the game should have been closer.  BC’s offense totaled 384 yards; Duke offense totaled  350 yards.  The big difference was turnovers.  Duke lost the ball 5 times in the game – – 3 fumbles and 2 INTs.
  • UCF beat Georgia Tech 49-21.  This result makes the Fla St. loss to Ga Tech in Week 1 look even worse.  UCF amassed 643 yards of offense and averaged 7.0 yards per play for the game.  Five turnovers by Ga Tech did not help its cause.
  • Clemson beat The Citadel  49-0:  Trevor Lawrence played the first quarter and one series in the second quarter; then he watched the rest of this game.  The score was 49-0 at the half and neither team scored after that.  The Clemson defense only allowed 140 yards total offense for the game.
  • Miami beat Louisville 47-34.  Both teams had exactly 483 yards total offense for the day.  Once again, turnovers were important; Louisville turned it over 3 times and Miami did not turn it over at all.  It was a sloppy game in the sense that there were 18 total penalties enforced.
  • UTEP beat Abilene Christian 17-13.  UTEP is now 2-1 for the season.  That is a milestone because the total number of games won by UTEP over the last 3 seasons has been 2 games.  Granted, the two wins this year have come at the expense of Division 1-AA schools and the loss was a blowout loss to Texas by 56 points, but nonetheless, there are 2 wins in the record books for the UTEP Miners.

 

College Games of Interest:

 

Florida St. at Miami – 11 (53):  There was a time when this game might de3termine the national champion for the year.  Not nearly so in recent years and surely not so this year.  Miami scored 47 points against Louisville last week; if they do that here, they will win in a walk.  Is the Louisville defense really that bad – – or is Miami really an offensive juggernaut?  Perhaps some answers here.  The Seminoles will be without head coach Mike Norvell who is in quarantine after texting positive for the coronavirus.

Georgia Tech – 7.5 at Syracuse (53.5):  The Syracuse offense has been AWOL so far this year (see above).  Georgia Tech has not been an offensive monster this year either.  I like this game to stay UNDER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Texas – 17 at Texas Tech (71):  As noted above, early season stats for rush defense may be misleading here; this game will have plenty of offense and plenty of scoring.  The Red Raiders gave up 500+ yards passing to Houston Baptist in their opening game and still won; Texas has a solid passing game with Sam Ehlinger at QB and I have to think that the Texas defense will be just a tad better than the Houston Baptist defense.

Iowa St. – 3 at TCU (44):  Iowa St. disappointed in its opener losing outright to La-Lafayette as an 11-point favorite.  TCU is a defensive team, so this does not look like a fortunate situation for the cyclones on the road.  This should be a low-scoring game and I like to take points in low-scoring games.  I’ll take TCU plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack.

K-State at Oklahoma – 28 (60):  K-State lost its opener to Arkansas State; Oklahoma is significantly better than Arkansas State.  The Sooners’ freshman QB, Spencer Rattler, has completed 82.4% of his passes so far this year.  This will be an organized ass-kicking.

Mississippi St at LSU – 17 (57):  The Mike Leach Air Raid Offense versus the reigning national champions with plenty of program losses to overcome.  Of course, this is a “Game of Interest”…

 

NFL Commentary:

 

Surely, you have read about the epidemic of injuries in NFL games last weekend; lots of top-shelf players got hurt last week and some folks have concluded that this injury breakout points to the need for Exhibition Games before the regular season.  I do not understand that reasoning on two levels:

  1. The injuries last week occurred on the field in a game.  How would playing “more games” translate to fewer injuries?
  2. If – I said IF – the argument is that Exhibition Games provide for more
    “football fitness”, how would those games benefit the top-shelf players who do not participate in them for more than a series or two?

Teams that harbor playoff hopes for 2020 and who started out 0-2 face a must-win game this week if they are to stay alive in a playoff chase.  Starting at 0-3 is a tough handicap to give the other teams in your conference/division.  I am looking at the Eagles, Texans and Vikings as teams that are 0-2 but thought they would be in the playoff picture for 2020.  On the other hand, teams like the Giants, Jets, Bengals and Lions who are also 0-2 should not have been thinking of themselves as “playoff teams” for this season.

Granted the season is young, but the NFC East is looking like the NFL Least.  The Eagles have looked clueless and they have had a lot of injuries; the Cowboys were dumb lucky to avoid an 0-2 start thanks to the Falcons’ propensity to lose big leads; the WTFs are a scrappy bunch of average talent players and the Giants scared no one even before Saquon Barkley went down for the season last week.

The Niners beat the Jets handily 31-13 despite the following injuries that made the Niners seem like the remnants of the Light Brigade after “the charge”.

  • Deebo Samuel, Richard Sherman, Dee Ford and George Kittle did not even suit up for the game
  • During the game, the Niners lost Raheem Mostert, Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas and Jimmy G suffered an ankle injury that had him sit out the second half.

The Jets are in trouble.  Even with the Niners using their JV for much of the game, the Jets’ defense gave up 359 yards to the Niners’ offense.  Both teams ran the ball 29 times.  The Niners gained 182 yards on those attempts; the Jets gained 104 yards on theirs.  Moreover, the game was not nearly as close as the score indicates; the Jets got a meaningless TD in the final 2 minutes of the game.

The Bucs beat the Panthers 31-17.  This game was not in doubt; the Bucs led 21-0 at the half.  The good news for Panthers is that they put up a fight in the second half.  The good news for the Bucs is that their offense looked much more polished than in Week 1.  The Bucs defense recorded 5 sacks in the game.  Panthers’ QB, Teddy Bridgewater threw 2 INTs and lost a fumble.

The Colts beat the Vikes 28-11.  The Vikes looked bad for the second week in a row.  The offense was simply a no-show; Kirk Cousins was scrambling for his life – – and he is not much of a scrambler.  He was sacked for a safety in the game and threw 3 INTs.  The Vikes total offense was 175 yards.  Meanwhile, the Colts – – without Marlon Mack out for the season with a leg injury – – ran the ball 40 times in the game and simply dominated the Vikes defense.    Vikes’ coach Mike Zimmer said after the game:

“Right now, we’re not very good at anything.”

  • Memo to Coach Zimmer:  While that is true, that is not something you want the GM and owner to be pondering.  Ka-beesh…?

The Titans beat the Jags 33-30.  Gardner Minshew threw for 339 yards and 3 TDs in the game keeping it in doubt until the final whistle.  The problem for Jags was that Ryan Tannehill threw 4 TDs in the game and Stephen Gostkowski redeemed himself from his Week 1 disastrous performance with 2 long field goals here including a 49-yard game winner with a minute to play.

The Bills beat the Dolphins 31-28.  Josh Allen threw for 400 yards here and Stefon Diggs caught 8 passes for 155 yards and a TD.  Miami put on its own offensive show with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing for 328 yards and WR. Mike Gesicki catching 8 passes for 130 yards and a TD.  In 2 games, Josh Allen has  729 passing yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions while completing more than 70% of his throws.  Impressive …

The Bears beat the Giants 17-13.  This game was about as exciting as the score would indicate.  These were not great defensive efforts on display; these were marginal offensive efforts.  I said last week that this was the Dog-Breath Game of the Week and it lived down to that label.

The Rams beat the Eagles 37-13.  The Eagles looked bad for the second week in a row; their defense had no answers here.  The Rams ran for 191 yards and amassed a total of 449 yards on offense. Rams forced three turnovers in the game including two more INTs by Carson Wentz.

The Cowboys beat the Falcons 40-39 with a comeback that seemed to come from a Hollywood screenplay.  The Falcons’ defense is certified now as ranking somewhere between non-existent and pathetic.  The Falcons led 20-0 in first half and 29-10 at the half.  This is not as bad as losing the Super Bowl after leading 28-3 – – but its close.  Special teams did not help either allowing Cowboys to recover an onside kick that allowed the defense to lose the game at the very end.  The Falcons’ defense has given up 953 yards in 2 games along with 78 points.  If that is not bad enough for you, consider this:

  • The Falcons are the first team in NFL history to score 39 points, commit zero turnovers, and lose the game.
  • Before last Sunday, teams with those stats were 440-0.

The Packers beat the Lions 42-21.  The Lions scored 14 points early and had a double-digit lead – – again – – and came from ahead to lose the game – – again.  At one point the Packers had scored 31 unanswered points.  Ouch!  I read somewhere that Lions have now had a double-digit lead in 4 straight games and lost them all.  That too has ever happened before in the history of the NFL…

The Steelers beat the Broncos 26-21.  The Steelers dominated early but the Broncos kept coming back for more even with Jeff Driskel subbing for Drew Lock who was injured in the first quarter.  The Steelers’ defense was dominant here with 7 sacks and 2 turnovers.

The Ravens beat the Texans 33-16.  The Ravens just ran the ball down the Texans’ throats all day long gaining 230 yards on the ground.

The Chiefs beat the Chargers 23-20 in OT.  It took a fourth quarter comeback for the Chiefs to send this to OT even though Chargers had to go with rookie QB Justin Herbert after Tyrod Taylor’s warm-up injury.    Herbert threw for 311 yards, threw a TD pass and ran for a TD.  That is not a bad debut performance even in a losing effort.

The Cards beat the WTFs 30-15.  This game was not as close as it looks.  The WTFs scored 2 TDS – – missed PATs both times – – late in the game when the Cards were just waiting for the clock to run down.  Kyler Murray had 352 yards from scrimmage and accounted for 3 TDs.

The Seahawks beat the Pats 35-30.  This was certainly an exciting game to watch; both teams played well; both teams are very good.  Russell Wilson threw about 5 absolutely perfect passes hitting the receiver in stride when the receiver was closely covered.   Wilson now has thrown 9 touchdowns and only 11 incomplete passes for the opening two games of the season.  Yowza!

The Raiders beat the Saints 34-24 opening their new home field on a positive note.  Derek Carr and Darren Waller dominated the game; Waller caught 12 passes for 116 yards and a TD.  Not having Michael Thomas, who was sidelined with an injury, obviously affected the Saints’ offense; nonetheless, the Raiders were clearly the better team that night.  Louis Riddick pointed out that Malcom Jenkins was not having his best game; that was an understatement; Jenkins was victimized more than a few times on pass plays and run plays.  The Raiders had the ball for 36:18 in the game.

 

NFL Games:

 

As was the case last week, there has been a lot of line movement this week.  Maybe that is due to the rash of injuries last week; maybe the books have not figured out the public’s sentiments about various teams yet.  I will not try to delve into the mind-reading world and attempt to explain these movements; I will simply note them here. 

Las Vegas at New England – 5.5 (47.5):  This spread opened at 3.5 points and has climbed slowly to this level over the week; one sportsbook has the game at 6 points this morning. The Raiders have looked good to start the 2020 season, but this is a “body clock” game on the east coast starting at 1:00 PM and the Raiders played last on Monday night giving them a short week.  This game was under consideration as the Game of the Week.

Rams at Buffalo – 2.5 (47):  Here is another “body clock game” and a second road game in a row for the Rams.  Both teams are 2-0 and both have looked good doing it.  I like this game to stay UNDER 47 points; put it in the Six-Pack.

Houston at Pittsburgh – 4 (45):  This is a must-win game for the Texans; they have lost to the Chiefs and the Ravens in the first two games and now face a defense that is as good if not better than either of the previous foes.  I do not trust the Steelers’ offense much, but that defense is legit!

SF – 3.5 at Giants (41.5):  The spread for this game opened at 6.6 points and dropped quickly to this level.  Both teams have serious injury issues, but I like the Niners’ ability to deal with injuries on their roster better than the Giants’ ability.  Here is yet another “body clock game” but still I like the Niners to win and cover here; put it in the Six-Pack.

Tennessee – 3 at Minnesota (50):  The Total Line opened at 45.5 points and the spread opened at 1 point.  The Vikes’ defense needs to find ways to get off the field.  In two games this season, the total time of possession for the Vikes is only 40 minutes; no wonder they are 0-2.  Meanwhile, the Titans are 2-0 but have not looked like world-beaters in either victory.

Washington at Cleveland – 7 (45):  The spread here opened the week at 4 points, and it has been climbing all week.  One sportsbook has it at 8 points this morning. The Browns can run the ball; the WTFs have a good young defensive line.  Therein lies the outcome of this game.

Cincy at Philly – 4.5 (47.5):  This game got serious consideration as the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  Both teams are winless and neither has looked more than marginally competent in their two losses.

Chicago at Atlanta – 3 (47):  This is my Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  Here we have an offense guided by Mitchell Trubisky playing head-to-head with a Falcons’ defense that invents new ways to lose games.

Jets at Indy – 11.5 (44):  The spread here opened the week at 6.5 points and has been climbing steadily all week; you can even find it as high as 12.5 points at one Internet sportsbook this morning.  The Jets are awful, but I do not think the Colts are a value as a double-digit favorite.

Carolina at Chargers – 6 (43.5):  The Panthers have lost twice and played hard in both games; but this is a long trip for them, and Christian McCaffrey will not play.  I think the Chargers defense will stop the Panthers.  I like the Chargers to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.

Detroit at Arizona – 5.5 (55.5):  The Total Line opened here at 51.5 points and jumped to near this level very quickly.  I cannot see the Lions getting another double-digit lead to squander here nor can I see them winning this game.

Tampa Bay – 5.5 at Denver (42):  Tom Brady never plays well in Denver.  So what?  I simply do not believe that he is allergic to the latitude, longitude and/or elevation of Denver, CO.  The QB matchup here is Tom Brady versus Jeff Driskel – – with Blake Bortles as the backup.  Yes, the Broncos signed Bortles this week.  Sigh…

Dallas at Seattle – 5 (57):  Both teams have seriously good offenses; both teams are still working on developing a good defense.  This will be an exciting game to watch; there should be points aplenty.

(Sun Nite) Green Bay at New Orleans – 3 (53):  The Saints’ home field advantage is seriously diminished with the absence of the fans and the noise.  The Saints did not play well last week against the Raiders and have a short week of preparation here.  I think the wrong team is favored here.  I like the Packers to win outright so I’ll take them plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack.

(Mon Nite) KC at Baltimore – 3.5 (54):  The Game of the Week is on MNF.  There will be two excellent QBs on display here; neither defense will have the luxury of “taking a play off”.  Speaking of defenses, I like the Ravens’ defense a little better than the Chiefs’ defense.  Just sit back and enjoy this game; I think the Ravens will win and I think we could well see a rematch in the AFC Championship Game in January.

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

  • Georgia Tech/Syracuse UNDER 53.5
  • TCU +3 versus Iowa State
  • Rams/Buffalo UNDER 47
  • Niners – 3.5 over Giants
  • Chargers – 6 over Panthers
  • Packers +3 versus Saints

Finally, Dan Daly offered this observation in a Tweet a couple of weeks ago regarding the ownership situation in Washington:

“Snyder bought Saks Fifth Avenue and in 20 years turned it into the Dollar Store.”

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

 

 

Rest In Peace Gayle Sayers…

News came yesterday that Gayle Sayers had died.  Lots of people know of Gayle Sayers because of the made-for-TV movie, Brian’s Song; as a football player, there is a lot more to know about Gayle Sayers.  He is of course in the Hall of Fame; for those who are too  young to have seen him play, it is a shame.  His career was a short one because knee surgery in the 1960s is not what it is today.  Nevertheless, on December 12, 1965 the Chicago Bears beat the San Francisco 49ers 61-20 and Gayle Sayers had a game for the ages:

  1. He caught an 80-yard TD pass.
  2. He ran for 4 TDs ranging from a 1-yard run to a 50-yard run.
  3. He returned a punt 85-yards for a TD.
  4. His stat line for the day was 9 rushes for 113 yards and 4 TDs plus 2 pass receptions for 89 yards and 1 TD plus 5 punt returns for 134 yards and 1 TD.
  5. He totaled 336 “all-purpose yards” and 6 TDs for the day.  [Aside:  They had not invented the category of “all-purpose yards” back then.]

Gayle Sayers was Barry Sanders before Barry Sanders was born – – only he was bigger than Barry Sanders.  He was that exciting to watch…

Rest in peace, Gayle Sayers.

The truncated MLB regular season is coming to an end this weekend.  Given the expanded MLB playoffs this year and the desire to have the World Series end by Halloween, there will be no tie-breaker games played this year.  MLB has announced the tie-breaking rules for this year and if two teams are tied for a playoff slot – or seeding with the playoffs – here are the tiebreakers:

  • Head-to-head record – – only applicable to two teams in the same division since there has been no inter-divisional play this year among the “hybrid MLB divisions”.
  • Higher winning percentage against teams in their traditional divisions.  If there is still a tie, then the team with the higher winning percentage in its last 20 games gets the nod; if that is a tie, then go to the last 21 games and so on…

If more than two teams tie for a playoff slot or seeding within the playoff structure, here are the tiebreakers:

  • Combined head-to-hear record among the tied teams – – only applicable to multiple teams in the same hybrid division for 2020.
  • Higher winning percentage against teams in their traditional divisions.  If there is still a tie, the same procedure as above will apply starting with winning percentage over the final 20 games of the regular season.

In the AL, 6 of the 8 playoff teams have been decided already; their seeding in the playoff structure is not cast in stone yet, but we know that the A’s, Indians, Rays, Twins, White Sox and Yankees will be in the playoffs.

The NL is quite different.  As of this morning, we know that Braves, Cubs Dodgers and Padres will participate in the playoffs.  The other 4 playoff slots are mathematically up in the air because only two NL teams have been eliminated.

The St. Louis Cardinals will be a controversial playoff team should they get in.  They will have played only 57 games while other teams will have played 60 games.  This is due to the extensive coronavirus postponements involving the Cardinals early in the season, but with all the teams so closely bunched in the NL, the absence of those 3 games will likely cause consternation in the fanbase of teams that lost out to the Cardinals in the tie-breaking system.  Whatever.  This has been a goofy sports year since mid-March; just add that to the 2020 “goofy list”.

According to a report in the NY Post, MLB has also decreed that there will be no alcohol allowed in clubhouses as part of any post-season or playoff celebrations.  MLB wants players to celebrate on the field (outdoors) and to put on masks as soon as they enter the clubhouse.  The idea is to maintain COVID-19 protocols and attempt to avoid community spreading of the virus within any of the teams.

Since most of today has been about MLB, let me take the rest of the space here to list a couple of things that surprised me regarding the truncated regular season that will end this weekend:

  1. The performances exhibited by the Astros and the Nationals have been a huge negative surprise.  The Astros have played .500 baseball for 2020 and I thought they were a lot better than that.  Meanwhile the Nationals – the defending World Series champions – have posted a record of 23-33 as of this morning.
  2. The performances exhibited by the Padres and the White Sox have been a huge positive surprise.  Only the Braves and Dodgers in the NL have scored more runs than the Padres this year.  The White Sox would project to a normal season record of 98-64; the last time the White Sox won 90 games in a season – let alone 98 – was in 2005 – the year they won the World Series.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times recently:

“Mike Trout, with his 300th round-tripper, just passed Tim Salmon as the Angels’ all-time home-run leader.

“So how’d this team ever miss out on drafting Mike Carp and Kevin Bass?”

[Aside:  The Angels also missed out on drafting Neal Finn because he was dead by the time the Angels came into existence as a franchise.]

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