Football Friday 12/6/19

Tomorrow will be Pearl Harbor Day – – but until tomorrow, today is Football Friday.  This is the weekend that will crown the conference champions and will determine the four teams that will participate in the College Football Playoff and will set in motion the activities to populate the seemingly endless number of other bowl games.  If I have counted correctly, there will be 41 bowl games this year requiring 82 teams.  There were 130 Division 1-A teams aspiring to a bowl slot back in August meaning that only 37% of the teams failed to “make the post season”.  College football advocates like to say that every game matters; well, when 63% of the teams “make it to the post-season”, one can wonder…

Last week, the Six-Pack broke even at 3-3.  Here is the cumulative record for the season:

  • Overall:  31-21-2
  • College:  17-6-1
  • NFL:  14-15-1

 

College Football Commentary:

 

Earlier this week, I ran through a bunch of the schools that will be looking to hire a new coach over the next several weeks.  One school has already made a “splashy” hire.  Rutgers signed Greg Schiano to an 8-year contract for $32M.  This is a coming-home event for Schiano; he is a self-identified “Jersey-guy” and he has been the coach at Rutgers before.  When he took the job last time, the program had sunk into the mire; over the previous 5 seasons, Rutgers went 11-44.

Schiano did not work miracles back then; he slowly built the program to the point where Rutgers went to a bowl game in 6 of his final 7 seasons there.  He was not fired from his job then; he left to become the head coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs in the NFL.

He is not going to work miracles this time either for a couple of reasons, but the major reason is this:

  • When he last took over the job in 2001, Rutgers was in the Big East where the dominant teams were Miami and Va Tech.  Now Rutgers is in the Big 10 East where every year they know they will face the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State.

Rutgers has lost 21 consecutive Big 10 games dating back to November 2017.  This year Rutgers was 0-9 in conference games and lost by an average of 35 points per game.  Since joining the Big 10 in 2014 Rutgers’ conference record is 7-45 losing by an average of 23 points per game.  It will take any coach anywhere a bit of time to climb out of that abyss – – if such a climb is even possible.

There were a few surprising results from last week’s rivalry games:

  • It was no surprise that Ohio State beat Michigan; Ohio State is the better team.  However, the surprise was the 29-pooint margin of victory.
  • The margin of victory was a surprise also in the Kentucky/Louisville game.  The Wildcats won by 32 points.
  • Wisconsin beat Minnesota soundly 38-17.
  • Auburn beat Alabama 48-45.  Alabama was favored in the game, so it was technically an “upset”.  The surprise to me is that Auburn scored 48 points against the Bama defense.  This year, Auburn had offensive outbursts against the likes of Samford, Arkansas and Kent State – – not the likes of Alabama.
  • LSU beat Texas A&M 50-7.  LSU is the better team to be sure, but 43 points better?
  • Florida beat Florida State by 23 points after leading 30-7 at halftime.
  • Oklahoma beat a ranked Oklahoma State team by 18 points in Stillwater where Ok. St. is much tougher.
  • UVa beat VaTech 39-30 earning the “privilege” of facing Clemson this weekend.
  • Memphis beat Cincy 34-24.  These two teams will play again this week in the AAC Conference Championship game.
  • Washington beat Washington State 31-13 in the Apple Cup.  Washington’s coach “stepped down” and Washington State gave its coach a contract extension.  Say what?

 

The SHOE Tournament:

 

Here are the teams vying to be crowned as “The SHOE” – – The Steaming Heap Of Excrement – – for 2019.  The idea is to imagine them playing one another in this 8-team bracket where the loser of a game must continue to play on.  The #1 Seed in this tournament is the team that appears now to be the worst in the country – – but you never know…

As with the CFP at the other end of the college football spectrum, the seeding here is done by a committee.  The difference is that the SHOE Tournament seedings are done by a committee-of-one, namely me.

  • #1 Seed Akron:  This seeding is almost by default; Akron is the only Division 1-A team out of 130 such teams to go winless in 2019.  They closed out the season losing to Ohio – – not Ohio State – – by a score of 52-3.
  • #2 Seed UMass:  I’m not so sure that UMass can win a Division 1-A game because its defense is legendarily bad.  The Minutemen gave up 52.7 points per game this year; that is 11.7 points per game more than the next-worst scoring defense in the country.
  • #3 Seed Old Dominion:  The Monarchs finished the year at 1-11.  That lone win came in Week 1 by 3 points over a Division 1-AA opponent.
  • #4 Seed UTEP:  The Miners finished with a 1-11 record.    Their lone win was also in Week 1 by 2 points over a Division 1-AA opponent.
  • #5 Seed New Mexico State:  The Aggies were 2-10 this year.  On November 23, the Aggies beat UTP by 11 points; that means they deserve a lower seeding here.
  • #6 Seed UConn:  The Huskies were 2-10 this year also.  The two wins were over a Division 1-AA opponent and UMass.
  • #7 Seed Rutgers:  The Scarlett Knights were 2-10 in 2019.  The two wins came at the expense of Liberty and UMass.  See above for more details on Rutgers’ stinkitude…
  • #8 Seed Arkansas:  The Razorbacks were 2-10 this year.  From October 19 through November 23, Arkansas played 5 games and gave up a total of 254 points.  Two of the teams in that run were Western Kentucky and Mississippi State – – not exactly offensive powerhouses.

 

College Games this Week:

 

(Fri Nite) Oregon vs Utah – 6.5 (46.5):  The two best defensive teams in the PAC-12 will play for the conference championship; that is not normally the case out west.  The Utes have a shot at the CFP with a solid win here; Oregon already has two losses; I cannot imagine a scenario where Oregon gets into the CFP this year.  Everyone who follows college football has heard of Oregon QB, Justin Herbert – a first round pick in next year’s NFL Draft.  It is time for folks to get to recognize Utah RB, Zack Moss.  That guy can play…

Miami (OH) vs C. Michigan – 6 (54):  This is for the MAC Championship and there are some oddities here:

  • Miami is 7-5 while C Michigan is 8-4 – – and one of them will be a conference champion on Sunday morning
  • C Michigan won only 1 game last year and is playing for the conference championship this year.
  • Both teams lost to W. Michigan in MAC games – – yet W. Michigan isn’t in the championship game.

Baylor vs Oklahoma – 9.5 (65.5):  Both teams are 11-1.  Oklahoma beat Baylor but lost to K-State.  In their game against Baylor, the Sooners rallied from a 28-3 deficit to win.  No matter the outcome here, you have to tip your hat to Matt Ruhle as the coach at Baylor.  He took over a program in shambles as Art Briles was escorted out of town and Jim Grobe took over for one year as an interim coach back in 2017.  The Bears were 1-11 that year; they are 11-1 this year.

UAB vs Florida Atlantic – 8 (49.5):  The interesting aspect of this game is Lane Kiffin, the coach at FAU.  He has been linked to the job openings at both Arkansas and Mizzou in the SEC.  While those jobs may not be easy “turn-arounds” given the conference opponents, the SEC is at or near the top of the college football food chain in terms of coaching.  A loss here would not help Lane Kiffin’s candidacy for either of those jobs…

Cincy vs Memphis – 9 (57.5):  They met last week, and Memphis prevailed by 10 points.  The winner will be the AAC champion.

Hawaii at Boise St. – 13 (65):  This is the Mountain West championship game and it is being played on the “Smurf-Turf” in Boise.  Weather.com says it should be raining and in the 40s for this game; that is not Hawaii weather.  I’ll put Boise St. in this week’s Six-Pack to win and cover at home. 

Georgia vs LSU – 7 (55.5):  LSU has the most prolific offense in the SEC scoring 46.7 points per game.  Georgia has the stingiest defense in the SEC allowing 10.4 points per game.  That alone makes this game worth watching…

Wisconsin vs Ohio State – 15.5 (56.5):  The Buckeyes beat the Badgers by 31 points in late October scoring 28 unanswered points.  The spread here is only half of that margin of victory.  I suspect that spread is where it is because Ohio State QB, Justin Fields, tweaked his knee in last week’s game; that level of uncertainty is why I am not taking Ohio State to win this one big.

UVa vs Clemson – 28 (57):  Just so you know, Virginia is +2375 on the Money Line here.  In case you had not noticed, Clemson ranks first in the country in scoring defense allowing only 10.1 points per game.  I think Clemson pours it on here.  I’ll put Clemson in this week’s Six-Pack and lay the points.

 

NFL Commentary:

 

I want to say something about last night’s Cowboys/Bears game.  The Cowboys were listless on offense and awful on defense.  The quick narrative here is that this is the fault of the coaching staff etc.  There is, however, a large measure of blame to be put on the players here.  These are professional athletes – some of them are making multiple millions of dollars per year to ply their trade.  Real motivation comes from within a person; I think it is an overstatement to say that all motivation comes from within, but I believe most of it resides there.

The Cowboys have talent – lots of talent.  What they seem to lack this year is a sense of their responsibility to put all that talent on display for 60 full minutes of a football game.  Is that a coaching flaw?

The Cowboys were listless two weeks ago losing to the Pats and then were merely lethargic on Thanksgiving Day in a loss to the Bills.  Last night’s seeming indifference on the part of the Cowboys is not news.  Those who conclude that all of this falls at the feet of the coaching staff wonder aloud how and why Jason Garrett continues to be the head coach in Dallas after almost 10 years that have produced 2 playoff wins and 4 winning seasons.  Here is my theory:

  • Jason Garrett is very good at taking the blame without lashing out.
  • Jerry Jones needs someone to pin the blame on when the Cowboys team that he assembles annually does not meet expectations.
  • Jason Garrett likes his job; Jerry Jones like having a coach who can absorb blame like a sponge.
  • I am no psychologist, but it looks to me as if there is a tad of codependency at work here.

Last week’s NFL games showed some ups and some downs.  Here are some of the “ups”:

  1. The Skins rallied from a 14-0 deficit to beat the Panthers.  The Skins’ defense produced 4 takeaways in the game and sacked Kyle Allen 7 times.
  2. Derrick Henry ran for 149 yards and 1 TD against the Colts.
  3. Drew Lock won his first start as a Bronco.  It was certainly not pretty – – but the Broncos won the game with a field goal as time expired.
  4. The Dolphins offense had 4 trips inside the Red Zone against the Eagles and came away with 4 TDs.
  5. The Rams amassed 549 yards total offense.
  6. The Bengals held the Jets to 6 points getting their first win of the season.  The Bengals’ defense had been giving up 417.2 yards per game; the Jets only managed to gain 271.

Here are some of the “downs”:

  1. The Pats’ offense continued to look anemic on Sunday night against the Texans.
  2. The Eagles’ defense was awful.  The Eagles scored 31 points on the Dolphins and managed to lose.
  3. Nick Foles was benched – not injured but benched – in favor of Gardner Minshew.  The Jags have to be shaking their head at the 4-year and $88M contract they gave to Foles last Spring.
  4. Daniel Jones threw 3 INTs in the Giants’ loss to the Packers
  5. The Colts’ field goal unit allowed two tries to be blocked – – and one was returned for a TD.
  6. Sam Darnold and Jets’ OL played miserably as Jets lost to Bengals.  The Jets never snapped the ball in Bengals’ Red Zone.

[Aside:  In Game 8 this year, the Jets lost to the previously winless Dolphins.  In Game 12 this year, the Jets lost to the previously winless Bengals.  How charitable of them…]

By the way, the Skins with their 3-9 record can still make the playoffs this year as the NFC East champions.  A lot of things must fall just fight, but they are “still in the hunt”.  Here is what must happen:

  • Skins must win out over the Packers, Eagles, Giants and Cowboys.
  • Cowboys must lose out against Rams Eagles and Skins
  • Eagles must lose twice to the Giants, once to the Skins and beat the Cowboys.

Danny Boy Snyder is reading that and thinking, “So, you’re telling me there’s a chance…”

 

NFL Games This Week:

 

Baltimore – 6 at Buffalo (44):  You could make the argument that this is the Game of the Week.  It will certainly be a challenge for the Bills – a team that has not beaten an opponent with a better than .500 record.  The Bills defense is very good, but it has shown some vulnerability to the run – – and the Ravens love to run the ball and will certainly try to run the ball here.

Washington at Green Bay – 12.5 (41.5):  The spread opened at 14.5 points and has been dropping all week indicating that there is a preponderance of “Skins money” showing up at the betting windows.  The Skins have won two in a row beating the Panthers last week as a double-digit underdog.  If you believe that will happen again, you can get +550 on the Money Line for the Skins to win straight up.

Denver at Houston – 9 (42.5):  The Texans need this game; the Broncos are playing out the string.  One interesting thing here is to see if Drew Lock’s first road start can be as productive as his first home start was last week when the Broncos beat the Chargers.

SF at New Orleans – 2 (44):  This is The Game of the Week.  Potentially, this game could decide who gets home field advantage in the playoffs.  Other than that, you have the excellent Niners’ defense going against Drew Brees in the Superdome.  This game is in the early Sunday time slot; if it is on in your viewing area, don’t miss it.

Cincy at Cleveland – 7 (41.5):  Other than labeling this game as half of the annual “Battle of Ohio”, this game is meaningless.

Carolina at Atlanta – 3 (47):  Let’s review the bidding here:

  • Panthers are 5-7 and have already fired their coach.
  • Falcons are 3-9 and most people think their coach has one foot out the door already.
  • Falcons beat the Panthers in Carolina 3 weeks ago by a score of 29-3.

To me, that adds up to a ho-hum game…

Detroit at Minnesota – 12.5 (43.5) The Vikes are a game behind the Packers in the NFC North race and are in good position for a wildcard berth in the playoffs.  This is a team they should beat and did beat 42-30 back in late October.  The Vikes get one more shot at the Packers on December 23.  The Lions are out of it at 3-8-1 and will play a rookie QB against a solid Vikes’ defense. Also, the Vikes are 5-0 at home this season.   I’ll put the Vikes in the Six-Pack to win and cover – – even though I hate double-digit spreads in the NFL.  I can hear that back-door cover approaching…

Miami at Jets – 5 (46):  This is The Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  It is a “revenge game” – if you must – since Miami beat the Jets to get its first win of the season back in October.  Jets are 4-8 with a point differential of only 76 points.  Dolphins are 3-9 with a point differential of 177 points – – worst in the NFL by far.

Indy at Tampa Bay – 3 (47):  The Total Line here opened at 50.5 and dropped quickly to this number.  The Colts need this game badly to stay within hailing distance of the Texans and the Titans in the AFC South.  The Colts have been miserable the last couple of weeks while the Bucs’ defense has shown improvement in the last couple of weeks.

Chargers – 3 at Jax (43.5):  The label on this game should be WGARA – standing for Who Gives A Rat’s Ass.

KC at New England – 3 (48.5):  This may not be the Game of the Week, but it ought to be an entertaining matchup that recalls last year’s playoff meeting between the teams.  Here is an interesting stat I ran across:

  • In their last 53 games after a loss, the Pats record against the spread is 37-16.
  • The Pats lost last week.

Until the Chiefs show they can stop the run without putting 10 men on the line, I expect the Pats to run and throw short passes to control clock and keep Patrick Mahomes on the bench.

Pittsburgh – 2 at Arizona (43.5):  The Cards’ defense is the worst in the league giving up 426.3 yards per game and they give up 29.1 points per game.  Also, the Cards surrender 118.8 yards per game rushing and that is important because rookie QB, Duck Hodges, may need to lean on a running game here.  The Steelers hold a playoff slot as of this week; they need this game.  I’ll put the Steelers in the Six-Pack and lay the points even though I am backing a rookie QB on the road as a favorite.

Tennessee – 3 at Oakland (47.5):  The Titans have been on a roll recently but find themselves in a “sandwich game situation” here.  Last week, they played – and beat – a division rival in the Colts; next week, they have a critical game against the Texans that could be a significant of the AFC South race.  Meanwhile, the Raiders laid two eggs in a row in two road games losing them by a combined score of 74-12.  The Raiders are back home this week…  Here are my questions about this game:

  • Can the Raiders rebound at home?
  • Do I trust the Titans to maintain consistency this week in a “sandwich situation”?
  • Since both teams rely on the run, which defense will stop the run best?

I’ll put the Raiders plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack.

(Sun Nite) Seattle at Rams “pick ‘em” (47):  The spread for this game has been all over the map.  It opened with the Seahawks as 2-point favorites.  You can still find them as a 1.5-point favorite at one sportsbook; most of the sportsbooks have this as a “pick ‘em” game, and another one has the Rams as a 1-point favorite.  The Seahawks won the first meeting here by a point in Seattle; in that game, they stacked the line to stop the run and dared Jared Goff to beat them through the air.  He did not.  I would not be surprised to see the Seahawks to play similar defense here; so, what wrinkles can the Rams come up with in the passing game?  This is a game you want to see on Sunday Night Football.

(Mon Nite) Giants at Philly – 9.5 (45):  Eli Manning returns to the field for this game; Daniel Jones gets to rest his injured leg.  The Eagles will win the NFC East if they win out.  The Eagles stunk out the joint last week losing to the Dolphins and have lost 3 in a row.  Not to worry though, the Giants have been stinking out the joint since the end of September and have lost 8 in a row.  Notwithstanding all that gloominess, the game has playoff implications.  I think both defenses are vulnerable here, so I’ll put this game in the Six-Pack to go OVER.

Let me review this week’s Six-Pack:

  1. Boise State – 13 over Hawaii
  2. Clemson – 28 over UVa
  3. Vikes – 12.5 over Lions
  4. Steelers – 2 over Cards
  5. Raiders + 3 against Titans
  6. Eagles/Giants to go OVER 45 points

Finally, here is an NFL observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times that I endorse completely:

“Not that football needs another rule or anything, but any player who goes nutso celebrating a first down, a touchdown or a turnover — when his team is trailing by three or more scores — should get flagged 15 yards for stupidity.”

Can I get an AMEN! here…

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

 

 

Three Little Changes…

I want to devote today to changes in sports – – hopefully changes that will make things better and not usher in a boatload of “unintended consequences” as happened with instant replay.  I know that all change is not positive, but I do think that it is possible to find ways to emphasize the positives such that one will hopefully minimize the negatives.  I also recognize the truth in the adage attributed to Sir Winston Churchill:

“Perfection is the enemy of progress.”

My intent here is to propose or endorse a few avenues of change knowing that the improvements that I see in making those changes will cause others to see “the dark side”.  I think these are worthy of consideration.

Several months ago, MLB said that it planned to impose the “3-batter rule” on relief pitchers in 2020.  Things went so far that MLB said it wanted to put the rule in place and the players union said it would not oppose it as something that violated the current CBA.  That sounded awfully nuanced when I read about it, but I figured that there were still details to be worked out there.  Now, we are in the offseason and I have not yet read or heard that MLB has indeed put that rule into the rulebook.  That brings two questions to mind:

  1. How are teams supposed to maneuver their rosters this winter when there is a pending rule change that may or may not go into the rulebook later this winter?
  2. What is the hold-up?

Forget question number 1 above for today; that is why managers and GMs get paid the big bucks; that is their problem.  Focus on question number 2.  The idea behind this rule change in the first place was to speed up games by reducing the number of pitching changes during an inning.  Let me be clear; this will no speed up games to the point that we will see the return of the “two-hour game” or even the “two-and-a-half-hour game” with any regularity.  What it will do is to cut down on the number of “breaks in the action” in mid-inning.

I have to believe that at least a few of the baseball mavens thought about these sorts of issues and weighed them against potential consequences before making the announcement that they did a few months ago.  If it made sense to give this a try, then – and it must have if it got to the point that the union commented on it – let me repeat the question:

  • What is the hold-up?

Memo to The Commish:  Put this rule in the rulebook now.  If you find after a year or two that it does not make sense, then take it out of the rulebook then.

Let me move now to the NFL where there is ample reporting suggesting that schedule changes to include a 17-game regular season are in play.  One twist on that change is that every team would have to play a game on a “neutral site” so that half the teams do not reap the advantage of a “ninth home game” every year.  [Aside: I doubt the schedule maker(s) are the motive force behind this change.]  These “neutral sites” could include foreign venues and cities in the US where there are no NFL franchises in the neighborhood.

If all that comes to pass, my idea here will be moot.  However, since the NFLPA has been against expanding the regular season in the past, let me proceed here on the basis that the regular season will remain at 16 games.  My suggestion here intends to give some sort of trivial meaning to the Exhibition Season that is foisted upon season ticket holders.  The emphasis here is on the word “trivial” because those are Exhibition Games at their core – – meaning their value is virtually nil.

Here is the idea:

  1. Keep standings for the teams in the 2 conferences as if the games were real ones.  Not to worry, they will be wiped clean at the end of the Exhibition Season and will have no bearing on things like the playoffs.
  2. Using tiebreakers that have yet to be devised, the 4 teams in both conferences that have the best records in the 2020 Exhibition Season would earn the following benefit – they can opt out of playing any game outside the “Lower 48” during the 2021 regular season if they choose to do so.

I know; this is not Earth-shattering.  However, it does provide teams with a minuscule motivation to play well and it does give fans a reason to look at the agate pages to see the Exhibition Season standings.

The last suggestion for the day seeks to improve the thing that I have called the single best sporting event of every calendar year.  I am talking about March Madness and I have not backed off my assessment of its excellence.  Recall in the past that I have offered this modification:

  1. The Selection Committee should choose 96 teams not 68.
  2. The Selection Committee should name the Top 32 teams and give them a bye for the first round.
  3. The remaining 64 teams should play 32 single-elimination games where the winners go into March Madness and the losers become the entrants in the NIT and play out that junior-varsity tournament.

I still maintain that is a change to be made but there is exactly no impetus for it outside these pages.  Ergo, my secondary modification would take aim at the play-in games as currently exist under the current selection rules.  Here is the change:

  1. The Selection Committee announces its brackets on Sunday meaning the 8 teams in the “play-in games” are identified then.
  2. All 4 of the play-in games should happen on Tuesday of the following week – not half on Tuesday and half on Wednesday.
  3. The winners of those games advance to the bracket of 64 – AND – all four of those winners are slotted to play in Friday/Sunday side of the first-round games.

Nothing can erase the fact that those 8 “play-in teams” face an extra game in the tournament structure but with this modification they get an extra day to travel/practice/prepare for that first round game than they currently get.

None of my suggestions here will make things perfect; I submit that they could make things marginally better that they are now and should at least be considered before being dismissed out of hand.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Finally, I began today by quoting Sir Winston Churchill.  I shall close by quoting a British essayist and physician, Havelock Ellis:

“What we call progress is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance.”

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

 

 

NFL News Items…

The NFL has suspended Cardinals’ DB, Josh Shaw, through the 2020 regular season for betting on NFL games.  According to reports, Shaw placed the bets legally in licensed and regulated sportsbooks and made no attempt to conceal his identity or to assume a false identity.  Notwithstanding the fact that it surely appears as if he did nothing that could run him afoul of the law, there is an unanswered question here:

  • What the Hell were you thinking?

It has been about 18 months since the US Supreme Court struck down PASPA as unconstitutional opening the door for individual States to license and regulate sportsbooks.  In that 18 months, Josh Shaw was a player in the NFL; he has been on IR with the Cardinals since the beginning of the 2019 regular season.  It is inconceivable to me that he never heard or read about Roger Goodell’s public angst over how this proliferation of gambling opportunities might eat at the “integrity of the game”.  Somehow, Josh Shaw never heard that stuff.

Compounding the naiveté here, Shaw allegedly bet against his team – the Cardinals – as part of a three-team parlay.  Commissioner Roger Goodell stated the obvious when he was announcing Shaw’s suspension:

“If you work in the NFL in any capacity, you may not bet on NFL football.”

Josh Shaw will appeal his suspension.  If you want an example of a long shot, consider his chances of getting the Commish to change his mind on this one.

There is a gray area in the NFL gambling policy – despite the seemingly no-nonsense tone set by Roger Goodell above.  NFL players play fantasy football; fantasy football is a form of gambling; fantasy football results do not depend on the outcomes of NFL games but do rely on the statistics from NFL games to determine winners and losers.  In fact, the NFL has a financial partnership with DraftKings as the league’s Official Daily Fantasy Partner.

I have no interest in debating whether fantasy football participation by NFL players should or should not be allowed.  However, I think the juxtaposition of one being allowed while the other is clearly not allowed is interesting to observe.

Another NFL event involves a totally different form of “gambling”.  The Carolina Panthers fired coach Ron Rivera yesterday; the team has lost 4 games in a row and last week’s loss at home to the Skins – after leading in the game 14-0 – was probably the final nail in the icing – – to use a mixed metaphor.  Rivera had been with the Panthers for almost ten seasons; his teams had been in the playoffs 4 times and the Panthers went to the Super Bowl once.  Rivera’s cumulative record in Carolina was 76-63-1

In the announcement of the change, Panthers’ owner, David Tepper, said that it was time for him to put his stamp on the team.  Well, he just did that, and the figurative roulette wheel is in motion.

David Tepper bought the Carolina Panthers from Jerry Richardson in May 2018 for a reported $2.2B.  Tepper made his money as a hedge fund manager and his net worth is reported to be in the neighborhood of $11.5 – 12B.  Tepper is an avid sports fan and was a partial owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers prior to buying the Panthers.

David Tepper is about to hire a new coach; he can afford to hire anyone in the business; he will put his stamp on the team by selecting the next head coach after owning the team for less than 2 years.  His reputation is that he is loud and brash.  He has made a boatload of money by being in charge.

Other than a significant difference in age, that is close to the profile of Danny Boy Snyder when Snyder bought the Skins in 1999.  About 18 months after taking over, Snyder fired the Skins’ head coach and started a process that saw 6 full time head coaches come and go in 20 years.

David Tepper could learn something about that situation because the head coach that Snyder fired was Norv Turner – – who was the offensive coordinator for the Panthers and will now be the assistant head coach for the rest of the 2019 regular season.  Norv Turner should not be hard to find for David Tepper…

A couple of weeks ago, I thought the AFC South race would come down to the Colts and the Texans – but the Titans have been on fire for the last month.  This morning, the AFC South race looks like this:

  • Texans:  8-4
  • Titans:  7-5
  • Colts:  6-6
  • Jags:  Doesn’t matter

The Titans and the Texans will play each other twice in the remaining regular season (at Tennessee on 15 December and at Houston on 29 December).  The Texans’ other two games (Broncos and Bucs) are much easier than the Titans’ other two (Saints and Raiders), but the division title could rest with the outcome of those two head-to-head matches.

Meanwhile, the Colts have one tough game (Saints) still to go and three other winnable games (Bucs, Panthers, Jags).  The AFC South race could well be decided on 29 December – the last day of the regular season.

Finally, since everything today has to do with NFL stuff, let me close with two very interesting questions posed by Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle:

“If the Raiders win the Super Bowl, will they have a parade? If so, won’t it be in Las Vegas? The typical championship parade scenario is the city and the team split the costs. Oakland is not likely to spend a dime on a Raiders parade, and the Raiders will be saving all their money for the clubs and tables in Vegas.”

And …

“If the 49ers win the Super Bowl, where will their parade be? Judging from TV shots during nationally-televised games, won’t it be across the Golden Gate Bridge and into downtown Santa Clara?”

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

 

 

College Football Coaching Changes

The first week of December is a time of hope and misery for college football coaches.  Underperforming teams shed their coaches; there is nothing new about that.  However, at the college level, some coaches lose their job simply because the boosters and the big money donors have unrealistic goals of national prominence for their teams.  Some coaches become cannon fodder in those situations.  Moreover, sometimes the coach that is hired may not be as good as the one who served as cannon fodder.

Looking only at major colleges in the Power 5 conferences, jobs are already open.

  • Arkansas:  They fired Chad Morris several weeks ago so they – nominally – have had a head start at finding his replacement.  Good luck to them; they are going to need it because at this moment of history, Arkansas is the place where coaching careers go to die.  Arkansas jumped to the SEC in 1992; in 28 seasons there, they have been above .500 13 times and have won 9 or more games only 4 times.  In the last two seasons, the Razorbacks’ record is 4-20.  As a member of the SEC West, they will face Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M every year.
  • Boston College:  They fired Steve Addazio last weekend.  He had been at BC for 7 seasons and produced a record of 44-44.  I am not going to pretend that is a great record because it is not.  However, what is the expectation for football at BC?  The last time they had double-digit wins there was in 2007; the coach was Jeff Jagodzinski.  The powers that be there told Jagodzinski not to interview for the then vacant job with the NY Jets; he did so anyway, and BC fired him the next day.  Since then, BC has gone 74-78.  Does that look like a hot job to you?
  • Florida State:  Like Arkansas, they have had a “head start” finding a new coach having fired Willie Taggert in mid-season.  There are multiple stories out there about how and why Jimbo Fisher left opening the door to hire Taggert; I don’t know which are true and which are false.  However, I do know that what used to be a national powerhouse has been decidedly mediocre for the last 3 years – record over that span is 18-19.  I wondered at the time Taggert was hired if he was ready for such a high-profile job; now I wonder if the profile has been sufficiently marred to be attractive to a coach who is ready for a high-profile job.
  • Missouri:  They fired Barry Odom last weekend.  Odom had been there for 4 years and produced aa record of 25-25.  Missouri is under NCAA sanctions limiting recruiting and scholarships.  They also play an SEC schedule.  Bonne chance, Mizzou…
  • Old Dominion:  They fired Bobby Wilder over the weekend after a 1-11 season.  ODU has only been in Division 1-A for 6 years; Wilder has been the coach there for all that time and in 2016 – the 3rd season in C-USA – he led the team to a 10-3 record and a victory in a minor bowl game.  A new coach at ODU has nowhere to go but up after a 1-11 season; at the same time, one has to wonder what the expectations are for the football program there.  If the poohbahs there will be satisfied with being competitive and contending in C-USA, that is one thing; if they aspire to more than that in something less than a decade or so, that is a totally different thing.
  • Ole Miss:  They fired Matt Luke over the weekend after 3 seasons that produced a record of 15-21.  Luke took over a program in turmoil; Hugh Freeze had to leave in the wake of major NCAA violations and investigations and Freeze’s predecessor, Houston Nutt, sued the school for defamation claiming that Freeze and the school tried to pin the violations on Nutt.  Not surprisingly, Luke had problems winning games at Ole Miss and is now out of a job.  Also, like Arkansas above, Ole Miss plays in the SEC West and faces the same gauntlet of teams Arkansas faces each year.
  • USF:  They fired Charlie Strong over the weekend after 3 seasons that produced a record of 21-16.  The” problem” with that record is that the Bulls won 10 games three years ago and only 4 games this year.  He came to USF after three sub-.500 seasons at Texas and took over a team that had gone 11-2 the year before he arrived.  [Aside:  The coach he replaced was Willie Taggert who left to take the job at Oregon.]  As in the case of ODU, what do the folks in the athletic department and the big-money alums aspire to for their football team?  Anyone interviewing for the job needs to understand those aspirations.

As is usually the case, schools will look for their next coach in one of three places:

  1. Assistant coaches on the staff:  Sometimes there is one part of a team that is performing very well, and the thinking is that if the coach in charge of that part of the team has control over everything, then everything will perform very well.  Sometimes that works; other times, it does not.  Another reason schools look here is that paying someone taking a head coaching job for the first-time costs less than hiring someone else’s head coach.
  2. “Failed” NFL coaches:  That model worked very well when schools decided to hire Nick Saban, Pete Carroll and Steve Spurrier.  It did not work out so well when schools decided to hire Lane Kiffin, Jim Mora, Jr. and Chip Kelly.
  3. Successful coaches not in the “Power 5”:  This year, the targets would be the coaches at Memphis, Cincy, SMU, Florida Atlantic, UAB, La Tech, Boise St. San Diego St. Hawaii, Appalachian St. and La- Lafayette.  As with the category of “failed NFL coaches”, sometimes this works wonders – – see PJ Fleck at Minnesota – – and sometimes it does not work out nearly as well – – see Geoff Collins in his first year at Georgia Tech.

There have been two coaches that have stepped down so far in this off-season; one has created a vacancy:

  1. New Mexico:  Bob Davie resigned as the head coach in Albuquerque; no specifics were given but reports cite health concerns as being a big motivator here.  Recall that Davie needed emergency medical attention earlier this year and did not travel with the team to one of the away games.  The job is open; it should not be difficult to improve on a 2-9 season with an 0-7 record in the Mountain West Conference.
  2. Washington:  Chris Petersen has stepped down from the head coaching position and will assume the role of a “leadership advisor” to the athletic department.  The current Washington defensive coordinator, Jimmy Lake, has been named the new head coach concurrent with Petersen’s departure from the position.

Early December is the “time of tension” for college coaches that have not done particularly well for the past year or two.  Their brethren at the NFL level will face their days of reckoning in the waning hours of 2019 and in the first week of January 2020 right after the NFL regular season closes out.  With 25% of the season still to take place, I see 9 coaches who are in danger of losing their jobs – – but there are still games left to play.

Finally, just to lighten the mood here a bit, consider this definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Dali, Salvador:  A twentieth-century Catalonian artist who came up with stuff like melting clocks and helped usher in the surrealist movement, which may have been responsible for the first widespread use of the phrase, ‘WTF’.”

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

 

 

Heading For The Home Stretch

If you were to compare the NFL season to a 1-mile horse race, the teams have just run three quarters of a mile and are setting for the stretch run.  Of course, as in about any horse race, there are contenders and laggards at this point.  What I want to do now is to ignore the laggards and look at the contenders through this lens:

  • How good – or how bad – are the remaining opponents for the contenders?

After all, it would have to be easier to close out the season against 4 fuzzy bunnies than it would be to run a murderous gauntlet.  I’ll start with the AFC and go in alphabetical order:

  • Baltimore Ravens:  Current record is 10-2.  Remaining opponents are 25-23
  • Buffalo Bills:  Current record is 9-3.  Remaining opponents are 27-21.
  • Houston Texans:  Current record is 8-4.   Remaining opponents are 23-25.
  • Indy Colts:  Current record is 6-6.  Remaining opponents are 24-24.
  • KC Chiefs:  Current record is 8-4.  Remaining opponents are 24-24.
  • New England Patriots:  Current record is 10-2.  Remaining opponents are 21-27.
  • Oakland Raiders:  Current record is 6-6.  Remaining opponents are 19-29.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers:  Current record is 7-5.  Remaining opponents are 26-21-1.
  • Tennessee Titans:  Current record is 7-5.  Remaining opponents are 32-16.

Clearly, the Titans, Steelers and Bills have the more difficult schedules ahead of them while the Raiders and Pats have easier paths to the playoff ahead.  The Colts record and the records of their remaining opponents are in perfect balance.  The Colts are at .500 and their opponents cumulatively are also at .500.

Over in the NFC:

  • Chicago Bears:  Current record is 6-6.  Remaining opponents are 31-17.
  • Dallas Cowboys:  Current record is 6-6.  Remaining opponents are 21-27.
  • Green Bay Packers:  Current record is 9-3.  Remaining opponents are 20-27-1.
  • LA Rams:  Current record is 7-5.  Remaining opponents are 28-19-1.
  • Minnesota Vikings:  Current record is 8-3.  Remaining opponents are 31-27-1.
  • New Orleans Saints:  Current record is 10-2.  Remaining opponents are 25-22-1.
  • Philadelphia Eagles:  Current record is 5-7.  Remaining opponents are 13-35.
  • Seattle Seahawks:  Current record is 9-2.  Remaining opponents are 33-25-1.
  • SF Niners:  Current record is 10-2.  Remaining opponents are 29-18.

The Vikings and Seahawks play tonight; that is why their records and the records of their opponents are different from the other entries here.  In addition, even though the Eagles have the worst record of any “contender” in either conference, the Eagles have a guaranteed entry into the playoffs if they win out.  That would make them the NFC East champions and looking at their remaining opponents, one might think it would be an easy road for the Eagles.  Then again, they just got through losing to the Dolphins last weekend…

While the NFL continues to rake in revenues hand over fist, the Arena Football League has declared bankruptcy and ceased operations last week.  Arena football has been around for more than 30 years, but it has always been a niche sport.  At the height of its popularity, Arena Football games drew about 13,000 fans per game; the league could sustain itself with that sort of fan support but in recent years teams folded – – there were only 6 left standing as of last week – – and attendance last season was less than 7,000 per game.  As if that were not bad enough, the six teams were owned by only 3 entities; one operated three teams in Albany, Atlantic City and Philly and a second operated the teams in Baltimore and DC.

The financial viability of the league depended on obtaining a revenue generating media rights contract and by finding ways to exploit newly legalized gambling to provide added revenues.  In the past, the Arena Football league had to play CBS Sports Network to put Arena football games on the air; the league was paying to cover production costs while the Network got to keep whatever ad revenue came in.  Clearly, that model cannot work for long.

Obviously, the declaration of Chapter 7 bankruptcy and cessation of all operations by the Arena League makes it clear that a satisfactory media rights contract was not in the cards and that any plans to exploit legalized gambling to provide added revenues were insufficient to keep the league afloat.

Rest in peace, Arena Football League.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this cogent observation about the NFL in 2019 in the Seattle Times recently:

“Whoever said ‘Justice is blind’ obviously had the NFL’s new pass-interference review system in mind.”

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

 

 

Another Mini-Football Friday

It is the Friday after Thanksgiving; the turkey carcass is in the process of becoming turkey stock; I have come out from under my tryptophan-induced stupor; and, that means there is just enough time left in the day to do a mini-Football Friday.

There was no Six-Pack last week, so the cumulative results still stand at:

  • Overall:  28-18-2
  • College:  15-6-1
  • NFL:  13-12-1

 

College Football Commentary:

 

The Linfield College Wildcats saw their season come to an end last week in the first round of the Division III football playoffs.  They lost to Chapman college 68-65 in triple overtime.  Linfield ends its season with an 8-2 record; Chapman goes forward in the tournament with a 10-0 record to date.

Bob Molinaro had this college football observation in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week:

The mediocracy: Assuming No. 3-ranked Clemson reaches the College Football Playoff semifinals, a team that’s currently unranked will represent the ACC in the Orange Bowl. Not a good look for an already maligned conference.”

I wondered why that would be the case and did a bit of digging – – and learning.  The Orange Bowl and the ACC have a contract that says the ACC will provide its highest rated team to the Orange Bowl with two exceptions:

  1. If the highest rated ACC team is involved in the CFP, then the second-highest rated team would go to the Orange Bowl.  That will be the case this year if Clemson is invited to the CFP as is expected.  No other ACC team is ranked in the Top 25; moreover, every other ACC team already has 3 losses or more going into this final weekend of the regular season.
  2. If the Orange Bowl is slated to be the venue for a first round CFP game, then the Orange Bowl will feature the two teams selected by the Committee.

Looking at the records of the ACC teams involved my lack of keyboarding skills to also look at the records for teams in AAC where there are currently 4 teams with 2 or fewer losses going into the final weekend of the regular season.  Those 4 teams are:

  • Cincinnati  10-1
  • Memphis  10-1
  • SMU  9-2
  • Navy  8-2

I am not going to suggest that the AAC is a better football conference than the ACC – except that in this particular year, that conference might just be tougher at the top than the ACC.  The difference comes at the bottom of the two conferences where I would argue that the AAC is weaker than the ACC.

However, I will cite – and heap scorn upon – several of the ACC teams with “only 3 losses” this year for their cupcake scheduling.  If the fans and alums at these schools are not embarrassed, they ought to be:

  • Virginia: They scheduled Old Dominion, William and Mary and Liberty.
  • Va Tech: They scheduled Old Dominion, Furman and Rhode Island.
  • Wake Forest:  They scheduled Utah State, Rice and Elon.

One can be upset with some aspects of the CFP and the arbitrariness of the decision ultimately made by the Selection Committee, but the CFP allows for plenty of interesting “debate” and interesting creations of scenarios for what might happen “If…”.  So, let me do some flights of fancy here:

  • LSU is undefeated and they play Texas A&M this weekend.  The Aggies have lost 4 games this year but that is a deceiving stat.  The losses have come against Clemson, Auburn, Alabama and Georgia; three of those teams are in the Top 5 and Auburn is ranked 16th in the country.  LSU will play Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.  If LSU loses both games, they will likely be out of the CFP; if Georgia loses again (Ga Tech this week and then LSU) they will likely be out.  The fun will come if Georgia and LSU win this week and then Georgia beats LSU.  Would that put two SEC teams in the CFP?
  • Oklahoma and Baylor each have one loss in the Big 12.  The Sooners lost to Kansas State – a team with 4 losses.  Baylor lost to Oklahoma.  These two teams will meet again in a conference championship game.  Both teams need to win this week to get to that game with only 1 loss because no one from the Big 12 will get a second look from the Selection Committee with 2 losses.   In fact, I am not confident that the Committee would put Baylor in the CFP even with a win over Oklahoma in two weeks because of the outrageously soft out-of-conference schedule that the Bears set for themselves.
  • Clemson is the only ACC team with any possibility of being in the CFP.  They will have to beat South Carolina this week and then beat the winner of this week’s Va/Va Tech game.  Those appear to be likely outcomes, so I think Clemson is going to be one of the CFP selections.
  • Utah is the only hope for the Pac 12, and I am not sure that they will be selected even with a 12-1 record and the conference championship in their pocket.
  • The Big 10 is another interesting conference.  Ohio State will be in the conference championship game, but they have Michigan – in Ann Arbor – this weekend; that is a rivalry game against a very good opponent.  In the West Division, Wisconsin and Minnesota will decide Ohio State’s opponent in the Championship Game.  Suppose it is Wisconsin versus Ohio State AND suppose that Ohio State loses to Michigan.  Then if Wisconsin beats Ohio State in the championship game, Ohio State will have two losses and so will Wisconsin.  Could that shut out the Big 10 from the CFP?

This sort of thing can never happen in the NFL because there are tiebreakers for teams that come into play when records are the same; there is no “committee”.  And that is one of the beauties of college football…

Here is my projection:

  • LSU wins out and goes to the CFP.  Georgia with 2 losses is out.
  • Alabama beats Auburn this week but is not selected by the committee.  The cries of anguish will be heard round the world.
  • Clemson wins out and goes to the CFP
  • Ohio State wins out and goes to the CFP.
  • Oklahoma and Utah win out and the Selection Committee picks Oklahoma to be the one-loss team in the CFP simply because Oklahoma has a longer history as a college football “powerhouse”.

If LSU stumbles this week or down the road this year, it will be a strange situation for LSU.  For the past decade, LSU has been a team that won on defense and running the ball; this year, they are throwing it all over the place and scoring tones of points – – but the defense is “porous”.  LSU is tied for second in the country in scoring averaging 48.5 points per game.  However, LSU is uncharacteristically:

  • 43rd in the country in scoring defense
  • 31st in the country in rushing defense – allowing 129.7 yards per game
  • 72nd in the country in pass defense – allowing 232.7 yards per game.

There were two shocking outcomes from last week’s games.  The first one had some potential “national consequence”; Arizona State beat Oregon 31-28 giving the Ducks their second loss of the year and ending any chance that they could sneak into the CFP.

The second shocking outcome was Florida International beating Miami (Fla) 30-24.  At one point, FIU led 23-3 and held off a Miami rally to win the game.  There is a delicious irony here in addition to the shock value of Miami losing this game:

  • The FIU coach is Butch Davis – – who was at one point the coach at Miami until he was run out of town by folks who were not satisfied with his wins and losses.

One other game from last week needs a comment.  Washington State and Oregon State got together in a game where both coaches must have agreed to leave their defensive units in the locker room.

  • Washington State won this game 54-53.
  • The total offense by both teams was 1227 yards.
  • Oregon State scored 29 points in the 4th quarter to take the lead
  • Washington State won on a 2-yard TD run with 2 seconds left on the clock.

I am exhausted just thinking about all that…

 

The SHOE Candidates:

 

I will condense the candidate list from 12 to 10 this week.  I will also identify a couple of teams that will definitely be in the SHOE Tournament no matter what happens this weekend.  Stand by to learn about some bad football teams:

  1. Akron:  Their season is over at 0-12.  They are the only winless team in Division 1 college football.  Then Zips are IN the SHOE Tournament.
  2. Arkansas:  Their record stands at 2-9 with Missouri on tap this week.  Missouri is 5-6 on the year and is a 2 TD favorite over Arkansas who has already fired the coach and will be looking for a miracle worker starting in about two weeks.
  3. New Mexico:  Their record stands at 2-9 and they have just come off a big loss to Air Force.
  4. New Mexico State:  Their record stands at 2-9.  I know they are on a 2-game winning streak, but those wins came at the expense of Incarnate Word and UTEP.  This week, they are a 14-point underdog on the road to Liberty – a team that has already beaten the Aggies 20-13 in Las Cruces.
  5. Old Dominion:  Their record stands at 1-10 but that win was over a Division 1-AA school.  They are a 10-point home dog this week against Charlotte.
  6. Rutgers:  Their record stands at 2-9.  They were shut out last week by Michigan State and that is the 4th time the Scarlet Knights have been shut out in a conference game this year.  Those two wins, by the way, came over UMass and Liberty.
  7. South Alabama:  Their record stands at 1-10.  They lost to Georgia State last week and are a 12-point home underdog to Arkansas State later today.
  8. UConn:  Their record stands at 2-9.  They lost last week to a not-very-good E. Carolina team 30-24.
  9. UMass:  Their record stands at 1-10.  They are dead last in the country in scoring defense allowing 52.7 points per game.  The team ranked second worst in this statistic (New Mexico State) gives up “only” 40.3 points per game.  The Minutemen are IN the SHOE Tournament.
  10. UTEP:  Their record stands at 1-10 – – and they lost to New Mexico State last week.  They finish their season at home against Rice – a team that has been on this watch list since it started.  Rice is a 7-point road favorite…

 

College Games this Week:

 

            This is rivalry week; there are lots of games where the outcome may not impact the polls or the CFP Selection Committee – – but the outcomes will be a huge deal for alums and boosters.

(Fri) Washington St at Washington – 7 (64):  This is the Apple Cup game; basically, it is for bragging rights in the State of Washington.

Georgia – 28 at Georgia Tech (46.5):  This is the traditional way for these two teams to close out the regular season.  The outcome here does not appear to be in doubt.

Vandy at Tennessee – 23 (46):  Tennessee has rallied in the latter parts of this season and will get a bowl bid this year.

UNC – 10 at NC State (56):  Big rivalry game and also a meaningless game in terms of the “big picture”.

Ohio State – 8 at Michigan (49.5):  This is the Game of the Week.  It is an important game for the polls, and it is a huge rivalry game.  I like Ohio State to win and cover here so I’ll put that in this week’s Six-Pack.

Clemson – 27 at South Carolina (51):  Clemson needs to win – – and they should do so handily.

Indiana – 7 at Purdue (57):  I believe this game decides the possession of the old oaken bucket for a year.

Texas A&M at LSU – 17 (64.5): No historical rivalry here – – but a very important game nationally.

Louisville at Kentucky – 3 (52.5):  Rivalry game – – but I prefer to watch these two schools go at it in basketball rather than in football.

Alabama – 3.5 at Auburn (50):  Normally, this would be the Game of the Week – – but not this year.  The oddsmaker sees this game as low scoring; Auburn has a VERY good defense.

Oklahoma – 13.5 at Oklahoma State (69): This is a big rivalry game.  The Sooners need the win, but they have to realize that State is much better at home than on the road.

Notre Dame – 14.5 at Stanford (46):  I think Stanford has packed it in for the season.  I like Notre Dame to win this one comfortably so I’ll put the Fighting Irish in this Week’s Six-Pack.

Florida State at Florida – 17.5 (54):  This is as big a rivalry as any on the card for this weekend.

Oregon State at Oregon – 20 (66):  They call this game “The Civil War”.  Oregon will need to get over its crushing loss to Arizona state last weekend.

 

NFL Commentary:

 

            Greg Cote recognized the passing of a former kicker in the NFL with this comment in the Miami Herald:

“Former Vikings kicker Fred Cox, who later invented the Nerf football, died at 80. Cannot confirm Fred will be buried in a foam casket.”

There were some disappointing performances in NFL games last week.  In no particular order:

  • The Raiders played nonchalantly two weeks ago against the Bengals – – but they won.  They were beyond nonchalant last week – reaching almost to a state of indifference – and lost to the Jets 34-3.
  • The Cowboys coaching decisions and special teams play against the Patriots was better than pathetic – – but not much better.
  • The Packers were shellacked by the Niners.  Did we overrate them earlier this year?
  • The Broncos were dominated by the Bills.  Denver had the ball 10 times in the game.  They punted 8 times and turned the ball over one other time.
  • The Falcons lost to the Bucs 35-22.  This is the same Falcons defense that held the Saints to 9 points and the Panthers to 3 points in the previous two weeks.  Really?
  • The Lions lost to the Skins in Washington continuing their streak of never winning in Washington.  Skins’ only TD came on a kickoff return; Lions turned the ball over 4 times in the game.  Only descriptor that comes to mind here is UGLY.

With a win last week and another win on Thanksgiving night, the New Orleans Saints have wrapped up the NFC South Championship.  They will host a playoff game and remain in contention for a BYE Week and for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

With a loss last week and another loss on Thanksgiving afternoon, the Cowboys have left the door open in the NFC East.  The Cowboys have not looked “alert” in the past two weeks.

 

NFL Games this Week:

 

We are finished with BYE Weeks in the regular season.  Six teams played yesterday; the other 26 teams will compete this weekend.

Green Bay – 6.5 at Giants (44):  Do not be fooled by the ineptitude of the Packers’ offense last week against the Niners.  This is the Giants’ defense this week and the Packers should be able to move the ball efficiently and effectively.  I like the Packers to win and cover here so I’ll put the Packers in this week’s Six-Pack.

Washington at Carolina – 10 (38):  Believe it or not, the Skins at 2-9 can still win the NFC East if a thousand things break their way.  After they lose here, that possibility will go away.

SF at Baltimore – 5.5 (45.5): This is the Game of the Week.  I am not willing to say it is a preview of the Super Bowl next February, but both teams will deservedly be in the playoffs.  Too bad this is a “body clock” game for the Niners; it would be better if this were a late afternoon game in Baltimore…

Tennessee at Indy – 1 (43):  The spread opened the week at 3 points and has been dropping all week.  One Internet sportsbook has the game at “pick ‘em” today.  Who knows which Titans’ team will show up this week?

Philly – 9.5 at Miami (44):  Eagles playoff hopes pretty much boil down to winning the NFC East.  They can do that if they win out.  If they cannot beat the Dolphins, they just do not belong in the playoffs.  I’ll put the Eagles in this week’s Six-Pack and lay the points.

Oakland at KC – 10 (51):  This would be the Game of the Week if two other things were not operative:

  • The Niners/Ravens game may not be a huge division game like this one, but it should be a better game between two good teams.
  • The Raiders have underperformed two weeks in a row.

The Chiefs are coming to this game off a BYE Week and Andy Reid’s teams historically play well off a BYE Week.  The Chiefs hold a one-game lead over the Raiders in the AFC West and – unusually – the Chiefs are sub-.500 at home this year.

Tampa Bay – 2.5 at Jax (48):  Two teams at 4-7 battle it out for supremacy in Northern Florida.  Ho-hum …

Jets – 3 at Cincy (41.5):  This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  Notwithstanding the Jets’ 3-game winning streak, this game is of no importance.  Andy Dalton returns to the starting QB position after Ryan Finley showed he is not ready for the job.  I think the Jets’ defense can win this game, so I’ll put the Jets in this week’s Six-Pack and lay the points.

Rams – 2.5 at Arizona (47):  Was last week’s utter collapse against the Ravens the signal that the Rams’ time has come and gone?  Could be…

Chargers – 3 at Denver (38):  This line opened at 1-point and popped up to this level almost immediately.  The Chargers had last week off; the Broncos managed to score all of 3 points last week.  I’ll put the Chargers in this week’s six-Pack and lay the points.

Cleveland – 2 at Pittsburgh (38.5):  The spread opened with the Steelers favored by 2 points.  Even now, the line is all over the place from Browns – 3 to “pick ‘em”.  Somehow, the Steelers are still involved in playoff discussions.  Does Mike Tomlin have any fairy dust left in his pocket to pull this game out?

(Sun Nite) New England – 3 at Houston (46):  If the Texans are going to win this game – – and they only lead the Colts and Titans by one game in the AFC South – – every Houston player will need to play at full potential.  Remember that the Titans and Colts play Sunday afternoon so a loss for the Texans here will put them in a tie with the winner of that game.

(Mon Nite) Minnesota at Seattle – 3 (50):  It should be an excellent MNF game.  Russell Wilson is playing at an MVP level this season and Kirk Cousins has played very well the last month or so.  However, this is a prime-time game against a team with a solid winning record on the road.  Those are not good omens for him and the Vikes.

Let me summarize this week’s Six-Pack.  I seem to have taken all favorites this week:

  1. Ohio State – 8 over Michigan
  2. Notre Dame – 14.5 over Stanford
  3. Packers – 6.5 over Giants
  4. Eagles – 9.5 over Dolphins
  5. Jets – 3 over Bengals
  6. Chargers – 3 over Broncos

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

 

 

           

More On Flex Scheduling …

Yesterday, I suggested that a form of flex scheduling might help the NBA’s flagging regular season TV ratings.  Two readers sent e-mails asking for more details on the NFL’s flex scheduling.  I don’t know all of the details, but according to reports, here are some of the salient features:  [As a reference, the original NFL schedule for last week had the Eagles/Seahawks game as the Sunday Night Game but NBC and the NFL “flexed” the Niners/Packers game into that slot and put the Eagles/Seahawks game back to a 1:00 PM EST start.]

  • The Flexing Option only applies to games originally scheduled for Sundays.  Any game scheduled for a Monday, Thursday or Saturday will not be moved.
  • The Flexing Option does not apply for the entire season.  One report says it is allowable after Week 5; another report says it is allowable from Week 8 forward.
  • Once a decision to flex a game has been made, the announcement of the change will be made 12 days before change in game time to alert fans – – and to a lesser extent the players and coaches of the 4 teams involved.
  • In Week 17, the flex decision can be made with only 6 days’ notice because the idea is to have that Sunday Night game have some sort of playoff impact.
  • It is the NFL that makes the final flex decisions in consultation with all the networks that have TV rights for Sunday games.

Obviously, this sort of thing had to be negotiated into all the TV rights deals done between the NFL and the various networks but that would not seem to be the same hurdle for the NBA should it choose to make such a change.  The two networks doing regular season games do not overlap so the only decision would seem to be which telecast to put on the “national feed”.  If there is a need to change a starting time, that decision would have to be made in advance for the fans with tickets, but I cannot believe that is an impossibility.

I think I’ve expended enough time, energy and keyboarding on that subject because the NBA is obviously not going to implement it.  If they were, it would be in progress already since it is so simple…

Switching subjects, the upcoming NFL free agent season could be interesting this year given the potential availability of QBs with plenty of experience – – and plenty of question marks.  In alphabetical order, here are the ones I can think of:

  • Terry Bridgewater:  The Saints needed him to start 5 games this year; the Saints won all 5 of those games.  Last year, he signed a 1-year deal with the Saints for $7.2M to be Drew Brees’ backup.  This year, he will be a highly desirable commodity at age 27.
  • Andy Dalton:  The Bengals benched him to look at Ryan Finley as a prospect – and seem to have decided that Finley is not the answer so Dalton will be back under center.  Dalton will make $17.7M next year if the Bengals keep him; I think they will – and they should.  Andy Dalton is 32 years old; if he is indeed a free agent, he should attract interest from several teams.
  • Joe Flacco:  Last year, the Ravens chose to move on from him and go with Lamar Jackson; the Broncos hoped he would be the franchise QB they have not had for quite a while.  Technically, Flacco will still be under contract with the Broncos but with his salary in the $20M – $24M range, the likelihood is he will be released and will not get any offers of that magnitude.  Joe Flacco is 34 years old…
  • Marcus Mariota:  He has certainly underperformed the expectations for a guy taken #2 overall in the draft; he has also had the injury bug in his career.  However, he is only 26 years old.  He won’t get any $25M per year offers in free agency, but he will get offers.
  • Cam Newton:  There are lots of reports that the Panthers are ready to move on from Newton and that injuries have caught up with him.  His current deal is 5-years for $103.5M and next year’s installment would be $19.1M.  If he gets a positive report from the medics about his foot injury and his surgically repaired shoulder, I think the Panthers will keep him around.  Newton has a lot of mileage on the tires, but he is only 30 years old.
  • Jameis Winston:  He was the guy taken #1 overall in the same year Marcus Mariota was taken #2.  Winston has been brilliant at times; he has also been frustrating.  In his 4 ¾ years in the NFL, he leads the league in INTs with 78; that averages out to 16.5 INTs per season.  This is the least predictable situation of the ones listed here.  Personally, if I were the Bucs and had a shot at one of the good QBs in the Draft, I would move on – – but they will need to make their decision well in advance of the Draft…  Stay tuned to this one.

The college basketball season is underway and there have already been three shocking results involving college basketball bluebloods losing on their home court.

  • Kentucky lost at home to Evansville
  • Last night, Duke lost at home to Stephen F. Austin – – in OT
  • Earlier this year, UCLA lost at home to Hofstra by 10 points.

If the basketball gods are indeed focused on shaming blueblood programs on their home court this season, I would keep an eye on this game:

  • Wofford at UNC on Sunday 15 December…

Finally, speaking of college basketball, here is an observation from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

In passing: As college basketball season warms up, once again topping the list of most-often-used redundancies is the phrase ‘young freshman.’ Aren’t they all?”

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

 

 

NBA On TV Today …

I want to talk about the NBA today; so, let me begin with an observation from Bob Molinaro last week in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Must-miss TV: It won’t help sagging NBA ratings that the injury-plagued, can’t-tell-the-players-without-a-scorecard Warriors — now 3-13 after a 142-94 national TV loss to Dallas — are scheduled for two dozen more nationwide appearances. You’d think ESPN and TNT would alter their schedules to avoid the league’s most unwatchable team. Not even Steve Kerr wants to watch this team.”

The prevailing media narrative is that the NBA is at the cutting edge of everything and that the NFL is mired in the Jurassic Period – – except that the NFL figured out how to do “flex scheduling” about 15 years ago and the NBA has not caught on yet.

Bob Molinaro is right; the NBA’s ratings are indeed sagging this year as compared to last year which was a down year as compared to the prior year.  You are not likely to hear much about that on ESPN, but the numbers don’t lie:

  • Eight of the first 10 games aired on TNT had lower ratings than the comparable game from last season.
  • Nine games this year (counting ones on ESPN and TNT) have failed to attract 1 million viewers according to Nielsen.  In all of the last regular season, there were only 19 games with that small a viewership; we are only about 20% into this season.

It is still far too early to make gloom-and-doom extrapolations for NBA TV performance this season, but I do think there are a few factors that play into the early season ratings decline:

  • There are 30 NBA teams; in about 24 of those markets, there is no realistic hope of the local team making it to the NBA Finals let alone winning it all.  With MLB just ended and with college football and the NFL hitting the most interesting parts of their seasons, those fans in those markets are turning to things that are more interesting.
  • The players don’t care about these early regular-season games either.  Forget the fact that you can watch players “dogging it” on the floor in just about every game you watch; remember that “load management” for star players has been going on for the last two to three weeks.  “Load management” is management-speak for “playing hooky”.  The big difference though is that if a kid plays hooky, a truant officer may be out looking for him to put him in school; in the NBA, the coaches, owners and league officials go out of their way to justify it.
  • Highly visible star players – – Kevin Durant and Steph Curry as examples – – are injured and not on display while the most highly anticipated player since LeBron James – Zion Williamson – is also injured and not on display.

Among all these problems – – which are not getting very much play in the mass media – – NBA Commish, Adam Silver, is musing over scheduling changes some of which are:

  • Cut the regular season from 82 games to 78 games.  [Good start, Commish.  Now, get serious and cut the regular season to anywhere between 58 and 65 games.]
  • Create an in-season tournament involving all 30 teams.  The idea is to use regularly scheduled games to identify six division winners and then to add two teams based on the best other records and have that lead to a single-elimination round among those 8 teams.  [It is not clear to me that this will generate interest in markets where the team is on track to win 20-25 games in a season nor is it clear why the players would give a rat’s ass about this event.  Color me disinterested…]
  • Making the 7th and 8th slots in the NBA playoffs a play-in event.  The idea here is that the regular season will determine the teams finishing 7th thru 10th in each conference.  Under this idea, numbers 7 and 8 would play single elimination for the 7th seed and then the teams finishing 9th and 10th would play for the 8th seed.  [Currently 16 out of 30 (53.3%) teams make the playoffs.  Under the new proposal, 20 of the 30 teams (66.6%) of the teams would make the playoffs.  This is the Great Leap Backwards.]

Note that simple flex scheduling – the thing that the troglodytes in the NFL do – is not on the table for discussion.  The NBA is awash in cash thinks to the new TV rights deals that they signed several years ago; the owners are making money and the players are being highly compensated.  So, instead of worrying about how everyone involved here can make even more money – – surely not a bad idea for a business entity – – where is the thinking that says:

  • One way to make more money is to make the product better so that more people will want to consume more of it?

As they sometimes say in sports radio, “I’ll hang up and listen to your answer…”

And for the record, the NFL’s implementation of flex scheduling is far more complicated than the NBA’s implementation would generally be.  In order to move a game from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night, teams in 4 cities have to adjust and fans in 2 cities have to adjust their plans.  For many of the NBA games one could imagine flexing, the only change would be which city to send the national broadcasters to.  In plenty of cases, the starting time would not change at all.

Finally, in keeping with NBA stuff today, here is a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

Another NBA milestone: LeBron became the first player in NBA history to have a triple-double against all 30 teams. That requires two things: 1) Being really good, and 2) Switching teams a fair amount.”

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

 

 

Some Far Out Stuff Today …

I have said here more than a couple of times that I do not want to see MLB expansion simply because there is already not enough good pitching to go around and adding two new expansion teams would put about 24 more “minor league pitchers” in major league uniforms.  Having said that, it surely looks as if momentum is building for some sort of MLB expansion.  There are organizing committees and the like in places like Portland and Nashville and the Research Triangle “studying” the feasibility of having a team in those areas.  Do not count Las Vegas out of any sort of discussion of this type; returning a team to Montreal to play in a modern facility there is also a possibility.  And then, last week, news broke about another aspirant.

Pat Williams has a long history in pro sports in the US – – mostly in basketball – – and he is now involved in a group that would seek to bring MLB to Orlando, FL.  I am sure there is sufficient money in the Orlando area to arrange for a stadium and to buy into MLB.  The negative question that hangs over any potential franchise in Orlando is basic:

  • So, how are the other MLB franchises in Florida doing these days?

The Marlins and the Rays can’t draw flies.  That problem is endemic to both areas; even when the teams are good enough to get into the playoffs, they reside at or near the bottom of MLB in terms of attendance.  A common explanation given for that situation is that there are always so many other recreational things to do in Florida that it is difficult for a baseball team to be a “center of attention” for 81 home games.  Well, last time I checked, there are plenty of diversions in Orlando to give residents – and visitors – there options regarding their recreational time and money.

Orlando folks point to the fact that it is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the country based on Census Bureau stats.  Currently, Orlando ranks as the 22nd largest market area in the country.  Sounds good until you also check and see that Miami is the 16th largest market area in the country and Tampa/St. Petersburg is the 12th largest market area in the country.

Pat Williams has a name for his putative baseball team – – the Orlando Dreamers.  If they do come into existence and suffer the same fate as other Florida franchises, they will soon be known as the Florida Nightmares.

Obviously, I think a franchise in Orland is a bad idea.  Scott Ostler had this item in the SF Chronicle last weekend about another bad idea in baseball that seems to have been acted upon:

“Is baseball the stupidest sport? Bad question. It’s not even close. Only in baseball, this kind of thinking: ‘I’ve got an idea. We steal signals from opposing catchers with a spy cam. Nobody will know, except all 25 of our players, the manager and coaches, bat boys, the camera crew, and people we tell in bars when we’ve had too many, so it will be easy to keep it a secret, as long as none of those people have a conscience or character. Nobody on the outside will ever bust us, unless they have ears or look at a box score. We could win some games, and the only downside is that if we get caught, we’ll all be branded cheaters, liars and losers forever. Let’s do it!’”

I must admit it; that is a difficult argument to pick apart…

In a similar line but in a different sport, Vontaze Burfict has questioned the integrity of NFL games saying that some are “rigged” and the way the league effects the rigged games is to have the officials call penalties that determine the outcomes of those rigged games.  Three quick thoughts here:

  1. Vontaze Burfict is serving a season-long suspension as we speak.  His reinstatement has to go through the Commish who wants to hear about “rigged games” about as much as Chris Christie wants to be Chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, sports and Nutrition.
  2. Somewhere, Tim Donaghy is smiling…
  3. The spate of bad calls this season – as shown by replay after the fact – will cause some folks who are prone to believe conspiracy theories to take this seriously.  If that kind of thinking spreads, the “gambling interest” in NFL football will diminish and – even though the NFL would never admit this even under waterboarding – the biggest factor that spurred the growth of the NFL to be the dominant sports enterprise in the US is the degree to which people bet on game outcomes.  This “indictment” goes to the heart of the “integrity of the games”.

Another NFL player has voiced a similar concern – but in a much more nuanced way.  Richard Sherman sort of wondered aloud if the officials were flagging him for penalties he thought he did not deserve because he is an outspoken member of the NFLPA Executive Committee.

I am not saying that it would be impossible to “rig” an NFL game – – or even a bunch of NFL games.  Nor am I saying that any attempt to “rig” an NFL game would be done without any officials being aware of the “rigging”.  Here is where I am on these sorts of things:

  • To convince me of a grand conspiracy – one that would have to involve league execs and probably some of the officials in the league – I need evidence that is probative.  It is not nearly sufficient to assert the existence of the alleged conspiracy and then point to no evidence of its existence as proof of its existence.

Finally, since much of today’s rant deals with things like cheating and the rigging of games which would be despicable and immoral acts, let me close with a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm at the other end of the spectrum:

“Chaste:  Morally pure; decent.  A quality known in the dating scene as a waste of your time and effort.”

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

 

 

A Mini-Football Friday 11/22/19

Time constraints for this week allow only for a mini Football Friday this week and no room for a Six-Pack.  Half a loaf is better than none…  In fact, half a loaf may be more than can be delivered next week with the intervention of Thanksgiving.

Last week, the Six-Pack was under .500 for the first time this year.  The record was 2-3-1.  Here is how the Six-Pack has done so far this season:

  • Overall:  28-18-2
  • College:  15-6-1
  • NFL:  13-12-1

 

College Football Commentary:

 

Last week, the Linfield College Wildcats finished their regular season with a 24-17 win over George Fox University.  Linfield was 8-1 for the season and as Northwest Conference Champions, they will play in the NCAA Division 3 playoffs.  Their first-round opponent this weekend is Chapman University, the champions of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.  Chapman’s record this year is 9-0; they score an average of 37.1 points per game and allow 16.9 points per game.

These teams have two common opponents.  Both defeated Whitworth during the season.  Chapman beat Redlands 21-18 back in October; Linfield’s only loss for the season was to Redlands in September by a score of 27-19.  Go Wildcats!

Undefeated seasons ended for two teams last week:

  1. Minnesota lost to Iowa – at Iowa – 23-9.  The Big 10 West just got a lot more interesting.  Minnesota has 1 loss in conference and Wisconsin has 2 losses in conference.  Both the Gophers and the Badgers are solid favorites this week.  Then, the two teams meet on November 30 at Minnesota.  Assuming both teams win this week, that game will determine the Big 10 West champion.
  2. Baylor lost to Oklahoma 34-31 at Baylor.  Both teams have 1 loss for the season and those losses are both in conference.  Baylor led this game 28-3 early in the 2nd quarter but the Sooners pitched a shutout in the second half to win the game.

Reacting to the Baylor result on Facebook, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times posted this comment:

“Baylor blew a 28-3 lead in losing to Oklahoma.

“Adding further insult, the Atlanta Falcons immediately sued the Bears for trademark infringement.”

Penn State beat Indiana last week setting up the Game of the Week for this weekend.  Penn State travels to Columbus, OH to take on the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes.  Penn State has one loss in conference – – to Minnesota – – but a win here would give them a tie-breaker’s edge over Ohio State in the Big 10 East.  Yes, the Nittany Lions do have a conference game after this one, but it is a home game against Rutgers – – so this game is the de facto Super Bowl game for Penn State.

Ohio State, on the other hand, has a real opponent on deck after Penn State leaves town.  The Buckeyes close out their season against traditional rival, Michigan, in Ann Arbor a week from Saturday.

Speaking of Michigan, the Wolverines dispatched Michigan State last week 44-10 leaving the Spartans with a 4-6 record for the season.  The schedule makers for the big 10 may have seen this coming because they set up Sparty to finish with games against Rutgers this week and Maryland next week.  Bowl-eligibility is very possible in East Lansing…

Clemson remained undefeated breezing by Wake Forest 59-3.  ACC football is plain vanilla except for Clemson…

Florida State achieved bowl-eligibility with its 6th win of the season over Alabama State – a team the Seminoles ought to be embarrassed to schedule.  The final score was 49-12.

Iowa State beat Texas 23-21 last week; both teams now have 4 losses for the season.  Texas was ranked #19 going into this game and certainly did not play the way a ranked team should be expected to play.  Texas scored 2 4th quarter TDs to take the lead with 5 minutes left to play.  The Longhorns lost the game after allowing a 10-play drive to set up a 36-yard game winning field goal as time expired.

Kentucky beat Vandy 38-14; that is the 5th win for the Wildcats.  They can become bowl eligible with a win in either of their final two games against Tennessee-martin (this week) or against rival Louisville (next week).

Georgia beat Auburn 21-14.  Georgia will play in the SEC Championship Game as the East Division winner.

Alabama beat Mississippi State 38-7 but QB Tua Tagovailoa dislocated and fractured his hip and is out for good.  Any of the NFL teams who were quietly “Tanking for Tua” were not happy with that result.

 

The SHOE Candidates:

 

We are beginning to develop some clarity at the bottom of the college football barrel after last week.  I will stick with a list of 12 candidates for the 8 slots in the imaginary SHOE Tournament this week – – but it sure looks like about half of the slots have inhabitants…

  • Akron:  They lost again last weekend to E. Michigan and they lost again on Wednesday night this week to Miami (OH).  Akron is the only winless Division 1-AA team in the country at 0-11 and will close out their season next week against Ohio University.  Akron will be in the SHOE Tournament.  Cumulative score so far is 383 – 123.
  • Georgia Tech:  Ga Tech lost to Va Tech last week 47-0.  However, they survived a 13-point rally in the 4th quarter by NC State to win last night.  Their third win on the season may have eliminated them from SHOE consideration – something that will not annoy the players, coaches or alums.
  • New Mexico State:  They won their first game of the season last week over Incarnate Word.  ‘Nuff said…
  • Northwestern:  They demolished UMass last week.  They still belong in this candidate list, but that dominant performance against a “true bottom-feeder” probably means they don’t belong in the SHOE Tournament itself.
  • Old Dominion:  They did not lose because they had a BYE Week.  This week’s opponent is Middle Tennessee State.  See below for a comment there…
  • Rice:  They won their first game of the season last week over Middle Tennessee State 31-28.  The Owls scored all their points in the first half and hung on to win.
  • Rutgers:  They lost to Ohio State 56-21.  Is there a sign of life in the Rutgers’ team?  They scored 21 points here; in their previous 6 Big-10 games, they had scored a total of 24 points.
  • S. Alabama: They lost again last week to fall to 1-9 on the season.
  • UConn:  They did not lose because they had a BYE Week.
  • UMass:  They lost to Northwestern (a SHOE candidate) last week 45-7.  Prior to that game, Northwestern had been averaging 12 points per game.  UMass closes out the season against BYU – another shellacking likely.  I will be shocked if UMass is not in this year’s SHOE Tournament.
  • UTEP:  They lost again last week to fall to 1-9 on the season.
  • Vandy:  The Commodores lost last week to Kentucky.  They have 2 wins this year and face East Tennessee State this week, a team that is Division 1-AA with a record of 3-8.  A loss here will put Vandy in the SHOE Tournament for sure.

Action for SHOE candidates this week presents some interesting things to look for.

  1. UTEP and New Mexico State meet in a game they call the “Battle of I-10” for the Interstate highway that connects El Paso and Las Cruces.  I wonder if the folks at Florida and Florida State take umbrage here…
  2. ODU plays Middle Tennessee State this week.  That is the team that lost to Rice last week.  Maybe Middle Tennessee State becomes a SHOE candidate with a loss here?  Maybe this is a second win for the Monarchs?
  3. UConn plays E. Carolina – a team with only 3 wins on the season – this week.  Maybe this is a second win for the Huskies?

 

College Games of Interest:

 

Michigan – 9.5 at Indiana (51.5):  Wolverines must not look ahead to Ohio State next week…

Texas A&M at Georgia – 13 (44):  That’s a big spread for what looks to be a low-scoring game.

E. Carolina – 14.5 at UConn (66): SHOE Tournament interest only…

BYU – 40 at UMass (68.5):  SHOE Tournament interest only …

S. Alabama at Georgia State – 10 (52): SHOE Tournament interest only …

Purdue at Wisconsin – 24.5 (48):  Badgers must not look ahead to showdown with Minnesota next week.

Minnesota – 14 at Northwestern (40.5):  Gophers must not look ahead to showdown with Wisconsin next week.

Oregon – 14.5 at Arizona State (52.5):  Oregon leads the PAC-12 North comfortably.

Utah – 22 at Arizona (57):  Utah leads the PAC-12 South by one game over USC.

UCLA at USC – 14 (65):  USC is still in the PAC-12 South race.

Cal at Stanford – 2.5 (40):  This rivalry provides a “Game of Interest” every year…

Texas at Baylor – 5.5 (59.5):  Baylor cannot afford another conference loss…

SMU at Navy – 3.5 (67.5):  Two “under the radar” teams that are very good.

Michigan State – 20.5 at Rutgers (43):  SHOE Tournament interest here plus potential impact on Mike Dantonio’s continued employment as head coach at Michigan State.

North Texas – 6.5 at Rice (55):  SHOE Tournament interest only…

Arkansas at LSU – 43.5 (69):  These two teams are in the same division in the same conference – – but they are miles apart in terms of quality.

UTEP at New Mexico State – 7.5 (55.5):  Major SHOE Tournament interest here…

ODU at Middle Tennessee State – 14.5 (47):  Major SHOE Tournament interest here…

Penn State at Ohio State – 18 (57.5):  That is a big spread for what is the Game of the Week.

 

NFL Commentary:

 

CBSSports.com had a report earlier this week that Marvin Lewis is one of the “hot candidates” for an open NFL head coaching job when that coaching carousel starts to spin.  If you are surprised by that assertion given the status of the Bengals in his final years and their current doormat status, please remember that he took over the Bengals in 2003 when the entire franchise was a laughingstock and he made it respectable.  Between 2003 and 2018, he took that laughingstock franchise to the playoffs 7 times.

What I find interesting about that report is that it swims upstream in the current NFL where the trend most definitely is to find a young offensive-minded wunderkind to be the next head coach for a downtrodden franchise.  Lewis is definitely a “defensive guy” and he is 62 years old.

Speaking of the Bengals, here is a comment on that subject from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Quick hit: Until 0-9 Cincinnati gets off the schneid, let’s call them the Bagels.”

If you watched the Chiefs/Chargers game in Mexico City on Monday nite, I assume that you observed the condition of the field.  Kickers and runners where kicking up large divots on at least half of the plays.  That made me wonder how bad the field had to be last year when the league moved the venue out of the stadium in Mexico City and put it in Los Angeles on several days’ notice.  I thought the field this year was a substandard facility.

Last week, the Bills thumped the Dolphins 37-20 putting an end to the 2-game win streak for the Dolphins.  Before the kickoff, Greg Cote had this comment in the Miami Herald:

“Suddenly an 0-7 team seen as tanking is a 2-7 team in jeopardy for not getting the quarterback its wants in the 2020 NFL Draft on account of unexpected success. And poor Dolfans aren’t sure how to feel. What a truly weird-ass season.”

Last week, the Broncos led the Vikes 20-0 at half time and had held the Vikes to 58 yards passing in the first half.  Then everything went south…  In the second half, Kirk Cousins threw for 261 yards and 3 TDs as the Vikes rallied to win the game and stay with the Packers in the NFC North race.

In a game with precisely zero significance regarding the playoffs, the Jets beat the Skins 34-17.  The Skins’ 2 TDs in the 4th quarter accomplished two things:

  • It broke a streak of 16 straight quarters where the Skins had failed to find the end zone.
  • It made this game look a lot closer than it was.

The Cowboys beat the Lions 35-27; coupled with an Eagles’ loss, that puts the Cowboys on top of the NFC East for the moment.  However, consider that the Cowboys’ defense gave up 27 points to the backup QB for the Detroit Lions.  That is not a good reflection on the Cowboys’ defense…

The Falcons beat the Panthers 29-3.  Are we living in Bizarro World – – or were the Falcons of September and early/October the inhabitants of Bizarro World?  The Falcons have given up only 12 points in the last two weeks to a pair of teams that possess good offenses.  Prior to those two games, the Falcons were giving up an average of 31.25 points per game.

Three top-shelf teams – the Niners, Pats and Ravens – all won last week.  The Raiders aspire to top-shelf status in 2019 and they too won last week, but their win was labored even against the woebegone Bagels – – er Bengals.

Last night, the Texans beat the Colts 20-17.  That puts the Texans a game up on the Colts for the moment.  The Colts have 5 losses this year; the Texans have 4; looking at the AFC standings, it looks as if 11-5 may be necessary to make the playoffs in the AFC.

 

NFL Games This Week:

There are 4 teams enjoying their BYE Week this week:

  • Arizona:  The Cards are playing competitively and need for their defense to improve to start winning games.
  • Kansas City:  Their half-game lead over the Raiders in the AFC West is seriously in jeopardy this week as they try to get themselves healthy.
  • LA Chargers:  Sorry, but that loss on Monday was the end of their playoff hopes for 2019.
  • Minnesota:  They trail the Packers by half a game now and will be pulling for the Niners to beat the Packers on Sunday.

 

Miami at Cleveland – 10.5 (45):  I suspect that the clock has struck midnight for the Dolphins after a 2-game winning streak and they will go back to being pumpkins – er … doormats.

Denver at Buffalo – 3.5 (38):  This spread opened at 5 points and has been dropping all week long.  The Total Line opened at 35 points and has risen steadily all week.  I suspect that the Broncos will have plenty of difficulty scoring on the Bills’ defense; the Bills have difficulty scoring just about every week.  Lots of punting and field goal tries here…

Pittsburgh – 6.5 at Cincy (39.5):  Steelers are on the fringe of playoff relevance; a loss here will mean the end of their season.  The Bengals just stink…  The Steelers need this game to remain relevant.  The Bengals have conclusively shown themselves to be irrelevant.  Seriously now, do you really want to spend 3 hours watching these two teams go at it?

Giants at Chicago – 6.5 (39.5):  Here is the existential question:

  • Is the Giants’ defense lousy enough to yield more than 20 points to the inept Bears’ offense?

Oakland – 3 at Jets (46.5):  The Raiders squeaked by the lowly Bengals last week with a half-hearted effort.  They are in the thick of a playoff race and do not need a loss to a bad team because they took that bad team lightly.

Carolina at New Orleans – 10 (47):  The spread here opened at 7 points and has been rising all week.  One Internet sportsbook has the line at 11 points as of this morning.  The Saints were awful two weeks ago and rebounded last week; Panthers were awful last week.  Both of those “awful performances” came against the Falcons.  Hmmm…  A win for the Saints here all but ends the NFC South race.

Tampa at Atlanta – 4 (51.5):  Which Falcons team will show up Sunday?  How many INTs and lost fumbles will Jameis Winston contribute to this effort?  Avert your eyes…

Detroit – 3.5 at Washington (40.5):  The Lions have NEVER won a game over the Skins in Washington.  Last road win for Lions over Skins was in 1936 when the team was in Boston.  This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week – – although it got some competition from the Giants/Bears game.  Dwayne Haskins versus Jeff Driskel; be still my heart.

Jax at Tennessee – 3.5 (41.5):  The word that comes to mind here is “Boring” …  Titans are on track to have a shot at finishing 9-7 for the fourth consecutive season.  The best “angle” I can come up with for this game is:

  • Battle of the Big Backs:  Leonard Fournette versus Derrick Henry

Like I said, “Boring”

Dallas at New England – 6.5 (45):  Two division leaders; and yet, this is not the Game of the Week.  Pats’ run defense will need to play well here to stop Ezekiel Elliott.  Cowboys’ defense remains suspect.

(Sun Nite) Green Bay at SF – 3 (48):  This game was flexed from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night.  This game also pits two division leaders against each other and the combined records for these teams is 17-3.  That makes this the Game of the Week.  The key matchup here will be the front four of the Niners against the OL of the Packers.

Seattle at Philly – 1 (47.5):  This spread opened at 3.5 points for reasons I could not possibly explain.

  • Factors favoring the Eagles:  Home field; body clock game for Seahawks.
  • Factors favoring Seahawks:  Everything else.

Eagles’ season is on the line here and I think the wrong team is favored.

(Mon Nite) Baltimore – 3 at LA (46.5):  This game may not have the luster of the Packers/Niners game, but it has the potential to be as fun to watch as any game this year.  Come on now, Aaron Donald and his cohorts against Lamar Jackson $ Co…

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