Former White House Chief of Staff, John Sununu once said of Fridays:
“For most Americans, Friday afternoons are filled with positive anticipation of the weekend. In Washington, it’s where government officials dump stories they want to bury.”
I am not a government official – you can rest easy on that score – but I am in Washington; so, let me assure you that I am not here to bury this edition of Football Friday.
Now, you could talk me into trying to bury last week’s edition since the Truncated Six-Pack last week was horrifically incorrect at 0-3-1. I shall try to do better this week with another Six-Pack containing fewer than 6 elements. Here is how we stand for the season to date:
- Overall: 35-26-3
- College: 19-7-1
- NFL: 16-19-2
Since last week’s Football Friday coincided with Friday the Thirteenth, perhaps that explains the dismal record. Or not…
College Football Commentary:
Nothing worth discussing this week …
College Football Games This Week:
This is the silly end of the college football bowl schedule. There are nine games today and tomorrow involving Division 1-A teams. Only one of those nine games is even marginally interesting.
Washington – 3 vs Boise St (50): If you live west of Montana and north of Oregon, this game might be interesting to you. For the rest of the world, here is the only “interesting bit” that I could find:
- Washington ranks 23rd in the country in scoring defense for 2019.
- Boise St. ranks 24th in the country in scoring defense for 2019
I made it a point to watch a replay of last week’s Raiders/Jags game because of the way the game ended and because I hoped to see at least some of the kerfuffle between fans and security folks at the end. The game was uninspiring; I am not sure the most ardent fan of either team would take umbrage at that assessment. The Jags won the game at the end with a TD drive in the final 2 minutes. They were aided in that final drive by a bad decision on the part of the Raiders’ coaching staff. Let me explain:
- The Raiders led 16-13 and had the ball in their own territory with 1:47 left in the game. It was 3rd down and 11.
- The Raiders called a pass play that was incomplete stopping the clock. After the ensuing punt, the Jags had the ball at about their 35 yardline with 1:31 to play.
- That incomplete pass was a “free timeout” for the Jags. A running play would have taken about and then another 40 seconds would have run off the clock followed by the 8 or 9 seconds that the punt play would consume.
- Instead of having 1:31 to drive the field, the Jags would have had only about 53 seconds on the clock.
Time management is an important part of game strategy; too many coaching staffs demonstrate their lack of strategic thinking when it comes to playing with or against the clock. A former colleague was once describing a third individual’s inability to think strategically this way:
- A chess player is a strategic thinker. Joe Flabeetz plays tic-tac-toe.
I was sorry to see a bit of and read a lot about the way the Oakland fans behaved at the end of that game. The Raiders are an iconic franchise; read Going Long by Jeff Miller and/or Football’s Blackest Hole by Craig Parker to get an appreciation of what I mean by an “iconic franchise”. I understand that the last two decades of Raider football has been dismal; the team record since its last Super Bowl appearance at the end of the 2002 season is 91-179-0 – – with one more game to play in 2019; as a close approximation, the Raiders have lost two games for every one they have won in the last 17 seasons.
Nonetheless, there was something wrong with the fans booing the team as they left the field for what is probably the last time in Oakland – – unless of course the team moves back there one more time for the 2040 NFL season. It could not have been a joyous occasion for those fans, but their behavior was low rent as far as I am concerned.
At the other end of the spectrum of fan behavior were the fans of the NY Giants who gave Eli Manning a standing ovation when he was taken out of the game with a victory in the bag against the Dolphins. That was probably his last home appearance for the Giants; Manning has been a polarizing figure in NY for a while now, but I thought the Giants’ fans showed a lot of class in the way they sent him off.
There were two interesting signings off the waiver wire this week:
- Janoris Jenkins signed with the Saints after the Giants released him. Jenkins had used the word “retard” in one of his social media postings; people took offense; Jenkins defended his use of the word; people who were offended became enraged; the Giants cut Jenkins. So, let me get this straight… Jenkins suffered some kind of “punishment/sanction” in getting released by a team with a 3-11 record so that he could join the Saints with a record of 11-3 and assured participation in the playoffs. As Br’er Rabbit begged Br’er Fox, “Please don’t throw me in that briar patch.”
- Terrell Suggs signed with the Chiefs after the Cards released him. Suggs is clearly in the final phase of his career; he is 37 years old and has been in the NFL for 17 seasons. The Cards’ defense is not a sterling unit; it ranks 31st in the NFL giving up 413.1 yards per game. Suggs’ stats include:
4 forced fumbles 5.5 sacks 7 QB hits 8 tackles for a loss
- And the Cards didn’t want to keep him around for the final two games of the 2019 season?
In the offense-minded NFL that exists in 2019, I think the Pats and the Packers are teams that need to worry in the playoffs – – unless one or both get home field for a couple of those playoff games. Both offenses are somewhere between “anemic” and “lackluster” these days.
There were some Highlights from last week’s games:
- The Cowboys disemboweled the Rams 44-21 – – it wasn’t even that close. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 117 yards and 2 TDs; Tony Pollard also ran for 131 and a TD; the Cowboys ran for 263 yards in the game. Meanwhile, Todd Gurley was held to 20 yards rushing on 11 carries.
- Jameis Winston threw for 458 yards 3 TDs and 1 INT in a dominating win over the Lions.
- The Pats’ defense forced 5 turnovers against Bengals and the defensive unit won the game even though it looks like an offensive explosion on the scoreboard.
- Dwayne Haskins had – by far – his best game as a QB for the Skins despite losing to the Eagles.
- The Texans beat the Titans and now their path to the playoffs is clear. Win out and the Texans are in as the AFC South Champ. Of course, the same two teams meet again next week in the final regular season game…
- As noted above, Eli Manning won what is almost certain to have been his last start in NY. Beating the Dolphins in that final start diminishes the accomplishment just a tad. Hi ho!
- The Bills are in the playoffs after a win on the road over the Steelers.
- Drew Brees broke Peyton Manning’s career record for most TD passes in the Saints’ 34-7 dismantling of the Colts.
- The most shocking result of the week had to be Falcons 29 Niners 22. The Falcons trailed 19-10 in the 4th quarter and came back to win.
There were some Lowlights from last week’s games:
- Kyle Allen threw 3 more INTs for the Panthers. The bloom seems to have fallen off that rose; the Panthers will start Will Grier this week.
- Not to be outdone, “Duck” Hodges threw 4 INTs and lost a fumble against the Bills. The Steelers will stick with Hodges again this week.
- The Broncos were held to 1 FG in a snowy 23-3 loss to Chiefs. Here’s the deal: when you hold the Chiefs to 23 points – snow or no snow – you should have a realistic chance to win the game. The Broncos were never a threat to win this game.
- The Chargers turned the ball over 7 times to the Vikes leading to a humiliating loss by a score of 39-10.
- As mentioned above, the Raiders defense allowed Gardner Minshew to conduct two LONG TD drives in the 4th quarter to turn a 16-3 lead into a 20-16 loss against the woebegone Jags.
- The Browns’ run defense allowed the Cards to amass 226 yards on the ground. Not surprisingly, the Cards won the game 38-24.
NFL Games This Week:
There was no Thursday Night Football last evening; instead, the NFL will present a Saturday triple header this week on NFL Network. If you watch the 3 games on Saturday plus all or parts of the 3 games on Sunday afternoon plus the 2 night games on Sunday and Monday, you will have seen 16 of the NFL’s 32 teams. If you indeed watch all that football this weekend, you may also be seeing a marriage counselor or a divorce lawyer very soon…
(Sat Nite) Rams at SF – 6 (44): Neither team played well last week. The Niners’ defense has been burned two weeks in a row. Question: Will the Rams wake up here after a somnambulant showing in Dallas? Last week, the Rams’ rushing yardage was 22 yards; Jared Goff completed less than 50% of his pass attempts; the defense was gashed by Cowboys’ run game.
(Late Sat Afternoon) Buffalo at New England – 6.5 (36.5): The Bills have won 2 of their last 18 games in Foxboro. Both teams are in the playoffs. This is the first season with double-digit wins by the Bills since Y2K. Points will be at a premium in this game. I think the line is fat, so I’ll put the Bills plus the points in this week’s Abbreviated Six-Pack. To demonstrate what I mean by “points will be at a premium” here, consider:
- In 2019, 9 of the Pats 14 games have gone UNDER.
- In 2019, 11 of the Bills 14 games have gone UNDER.
(Early Sat Afternoon) Houston – 3.5 at Tampa (50.5): This game opened as “pick ‘em” but that did not last long. The Bucs have won 4 games in a row and they have scored an average of 34.75 points per game over that run. The Bucs’ secondary is the weak link for the team – – and Watson/Hopkins/Stills should be able to exploit that weakness. Consider these 2019 stats for Jameis Winston:
- Leads the NFL in pass attempts (554) and passing yardage (4573) and yards per game (326.6).
- Stands second in the league in TDs and in yards per completion.
- Also leads the NFL in INTs (24).
I am tempted to take the game to go OVER, but I cannot resist the temptation to fade the Texans here. This is a “sandwich game” for them between two games against the Titans plus the Texans have not been reliable week over week this season. I will put the Bucs plus the points in this week’s Condensed Six-Pack.
Detroit at Denver – 7 (48): This game got some consideration as the Dog-Breath Game of the Week but did not make it to that depth. There is no way to make a pick here because I cannot trust the Broncos and I will not take the Lions on the road. Both teams will use their third starting QB of the season in this game. The Lions started 2019 with a record of 2-0-1; since then, the Lions are 1-10. If it were any team other than the Lions, people would say “WTF?” Since these are the Lions people are saying “Ho-hum.” Here is something more to demonstrate how the Lions remain the Lions:
- The Lions went 36-28 from 2014-2017, with a couple of playoff appearances.
- Then they fired Jim Caldwell after back-to-back 9-7 seasons in order to hire Matt Patricia to “change the culture” and “take the team to the next level”. Matt Patricia is 9-20-1 in his tenure in Detroit.
Oakland at Chargers – 7 (45): Both teams are sinking so fast you’d think someone tossed them a life preserver made of cement. Question:
- If Gruden ran off Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, might he also jettison Derek Carr who has not played well at all down the stretch?
The free agent market is not populated with a lot of desirable choices so that would mean the Raiders would start their time in Las Vegas with a rookie QB. Stay tuned…
Jax at Atlanta – 7 (46): This is another game that was considered as the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Amazingly, both teams come to the game on a “winning streak”. Question:
- Can the Falcons finish strong enough to save Dan Quinn’s job?
If you find that question uninteresting, just ignore this game.
New Orleans – 2.5 at Tennessee (50): The spread on this game ranges from 1 point – where it opened the week – to 3 points at one Internet sportsbook. The most common spread values are 2 points and 2.5 points. The Titans need this game to stay within striking distance of the Texans in the AFC South. The Saints need this game for seeding in the NFC Playoffs. I was tempted to take the Titans plus the points at home – – but I still cannot bring myself to believe in the Titans as a consistent team. Also, this is a “sandwich game” for Titans as it is for the Texans.
Giants at Washington – 2 (41): With all the stinky games on the card this weekend – and with the Dolphins/Bengals game placed in a unique category of its own (see below) – this is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Notwithstanding that status, this is the game that will be force-fed to NFL fans in the DC area on Sunday.
Pittsburgh – 3 at Jets (37): The Steelers will make the playoffs with a win here and a win next week. The Jets will make the playoffs one of these years. The Jets have best run defense in the NFL in terms of yards per attempt. Question 1:
- Can they force “Duck” Devlin to throw it 38 times as he did last week in a 4 INT performance against the Bills?
- Will Le’Veon Bell see this as some sort of “vindication game” against his old mates – some of whom abandoned him in his holdout back in 2018?
Cincy – 1 at Miami (46): The spread opened the week with the Dolphins as a 2.5-point favorite. So much for that stuff… Let me call this one the Essence of Excrement Game of the Year. This game goes beyond any label involving “dog-breath”; this game stretches the meaning of “fetid”. The only way for the Bengals to lose the #1 pick in the Draft is for them to win out. A Dolphins win here ends the Dolphins hopes for acquiring that pick. Hmmm… Both teams will be shopping for a QB starting in January.
Carolina at Indy – 6.5 (46.5): This game looked like it would be a good one back in August; but now, it is bleak. The Panthers will bench Kyle Allen to start Will Grier here. Rookie QBs in their first start have done surprisingly well so far this year. Grier was picked in 3rd round out of WVa last year. My guess is that he will be a bit surprised by the very big difference in pass defense as it is played in the NFL as opposed to pass defense as it is played in the Big 12.
Baltimore – 9.5 at Cleveland (49.5): The spread opened at 7 points and has climbed during the week. I found it at 10 points at an Internet sportsbook this morning. Somehow the Browns won the first meeting between these two teams back in late September and won that game by 15 points. I think the Ravens get revenge this week. Here are two questions involving this game:
- Baker Mayfield has 17 TD passes and 17 INTs this year. Can he finish the season with more TDs than INTs?
- Can Browns finish with a non-losing record for the 3rd time since their rebirth in 1999? If they win out, the Browns will be 8-8 this year.
I’ll put the Ravens in this week’s Shrunken Six-Pack to win and cover.
Dallas – 2 at Philly (46): The Cowboys’ situation is this: “Win and you’re in”. The Eagles must win out to be sure of a playoff slot. Imagine the reaction in Philly to this scenario:
- The Eagles beat Cowboys on Sunday. Elation in Philly.
- Then the Eagles lose to Giants in Week 17 and miss the playoffs.
Put the city on suicide watch.
Arizona at Seattle – 10 (50): The Seahawks have home field advantage in the NFC Playoffs as of this morning so winning out is important to them. This game features Russell Wilson at home against a not-very-good defense. Seahawks have 11 wins this year however, they only won 1 of those games by more than one score – 8 points. That one comfortable win was in Week 4 and it came against the Cards in Arizona.
(Sun Nite) KC – 6 at Chicago (44.5): The Bears cannot make playoffs; the Chiefs are definitely in the playoffs and would like to get a higher seeding. Let’s see … Patrick Mahomes or Mitchell Trubisky? Hmmm… Last week, the Bears had Trubisky throwing the ball 53 times.
- Memo to coach Nagy: That is NOT a winning formula.
(Mon Nite) Green Bay at Minnesota – 5.5 (46): The Packers’ offense has been dormant recently. Since November 10th, the Packers have only scored more than 24 points once and that was against the Giants’ pitiful defense. Here the Packers are up against a Vikes’ defense that is a good one. The Packers have won 3 in a row over lesser competition and the Vikes are indeed at home where they are undefeated in 2019. The outcome here has direct bearing on NFC North race. Dalvin Cook is likely out of the game with a shoulder injury. I’ll put the Packers plus the points in this week’s Excerpted Six-Pack.
Let me summarize this week’s Six-Pack:
- Bills + 6.5 versus Pats
- Bucs + 3.5 versus Texans
- Ravens – 9.5 over Browns
- Packers +5.5 versus Vikes
Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times last week which marries well NFL football and the Holiday Season:
“The best place in America to experience New Year’s Eve, according to a WalletHub.com study, is New York City.
“Except now there’s bickering over whether it’s a Jets or Giants receiver who gets to drop the ball at midnight.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………