A Tale Of Three Football Coaches

With apologies to Charles Dickens, the topic today seemingly represents only the worst of times. Today, I want to talk about 3 football coaches who find themselves in a less-than-happy place.

A week ago, the Miami Dolphins fired Joe Philbin as the head coach and named Dan Campbell as the interim coach there. Only 6 months ago, Philbin got a contract extension from Dolphins’ owner Steven Ross which means that his termination has a bit of a soft landing; nonetheless, he is no longer a member of the rather exclusive fraternity of “NFL Head Coaches”.

Dan Campbell said that the Dolphins’ team needs to be challenged more. OK, he is there with the team and I am not – but at his first practice he got the players to do the old Oklahoma drill. [Google is your friend…] The best players on that team are making millions of dollars and their continued ability to pull down that sort of coin is dependent on them having healthy muscles and joints with which to carry out their athletic instincts and capability. Question for Interim Coach Dan Campbell:

    How often do you think you can pull off practices like that before your “best players” make sure you do not become the permanent coach?

Dolphins’ owner, Steven Ross is very much into the publicity splash associated with things he does. He sells off small ownership pieces to celebrities to get his name in the papers and to get celebs identified with the team. Many folks think he will try to make a splashy hire here and will forego the chance to put in a call to fellow-owner, Danny Boy Snyder to find out just how well that works out. Don Shula is not coming out of retirement; neither is Bill Parcells; they would be “splashy hires” but that is not happening. Ergo:

    How long until the rumor has it that Nick Saban will be returning to Miami to tend to “unfinished business” there?

Philbin was fired after Game 4 this season when the Jets dominated the Dolphins in a London Game. That makes two years in a row when the first London Game did not work out very well for an NFL coach. Last year, the Raiders fired Dennis Allen after the Raiders were blown out in the London Game. Ironically, the team administering that blow-out was the Dolphins coached by … Joe Philbin. If that is the start of a trend, Todd Bowles had best hope that he does not have to play in London in Week 4 next year.

So, are there any other NFL head coaches who might not be around to see the end of this season with their current teams? The answer is probably not – but if pressed I would offer these two up for consideration:

    Jim Caldwell: The Lions are 0-5 and their Bye Week comes in Week 9. This is a franchise that knows all too well about the horrors of 0-16. Between now and the Bye Week, here is the Lions schedule:

      Vs. Bears – Lions are a 3-point favorite at the moment
      Vs. Vikes – Lions likely to be underdogs here
      At Chiefs – without Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs are eminently beatable

    Jim Tomsula: The Niners are 1-4 and their Bye Week comes in Week 10. He was dealt an impossible hand but there is no way that the GM and the Team President who is the son of the team owner will take the fall here…

At the collegiate level, Maryland fired Randy Edsall over the weekend. Make no mistake; he was not highly successful at Maryland and he was not always the most sociable fellow in the room. Please do not interpret even a syllable of what follows as any kind of argument that Maryland should have kept him on. The geniuses in charge of athletics and administration in College Park, MD put assistant coach Mike Locksley into the interim coach position. At his introductory press conference, Locksley said directly that there were a few things that were going to be done differently around there.

That is as it should be; when a new guy takes over – and in the deep recesses of his gut hopes that maybe this could turn into a permanent gig – he needs to do things differently and put his stamp on the program lest the changes turn out to be positive and he seemingly has nothing to do with those changes. So, let us take a cursory look at Mike Locksley’s history in football coaching:

    He has been an assistant coach/offensive coordinator at 7 schools since 1992.

    Starting in 2009 and lasting until the 4th game of the 2011 season, he was the head coach at New Mexico where he compiled a record of … wait for it … 2-26.

    One of those 26 losses was in a game against Sam Houston State. That was the loss that cost him his job there.

    One of his assistant coaches at New Mexico alleged that Locksley jumped on him and attacked him at a “contentious staff meeting”. That allegedly happened early in Locksley’s tenure there. The school suspended Locksley for 10 days without pay for that incident.

    An admin assistant at New Mexico filed an EEO discrimination complaint against Locksley asserting age and sex discrimination. The complaint was eventually withdrawn.

The geniuses who run things at Maryland had best hope that whatever things need to be done differently in the football program there involve strategic decisions on the sidelines and not fisticuffs among the coaching staff…

Yesterday, USC fired head coach Steve Sarkisian. Recall before the season began, Sarkisian had an embarrassing situation in front of USC fans/boosters where he appeared to be drunk. His explanation was that it was all caused by a mixture of prescription meds and an adult beverage at the event and he said he was going to be evaluated to take care of any problems he might have. Then the season began…

According to reports, Sarkisian – in the midst of divorce proceedings – had to attend to “family matters” last Saturday evening and all did not go well. There was a practice scheduled for Sunday but Sarkisian was not there; according to a report, a player told ESPN’s Shelley Smith that Sarkisian “showed up lit” for team meetings on Sunday afternoon.

The first announcement from USC was that Sarkisian would be on an indefinite leave of absence; that happened on Sunday evening. Yesterday afternoon, the announcement came that USC had fired Steve Sarkisian.

USC is not doing well on the field this year as measured by USC standards but this termination really does not reflect a “coaching problem”; Steve Sarkisian clearly has things going on in his life that have nothing to do with football that he needs to resolve. It would seem to me that separating himself from the pressures and demands of being the head football coach at USC would have to give him a better chance to take the time to deal with those things in his life and to make them better.

    Godspeed, Steve Sarkisian…

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Ex-football coach Lou Holtz, to the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call, on the state of his golf game: ‘While a lot of people want to shoot their age, I’m trying to shoot my weight. If I gain 5 pounds, I think I can do that.’”

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

Chase Utley/Reuben Tejada

With regard to Chase Utley’s “illegal slide” which happened also to break the leg of Mets’ shortstop Reuben Tejada, I have seen hundreds of slides that were way off second base where the runner could not have touched the bag if he still had a bat in his hand – – and there has been no ruling of an “illegal slide”. Utley’s slide was “violent” in the sense that he intended to make significant contact with Tejada prior to a throw to first base – and indeed he made that contact. However, from every angle of replay that I have seen, it appears to me that Utley can easily touch second base with his left hand as he slides through the play.

Suspending Utley for two games in NY might be a good idea simply from the perspective of maintaining order at those games but I am not so sure it is a good idea from the perspective of baseball history and the baseball rules. As I understand the rule here, an important aspect of the “illegality” is contained in the phrase “away from the base”. I cannot see where Utley was “away from the base” and a suspension here sets a precedent that I doubt baseball wants to set i.e. the violence of a collision or the outcome of a collision has an effect on the determination of “guilt” in the matter.

Utley will appeal the suspension and MLB will make its determination “posthaste”. That by itself is a departure from the normal for MLB which usually would take 8 days to determine if it was raining outside…

Whilst on the subject of baseball, consider the career stats of these two players:

    Player A: Played 17 years; BA .273; OPS .891; 5 All-Star Games; Career WAR 2.51

    Player B: Played 21 years; BA .297; OPS .937; 14 All-Star Games; Career WAR

“Player A” is Jorge Posada and he has a plaque in centerfield in Yankee Stadium as of this year. “Player B” is Alex Rodriguez. Just saying…

Looking at the final MLB standings for the 2015 season, several things stand out to me:

    1. The Phillies had a negative run differential of 155 around the time of the All-Star break and no one else was nearly that bad. However, the Phillies did NOT wind up with the worst run differential for MLB this year. The Braves cratered in the second half of the season to finish at minus-187 while the Phillies staggered home at minus-183. By the way, the next worst to those two were the Tigers and the Reds both at minus-114.

    2. The Rangers won their division despite having a run differential of only +18. Compare that with the division winning Blue Jays who had a run differential of +221.

    3. The Dodgers and the Giants had identical road records (37-44). The Dodgers run differential was +72 and the Giants run differential was +68. Nevertheless, the Dodgers finished 8 full game ahead of the Giants in the standings.

Here is a stat I ran across somewhere but did not record where I saw it. My guess is that I saw it in a magazine at my doctor’s office because it was hand-written on a piece of paper from a note pad with the logo of a drug company on it.

    David Ortiz is one of only 4 players in baseball history to have 3 World Series championships and 500 home runs. The other 3 players are Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth.

Moving right along, you have probably read reports about a confrontation between Matt Barnes and Derek Fisher. Here is how Scott Ostler summed it up in the SF Chronicle last weekend:

“Matt Barnes beats up Derek Fisher because Fisher is dating Barnes’ estranged wife, Gloria Govan. Can’t blame Fisher. Since Barnes is dating other women, Fisher assumed Govan had cleared waivers.”

I think there is another angle at work here:

    Phil Jackson hired Derek Fisher to coach the Knicks specifically because Fisher was steeped in the triangle offense and could teach the triangle offense to the Knicks.

    Perhaps – I said PERHAPS – Fisher was merely finding out how things work in a different sort of “triangle”.

In the past, I have summarized here the futility of the national soccer team of San Marino which always enters the qualifying rounds for the European Cup and, more often than not, exits the qualifying rounds having been demolished by other sides. In this year’s qualifying rounds, the Sammarinese side managed to score a goal in an away game against Lithuania. San Marino did not win the game but this was their first goal in an away game since scoring one against Latvia in 2001. By the way, San Marino did not win that game against Latvia 14 years ago either.

In any event, the “away goal” was such an anomaly that the entire bench for San Marino emptied and ran onto the pitch to join Matteo Vitaioli in his celebration of this rare event. Such a team display on the pitch and away from the team area on the sidelines is not acceptable in soccer but according to reports, the referee did not issue warning cards to any of the celebrants from the sidelines. He probably recognized the rarity of what he had just witnessed and wanted to take in the moment for himself…

Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald about the last crop of folks inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame:

“Eleven new members were inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame: Dikembe Mutombo, John Calipari and nine people I care about even less.”

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

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend Of 10/10/15

Last week was another middling week of Mythical Picks; the record was 10-9-0 bringing the season total to 37-36-3. The “Best Pick of the week was taking Iowa +7 points and seeing Iowa win the game straight up. The “Worst Pick” from last week was taking Minnesota +4 points and watching them get shut out by Northwestern to lose by a meager 27 points.

Undaunted, I shall soldier on… Nonetheless, no one should read these words of deathless prose and think even for a moment of using the content here as the basis for making a real wager on a real college football game involving real money this weekend. Here is how dumb you would have to be to do that:

    You would be dumb enough to try to kill a fish by drowning it.

General Comments:

The Linfield College Wildcats extended their record to 3-0 last week by crushing Lewis and Clark College by a score of 73-0. This week, Linfield hosts the Pacific University (Oregon) Boxers in a Northwest Conference game. Pacific brings a record of 3-1 to this game. Go Wildcats!

My rapid search for a miserable D-III team to follow in juxtaposition with Linfield appears to have been too hasty. My “discovery”, the Finlandia Lions, had been steamrollered and left for dead in their first three games but rallied last week to defeat Maranatha Bible College by a score of 30-14. Finlandia won a game – – but they left behind a winless Maranatha squad that lost to a team previously outscored 272-9. Therefore, I shall track the fortunes – or misfortunes – of Maranatha Bible College at least until Halloween. You may recall from last week that in an unusual twist of scheduling Finlandia and Maranatha will meet again on Halloween.

The Maranatha Sabrecats’ record now stands at 0-5; they have been outscored for the season 223 – 41. The team has this week off to prepare for their next game which will be on the road in Ellendale, ND a week from Saturday.

Last week, Ohio State rallied to beat Indiana by a slim 7-point margin. Other than Ezekiel Elliot who ran for 275 yards, the team just seemed to be going through the motions. Cardale Jones never seemed to get into anything resembling a comfortable zone in the game. At the end, it was the Ohio State defense that stopped Indiana and preserved the win. Ohio State did not look like the best team in the country last week.

Two weeks ago, Alabama lost to Ole Miss and many pundits/analysts left them dead and buried. Last week, they went to Georgia to take on a team that looked like the favorite to win the SEC East; Georgia was favored in the game. Alabama manhandled Georgia 38-10. There is no really polite way to put it; this was an organized ass-kicking. The fact that Georgia can still win the SEC East means that they should be motivated to play hard in the rest of their games, but this game was so lopsided that people who vote in polls will need to remember it in the coming weeks. People had been saying that Alabama’s offense was not what it was supposed to be due to a weakness at QB. Well, folks, Georgia has some QB issues of its own:

    Starter Greyson Lambert played the first half. He was 10-24 for 86 yards. Late in the second quarter he went to the bench, took off his helmet and looked like a lost puppy.

    Reliever Brice Ramsey took over in the second half. He introduced himself to the contest by throwing a Pick Six.

Meanwhile in other SEC action, Florida beat Ole Miss by the same 38-10 score that Alabama dropped on Georgia. At kickoff time, Ole Miss was ranked #3 in the country; they sure did not play that way last week. The Florida defense looked very fast and very strong; Gator’s QB, Will Grier, had a “decent day”.

    He was 24-29 for 271 yards and 4 TDs. That will do…

Speaking of teams that have had “up days” and “down days” this season, consider Oklahoma. Earlier this year, the Sooners gave up 600 yards to Tulsa. Last week, they held West Virginia to 24 points and recorded 7 sacks.

Meanwhile, Va Tech lost at home to Pitt by a score of 17-13. In the game, Tech managed to accumulate the grand total of 101 yards on offense. The Hokies record is now 2-3 and things are not looking good at all in Blacksburg…

In Big 10 play, Michigan recorded its second consecutive shutout beating Maryland 28-0. Since losing its opening game to Utah, Michigan has allowed the next 4 opponents a total of 14 points. It is a well-established fact that if a team shuts out the opponent, the team will not lose the game. Last week’s win was indeed a dominant defensive performance:

    Total Maryland offense was 105 yards.

    Maryland rushing stats were 26 carries for 29 yards.

    Maryland had 15 possessions; on 10 of them they went 3-and-out.

Maryland’s record is deceiving at 2-3. The wins have come over Division 1-AA Richmond and a bad USF team that has not beaten a Division 1-A team yet this year. Meanwhile, the 3 losses on the record have been embarrassing:

    Lost to Bowling Green 48-27
    Lost to West Virginia 45-6
    Lost to Michigan 28-0.

Bowling Green and West Virginia sped up the game and Maryland could not keep up. Michigan did not play frenetic football; they just overpowered Maryland which raises the question:

    If they cannot keep up with the “speed teams” and they cannot stand up to a “power team”, just what kind of team are they built to beat?

Rumors are circulating that Coach Randy Edsall is going to be fired early next week after a game against Ohio State in Columbus where Ohio State is a 33-point favorite because the Terps have next week off. If those rumors turn out to be correct – and I have exactly no inside info to add to the mix here – here are my reactions:

    Changing the coach will not cure the talent deficiency on the field. The new coach will have to be a miracle worker to get the Terps to bowl-eligibility this year.

    A firing in mid-season will make the suits in the institution in College Park feel as if they are powerful and that they have done something to “address the situation”. In reality, the team will continue to flounder.

    If they do fire Edsall, someone ought to remind those folks in the administration that it was they who gave randy Edsall a 3-year contract extension – wait for it – in June 2015. How smart where they then if they have to fire him now and pay him for three years not to darken their doorsteps?

I am not in favor of rumor-mongering and find mid-season removals for coaches feckless. Nonetheless, I wonder if the folks in Tennessee have begun to take a look at Butch Jones’ accomplishments there. Tennessee beats teams that tend to reside under the left side of the bell curve and does not beat teams that are generally good ones. Consider the Vols performance under Jones:

    Overall record is 14-16 which is neither horrible nor really good.

    Only 5 of the 14 wins have been against SEC teams. That is not good.

    Of the 5 SEC wins, the opponents were Kentucky (twice), South Carolina (twice) and Vandy. That is not the crème de la crème of the SEC…

Tennessee is 2-3 this year; the wins came over Bowling Green and W. Carolina; 2 of the 3 losses are to SEC opponents with Georgia and Alabama up as the next two events on the schedule. It would not be shocking to see Tennessee lose 6 SEC games this year.

In a Big 10 conference game, the nominal #2 team in the country, Michigan State, edged out a pretty mediocre Purdue team by a field goal. For the record, Michigan State is 5-0 straight up this year and 0-5 against the spread this year. For some Michigan State alums, that is not satisfactory…

Northwestern continued its undefeated season shutting out Minnesota 27-0 last week. Minnesota is not an offensive juggernaut, so one could downplay this accomplishment but you need to look at Northwestern’s “body of work” this year. The Northwestern defense is really good.

    In 5 games, Northwestern has not given up 20 points in any game.

    In 5 games, Northwestern has given up a total of 35 points.

    Stanford and Duke were two of Northwestern’s opponents in those games.

Last week, Illinois beat Nebraska 14-13. That is not a misprint; it actually happened. The last time that happened was in 1924 and Calvin Coolidge was the President. When Nebraska fired Bo Pellini at the end of last year, the nominal reason was that Nebraska was tired of only winning 9 games in a season; they wanted a “return to glory”. So, how’s that working out in Lincoln? Well the Cornhuskers have wins over South Alabama and Southern Mississippi; they have lost their other 3 games; they will need to “win out” to get to 9 wins this year. That is not happening…

By the way, the winning TD for Illinois was caught by WR, Geronimo Allison; for the record, Geronimo was an Apache and not an Illini. There are several other interesting player names on the Illinois roster:

    Chunky Clements is a defensive lineman
    Jihad Ward is a defensive lineman
    Man Berg is a wide receiver – – and the most interesting name – –
    Jeff George, Jr. is a freshman quarterback

Clemson beat Notre Dame 24-22 in an absolute deluge. The Notre Dame receivers had a particularly tough time catching the football; I counted 4 passes that hit receivers squarely in the hands that were dropped. Nonetheless, it was an exciting game to watch…

In Big 12 action, TCU pounded the bejeepers out of Texas winning by 6 TDs. After two straight weeks of special teams’ screw-ups, you would think that the Texas special teams units would have been drilled to do what they need to do. And if you thought that, you would have been very wrong. Not that it would have changed the outcome of this rout, but here is what the Texas special teams “accomplished” last week:

    Missed two field goals
    High snap from center resulted in a safety for TCU

Moreover, here is a tidbit from last week’s game that ought to make the Texas fans a bit upset. TCU scheduled Homecoming for the Texas game; schools often schedule homecoming around a football game they expect to win so that the alums who show up can go home feeling good and proud and – hopefully – generous with regard to the university. Texas has been a national champion and a contender for the national championship many times and now they are considered a potential Homecoming opponent. Sic transit gloria mundi…

Baylor and Texas Tech demonstrated that it is possible to play 60 minutes of football without playing defense. The final score was 63-35. You may recall that the Total Line for that game was 88 points (and 88.5 at one Internet sportsbook) when I did last week’s Mythical Picks. I do not recall ever seeing a Total Line that high – and these guys went over that number by 2 scores. Baylor QB, Seth Russell accounted for 6 TDs by himself – running for 2 and throwing 4 TD passes. At halftime, the score was 49-21. At that point, the teams were on pace to score 140 points in the game. They must have gotten exhausted in the second half.

The PAC-12 is inscrutable this year. Arizona St. had lost badly to Texas A&M and then lost to USC; a win for the Sun Devils over Cal-Poly was nothing to write home about. UCLA had been beating up everyone and so, naturally, Arizona St. went to UCLA and beat UCLA. Makes sense, right? Then, last night USC lost a second game to Washington. That sets up a big game this weekend (see below).

UCF lost by 14 points to Tulane last week dropping their record to 0-5. Looking at their schedule, there are not a lot of teams down the line that are significantly weaker than Tulane. They get UConn this week and USF much later this year. Other than that… It is going to be a long year for college football in the Orlando area…

Auburn has tossed D’haquille Williams – a really good WR – off the team. This is not a suspension; he is gone. Auburn has had more than a few problems with its passing offense this year so ditching a talented WR is not something you would expect them to do. Of course the explanation for this move was “violation of team rules”; my suspicion is that it was either a monstrous violation or the accumulation of a load of other violations that got them to this point.

Speaking of suspensions, Missouri QB, Maty Mauk remains suspended for this weekend’s game against Florida. Freshman Drew Lock who started against S. Carolina last week will be under center again this week. Mauk’s suspension is “indefinite”…

I mentioned Tennessee and their problems winning SEC games above. Last week, the program was in the news for a player suspension situation; WR, Pig Howard, was suspended for “violation of team rules”. Not to worry, the Tennessee roster is not devoid of great names even if Pig Howard is not dressed for the game:

    Shy Tuttle is a defensive lineman; he need not be shy about getting to the opposing QB.

    Joe Young is a running back; if he runs over a defender, I would give him the nickname “Mighty Joe Young”.

    Colton Jumper (linebacker) and Will Jumper (TE) are from the same high school so I assume they are related. But shouldn’t they be on the basketball team?

The Ponderosa Games:

Last week, we had 4 Ponderosa Games and the favorite covered in only 1 of them. That brings the season record for favorites covering to 20-23-0.

Boise St. covered.

Appalachian St,. LSU, and Penn State did not cover.

This week, we again have 4 Ponderosa Games:

Maryland at Ohio St. – 33 (54): Maryland is currently +7000 on the money line. That money line is much lower than I would have expected it to be.

Troy at Mississippi St. – 30.5 (56): Troy is +5500 on the money line. That too is surprisingly low… Mississippi St. has not run the ball well this year; if they cannot run the ball in this game they are probably in deep yogurt against the SEC teams remaining on their schedule.

New Mexico St. at Ole Miss – 45 (66): There have been two very large line moves for this game. The spread opened at 40.5 and has been expanding all week; it could be higher by game time. Meanwhile, the Total Line opened at 71.5 and dropped very quickly to 67 and then has inched down to this level. I mention this only because I cannot imagine there is enough interest in this potential blowout to bring in enough money to move either line that much – let alone both of them. By halftime, I suspect many of the Ole Miss alums will have repaired to their vehicles in the tailgate area to down a cocktail or three.

Baylor – 45 at Kansas (79): The spread opened at 38 and has expanded all week by a full TD. More interesting than the outcome of this game will be to watch how close Baylor comes to taking the game OVER all by themselves.

Games of Interest:

(Fri Nite) NC State at Va Tech – 3 (45.5): Neither team is very good but I just have a sense that the wheels are falling off the wagon at Va Tech to a greater extent than they are at NC State. Tech has 2 wins this year over Furman and Purdue – unimpressive. State has wins over Troy, E. Kentucky, Old Dominion and South Alabama – equally unimpressive. Purely a hunch here; I’ll take NC State plus the points.

Oklahoma – 16.5 vs. Texas (59): [Game is in Dallas] I said above that Oklahoma is as unpredictable as any team this year from week to week but we seem to be able to count on Texas to find ways to embarrass themselves week after week after… That is a lot of points but I think Oklahoma is a lot better than Texas. I’ll take Oklahoma to win and cover.

Indiana at Penn State – 7 (55): Indiana only lost to Ohio St. by 7 last week and Penn State struggled against Army despite being a 25-point favorite. This line looks like a set-up to me. However, I suspect this will be a defensive game; so just for fun, I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Duke – 12 at Army (47): Sometimes teams take time to adjust to Army’s options run offense because defenses see it so rarely. However, Duke already saw it against Georgia Tech so they should be prepared for it from the start. Here is a trend stat for those of you who like such things:

    Duke is 8-2-1 against the spread in its last 11 games on the road.

I think the Duke offense shows up big here; I like Duke to win and cover on the road.

Illinois at Iowa – 10.5 (46): Both teams won conference games last week as underdogs. If Illinois is going to get any business done on offense, it will probably be by throwing the ball because Iowa has an outstanding run defense. Iowa is not an explosive team, but they are steady. I like Iowa at home to win and cover.

Wake Forest at BC – 7.5 (37): Last week there was a Total Line at 88 and I had never seen one that high. Here the Total Line is similarly minuscule but not the lowest one of the week (see below). I have a feeling that if you like to observe and dissect the nuances of “the punting game”, this is the game for you. No pick here but a prop bet on the OVER/UNDER for number of punts in the game might be interesting…

Arkansas at Alabama – 16 (48): Arkansas likes to run the ball with a power running attack; that is not likely to work well against Alabama. However, I see this game as a defensive game and not a runaway so that is an awfully fat line. Just a hunch, but I’ll take Arkansas with those points.

Washington St. at Oregon – 17 (71): I am surprised by both of these teams this year. Washington St. is better than I thought they would be and Oregon is not as good as I thought they would be. Having said that, I do not see this as a defensive game so I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Georgia – 3 at Tennessee (59.5): The Vols could surely use a win over a good SEC team (see above) and they host Georgia here the week after Alabama disemboweled Georgia at home. Georgia can surely use a win here too; they can still win the SEC East because they still have Florida on the schedule even if no one else can find a way to beat Florida. Neither team has a reliable quarterbacking situation so the comparison here would seem to be the running game and the run defenses. That gives Georgia the edge so I’ll take Georgia and lay the points.

Miami at Florida State – 9 (51): Back in the day, these teams would both be in the Top 5 and this was the game that would set up the winner to be the national champion. Not this year… Miami fans want to fire Coach Al Golden; Florida State is undefeated so far this year but they have only been able to crush Texas State in the manner that FSU fans used to expect. That line looks fat to me so I’ll take Miami plus the points on the road.

Northwestern at Michigan – 7.5 (34): A top-shelf matchup here… That is a stunningly low Total Line for a college or an NFL game but indeed these are two excellent defensive teams and neither one is scary on offense. I can imagine this game ending with a 13-9 score either way; I can also imagine this game getting both teams to 20 points or so. I think that a spread of more than a TD is too big to pass up in this game; I’ll take Northwestern plus the points.

Georgia Tech at Clemson – 7 (54.5): Will Clemson suffer a let-down after beating Notre Dame last week? I think that is the only real question here because Tech has shown that it is “vulnerable” this year. I will not make a pick here because I have a creepy feeling about this game. Clemson might blow Tech out of the stadium by 4 TDs – – or Clemson might “pull a Clemson” and lose outright…

Cal at Utah – 7 (61): Perhaps the best game of the weekend. Cal is 5-0 and Utah is 4-0; raise your hand if you saw that coming back in August. I surely did not. Cal QB, Jared Goff, is getting a lot of publicity as the top QB for next year’s NFL Draft; he needs to be sure that he does not come to believe that those press clippings make him invincible because Utah has a good defense. I like this game to go OVER.

UConn at UCF – 2.5 (39): Here is a team that UCF might actually beat this year (see above). Do not bet on this game and do not bother watching it either. It is interesting here because soon I shall start checking to see what teams belong in the SHOE Tournament…

Florida – 3.5 at Missouri (40): Florida beat Ole Miss last week in a big game in Gainesville. This is a young team and now they go on the road with potentially swelled heads. Missouri has a good defense but will be without starting QB, Maty Mauk (see above). I like Florida to win and cover even on the road here and with it being Homecoming Weekend for Missouri.

Syracuse at USF – 2 (47.5): Short and simple here… Syracuse is not very good on the road and out of their dome. USF is not very good anywhere. I have no idea where 48 points will come from so I like the game to stay UNDER.

TCU – 10 at Kansas State (63): Short and simple here… I think both teams will be able to score on the opponents’ defenses. This is the best opponent either team has seen all season. I like this game to go OVER.

Iowa St. at Texas Tech – 10 (73): Tech’s offense has shown that it can score points in bundles; State’s defense does not seem to be able to throttle that back. Tech’s defense has not shut down anyone recently. I like this game to go OVER.

Michigan St. – 13.5 at Rutgers (54.5): Why is the spread here so low? Is it because Rutgers had last week off to prep for this game? Big deal. Is it because folks think State will ignore this opponent because Michigan is up next? Possibly. I do not know if Michigan St. is indeed a Top 5 team as it has been in the polls all season long, but I do know that Rutgers is a hot mess. I’ll take Michigan St. to win and cover here purely because they are the much better team.

Wisconsin at Nebraska – 1.5 (49): Both teams lost last week as solid favorites. However, Wisconsin lost to a better team (Iowa) than Nebraska did (Illinois). I’ll take Wisconsin plus the points here.

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend of 10/11/15

Last week was mythically profitable; the record for the Mythical Picks was 10-6-0 bringing the season record to 35-29-1. The Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip games did not fare nearly as well seemingly regressing to the mean. The coin’s record was 0-2-0 bringing the season total for the coin to 4-3-0.

The “Best Picks” last week were:

    1. Taking the Giants and getting 5.5 points; the Giants won the game straight up.

    2. Taking the Rams plus 7 points; the Rams won the game straight up.

The “Worst Pick” last week was taking Jax/Indy OVER 47 and watching the game stumble into overtime with the score in the 20s.

Despite last week’s mythical profitability, no one should consider using any information here as the basis for making a real wager involving real money on a real NFL game this weekend. Here is how dumb you would have to be to do such a thing:

    You think frostbite is what happens if you cross Count Dracula with Frosty the Snowman.

General Comments:

The “Worst Pick” from above – along with one other pick from last week – demonstrate the reason why it usually pays to wait until much closer to game time to make a wager than is possible here. I made those picks late Wednesday night last week for games that would not happen until Sunday. Consider:

    I took Jax/Indy to go OVER 47 because the coin told me to do that. At the time, I thought Andrew Luck would play but it became apparent that he would not later in the week. Had I known that, I would not have needed to rely on the coin; I would have taken UNDER simply because I would have thought OVER was not likely.

    I also took Washington/Philly to stay UNDER 46.5. I took that because the weather forecast was monsoon-like and there was even talk of postponing the game. On a sloppy field, I thought the UNDER was a good idea. Well, the rain barely materialized and the game still stayed UNDER – because of the ineptitude of the Eagles’ offense for most of the game.

So I was “lucky” in guessing correctly in mid-week on half of those two Mythical Picks last week. However, had I actually bet those two games with those results, my “lucky” status would not have been nearly so “lucky”. The books would have had me for the vig…

Since I mentioned the Eagles/Skins game just above, it was the game televised in the early time slot where I was last weekend. What an awful game! For the first half, the Eagles could not get out of their own way and the Skins could not go three plays without committing a penalty. For a brief moment in the second half, the Eagles’ offense came to life and they took a 4-point lead into the final two minutes – whereupon they gave up a 90-yard drive for a TD leading to a 3 point loss. DeMarco Murray had exactly one good run in the game; this is a guy the Eagles signed for 5 years and $40M with $21M guaranteed. DeMarco Murray is still a good back; what his season with the Eagles so far shows is that a good running back is as much a product of the OL in front of him as anything else. The Eagles’ OL stinks.

One other offseason move by the Eagles is not working out very well either. They signed Byron Maxwell as a free agent to an even bigger contract than Murray. Maxwell cost the team 6 years at $63M with $25M guaranteed. What it looks like to me is that offensive coordinators on other teams have singled Maxwell out as the guy they want to go after as a foundation piece to their game plans. And it is working out for those offensive coordinators…

With regard to the Jags/Colts game, the Jags’ kicker missed 2 field goal attempts in OT that would have won the game. Yes, they were long tries (48 yards and 53 yards); nevertheless…

The Chargers beat the Browns by a field goal late in the game. The Chargers’ kicker had botched the try but the Browns – in what seems to be typical Browns’ fashion – were offsides on the kick. That gave the Chargers one more try which was good. In high school science classes, you learn about “Brownian motion”; that kind of game result and the incidents leading up to it ought to be labeled “Brownian ineptitude”.

In Chicago last week, the Raiders got a late field goal to take the lead in the game. Then the Bears’ offense came to life – led by Chicago pariah, Jay Cutler – and they drove the field to get their own field goal leading to the first win of the year. The Raiders saw their 2-game win streak go the way of all flesh in Chicago…

Not only did the Dolphins lose to the Jets in London last week, they lost their coach too. Dan Campbell will be the interim coach of the Dolphins for the rest of the season; if it is true that teams reflect the demeanor of their coach – I do not believe that but some say it is so – then perhaps it was Joe Philbin’s fault that the team looked so listless in that loss. The Dolphins were going through the motions and not much more. Fundamentally, the Jets dominated both lines of scrimmage and the game was a fundamental ass-kicking.

As badly as the two free-agent signings mentioned above are working out for the Eagles, they are stirring examples of unmitigated success compared to the signing of Ndamukong Suh for 6 years at $114M with $60M guaranteed. Somewhere in his mansion on the Potomac River, Danny Boy Snyder is thinking that another couple of months like the last month and people will cease to remember his signing of Fat Albert Haynesworth for $100M with $40M guaranteed…

The Rams beat the Cardinals last week. In 4 games this year, the Rams have beaten the Seahawks and the Cardinals, they have lost to the Skins and they lost to the Steelers by scoring only 6 points. If you can make sense of that, get back to me…

The Falcons are on a roll; they routed the Texans last week. In the game, the Falcons recovered 3 fumbles and returned 2 of them for TDs.

The Bengals are also on a roll; they beat the Chiefs by 2 TDs last week in an unusual game. The score was Bengals 35 and Chiefs 21. However, the Chiefs’’ 21 points came on 7 field goals and not 3 TDs. The Chiefs had 461 yards of offense and scored on 7 possessions but never got into the end zone. That does not happen often…

The Vikings lost a close game to the Broncos last week. In that game, Adrian Peterson carried the ball 15 times and Teddy Bridgewater threw the ball 41 times. That is not a good idea on any level and it is a particularly strange mix of plays given that Bridgewater was sacked 7 times. After you figure out what is going on with the Rams and get back to me on that one, try to figure out what was going on in this game…

The Packers beat the Niners 13-3. Colin Kaepernick was sacked 6 times in the game and the Niners are only averaging 12 points per game this year. The next lowest scoring team (Jags) averages 15.5 points per game.

I mentioned above 3 free agent signings that are not working out all that well for the teams that acquired said free agents. Well, the Packers had a free agent signing that is working out beautifully; they signed James Jones for 1 year and $850K with none of it guaranteed. Jones is averaging more than 18 yards per catch and 1 TD per game this year. Not bad for a guy not making all that much more than a sixth round pick who is on special teams…

The Lions were hosed by an incompetent call made by an official in perfect position to make the correct call. The NFL official explanation is that the official saw the play but did not think that the ball was batted out of the end zone intentionally. If that is the case:

    That official and Stevie Wonder are the only people on Planet Earth who came to the same conclusion.

The Games:

There are 4 teams with Bye Weeks this time around:

    The Dolphins try to rid themselves of jet lag and the memories of a beat-down by the Jets in London last week.

    The Jets also get a week off.

    The Panthers will remain undefeated this weekend.

    The Vikings are 0-2 on the road and 2-0 at home; this week they will not change either of those records.

(Thurs Nite) Indy at Houston – 3 (43): The line here would seem to indicate that Andrew Luck will either not play or will play in some sort of diminished state of health. It has been a while since the Colts lost a game in the division so seeing the Texans – a 1-3 team being outscored by 8 points per game this year – as a favorite of any kind is a surprise. The Colts’ defense held the Jags’ offense down last week; the Texans’ offense is slightly better than the Jags’ offense so the Colts’ margin for error seems to be small. Make this a venue call; I’ll take the Texans and lay the points.

Jax at Tampa – 2.5 (42): Without question, this is the Dog Breath Game of the Week – and the dog has just finished eating some unknown carcass it found by the side of the road. The Jags are 1-3 and they are being outscored by 11.25 points per game on average. The Bucs are 1-3 and they are being outscored by 11.25 points per game on average. Is there an echo in here…? There are two seemingly powerful trends at work here – if you believe in trends:

    Jags are 6-0-1 in their last 7 games after scoring less than 15 points the week before.

    Bucs are 11-1 to stay UNDER in their last 12 games against opponents with losing records.

You may be sure that I am only reporting those trends and not unearthing them from a mountain of data. Jameis Winston may play like a reincarnated John Unitas this week – or he might throw a Pick Six and 2 other INTs in the game. Blake Bortles is not likely to play exceptionally well, but he is less likely to self-destruct. I cannot believe I am about to do this, but I’ll take the Jags plus the points here.

Buffalo – 2.5 at Tennessee (42): The spread opened at 4 points and has dropped slowly to this level. No, I do not understand why that is the case – unless someone knows that LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins are not going to play much in the game for the Bills. Statistically, the teams are very close; neither one has an experienced QB under center; the Titans had a week off last week while the Bills were losing to the Giants. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Bills and lay the points on the road. Why not?

Cleveland at Baltimore – 6.5 (43): The Ravens are not in spectacular position right now, but think of how deep in the muck and mire they would have been with a loss last week. The Browns are – – the Browns. Were it not for the Jags/Bucs game above, this might have been the Dog Breath Game of the Week. I am not impressed by the Ravens’ offense this year; they are all of 9 yards per game better than the Browns’ offense which is not good. This is going to be a low-scoring game so I’ll take the Browns with that generous helping of points.

Washington at Atlanta – 7 (47.5): Both teams have pleasantly surprised their fans so far this season. The Falcons average almost 35 points per game; the Skins’ defense is better than it was last year but is hardly an elite unit. Meanwhile, the Skins’ offense has shown signs of real life at times this year. I like this game to go OVER.

Chicago at KC – 9 (45): The Bears scratched out a win at home over the Raiders last week. This week they go on the road to play a team that is better than the Raiders. It sure would be a good thing for the KC faithful if the Chiefs could find the end zone this week (see above). The Chiefs have played the Broncos, Packers and Bengals so far this year; this is not a Bye Week for them, but it is close. I like the Chiefs at home to win and cover.

New Orleans at Philly – 4.5 (49.5): Here you have two struggling teams and one of them will be left for dead by the side of the road at the end of this game. If the Sam Bradford iteration of this Eagles’ offense cannot move the ball and score on the Saints’ defense, the Eagles’ defensive unit should sue for divorce on the grounds of non-support. So far this year, the Eagles only average 6.2 yards per pass attempt and that is not good; however, the Saints defense allows opponents 9.4 yards per pass attempt and that is very bad. The last time the Eagles beat the Saints was in 2007; I think they will reverse the recent string of losses here. I like the Eagles at home to win and cover.

St Louis at Green Bay – 9 (45.5): The Total Line opened the week at 47.5 and has dropped steadily to this level. The Packers average about 10 points per game more than the Rams and the Packers allow about 5 points per game less than the Rams so far this year. If you are wondering why the Rams are 9-pooint dogs despite their tough defense, that is might be the reason. The Rams surprised the previously undefeated Cards last week in Arizona as 7-point underdogs; this week…? The biggest difference here is that the Packers average 95 yards per game more on offense than do the Rams; that is a lot. I like the Packers to win and cover at home and I like the game to go OVER.

Seattle at Cincy – 3 (43): The Seahawks have a short week after their Monday-night miracle win over the Lions. Add to that the fact that they play an out-of-conference opponent here after a 2000 mile flight across 3 times zones. Now consider that the Bengals are on a roll at 4-0 and lead the AFC North by 2 full games already and you can see why the Seahawks are the underdog here. However, I have a hunch that they might play a bit better than they have shown so far this year – particularly if their OL can do some business to allow the backs to run the ball a bit. I’ll take the Seahawks plus the points here.

Arizona – 2.5 at Detroit (44): Historically, the Cards are not a great road team, but in recent times, they have been much better on the road. The Lions are not a good team and if what they need is someone to grab them by their throats to rally them, Jim Caldwell is simply not that guy. I like the Cards on the road to win and cover here.

New England – 8.5 at Dallas (49): In a sense, the cavalry has arrived to “save” the Cowboys; Greg Hardy is back from suspension as is Randy Gregory. If the Cowboys are to have even a meager chance at winning this game, they will have to pressure Tom Brady and given how their DL has played recently, that would not happen without either of those players. So, can they apply real pressure or will they just be storylines? The Cowboys are 0-2 with Brandon Weeden as the starting QB; the Pats had an extra week to figure out how to confuse him even more than they would have normally. I like the Pats to win the game but that spread is not a comforting one. I shall seek the wisdom of the Curmudgeon Central Coin. The coin flips say to take the game to go OVER.

Denver – 4.5 at Oakland (43.5): The Raiders lost to the Bears in Chicago last week and the Broncos are much better than the Bears. Yes, the game is back home in Oakland, but the Broncos’ defense is not exactly a walkover for the Raiders’ offensive unit. I think the Raiders are overmatched; I like the Broncos to win and cover.

(Sun Nite) SF at Giants – 7 (43): The Niners are a bad team traveling cross-country to play a team that is not as bad as they are. However, that is about all I can say about the Giants because I do not think they are a good team. The trends point in one direction here:

    Niners are 1-8-1 against the spread in their last 10 games.
    Giants are 6-2-0 against the spread in their last 8 games.

I am confident the Niners can score more than 3 points this week but I am not confident that they can score 20 points here. Thus, I’ll take the Giants and lay the points.

(Mon Nite) Pittsburgh at San Diego – 3 (45.5): The Chargers are 2-2 despite being outscored by 14 points in those 4 games. The Steelers are also 2-2 and have outscored their opponents by 21 points in those 4 games. The problem with looking at those stats is that the Steelers ran up some of those margins with Ben Roethlisberger under center and he is not going to be there on Monday night. Two suspended players return to action here; the Chargers gat Antonio Gates back and the Steelers get Martavious Bryant back from too. I think Philip Rivers is better than Michael Vick and the Chargers are at home where they are 2-0 for the season. I like the Chargers to win and cover here.

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

Cutting Out Slack Time…

I watch a lot of sporting events on television for the simple reason that I enjoy doing that. So, my complaint of the moment has nothing to do with some underlying dislike for the TV product. Rather it has to do with maintaining interest.

I have never suffered from ADHD; I do not have the problem of a short attention span. Nonetheless, too many games on TV take too long to finish. MLB has recognized that they do not want a significant fraction of their 9-inning games to take almost 4 hours. They have tried to infuse the game with a couple of “speed-up rules” which have not materially changed the game nor which have caused the majority of games to drop down close to the 2-hour mark. More can be done, but give MLB some credit for doing something. Now let me tell you two other sports that need some “fixing”…

College football games – and I do love college football – are getting longer and longer and… For a college football game to take 3 hours and 45 minutes is not unusual anymore; some games hit the 4-hour mark. The typical NFL game takes 3 hours and 15 minutes and while that does not sound all that much shorter than a college game, remember that both games are played to a 60-minute clock so the question is why such a big difference in duration. Here are two ideas:

    1. In college, the clock stops on every first down until the crew sets the chains. In a game where there are 50 first downs recorded between the two teams, that might add a full 10 minutes to the game’s duration. If the clock ran while the crew hustled to set the chains and resume play, that would save the down time plus it would result in fewer plays in the game and potentially fewer first downs to stop the clock. I think the rules mavens for college football ought to take a close look at this issue.

    2. Unlike baseball where a retarded pace of play directly adds time to the game duration – think of all those batters who need to adjust their gloves and cups after every pitch and all those pitchers who need to stare down every batter on every pitch – the pace of play in most college football games is plenty fast. For many teams the pace is truly frenetic. However, that frenetic pace produces more plays per game which produces more points per game which leads to more commercial breaks which makes the telecast take close to 4 hours. I do not advocate rules to impair teams that play up-tempo; I do not want college football to return to the Woody Hayes “three yards and a cloud of dust” mode. So, I have to file this in the bin of “problems identified for which I have not figured out a solution”…

Basketball games – both college games and NBA games – also take longer than they need to. Particularly in college games, the final 3 minutes of a game might take 20 or even 30 minutes to complete. The issue is the number of timeouts that each team has and the number of game delays that officials allow such that coaches create “unofficial timeouts.” Here the rule makers can have an immediate effect on the problem and the “competition committee folks” who create points of emphasis for the officials can also.

    Given that each team will get 4 clock-driven timeouts per half, each team does not need 5 timeouts to call at their discretion. In fact, they really only need 2 per team. Right there, you could effect a time savings of 10 minutes per game. One other benefit would be that with only 2 timeouts per team, you would get far fewer timeouts called after grabbing a loose ball on the floor.

    Moreover, substitutions for players who have fouled out need not take a full minute with the players going over to the coach for instruction. The sub should be on the court and the game should be resumed in 10 – 15 seconds and none of the players on the floor who have not fouled out should be allowed to go over to the bench for instruction.

    One more change will speed things up. On a two-shot foul, there will be no substitution allowed after the second free throw even if it is made.

I think those changes could save a total of 12-15 minutes per game.

Another time-waster which produces no competitive action or compelling viewing is the habit of every foul shooter strolling around and slapping hands with every teammate after every free throw attempt. A very simple rule change here would cover this problem. No free throw shooter may leave the circle on multiple shots; no players in the marked lane positions may leave that position on multiple shots and no player on the shooting team can enter the circle where the shooter is or reach into the circle. Moreover, the official needs to take the ball and put it at the disposal of the shooter a lot faster than they do it now. There could be another 5 minutes of time savings here in a game where 40 foul shots take place.

I do not think that any of my suggested changes radically alters the games in question or makes a mockery of them. And I do think there are time savings to be harvested from all of them.

Anyone who watched the end of the Lions/Seahawks game on Monday Night Football realizes that the official in the end zone on the “batted ball play” botched the call. The ball should have – by rule – gone to the Lions with a first down on the Seahawks 1-yardline with about a minute to play. That does NOT mean that the Lions would have won the game; please recall what happened to the Seahawks with the ball at the 1-yardline in the final minutes of last year’s Super Bowl game. However, it does harken back to another low-point in the annals of NFL officiating.

Remember back in 2012 when the NFL and the officials could not agree on a new CBA and the league used “replacement refs”. That substitution ploy ended after a blatantly bad call in the end zone on the final play of a game on MNF in Seattle. That play has come to be known as the “Fail Mary” play; I wonder how history will recall and label the one last Monday night. Perhaps, KJ Wright will be known as “Batman” for the rest of his career?

Finally, with the MLB playoffs set to go into full swing, here are two comments from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times that seem appropriate:

“A 108-year-old message in a bottle washed up off the German coast.

“Turns out it was a very prophetic epistle from a title-hungry Cubs fan: ‘Wait’ll this year!’”

And …

“A Roman lead scroll from the year 3 A.D. — unearthed in England three years ago — has a curse written on it, researchers now say.

“Talk about prescient: It mentions 25 cubs and a goat.”

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

The NFL In London

Last week, as the good folks in London prepared to experience their first NFL game of the 2015 season, a couple of political figures across the pond expressed their desire to see an NFL franchise housed in London. George Osbourne is the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the UK; the analogous position here in the US would be Secretary of the Treasury. Last week, Osbourne said he hoped the NFL would put a team in London within the next 5 years. After meeting with NFL moguls and team owners last week, he said:

“The real prize, the touchdown for London, would be to get a team based here. I want London to be the global sporting capital.”

There will be 3 regular season games in London this year; the Jets and Dolphins played there last weekend; the next game there will be on October 25 when the Bills and Jags seek to entertain the London crowd; I am sure Rex Ryan is already working on something provocative to say then. I have not been a huge enthusiast of putting a team in London purely for logistical reasons but if I assume those logistical barriers can be overcome/ameliorated sufficiently, here are two things Chancellor Osbourne said last week that I found very positive; first:

“I am supporting the NFL to bring one of their 32 teams to London permanently and will work with them to make this happen.”

The positive part of that comment is that he is talking about bringing an existing team to London and not an expansion team; the NFL does not need to expand. In other remarks, Chancellor Osbourne said that he and his departments were looking at any sorts of barriers that might make putting a team in London more difficult. While one might think that would mean finding money to build a new stadium for an NFL team, other events would indicate that his message was less mercenary and more constructive.

The NFL already has a deal in place to play two game per season at the new stadium already under construction for the Tottenham Hotspurs of the English Premier League. That deal runs for 10 years and is scheduled to start in 2018 when the new stadium is finished. Wembley Stadium has housed NFL games for about a decade now and there are no plans to tear it down. The facilities to house the games would seem to be in place.

I must admit that I get off the train at the point where Chancellor Osbourne says that a study indicated that the 2 NFL games in London last year contributed £32-million (about $48-million) to the local economy. I never believe those studies that set out to figure the value of a sporting event to a city/region nor estimates of future revenues to be generated. They are always hugely over-stated and assume the rosiest of scenarios. However, on balance, Chancellor Osbourne’s statements were positive.

Chiming in was the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, who expressed his “high hopes” for a permanent NFL team in London in the near future. And so, with all of this pomp and circumstance flavored with “high hopes”, I started thinking about how the NFL might accommodate all of this stuff in the context of its existing 32 teams. Remember, it is pretty clear that Roger Goodell and the suits on Park Avenue would love to tap more deeply into the revenue streams that would exist in a city as large as London.

I think the resolution lies in all of the posturing and gesturing that has gone on with regard to putting a team back in LA. There are three teams poised to move to LA because they have “stadium issues” in their current locales. The overriding issue is that each plays in a stadium that not nearly as posh as it might be meaning there are dollars being left on the table by those teams. There is no way on the planet that the NFL is going to put all three of those teams in LA. Moreover, there are two teams in Florida (Jax and Tampa) that are not drawing well in their home venues. Therefore, the NFL has a pool of 3 definite teams one of which could move to London and 2 others that would likely make more money for the owners in London than they do in Florida.

My suggestion here:

    Stan Kroenke (Rams’ owner) wants to build a downtown stadium in LA. The league should get behind that move with one condition.

    The Spanos family and Mark Davis (owners of the Chargers and Raiders) want to build a stadium they would jointly occupy in Carson, CA. The league should tell all these folks that the league is not behind this plan at all.

    The condition for Mr. Kroenke is that his stadium has to be the home for 2 teams in LA until such time as one of the two teams proves to be financially not viable there. He can pick his “partner”; he can be the owner of the stadium and arrange a lease with that “partner” but he will only get league support if he has a “partner”. That puts 2 teams in the LA market in a stadium that an NFL owner wants to build anyway.

    The California team above who is not selected as Kroenke’s “partner” would have to make a choice rather quickly. That “outcast” team would have 4 options:

      1. Stay where they are

      2. Move to St. Louis in the vacated stadium there.

      3. Move to London

      4. Finalize a deal to move elsewhere in record time.

The beauty of my suggestion is that it scratches the immediate itch of getting at least one team – and preferably two teams – back into the LA market posthaste. Moreover, it gives the “outcast” team some maneuvering room to find a way to upgrade the facility that it plays in. What it does not do is to provide any answers to the attendance problems and the fan apathy that exists for the two Florida teams – unless of course the “outcast” team above moves to St. Louis or stays put. In that case, either of the Florida teams could become the new London Whatevers. Consider that Jacksonville has a population of less than 900,000 folks; Tampa/St. Petersburg has a population of about 800,000; London has a population of about 8.6 million.

Finally, here is a comment by Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald regarding a different sporting event housed in London:

“According to a report, seven London Marathon winners in 12 years recorded suspicious blood scores. Henceforth the London Marathon will be known as ‘The Tour de France Without The Bikes.’ ” .

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

Confused By A Court Ruling…

The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling in the Ed O’Bannon/NCAA lawsuit last week saying that the NCAA rules which restrict payments to athletes violate antitrust laws but it also found that the District Court Judge was wrong in ruling that athletes could receive $5K in compensation for the NCAA using their likenesses to generate revenues. Normally, at this point, I would try to expand upon that statement; but to be frank, it seems self-contradictory to me. Even worse, people who have written about it have claimed that the Appeals Court decision is a victory for both sides. I do not understand that either.

I barely know how to spell Sherman Anti-Trust Act but it sure does seem to me that the NCAA is a “combination in restraint of trade” and I do recall from my high school history classes that such entities are forbidden by the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. I will stand corrected if someone argues that it is not the NCAA that is the “combination” here but it is the various conferences that are amalgams of NCAA members that are the entities doing the “restraining”. So, if indeed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that NCAA rules are somehow in violation of the anti-trust laws, I do not see how that can be a “victory” for the NCAA. Here is a portion of the ruling from last week:

“The NCAA is not above the antitrust laws, and courts cannot and must not shy away from requiring the NCAA to play by the Sherman Act’s rules. In this case, the NCAA’s rules have been more restrictive than necessary to maintain its tradition of amateurism in support of the college sports market. The Rule of Reason requires that the NCAA permit its schools to provide up to the cost of attendance to their student athletes. It does not require more.”

To me, that sounds as if the court is telling both sides that they lost. The NCAA has a new set of standards to operate under and the athletes get scholarships as their ”compensation” for going to a school and playing sports there. That sounds to me as if neither side got what it wanted out of this matter. In fact, it sounds as if the athletes lost some important ground in terms of seeking payment for their services by colleges:

“…in finding that paying students cash compensation would promote amateurism as effectively as not paying them, the district court ignored that not paying student-athletes is precisely what makes them amateurs.”

Frankly, it is a bit sad to me to learn that it took folks at the appellate level of the Federal Judiciary to figure out that not paying the players is the essence of amateurism…

Surely, this is not over and there will be more to come from this lawsuit. Hopefully, the next ruling will be a tad clearer for those of us who are interested in sports but not steeped in the legal construct of anti-trust law. Here is a summary article from CBSSports.com last week; perhaps it will make things clearer than I can make them here

I am not one who goes to a sporting event and revels in the antics of team mascots. To my mind, the best of the mascots rise to the level of “mildly annoying”. Those comments set the stage for my reaction to a story from last week about Ragnar the Viking. He is the guy who rides his motorcycle out in the stadium during Minnesota Vikings’ games; his costume consists of furry boots and vest, a metal helmet with horns and a huge beard. I guess the word I would use to describe him – never having seen him in person – would be “harmless”. Last year, the Vikings paid Ragnar $1500 per home game ($12K per season) for his services; this year, Ragnar wanted a raise to $20K per game ($160K per season). You need not get out your calculator to realize that is more than a “cost of living increase” in percentage terms. Also, not surprisingly, the Vikings did not accede to his demand and unless there is some kind of negotiated settlement, the Vikings will have to go forth this year without Ragnar and his motorcycle.

At some point, I suspect that someone will write some kind of sappy story about how a certain element of attending Vikings’ games has been missing now that Ragnar is not on the premises. When you read such a story, please recall the numbers here and ask yourself:

    If you owned the Vikings, would you pay a mascot $160K a season – and more if the team has a home playoff game or two?

I do not think I need to spell out what my response would be…

Picking up on another story from last week, the Washington Nationals fired Matt Williams as their manager because the team did not come close to living up to expectations for this season. Williams just finished his second year as manager of the team and – interestingly – he was the NL Manager of the Year in 2014. Juxtaposing the two seasons, one might draw different conclusions:

    A. Williams got awfully stupid awfully fast in 2015 to go from “Manager of the Year” to “Expendable Scapegoat of the Year” – – or – –

    B. “Manager of the Year” is pretty much a meaningless honor despite that significance that the folks who vote on it attach to it.

The entire coaching staff for the team has also been sent packing but the GM who assembled this team of underachievers is still in place and the activist owner of the team has not yet figured out neither the manager nor a single coach ever blew a lead in the 7th or 8th inning to lose a game and that the players were responsible for each and every runner left in scoring position all season long.

With regard to the MLB playoffs:

    Take the OVER in games between the Rangers and the Blue Jays.

    Take the UNDER in games between the Mets and Dodgers when Kershaw or Grienke pitch for the Dodgers.

    I will go with an avian World Series – Blue Jays versus Cardinals.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald regarding baseball records:

“I’m sorry, but there are too many records in Major League Baseball. The other night a game was halted to announce a player just tied the mark for most stolen bases on a Thursday by a guy named Gary.”

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

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend of 10/3/15

Last week’s Mythical Picks were not mythically profitable at 6-7-2 but it was hardly the worst weekend ever for college Mythical Picks. Overall for the season, the record now stands at 27-27-3. That record reminds me of a comment made by Gene Mauch when he was the manager of the Phillies back in the dearly 1960s. After splitting a Sunday doubleheader – millennials can Google this term to find out what they were – a reporter asked him something along the lines of how he felt about the split. Mauch replied something like this:

    It is sort of like kissing your sister through a screen door.

The “Best Pick” from last week taking the Mississippi State/Auburn game UNDER 58 and seeing it end with only 26 points on the board. The “Worst Pick” from last week has two entries:

    On Friday nite I took UVa +2.5 against Boise St. and UVa lost by 42. On Saturday morning, I thought it could not possibly get worse than that. After all, I was off by 39.5 points…

    Then, on Saturday, I took Oregon to beat Utah by 11 or more. Well, Oregon lost that game and it was not close; Oregon lost by 42 to Utah and the score reflected the way the game ought to have turned out. So. I was off by 53.5 points in the game meaning it was even worse than the Friday nite embarrassment.

No one ought to consider any of the information here as sufficiently authoritative such that one would consider it as a basis for making a real wager involving real money on a college football game this weekend.

    Anyone stupid enough to do that also thinks that ambassadors do not get sick because they have diplomatic immunity.

General Comments:

I must apologize; I misspoke last week. Linfield had the week off and did not visit Lewis and Clark in Portland last week. Instead, they will play that game this weekend. Linfield’s record remains at 2-0 as they embark on their conference schedule for the season and as they continue to keep alive their streak of winning seasons in football that started back in 1956.

Finlandia did indeed play its scheduled game against Wisconsin-Stevens Point. In keeping with the disastrous season for the Finlandia Lions they lost the game; moreover they lost big. The score was 77-6. That means that Finlandia now has a record of 0-4 and the cumulative score against them is 272-9.

I happened upon Finlandia because someone chided me for reveling in the success of Linfield and my search for a team at the other end of the stick was brief and ended as soon as I found Finlandia. I did not do any research other than the current record early in this season and so I did not notice the twist in the schedule for Finlandia that begins this week:

    Maranatha Baptist College comes to visit Finlandia this week. Maranatha is 0-4 on the season and it has been outscored by a cumulative 193-27. There is no line on this game, but consider the possibility that Maranatha might be a favorite in the game on the road. Would you like to back them…?

    Moreover, Finlandia and Maranatha will meet again this year on October 31. That is correct; these teams will play on Halloween; you cannot make this kind of stuff up. In any event, this provides at least two chances for Finlandia to win a game over a disastrously bad opponent – – just as it provides the same pair of opportunities for Maranatha. I will have to track the fate of the loser in this week’s contest…

Dabo Sweeney – head coach at Clemson – said in a press conference this week that he fills out his coaches’ poll ballot every week and he thinks it is a meaningless exercise this early in the season. Kudos to Dabo Sweeney for candor!!!

Oh, by the way, any coach who did not give Utah a vote in the Top Ten this week – irrespective of whether or not Utah is going to be one of the 10 best teams in the country come December – should have his voting privileges revoked. If coaches are going to do this kind of nonsense, they ought to spend enough time and energy to check the realities of the season and not merely the reputations of the schools on the ballots.

Utah’s defense is excellent. In the opening game of the year they completely stifled Michigan and the Wolverines have gone on to win their last three games convincingly. Last week, Utah shut down Oregon – a team that normally thinks scoring only 45 points in a game is a bad day at the office. Oregon only gained a smidge over 5 yards per snap; often they average over 11 yards per snap. Utah’s defensive line can play the run and it can pressure the QB. The Utes will be a tough out for opponents this season.

Utah won the game 62-20; it was an old fashioned ass-kicking. In the second quarter, Utah led 20-13 and it was still a game. From that point until the middle of the 4thquarter, Utah ran off 42 straight points before Oregon scored a meaningless TD at the end.

In another PAC-12 game, UCLA dominated Arizona and won by 26 points. I thought that UCLA freshman QB, Josh Rosen, might be uncomfortable with his first real road game against a real opponent with really rabid fans in the stands. The verdict is in:

    He was not even remotely uncomfortable.

    UCLA scored 42 points in the first half.

Speaking of Michigan above, the Wolverines shut out BYU last week 31-0. The Michigan defense held BYU to 50 yards rushing and 55 yards passing for the game. Before your disregard that accomplishment by Michigan, consider that BYU had beaten Nebraska and Boise St. and lost to UCLA by a single point coming into that game. Yes, the game was in Ann Arbor, but nonetheless…

Arkansas lost to Texas A&M by 7 points in OT last week. If I have counted correctly, that means that Arkansas teams under Bret Bielema are now 0-11 in games decided by 10 points or less. Just to be clear, that is not a good thing… Consider these stats:

    Arkansas held the Aggies to 2-9 on third down conversions.

    Arkansas held the ball for more than 40 minutes.

    Arkansas still managed to lose the game.

LSU beat Syracuse by 10 points in Syracuse. The Orange played tough throughout the game but they really did not have an answer for Leonard Fournette who gained 244 yards and scored 2 TDs in the game. Zack Mahoney started at QB for Syracuse. If you do not recognize the name, you can be excused because back in the days of Spring Practice, Mahoney was listed at #5 on the QB depth chart. He threw 3 TD passes in the game which is more than adequate for a “fifth-stringer”…

Florida beat Tennessee 28-27. The story of the game is not how close the score was; the story here is that Tennessee had a 13-point lead in the 4th quarter and managed to lose the game. That happened to Tennessee earlier this year against Oklahoma when the Vols blew another double-digit lead to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Last week, Florida came up with a 63-yard pass play in the final two minutes to take the lead and hold on for the win.

At kickoff time last week, Missouri was ranked #25 in the country in those less-than-meaningful polls. They traveled to Kentucky – hardly a traditional football powerhouse – and managed to lose the game 21-13. So, I hear some of you saying that Kentucky is a pretty good defensive team and this ought not to be so embarrassing. Well, it might not be except for the fact that Mizzou managed to score a grand total of 9 points against UConn just two weeks ago. All three of UConn’s other opponents scored more than 9 points this year and those three juggernauts were :


Missouri carries a 3-1 record so far this year but the upcoming SEC schedule will provide a higher level of competition than the Tigers have seen fit to schedule so far. Florida, Georgia, Mississippi St and BYU – along with other SEC opponents await Mizzou…

Bowling Green beat Purdue 35-28. That is the second win of the year for Bowling Green over a Big 10 team; they beat Maryland earlier in the season. Bowling Green is one of those teams that plays offense at a frenetic pace; they ran off 92 plays last week; they were 11-16 on third down conversions and they gained 39 first downs in the game. Bowling Green loves to throw the football; the passing stat line for the game was 43-59 with 1 INT producing 402 yards though the air.

Maryland could not handle the pace of Bowling Green earlier this year; last week, they faced West Virginia who also plays the game at breakneck speed. The Terps lost to the Mountaineers by 45-6. This appears to be a bad omen for Maryland. If any of the “lower-tier” Big 10 teams can play at such a pace, the Terps could be in trouble because you can be sure that the “top-tier” Big 10 teams are going to play smash-mouth football against the Terps and beat them with that style of play.

TCU and Texas Tech played what is coming to be known as a “Typical Big 12 Game”; the final score was TCU 55 and Texas Tech 52. TCU caught a tipped pass in the end zone in the final minute of the game to come from behind and win the game. The two teams combined to produce 107 points, 70 first downs, 187 offensive plays and 1357 yards of offense. About 50 years ago, Jerry Lee Lewis sang:

Whole lot of shakin’ going on…

It is safe to say that in the TCU/Texas game:

Not a whole lot of tacklin’ going on…

For Texas last week it was déjà vu; special teams undid the Longhorns for the second week in a row; Texas lost its last two games by a total of 4 points. Two weeks ago, Texas lost when they missed an extra point that would have tied the game in the final moments. Last week with the score tied, the punter flubbed the snap from center and could only get off a kick that reached the original line of scrimmage around the Texas 25 yardline late in the 4th quarter. From there Oklahoma State kicked a game-winning field goal with less than 10 seconds left to produce yet one more stain on the Longhorns’ record for the season. Let me put this in perspective for you:

    Texas is 1-3 so far this year.

    The last time Texas started 1-3 was back in 1956.

Kansas State must be recruiting their football players with an eye toward having them bond together and share in the same major. Consider:

    Potential linguistics majors include DL Bryce English and OL Scott Frantz

    Potential forestry majors include OL Will Ash and DL Tanner Wood.

The Ponderosa Games:

Last week, the favorites in Ponderosa Games covered in 4 of the 9 contests. That brings the cumulative record for favorites covering in Ponderosa Games to 19-20-0.

Baylor, Iowa, Notre Dame and Wisconsin covered.

Alabama, LSU, Michigan St. Mississippi and Ohio State did not cover.

This week, we have only 4 Ponderosa Games;

Army at Penn State – 25 (47.5): These teams last played each other in 1979. Notwithstanding the lack of any semblance of a “traditional rivalry”, I read a report that said the game was sold out and the crowd in State College was expected to be 107,000.

Wyoming at Appalachian St – 25 (53.5): I do not recall ever seeing Appalachian St. as a Ponderosa favorite.

Hawaii at Boise St. – 24.5 (53.5): The weather forecast for Boise this Saturday is partly sunny with a high of 71 degrees. Better for Hawaii to be there for a game in September than in the last week of November…

E. Michigan at LSU – 44.5 (59.5): Here are the money line odds for this game:

    E. Michigan is plus-71,500
    LSU is minus-165,000

Enjoy the game…

Games of Interest:

(Fri Nite) Temple – 22 at UNC-Charlotte (44): My first reaction here was surprise that Temple was a 22-point favorite over any other Div 1-A school. Then I recognized that this is UNC-Charlotte’s first year as a Div 1-A school and that Temple had already beaten Penn state and Cincy this year. I am not happy about taking Temple on the road with that big a spread so I’ll just take the game to go OVER.

(Fri Nite) UConn at BYU – 18.5 (44): After starting the season with Nebraska, Boise St. UCLA and Michigan and splitting that strong quartet, BYU gets a softer opponent to come to their house. The question is if the team can get up for this game or if it will take the outcome for granted. With E. Carolina coming up on the schedule next, there is not a lot of reason to look ahead to a tough opponent next week. I’ll take BYU at home and lay the points.

UNC at Georgia Tech – 7.5 (62): The spread here opened the week at 10 points but it has settled here for the last couple of days. UNC is a yo-yo team; Georgia Tech is a one-trick pony. My guess is that one of these teams is going to make that spread look silly – but I have no idea which one. I will watch the game to see the outcome with the hope of learning something for a game down the line but no pick is coming here.

Bowling Green – 8 at Buffalo (68): If a pair of lower-tier Big 10 teams cannot stop Bowling Green, why should I think Buffalo can. This is the University of Buffalo not the Buffalo Bills. I’ll take Bowling Green and lay the points.

Kansas at Iowa St – 16 (59): Iowa State is not a good football team and I am not trying to say that it is. Nevertheless, I think Kansas is potentially a truly awful team and they are on the road here. I will take Iowa St. at home and lay the points.

Minnesota at Northwestern – 4 (40): Minnesota has a good defense and so does Northwestern. Neither team has an offense that will strike fear into the heart of an opposing defensive coordinator. This game should be very low scoring (as the Total Line would indicate) and so, I’ll take Minnesota plus the points.

West Virginia at Oklahoma – 7 (58.5): I think West Virginia can score points here and I do not think that West Virginia can hold the OU offense in check and off the board. I like this game to go OVER.

Iowa at Wisconsin – 7 (46): Here is the game within the game:

    Wisconsin can and will run the ball effectively against just about anyone.
    Iowa has not yielded a rushing TD yet this year.

In 4 games Iowa has only given up a total of 336 yards on the ground. That sounds really good until I tell you that in 4 games, Wisconsin has only given up a total of 331 yards on the ground. I think this is a game where two teams try to bludgeon each other into submission and neither is going to succeed. In a low scoring game, I’ll take Iowa plus the points.

Mississippi St. at Texas A&M – 7 (61.5): The Total Line for this game opened the week at 56.5 but spent very little time at that level. I know that the Aggies can move the ball and score but I also have seen Mississippi St. hold LSU’s offense in check. I like Mississippi St. plus the points here and I like the game to stay UNDER.

Kansas St. at Oklahoma St – 8 (49): This may not be the best Kansas State team Bill Snyder ever put on the field, but I am not all that enamored by Oklahoma St. either. That line looks fat to me so I’ll take Kansas St. plus the points.

Arizona St at UCLA – 13.5 (60): Arizona St. had enough talent that many folks had them as a dark horse to win the South Division of the PAC-12. They have not played that way so far – but if the talent was there I guess it is still there. I will not make a pick here but I will watch the outcome here to see if Arizona St. is a team worthy of backing somewhere down the line.

Arizona at Stanford – 14 (63.5): Arizona may not be a great team, but it is a competent team. I do not trust the Stanford offense to score enough to cover 2 full TDs against a competent team. I’ll take Arizona plus the points here.

Texas at TCU – 14.5 (71): I think TCU can score points on anybody and I am not confident that Texas can score a lot on the TCU defense – even though TCU has injury problems there. I like TCU at home to win and cover.

Air Force at Navy – 5 (51): There will be no malingerers on the field in this game. More than likely, this game will go down to the wire so I am not inclined to guess which team will do whatever near the end to determine the outcome. Rather, I think that these guys will both be successful on offense and so I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Alabama at Georgia – 2 (55): Alabama is an underdog for the first time in 73 games. The last time Alabama got points was in the 2009 SEC Championship Game against Florida. This will one of the top 3 games of the weekend. Georgia features Nick Chubb running the ball; after you finish talking about Leonard Fourchette at LSU, the next RB you want to rave about is Nick Chubb. Simple question:

    Can the Alabama defense hold Chubb in check?

My guess is that they can and in so doing the Alabama defense will keep the game UNDER. My pick here is UNDER.

Mississippi – 7 at Florida (52): This should be a great game and it is an important game within the SEC. Neither team has a loss this year. Florida has beaten SEC foes Kentucky and Tennessee by a total of 5 points; the Gators know what it means to be in a close game down to the end. Ole Miss has beaten Alabama by 6 points and has toyed with its other 3 opponents. Florida has a good defense and a mediocre offense so I’ll take this game to stay UNDER.

Texas Tech at Baylor – 17 (88): Tech stayed within a field goal of TCU last week and they are a three score dog here. That has to mean that most folks think that Tech left everything on the field last week and have nothing left for this game. The Total Line opened here at 85.5 and has risen slowly to this level. I think that any “great defensive play” that occurs in this game will be an accident. I will just watch this game and see of Texas Tech can take the Total over 100 points for a second week in a row…

Oregon – 7 at Colorado (70): I know that Oregon got waxed last week by Utah and the game was in Eugene. Moreover, I know that this game is in Boulder. However, please to not confuse Colorado with Utah. Also, know that Oregon has beaten Colorado by 30 or more points in each of the last 4 seasons no matter the venue. Assuming that the entire Oregon squad is not comatose at kickoff time, I think Oregon rolls here. I’ll take Oregon to win and cover on the road.

Washington St. at Cal – 19 (70): Cal can score points here; they put 46 on the board against Texas. Washington St should score here too because Cal’s defense is not exactly potent. I’ll take this game will go OVER – and it would not shock me to see it go OVER by the end of the 3rd quarter.

Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee St – 2 (50): I do not understand this line at all. Vandy has played Mississippi and Georgia this year; while they did not win either game, they kept it close and made the other guys work for the win. Here they play Middle Tennessee St. and they are the underdog? Here is a golden rule of sports wagering:

    Oddsmakers do not play favorites and oddsmakers do not have their heads up their asses.

Because that line is so confusing to me, I will simply pass on it and move on…

South Carolina at Missouri – 2 (41): Here are two hugely disappointing teams so far in 2015. S. Carolina lost its QB to injury; Missouri will go to its backup QB due to a suspension for the starter. Both teams have already lost to Kentucky this year. Totally as a venue call, I’ll take Mizzou and lay the points at home.

Arkansas at Tennessee – 6.5 (56): This game is interesting only to see which team will find a way to lose in the final minutes. Instead of betting the game, take your money and go put it all on “BLACK” for a spin of the roulette wheel.

Notre Dame at Clemson “pick ‘em” (54): Here is the last of the top 3 games of the weekend. The oddsmaker wants me to just pick the winner here. OK, I think Notre Dame is the better team so I’ll take Notre Dame to win here. Plain and simple…

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 10/4/15

Last week, the Mythical Picks were mythically profitable with a record of 9-7-0. That makes the cumulative record for the season stand at 25-23-1. Some of you may choose to look at that cumulative record and note that a person flipping a coin can expect to have a record as good as that one. Moreover, you would be absolutely correct in taking that position. However, the Curmudgeon Central Coin is doing much better than chance at the moment. Last week the Coin correctly predicted the Raiders/Cleveland game would go OVER 44.5. That brings the season record for Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games to 4-1-0. The sample size is small to be sure, but the record is impressive so far; that is an 80% success record if you please…

The “Best Pick” from last week was taking the Bills +3 points when the Bills went out and shellacked the Dolphins by 27 points. The “Worst Pick” from last week was taking the Colts – 3 points and watching them win the game by only 2 points.

No one should think of using any information here as the basis for making a real wager involving real money on any NFL game this weekend. None of these picks are 50-Star Mortal-Lock Bet-The-Mortgage-Money Picks of the Decade. They are here for fun and amusement only.

    Anyone stupid enough to take these picks seriously is also dumb enough to rip the case off of his/her computer to find the cookies that are stored inside.

General Comments:

There are 7 undefeated teams in the NFL after 3 weeks. Here in Curmudgeon Central, we tend to focus on the other end of the spectrum and so, it is more appropriate to begin this week with the fact that there are still 4 winless teams in the standings:

    Baltimore Ravens: This franchise has never started a season 0-3 until now. They played the Broncos and the Bengals tough – and both the Broncos and Bengals are among the 7 undefeated teams. However, they also gave up almost 40 points to the Raiders… The Ravens’ defense is not what we have come to expect from that franchise and Steve Smith Sr. (age 36 by the way) is their “home-run threat” on offense. It may be a long season indeed in Baltimore.

    Chicago Bears: The entire fanbase for that team owes Jay Cutler a huge apology. The offense last week with Cutler on the sidelines for the entire game was an embarrassment to the Bears as a franchise – and that franchise has been around for almost a century now. The defense is not as bad as the offense – – but it is still not nearly good. The Bears are losing by almost 20 points per game!

    Detroit Lions: They have looked “blah” on offense and they have looked “blah” on defense. Other than that, all is well…

    New Orleans Saints: The Saints do not look as if they are ready to return to their Bizarro-world persona as the Aint’s, but they surely have not looked good this year at home or on the road.

There are too many teams that are 1-2 to go through them individually here but I do want to point to the SF 49ers as a team with a 1-2 record that might well be as bad or worse than half the teams on the “Winless List” above. After winning their opening game, the Niners have lost the next two and they have yielded 40+ points in each of those losses. The Niners’ offense has not looked good in either game but it would not really have mattered all that much; when you give up 40 points in an NFL game, the odds are overwhelming that you are going to lose.

The Niners front office found it necessary to fire Jim Harbaugh at the end of last year. The team did not perform nearly as well last year as it had in previous years under Harbaugh and there were hints that his intensity had worn thin on the players. Whether that was true or not, it was as obvious as the fact that night follows day that his continued existence in SF had worn thin with the GM and the Team President – who happens to be the son of the majority owner. In the offseason, the team lost to free agency/retirement a whole passel of good players on both offense and defense. And they turned over the coaching reins of the reconstructed team to Jim Tomsula.

Tomsula is a heartwarming story. He has been a football lifer coaching at every level imaginable including being a line coach in the NFL. He has never been a coordinator nor a head coach, but this was the team’s bold move in replacing Harbaugh. Let me be clear about a couple of things here:

    1. I am not a Jim Harbaugh fanboy. He has been a successful – if not a long-term – coach in several places. His manic levels of intensity are sort of fun to watch from afar but could easily become frightening or at least annoying if I had to live with them.

    2. I am not a Jim Tomsula fanboy. If he succeeds, some will make him out to be a Horatio Alger character; there is neither harm nor glory in that. If he fails, there will be tons of folks out there who will claim to have “told you so”.

    3. As of this moment, Jim Tomsula is in a compromising position. The roster has turned over and has been restructured the way his bosses want it. He is the guy who is supposed to produce the results on Sundays. If the team plays the way it has the last two weeks, the team will not win many more games and will be embarrassed more than a couple of times. So, who is more likely to take the fall for that?

      The Horatio Alger character of a coach – – or – –

      The Team President – son of the majority owner – and his BFF the GM.

      You make the call…

Last week against the Cardinals, the Niners offered nothing more than token resistance; the analogy might be the French Army along the Maginot Line at the beginning of WW II. I have already admitted that I was wrong about the Cards in my pre-season predictions; barring a catastrophe, they are surely going to win more than the 7 games I gave them in those predictions. I was also wrong about the Niners; I thought the Niners would also win 7 games; and after seeing them in the first 3 games, I am not sure they can win 5 games. Colin Kaepernick threw two INTs for TDs early in the game last week and that did two things:

    1. It sealed the fate of the game right there and then. Importantly, the Niners did not fight to keep the game close; basically they sat back and absorbed a 40-point bludgeoning.

    2. It indicated that Colin Kaepernick continues to regress as a QB. There were two INTs after the early ones, but the 4 INTs only tell part of the story here. For the day, Kaepernick was 9-19 (hardly acceptable) for a total of 67 yards passing. That is only 3.5 yards per pass attempt; that is a level of production that is unacceptable for a high school QB.

As pathetic as the Niners were in losing by 40 to the Cards, the Bears looked worse in their 26-0 loss to the Seahawks. Getting shut out is never a good thing but the way the Bears lost is another whole ‘nother level of bad:

    A. The Bears had 10 possessions. They punted at the end of every possession.

    B. Six of those 10 punts came after three-and-out possessions.

    C. Jimmy Claussen was 9-17 passing for 67 yards.

Going into this game, Claussen had a career record of 1-10 as a starter in the NFL and that win came over a team with John Skelton at QB back in 2010. As of this morning he is 1-11 as a starter…

Tyler Lockett – rookie WR and return man from Kansas State – returned the second half kickoff for the Seahawks 105 yards for a TD. Lockett already has two returns for TDs this year (the other was a punt return) and the Seahawks ought to find a way to give him a few snaps at the WR position too. Since I have mentioned how wrong I was in some of my pre-season predictions, allow me to direct your attention to the fact that I specifically said Lockett would be a positive addition to the team.

After seeing how bad the Bears and Niners have been to this point in the season, one might think that it is a good thing they are not in the same division so they do not have to play each other. Not so fast, my friend… The schedule mavens in the NFL have set up the Niners to travel to Chicago on 6 December. Moreover, the Bears play the Lions twice, the Skins and the Bucs. Fans in Chicago will have plenty of time on Sundays this year to catch up on their needlepoint projects…

Speaking of the Lions, they too stink. They are not going to be “0-16 bad” as they were just a few years ago, but they are not a good football team. The offense is mediocre and the defense does not make plays that set up that mediocre offense in ways that the offense can cash in. Last week against the Broncos, Peyton Manning threw for 324 yards and Demaryius Thomas caught 9 balls for 92 yards. However, it was the Broncos’ defense that was most impressive in the game; those guys are good…

The Panthers beat the Saints 27-22. The Saints played with backup QB, Luke McCown at the controls so that 5-point margin of victory is not all that impressive. If the Saints’ fans want to look for something positive here, they lost their first game by 12 points and their second game by 7 points and their third game by only 5 points. There are still a half-dozen games on the schedule against opponents that are far below “fearsome”. However, the Saints’ defense just has to get a lot better if they are going to win games… For the Panthers, it sure looks to me as though Cam Newton is the mirror image of Colin Kaepernick. Newton seems to understand how to run a passing attack at the NFL level; when the defense gives you an open tight end, the idea is to deliver the ball there as soon as you see it. Last week, he and Greg Olsen hooked up so often that people were wondering if they needed to get a room; Olsen caught 11 passes for 134 yards and 2 TDs.

The Giants had a double-digit lead in the 4th quarter against the Skins last Thursday night and so it was perfectly appropriate to think of how the Giants would squander that lead. Well, they did not do that in this game partly because the Skins are not nearly as good as the Cowboys or the Falcons who had closed on the Giants in the first two games. Coming into the game, the Skins had the #1 rushing offense in the league and the Giants shut it down; the Skins’ leading rusher on Sunday was Matt Jones with 38 yards on 11 carries. For some reason, Alfred Morris was a rare sight on the field in the game even when it became clear that the Giants were ready for anything Jones might throw at them.

The Bills pounded the Dolphins into submission on Sunday winning 41-14 after leading 27-0 at the half and coming home on cruise control. The Dolphins had legitimate playoff aspirations this year but their only win came over a truly mediocre Skins’ team by 7 points – and the margin of victory was provided by a punt return for a TD. Jim Tomsula will get the benefit of the doubt for a while if the Niners crash and burn this year; Joe Philbin will not. Whatever happened to the nominally dominant Miami defense with the addition of Ndamukong Suh; it got pushed around once again…? The Bills’ have gotten excellent play from young QB, Tyrod Taylor. Last week Taylor was 21-29 for 277 yards. Those are not “Brady Numbers” nor “Rodgers Numbers”, but they are satisfactory numbers for a team that also plays sound defense.

The Raiders beat the Browns 27-20 to go 2-1 for the season with the Bears up next on the schedule. There may indeed be a ray of light out there in “The Black Hole”. There are 3 second year QBs in the NFL at the moment and Derek Carr has been the most impressive of the three to date. He has thrown 5 TDs and only 1 INT so far. Those are not stratospheric stats, but the ratio is very positive. As flawed as the stat is, Carr also has a QB Rating of 104.2 and you cannot play poorly and still get that kind of a rating.

The Raiders’ win was the first win for the team in the Eastern Time Zone since December 2009 – not quite 6 years. The Raiders’ last road win was all the way back in November 2013 and the last time the Raiders had a 2-game winning streak was in 2012. I am not yet ready to pencil them in for a playoff slot, but this year’s Raiders’ team is competitive and you would not have said that without giggling about the Raiders over the last several years.

Meanwhile, Josh McCown continues to show the Browns’ fans why he has been a career backup QB. Coach Mike Pettine says he is not going to change QBs and put Johnny Manziel under center for this week; I really wonder how long he will be able to do that and not get a phone call from upstairs telling him who the starting QB will be – with or without Pettine on the sidelines as the coach.

The Texans beat the Bucs 19-9 last Sunday. Note that is a 10-point margin of victory; and then, consider the day that Bucs’ kicker Kyle Brindza had:

    He missed makeable field goals of 41 and 33 yards.

    He missed a gargantuan field goal try at 57 yards.

    AND he missed an extra point.

There you have 10 points left on the field. Bucs’ coach Lovie Smith said that Brindza had an “off day”. I think that what he meant was that if Brindza has another day like that he will be “off” the team.

For the first 10 minutes of the game, it looked as if the Cowboys were going to beat the Falcons by a minimum of 5 TDs; they were pushing the Falcons’ defense around and stopping the Falcons’ offense effectively. The score at the half was 28-17 and it looked as if Brandon Weeden was large and in charge. I do not know what kind of talk the Falcons listened to in the locker room at halftime or what adjustments were made, but it was a totally different game in the second half. The Cowboys did not score a point and the Falcons – paced by Julio Jones catching a key pass every time the team needed it and Devonta Freeman gashing the Cowboys’ defense for a total of 141 yards and 3 TDs – won the game 39-28. There are three things to note about the Falcons after this game:

    1. The Falcons are 3-0 and all of the wins came over teams from the NFC East. Too bad they do not play in the NFC East…

    2. The next 6 games on the Falcons schedule are pretty soft with three home games against the Texans, Skins and Bucs plus three road games at the Saints, Titans and Niners.

    3. A 9-0 start to the season might be a lot to ask here but a 7-2 start looks very attainable.

The Vikes beat the Chargers 31-14 last week. The Vikes are a pretty good team when they feature Adrian Peterson as they did here when he gained 126 yards on 20 carries. The Vikes’ offensive coordinator is Norv Turner and he has built offenses around really good RBs in the past – e.g. in Dallas with Emmitt Smith and later in San Diego with LaDanian Tomlinson. Now he can do it one more time with the Vikes. The Chargers are not a bad team, but they are not a good road team.

The Pats beat the Jags 51-17. The only thing to say about that game is “Hi-ho!”

The Jets’ defense had taken the ball away from opposing offenses 5 times in each of the first two games – both of which the Jets won. Last week, the worm turned. This time the Jets turned the ball over to the Eagles 4 times and – surprise – the Jets lost 24-17. The game was a tale of two halves; the Eagles won the first half 24-0; the Jets won the second half 17-0. I mentioned above that 3.5 yards per pass attempt is unsatisfactory; well, at one point in the 2nd quarter, Ryan Fitzpatrick was 11-15 passing for a total of 44 yards. For the record:

    4 yards per pass completion is worse than 3.5 yards per pass attempt in just about any circumstance.

    Fitzpatrick’s yards per pass attempt was just a tad under 3.0.

Geno Smith was on the sidelines for the game and I imagined a thought-bubble over his head with something like this:

“If Fitz throws 3 INTs in the next game and we blow the one after that, my chances of coming back as soon as my jaw is healed are real good…”

The Colts came back from a 13-point deficit at the end of the 3rd quarter to beat the Titans 35-33. Andrew Luck continued to throw INTs here and the Colts’ OL continued to stink in spades. I know there had to have been at least a hundred bloggers ready to write the “Andrew Luck is Overrated” story at the end of the 3rd quarter on Sunday. Those draft blog postings went the way of the delete key because Luck was 11-13 in the fourth quarter for 144 yards and 2 TDs. Note that several QBs cited above did not come close to that output over the course of an entire game. Colts’ DB, Dwight Lowery, is the other hero in the game; he had 2 INTs and one was a Pick Six.

The Steelers beat the Rams 12-6 but they have lost Ben Roethlisberger at QB for at least several weeks. If you Google “Pyrrhic Victory”, you may come to understand what the Steelers accomplished last Sunday. Michael Vick takes over in Pittsburgh. When the Steelers signed him, plenty of fans expressed huge displeasure at having him on the team due to his previous criminal actions. The question to ask those fans – not the Steelers’ fans in general but the ones who were so adamantly vocal about all of this:

    Would you rather be riding with Michael Vick now or might you prefer:

      Case Keenum – or –
      Blaine Gabbert – or
      Dan Orlovsky – or –

    I can go on here for a while…

Meanwhile, the Rams are an unbalanced team. They have a better-than-average defense but their offense has been AWOL for two of their three games. Last week, the Rams were 2-10 on third down conversions against a Steelers’ defense that entered the game ranked 25th in the NFL. What’s up with that…?

The Bengals beat the Ravens 28-24 but the unusual thing here was that the Ravens had the lead twice in the 4th quarter and surrendered that lead both times. That is not “Ravens’ football” as we have come to know it. Andy Dalton threw for 383 yards but that is not the most stunning stat from the passing game last week. Against the Ravens’ defense, AJ Green caught 10 passes for 227 yards and 2 TDs. Most impressive… Here is what was not impressive. The game was so littered with penalty flags that it looked as if the leaves had fallen off the trees early. With 12:27 still to play in the 2nd quarter, there had already been 10 penalties assessed and a couple that were declined.

In the Monday night game, Aaron Rodgers picked the Chiefs’ defense as clean as a carcass out on the Serengeti plain. He threw 5 TD passes and spent much of the evening with a huge smile on his face and a chuckle in his gut. The absence of Jordy Nelson at WR would likely have derailed most teams but with Rodgers throwing the ball, James Jones and Randall Cobb have emerged as top-drawer receivers. Maybe the constant factor here is the guy throwing the ball to those catchers…?

Before we get to the games for this week, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle has observed the new “buzz phrase” that game analysts are using regarding quarterbacks. Here is his interpretation:

“The Hot New Thing every quarterback has to have: eye discipline. How do QBs develop that? I don’t know. Take their wives to the beach?”

The Games:

The Patriots and the Titans get the week off as the Bye Week Season commences in the NFL.

    The Pats will spend the week prepping for a visit to Dallas when they get back to action.

    The Titans were at home last week and will spend their off week at home. After that the schedule mavens have them home for the next three games meaning the team will have been at home in Tennessee for significantly more than a month.

(Thurs Nite) Baltimore – 2.5 at Pittsburgh (43.5): No team has ever started a season at 0-3 and made it to the Super Bowl; the Ravens are 0-3 and a loss here could turn what was a promising season into a raging disaster. For the Ravens, this is a “must win game”. The Steelers on the other hand are 2-1 and still have the division-leading Bengals in sight. However, they have to navigate a series of games without Ben Roethlisberger including 4 games prior to a meeting with the as yet undefeated Bengals. Here is what the three games after this one and before the one against the Bengals look like for the Steelers:

    At San Diego – a five hour flight to the game and a Chargers’ team that is much better at home than on the road.

    Home against Arizona – a hot team that scores lots of points with a head coach who was once run out of town in Pittsburgh

    At KC – a team with a legit shot at the playoffs who plays well at home.

Frankly, this is almost as much of a “must win” game for the Steelers as it is for the Ravens. I will break out the Curmudgeon Central coin for a Coin Flip game right at the outset this week. The coin says to take the Steelers plus the points at home. Hey, the coin has been picking at 80% so far this year…

(Sun 9:30 AM EDT) Jets – 1.5 vs Miami (41) [London Game]: If this is a “must see game” for you, be sure to set your alarm clock and hope that the sermon in church this week is not one of those that lasts 90 minutes. The Jets came back to Earth last week; it is not reasonable to expect a defense to produce 5 takeaways every game.

    [Aside: 5 takeaways per game would lead to 80 takeaways for the regular season. The NFL record for most takeaways in a season is only 66 and that record has stood for 63 years. The record belongs to the 1961 San Diego Chargers and it was accomplished in a 14-game season.]

The Dolphins have underachieved expectations by a wide margin to date; and in at least two of their games, they seemed to be doing not much more than going through the motions. More often than not, the winner of a London Game is the team that shows up ready to play and without any jet lag. In this game, the Jets may suffer some jet lag but the Dolphins could match that malady with nonchalance. I like the Jets to win and cover here.

Jax at Indy – 9 (47): Both teams are 1-2, as are all the teams in the AFC South meaning that the winner here will be in the lead in the division on Sunday night. Notwithstanding that level of importance, this game holds no interest for me at all. The Jags are a bad team and the Colts have dominated them for a while now. The Colts’ can only beat teams handily if the opponent is ordinary or worse along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Both QBs turn the ball over more than a lot. Looking at trends offers little to no help here:

    Jax is 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games after losing straight up
    Jax is 0-6 ATS in their last 6 games after giving up 30 points or more.

    Indy is 4-0 ATS at home against teams with losing records.
    Indy is 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games against AFC opponents.

You guessed it. This is another Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game. The coin says to take the game to go OVER.

Houston at Atlanta – 6.5 (47): The Falcons are undefeated and are tied atop the NFC South with the Panthers. The Texans are another of those 1-2 teams in the AFC South. I have no idea what kind of magic potion the Falcons are using in their Gatorade, but it is working. Despite shutting out the Cowboys in the second half last week, I am not anywhere near ready to anoint the Falcons’ defense as an elite unit; however, the Texans are bringing a meager offense to the party here. I like the Falcons at home to win and cover. I think the Falcons are on a roll…

Carolina – 3 at Tampa (40): If I am correct about the Falcons game above, then the Panthers will need to win here to keep pace in the NFC South race. The Bucs left points on the field last week (see above) and points will be at a premium in this game; neither team can allow that to happen here. I can foresee two scenarios for this game:

    Panthers look past this “lowly opponent” in anticipation of their Bye Week next week and lose the game outright.

    Panthers realize they will have 2 weeks of hell-to-pay if they lose to the Bucs in Tampa where the Bucs have lost 10 in a row and they go out and squash the Bucs.

I will lean toward the latter scenario and I’ll take the Panthers to win and cover on the road.

Giants at Buffalo – 5.5 (47): Victor Cruz says he will play this weekend in Buffalo. Rex Ryan loves to fashion his defense to stop the other team’s big threat; and for the Giants, that would be Odell Beckham, Jr. Without Cruz on the field, that would make life difficult for Eli Manning and the Giants who are not a great rushing team. However, with Victor Cruz in the lineup, doubling Beckham Jr, on every play might not be as productive a defensive stratagem as it might have been in the past. I like the Giants here plus the points. However, I must admit that I am concerned that the Giants will not put the kind of pressure on Tyrod Taylor that teams seek to put on inexperienced QBs…

Oakland – 3 at Chicago (44.5): The Bears are a hot mess (see above). Jay Cutler is listed as “Out” in the injury report meaning another week of Jimmy Claussen and/or David Fales. Oh, Alshon Jeffrey is also listed as “Questionable” for the game with a hamstring injury. The Raiders broke their road jinx last week but this is a second straight week with travel of a significant distance to play a game – and as a field goal favorite no less. I’ll take the Raiders and lay the points even on the road; this selection is a statement of how bad I think the Bears are and not how good the Raiders are.

Philly – 3 at Washington (46.5): If the Eagles’ offense continues to play poorly and if the Skins play to their normal level of competence, this could be the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. However, I have a hunch that both teams will play well here because it is a division game and there is a real rivalry between the clubs. However, there is the possibility of so much rain in the DC area [thanks to Hurricane Joaquin] that the game may need to be rescheduled. If they do play on such a soggy turf, I like this game to stay Under.

KC at Cincy – 4 (44.5): The Chiefs get a short week to prep for a game against an undefeated rival in the undefeated rival’s home park. That sounds as if this is an easy pick except for two things:

    The Chiefs are a good road team – and –

    The Chiefs’ defense is a good unit.

In big games, the knock on Andy Dalton is that he folds under pressure and turns the ball over a lot. Well, this is not a playoff game to be sure; but he is going to feel pressure from the Chiefs’ front seven. I think there will be scoring by both sides here so I’ll take this game to go OVER.

Cleveland at San Diego – 7.5 (45): The spread opened the week at 10 points and dropped to this level almost instantly. You can still find the game at 8 points at several Internet sportsbooks if you go looking. I know that the Chargers were handled rudely by the Vikes last week in Minnesota but this time they are at home and their opponent has had the big trip. Purely a venue call; I’ll take the Chargers and lay the points. Actually there is another factor in the selection. The Chargers start Philip Rivers at QB and the Browns start Josh McCown at QB.

Green Bay – 9 at SF (48.5): The Niners have given up 43 points to the Steelers and 47 points to the Cardinals in the last two games. Yes, both games were on the road and this one is at home. However, the opponent is a team that has been known to score a few points itself. This looks like a game where a porous defense has to try to contain a top-shelf QB and passing attack. That same porous defense has not been able to do that for the last two weeks. I like the Packers to win and cover here and I like the game to go OVER.

Minnesota at Denver – 7 (43): These are both good defensive teams and Minnesota will try to control the clock with its running game. That makes it seem as if this will be a low-scoring game and that makes the line look fat to me. I’ll take the Vikes plus the points.

St. Louis at Arizona – 7 (42.5): The Cards are going to score points even on a good Rams’ defense. The unknown here is what the Rams will do on offense – or in other ways – to score points. The Cards have beaten 3 opponents this year that are not nearly as good defensively as the Rams (Saints, Bears, Niners) so the question is to what extent their output will diminish here; so far, they have been held under 40 points only once and in that game they scored 31 points. The other question here is if the Rams can score with their mediocre offense against a Cards’ defense that has not been stressed yet this year. I like the Rams plus the points and I like the game to go OVER.

(Sun Nite) Dallas at New Orleans (no lines): This could also be the Dog-Breath Game of the Week if Drew Brees and Tony Romo watch the game from the sidelines with injuries to their throwing arms. That is not normally the case for a Sunday Night Football game. Brees is officially “Questionable” for the game: Romo was still in a sling last week on the sidelines so I can safely figure that he will not be playing this week. Should a line emerge here and if you have to make a bet on the game because you are watching it, let me offer two pieces of advice:

    1. Get yourself some addiction counseling very quickly – and –

    2. Take whomever is the dog plus the points.

(Mon Nite) Detroit at Seattle – 9.5 (43): The game has a ton of meaning for the Seahawks and the Lions are about two weeks removed from “playing for pride” during the rest of the 2015 season. Marshawn Lynch is said to be “50/50” to play here due to a hamstring injury.

    Memo to Pete Carroll: Lynch is your “bell cow”. Call Keith Jackson if you need an explanation here. If you cannot beat the sorry-assed Lions without Lynch, you are not going anywhere near the Super Bowl this year anyhow. Give the dude an extra week to get himself a bit closer to “right”.

I really do hate to lay double-digit spreads in the NFL – and 9.5 points in the moral equivalent of a double-digit spread – but I do not see how the Lions are going to generate enough offense to stress the Seahawks defense or how the Lions’ defense is going to throttle the Seahawks’ offense whether or not Marshawn Lynch is in the game or in pajamas on the sideline. I’ll take the Seahawks at home and lay the points.

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

NBA Training Camps Begin…

NBA teams are heading to training camp – – already. In news that cannot be a surprise to anyone who follows the NBA even a little bit, Derrick Rose is injured. In a practice, he took an elbow to the face and suffered a fracture to the orbital bone that will require surgery. I will not pretend to be a surgeon, but any sort of procedure that happens near one’s eye socket cannot be considered “minor”. Obviously, there is no recovery prognosis yet since the surgery is not scheduled until later today.

The Chicago Bulls are obviously a much better team with a healthy Derrick Rose on the floor – even though he has had trouble staying on the floor for much of his career. For this season, it is probably much more important for the Bulls to have him active in training camp than it was before because the Bulls have a new coach this year (Fred Hoiberg) and that means a new system that will nominally be orchestrated by the point guard.

According to several reports I read, if the surgery goes well, Rose might be expected back sometime around 1 December and would play with a mask for a time after that. Allowing him time to get into game condition and to adjust to the mask/injury under game conditions, the Bulls might be ready to run on all cylinders around Christmas. On Christmas Day, the Bulls play at Oklahoma City; that will be the 27th game of the season for the team meaning the season is just about one-third done at that point. Absent a major collapse in November and early December, the Bulls ought to be able to get themselves positioned for a playoff berth. After all, they are in the Eastern Conference…

A couple of other teams start training camp with a variety of “issues” in the air. Out in Sacramento, everyone seems focused on the interpersonal dynamic between Coach George Karl and center DeMarcus Cousins. To be sure, that will be fun to watch because those two men have broadly different views of what it means to be in/play in the NBA. As much fun as it might be to stand back and observe those two folks as they seek to coexist without committing any felonies one upon the other, there is another actor in Sacramento who might get a few solo numbers in the opera there. During the offseason, the Kings signed Rajon Rondo.

Rondo has clashed with coaches and teammates in his prior venues and was basically asked by the Dallas Mavericks to stay away from the team in the midst of the playoffs last year. Not only that, but when it came time to share in the playoff money the team earned, the Mavs stiffed Rondo. Ask yourself these questions:

    Just how big a pain-in-the-ass must he have been in Dallas?

    What might convince the geniuses who run the Kings that the serenity that encircles the Kings’ franchise might mellow out such a pain-in-the-ass?

The Kings may or may not be a relevant team next year, but they should be fun to stand back and observe…

In another offseason addition that makes me shake my head in wonderment, the NY Knicks signed Robin Lopez for $54M over 4 years. I understand that the Knicks need someone on the court who can and will play defense and that Robin Lopez can and will do that. Nevertheless, there is also some need on the Knicks for a center who might frighten the opposition should the ball ever find its way into his hands in the forecourt – – not a foregone conclusion on that squad. Over his career, Robin Lopez has averaged 8 points and 5 rebounds per game. With that sort of offensive production, Lopez might have to be the second coming of Bill Russell on defense to be worth 4 years and $54M…

The LA Lakers will also be interesting to watch this year even though they are not likely to be a championship caliber team. The Lakers get Kobe Bryant back from injury and it will be interesting to see if he has much gas left in the tank. As interesting as that might be, the Lakers will be interesting for a variety of other reasons:

    Nick Young is on the roster. To say that Young has no conscience when the ball is in his hands would be an understatement. Last year with Bryant in the stands, Young sort of had free rein. That is not going to happen this year…

    Metta World Peace is on the roster. The Lakers signed him to a 1-year deal. He says that the fact that the Lakers gave him a chance shows that the Lakers are “going for it” this year. I am not sure what he thinks the team is going for…

    Roy Hibbert is on the roster. One of the assets Metta World Peace brings to the team is his ability to mentor Hibbert. Excuse me, but Roy Hibbert is 29 years old and has been in the NBA for 7 years. He should be “the mentor” and not “the mentee” by now…

In the last couple of days, the Chicago Bears have done two unusual things. It is not common at all for teams to trade players in the middle of an NFL season; nonetheless, just this week, the Bears have made two separate trades in which they have sent players off their roster elsewhere in exchange for low-round draft picks. DE, Jared Allen went to the Panthers for a conditional 6th round pick and LB, Jon Bostic went to the Pats for another 6th round pick (pending Bostic passing a physical in New England). The Bears have a new coaching staff and a team that is overmatched this year; they do not need a mere rebuilding process; they need to pour a new foundation first and then rebuild the structure of the team. Nonetheless, these trades are interesting for reasons other than their novelty;

    1. The Bears’ offense stinks like a cheese factory in July. So, why trade away defensive players?

    2. If all the Bears can get for those two players are 6th round picks, what is the point? Here are some recent 6th round acquisitions by the Bears; see if there are any difference-makers here?

      David Fales QB San Jose St. 2014
      Pat O’Donnell P Miami (Fl) 2014
      Cornelius Washington LB Georgia 2013
      Isaiah Frey DB Nevada 2012
      JT Thomas LB West Virginia 2011
      Dan LeFevour QB C. Michigan 2010

Yes, I know that Tom Brady was also a 6th round pick. Nonetheless, 6th round picks are much more likely to be minor players on a team or scrubs who do not make it out of training camp.

By the way, do the Bears still retain the rights to Dan LeFevour? If so, they should give him a call…

Finally, here is some sidebar NBA news courtesy of Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle and Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

Talk about an athlete making a sacrifice for his team: Rockets guard James Harden agreed not to wear his prized Nike Air Jordans in public after Oct. 1, in deference to his new shoe sponsor, Adidas. Incredible loyalty by a guy who will earn only $200 million for wearing Adidas.

Harden incurred the displeasure of Adidas when he was photographed wearing the Air Jordans while on a date with Khloe Kardashian. Harden’s contract with Khloe stipulates that he won’t date either of the Olsen twins. [Scott Ostler]

And …

“Parting thought: I close by presenting the following without comment because some things are so absurd they require no punch line: Adidas is paying James Harden $200 million to wear its sneakers.” [Greg Cote]

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