Good News/BadNews

I have some good NFL news today and some bad NFL news.  The good news is that the so-called Manning-cast was back on Monday Night Football last night and it was just a lot of fun.  Two of the guests were Tom Brady and Drew Brees; you can learn a lot about the mental and the mechanical aspects of football and quarterbacking from those four gentlemen, and you can enjoy watching them just goof around with one another.  I do not know what ESPN is paying those guys for this season – – but it isn’t enough.

Now for the bad news…  We’ve known about the alleged “toxic work culture” that evidently existed in the Washington Front Office for about a decade and the “investigation” into multiple allegations of sexual harassment that resulted in no written report to the league.  Then some of the emails that were collected as a result of that “investigation” were leaked and the “unacceptable content” in those emails caused the coach of the Las Vegas Raiders to be fired.  [Yes, I know; he resigned.]  Calls went out for the NFL to release the rest of those emails – the ones that were not leaked and the NFL has ignored all those calls claiming that they had assured everyone in the investigation of confidentiality.

[Aside:  The NFL mavens have also assured us that the rest of the emails have nothing to do with the allegations of sexual harassment.  If that is correct, then why would the pledge of confidentiality have any bearing on the bulk of those emails?  Enquiring minds want to know…]

So, how could that sordid mess get any worse?  Here’s how.  Late last week, two members of the US House of Representatives sent a 5-page letter to Commissioner Roger Goodell asking him to produce by November 4th the following:

“…all documents and communications obtained in connection with its investigation into the WFT, its management, its owners and any other matter relating to or resulting from the WFT investigation.”

One of the Representatives, Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) is the Chairwoman of the  House Committee on Oversight and Reform.  I am sure that committee has spent hours and hours over the course of its existence overseeing and reforming professional football so of course they will bring a wealth of expertise and experience to the clarification of this matter.  Perhaps, the reason for the lack of focus on overseeing/reforming professional football in the past has been that little thing we call the US Constitution.  Congress is established in Article 1 of the Constitution and Article 1 Section 8 sets out the kinds of legislative actions the Congress may take.  Maybe if you read that text VERY expansively, you might find a way to insert Congressional actions under the heading of laws:

“To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States and with the Indian tribes.”

I would like for the totality of that NFL investigation to come to light; however, I cannot bring myself to believe that Congressional grandstanding – – and that is what this is – – is going to make it happen.  If and when it does happen, it will come from within the NFL and not from the Congress.  Here is why I believe that to be the case:

  • Also, late last week, Jon Gruden issued a veiled comment to the effect that – eventually – the truth will come out.
  • Since the leak that has already happened included words to and from Gruden and his email account, I cannot read that to mean that “the truth” is that Gruden did not write those communiques and someone else did.
  • Ergo, what Gruden considers to be “the truth” must extend to content and evidence related to “other matters.”
  • Why will any revelations come from within the NFL?  For the same reason – – not yet clear what it was – – that these first emails leaked.  Remember, it is the NFL that is in possession of those emails not Joe Flabeetz and His Merry Men.  Someone in the NFL for reasons only known to him/her decided to leak the Gruden emails; that person or others with access to the bulk of the evidence collected now have the opportunity for fame and fortune as “whistleblowers”.

November 4th will come and go; the NFL is not going to deliver the evidence described by Rep. Maloney to her or anyone else on Capital Hill before that date.  And that leads to the bad news that this sordid mess will continue to be a news item until the next leak to the next set of reporters.

Once that November 4th “deadline” has passed, I would hope that everyone in the Congress would move on to deal with some problems facing the US that are squarely in the purview of the Congress’ legislative powers such as:

  • Immigration Reform
  • Tax Reform
  • Emergency Preparedness Improvements
  • Rising Crime Rates – – you get the idea.

Finally, since much of today’s rant dealt with things related to the US Congress, let me close with two famous observation about the Congress from the past:

“It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctively native American criminal class except Congress.”  [Mark Twain]

And …

“Congress consists of one-third, more or less, scoundrels; two-thirds, more or less, idiots; and three-thirds, more or less, poltroons.”  [H. L. Mencken]

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

 

 

Football Friday 10/22/21

I want to offer up today’s rant as an homage to the TV series M*A*S*H.  If you recall, the series took place in an Army field hospital in the Korean War; the unit to which Hawkeye and Hot Lips and Radar were assigned was the 4077th.  Here is the tie-in to today’s rant.

  • This is the 4077th daily rant that I have done since these things began appearing on the Internet in 2001.

There are lots of alliterative possibilities for Friday.

  • Falafel Friday sounds delicious.
  • Fiddling Friday would be important to violinists.
  • Fogy Friday would be a big deal at an assisted living center.

Here in Curmudgeon Central, we have our own version of an alliterative Friday; it is Football Friday.  And it traditionally begins with a review of last week’s Six-Pack:

  • College  =  2-1-0
  • NFL  =  1-2-0
  • Total  =  3-3-0

That brings the cumulative results for Six-Pack selections for the year to:

  • College  =  6-7-0
  • NFL  =  10-12-1
  • Total  =  16-19-1

 

College Football Commentary:

 

            The Linfield College Wildcats won handily last week beating Pacific (Ore) by a score of 52-23.  That extends the Wildcats’ season record to 5-0 and – – most importantly – – it assures the Wildcats of another winning season in football.  Division III teams such as Linfield play a regular season of 9 games; therefore 5 wins equals a winning season.  That extends the longest such winning streak that I have been able to find; it began in 1956 and if someone wants to quibble that Linfield did not have a winning season in 2020 because they did not play football in 2020, my response is to go suck a lemon.

This weekend, the Wildcats go on the road to Puyallup, WA to take on Pacific Lutheran in a Northwest Conference game.  The Lutes bring a record of 2-3 to the stadium but the matchup could be an interesting one:

  • Linfield’s offense averages 51 points per game.
  • Pacific Lutheran’s defense allows only 29 points per game.

Go Wildcats!

Just a quick look at the contenders for this year’s Brothel Defense Award – given to the team whose defense lets anyone and everyone score at will:

  • UMass gives up 41.5 points per game.
  • Kansas gives up 43.3 points per game.
  • Arkansas State gives up 46.7 points per game.

This is the 8th week of the college football season.  In Division 1-A, there are 130 teams; almost 10% of those teams remain unbeaten to date:

  1. Cincy
  2. Coastal Carolina
  3. Georgia
  4. Michigan
  5. Michigan St.
  6. Oklahoma
  7. Oklahoma St.
  8. San Diego St.
  9. SMU
  10. UTSA
  11. Wake Forest

From that list, Michigan and Michigan St. will meet and delete one entry from this list.  The same goes for Cincy/SMU and for Oklahoma/Oklahoma St.

Looking through the other end of the telescope, there are only 2 division 1-A football teams that have yet to win a game in 2021:

  1. Arizona
  2. UNLV

These teams will not meet on the field to remove one from the winless list – – but were the NCAA takes up my idea of a SHOE Tournament to find the nation’s worst team in 2021, that pairing could become a reality.  Just saying…

Before I get to the random listing of results from last week’s games, let me pull three games out of the pile for specific commentary:

Georgia 30  Kentucky 13:  I saw the highlights of this game well after the fact.  Georgia’s run defense was stifling; Kentucky ran the ball 27 times for 51 yards.  Theoretically, this was still a game at halftime with the Bulldogs leading by only 14-7 but then – unfortunately for Kentucky – they played the second half too.  The game was not quite as close as the score would indicate; Kentucky scored a TD with 4 seconds left in the game to edge their way into double-digits.

But that is not what I think is important about the game.  All of the polls had Georgia as the #1 team in the country; most polls had Kentucky ranked somewhere between #10 and #12.  Now, if the polls and the people who do the rankings that make up the polls have any degree of accuracy in their data, one should expect Kentucky to have come out of that game on the short end of the score.  And indeed, Kentucky did.  No surprises there.  So, riddle me this:

  • Why do those same polls and ranking now have Kentucky down at #16 thru #19? 

Yes, they lost a game, but it was a game that they should have lost if there is any validity to last week’s rankings.

South Carolina 21  Vandy 20:  Vandy was outgained on the field but forced 4 turnovers in the game such that the Commodores held the lead at  20-14 with a minute-and-a-half left in the game.  South Carolina took possession at their own 25 and marched 75 yards in 8 plays to take the lead 21-20.  Vandy still had more than a half-minute on the clock but on the first play of that final possession, the QB fumbled the snap and South Carolina recovered.  Ball Game!!

The point here is that Vandy seems to combine two disadvantageous elements in its football program.

  1. On most weekends in most seasons, Vandy’s opponents have better athletes on the field than Vandy does.
  2. Often when Vandy keeps a game close and has a legitimate chance at winning, the football gods seem to enjoy pulling the rug out from under the team.

UTEP 19  LaTech 3:  What makes this game worthy of being separated from the pack of scores from last weekend is that it was the 6th win of the season for UTEP.  Let that sink in for a moment; the Miners are bowl eligible and there are two weekends left in October.  Here are the records for UTEP football in recent years:

  • 2017:  0-12-0
  • 2018:  1-11-0
  • 2019:  1-11-0
  • 2020:  3-5-0
  • Combined:  5-39-0

I am not ready to declare that UTEP is an emerging powerhouse in college football but having a record of 6-1 to start the 2021 season is a major change in the vector heading for the UTEP program.  On November 6th, UTEP will host undefeated UTSA in a game that is meaningful in C-USA; UTEP has not participated in many meaningful games in recent history.

Now let me get on with a review of last week’s action starting with ACC games…

Clemson 17  Syracuse 14:  Syracuse had a slight edge on the stat sheet, but it did not translate to a slight edge on the scoreboard.

UVa 48  Duke 0:  Let us hear it for the Duke defense once again in 2021.  Huzzah!

UNC 45  Miami 42:  The Hurricanes outgained the Tar Heels and held Heels’ QB Sam Howell to  all of 154 yards passing.  And yet, they lost.  Three INTs thrown by the ‘Canes and 9 penalties provided the impetus for the Heels to secure the win.

NC State 33  BC 7:  The halftime score was 10-7 but the Wolfpack blew things open with 21 points in the third quarter.

Pitt 28  Va Tech 7:  Pitt is now 5-1 for the season and is undefeated in ACC games; the Panthers lead the ACC Coastal Division at the moment.  Tech is 3-3 overall and 1-1 in conference games.  Pitt had 411 yards on offense and held the Hokies to only 224 yards; this was a decisive victory.

            Moving on to Big-10 Games…

Purdue 24  Iowa 7:  Last week I worried about the possibility of a let-down game for Iowa after their big win over Penn State two weeks ago.  Well, there it is.  Iowa had been winning with its defense in 2021; Purdue racked up 464 yards of offense.  Iowa’s offense had not been a strength this year; last week, it barely showed up gaining only 271 yards and turning the ball over 4 times (4 INTs).  With this win, the Boilermakers ran their record for the year to 4-2.

Northwestern 21 Rutgers 7:  OK, so Rutgers did not win the game as I had predicted in last week’s Six-Pack.  The surprise to me is that Rutgers was bullied by Northwestern.  The Scarlet Knights gained only 222 yards on offense on 66 plays; that is a meager 3.4 yards per offensive snap.  Add in 11 penalties on Rutgers and a turnover and you can see how the score wound up as it did.

Michigan St 20  Indiana 15:  Sparty is now 7-0 heading into the meat of its schedule.  Here is the rest of the season for Michigan state:

  • Vs. Michigan (next week)’
  • At Purdue
  • Vs. Maryland
  • At Ohio State
  • Vs. Penn State

Indiana was ranked in the Top 20 in pre-season polls, but their record now stands at 2-4.  They will need to win 4 of their remaining 6 games to achieve bowl eligibility and the path to that bowl eligibility looks tricky for the Hoosiers:

  • Vs. Ohio State (this weekend)
  • At Maryland
  • At Michigan
  • Vs. Rutgers
  • Vs. Minnesota
  • At Purdue

Wisconsin 20  Army 14:  The nation’s best run defense was paired against the nation’s second-best run offense.  The defense prevailed.

And now for Big-12 games…

Oklahoma State 32  Texas 24:  Oklahoma State stays undefeated for 2010; that is the 3rd loss for the Longhorns.  Here is what I think is the most important takeaway from this game:

  • No matter what the fanboys in Austin would have you believe, Texas is not “back” in the ranks of top-shelf college football as it has not been “back” in any of the past 3 or 4 seasons.  Those Longhorn proclamations are becoming tiresome.

At the same time, this win by Oklahoma State puts the Cowboys in a position to win the Big-12.  The other unbeaten Big-12 team is Oklahoma and the Cowboys will take on the Sooners in Stillwater, OK on November 27th.

Baylor 38  BYU 24:  Baylor runs its record to 6-1 while BYU drops to 4-2.  Baylor remains potentially relevant in the Big-12 race; its only loss in conference is to Oklahoma State and it still has Oklahoma on the schedule.  What we know for certain is that Baylor is bowl-eligible in mid-October this year which is a bit surprising since the Bears were an unimpressive 2-7 in last year’s COVID-shortened season.

Texas Tech 41  Kansas 14:  Tech looks as if it is going to get a bowl bid this year; Kansas will be – almost assuredly – invited to the SHOE Tournament.

Iowa St. 33  K-State 20:  I guess you could say that Iowa St. is still relevant in the Big-12 conference race; it has one loss in conference play, but it still has Oklahoma St. (this weekend) and Oklahoma on the schedule.  K-State is not relevant in the conference race; the Wildcats are 3-3 for the season and all three losses have been against Big-12 teams.

Oklahoma 52  TCU 31:  I put this game in the Six-Pack last week as going OVER 63.  The total score at the end of the third period was 69 points.  The stat sheet here was much closer than the score; Oklahoma gained 529 yards on offense and TCU gained 525 yards on offense.  The Sooners’ freshman QB, Caleb Williams, had an outstanding game for his first start at the college level:

  • 18 for 23 for 295 yards with 4 TDs and 0 INTs.
  • He also had 9 carries for 66 yards and a rushing TD.

In SEC action last week …

Ole Miss 31  Tennessee 26:  Recall that the Total Line for this game was 83 points last week.  The two teams combined to gain 495 yards rushing in the game producing a total of 32 rushing first downs by both teams.  Ole Miss was 11 for 21 on third downs while Tennessee was 9 for 17.  Still, the total score never put anyone who played UNDER in any jeopardy.

Alabama 49  Mississippi St.  9:  I wondered last week how the Tide players might react to a loss straight up two weeks ago to Texas A&M.  One option that I suggested might be in play was “bludgeoning Mississippi St. to death.”  I would say I got that one right…

Texas A&M 35  Missouri 14:  The Aggies avoided the dreaded let-down game last week after beating Alabama the week before that.  The Aggies ran the ball 42 times for 284 yards (6.8 yards per attempt).  Thirteen penalties did not help Mizzou’s cause even a little bit.

LSU 49  Florida 42:    The game was even on the stat sheet; Florida outgained LSU by only 3 yards.  LSU gained 321 yards rushing (6.6 yards per carry) in the game controlling the tempo.  The Gators turned the ball over 4 times (all INTs) in the game; that is why they lost.  Interestingly, Florida did not commit a single penalty in the game.

Auburn 38  Arkansas 23:   Auburn maintains the importance of its upcoming game against Alabama.  Arkansas should get a nice bowl bid, thank you…

In PAC-12 games out west …

Oregon 24  Cal 17:  This was not the kind of impressive win Oregon needs to get the attention of the CFP Selection Committee.  Cal is 1-5; a “team that hopes to be selected for the CFP” should roll over a team like Cal with ease.  This game was tied 10-10 at the start of the 4th quarter…

Colorado 34  Arizona 0:  OK, Arizona was playing without its starting QB; that meant they were not likely to explode offensively here because they had not done that even when the #1 guy at the helm.  But allowing 34 points to Colorado – – a team whose scoring abilities have rightfully been called into question – – is what makes Arizona a hot mess.  Consider:

  • Colorado is 127th in the nation in total offense gaining an average of only 260.5 yards per game.
  • Colorado is 122nd in the nation in scoring offense scoring an average of only 17.2 points per game.
  • And those standings include the stats from the blowout win over Arizona last week!

[For the record, Arizona and New Mexico score the least among Division 1-A football teams in 2021.  To date, both teams average only 14 points per game.]

Washington St. 34  Stanford 31:  The stat sheet was as close as the scoreboard here.  Two lost fumbles by Stanford were important elements in this outcome.

UCLA 24  Washington 17:  The Huskies’ record is now 2-4.  Recall that they were ranked in the Top 20 in Pre-Season polls – – showing the true value of Pre-Season polls.

Utah 35  Arizona St.  21:  Utah is the only PAC-12 team with no conference losses; this was Arizona State’s first conference loss in 2021.  Arizona St. led this game 21-7 and then gave up 28 unanswered points.

In miscellaneous games of interest from last weekend…

Nevada 34  Hawaii 17:  The game was close at halftime, but Nevada pitched a shutout in the second half to pull away.  Nevada is 5-1 for the season.

San Diego St.  19  San Jose St. 13 (2OT):  San Diego St. is unbeaten at 6-0 but it needed double OT to beat a mediocre San Jose St. team who is now 3-4 on the season.   San Diego State has their stadium under reconstruction, so all  its home games are in Carson CA – – in that soccer stadium that the LA Chargers had used for several years while waiting to relocate to SoFi Stadium.

Utah St.  28  UNLV 24:  UNLV RB, Charles Williams, had 27 carries for 221 yards and 3 TDs in this game – – and the Rebels lost anyway bringing their 2021 record to 0-6.  Here are reasons why Williams’ performance was not enough:

  • Three other players had rushing attempts for UNLV.  They carried 4 times for minus-2 yards.
  • The Rebels’ passing attack for the day was 12 for 24 for 111 yards with 0 TDs and 2 INTs.

Colorado St. 36  New Mexico 7:  CBSSports.com ranks all 130 Divison-1A football teams each week.  This week, they have Colorado State ranked at # 90.  Do not take that literally; all that means is that Colorado State is not a good team and is probably a bit below average in 2021.  Ergo, this was not a good showing by the Lobos against mediocre-at-best competition.  I pointed out above that New Mexico only scores 14 points per game.  Well, in this contest, New Mexico only had 93 yards of total offense for the day.

  • New Mexico’s 93 yards of offense came on 56 offensive snaps.
  • That means each offensive play netted an average of 1.7 yards of offense.

It is difficult to score with that kind of offensive output!

UTSA 45  Rice 0:  Seeing Rice on the short end of a blowout score is not news.  The fact that it is UTSA doing the “blowing out” and not a team with a rich football history such as LSU or Oklahoma makes this interesting if not important.  UTSA is 7-0 for the season and here are their vanquished foes:

  1. Illinois
  2. Lamar
  3. Middle Tennessee
  4. Memphis
  5. UNLV
  6. Western Kentucky
  7. Rice

The best teams left on the UTSA dance card are UTEP (??)  and UAB…

Cincy 56  UCF 21:  The Bearcats notch another dominant win steamrollering UCF  in a game that was 35-7 at halftime.

Buffalo 27  Ohio  26:  In a game with no significance outside of “MAC-land”, Ohio led 21-0 at the end of the first quarter AND the Bobcats later recorded a safety in the game.  Normally, that translates into a victory – – but not here.

UConn 21  Yale 15:  The Huskies are off the schneid for 2021.  They can lay claim to being the best football team in the State of Connecticut…

I purposely saved this game for last; it had to be the biggest surprise of the week – – if not the month…

La-Monroe 31  Liberty 28:  Liberty was a 33-point favorite here and lost outright.  La-Monroe ran off 28 points in the third quarter and then added a winning field goal with about a minute left in the game for the win.  Three INTs by Liberty played a big part in this upset.  I cannot imagine that there was a lot of wagering action on this game but consider the Money Line odds at kickoff:

  • Liberty was minus-8,000
  • La-Monroe was +4,000

La-Monroe is an enigmatic team this year; if you look at the stats you just shake your head in disbelief.

  • ULM is 3-3 for the season.  Not bad.
  • ULM’s point differential for the season is minus-102 points.  That’s awful.
  • ULM is 119th in the country in scoring offense and 128th in the country in total offense.  And  yet, they are 3-3 …?

 

College Football Games of Interest:

 

(Fri Nite) Washington – 17.5 at Arizona (46.5):  Washington has been disappointing this year; Arizona has been putrid this year.  For a game that is predicted to be low-scoring, that is a lot of points to lay if you want to back the favorite…

UMass at Florida St. – 35.5 (60):  The Seminoles have won two in a row; their beleaguered new coach may be building some support among the faithful in Tallahassee.  Any and all of the goodwill he has amassed in the last two weeks will evaporate instantly with a negative outcome here.  In fact, he probably should play for the team to cover this monstrous spread to make the Seminoles’ backers at the betting window happy.

Ohio St. – 21 at Indiana (60):  Do not expect the Buckeyes to take their foot off the gas here.  They are playing to impress the CFP Selection Committee and they already have a loss on the books for 2021.

Illinois at Penn State – 23 (45.5):  Penn State has a Big-10 loss on its record, but it still has Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State to play.  All four of those teams can win out and make it to the CFP but there is no margin of error for any of them…

Georgia Tech at Virginia – 7 (62):   Virginia ranks 5th in the nation in total offense (526.1 yards per game); Tech ranks 65th in the nation at 400.7 yards of offense per game.  Combine those numbers with the fact that Tech is 69th in the country in total defense giving up 381.3 yards per game and Virginia is 95th in the country in total defense yielding 413.1 yards per game.  The game sets up as one where the ball will be “matriculating up and down the field” for much of the day.

Syracuse at Va Tech – 3 (46):  This game should mean a lot more to Tech than to Syracuse.  We shall see…

Clemson at Pitt – 3 (48.5):  This is not the Game of the Week – – except in ACC Territory where this is a huge matchup.  Pitt leads the Coastal Division and is undefeated in ACC games.  Clemson trails Wake Forest by a game in the Atlantic Division but Clemson and Wake will meet head-to-head on November 20th.  However, Clemson already has 1 conference loss (to NC State) and cannot afford another loss at this point.  This is a BIG game…  Pitt averages 48.3 points per game; they are not going to score that many in this one because Clemson only allows 12.5 points per game.  The Clemson offense has been awful this year ranking 115th in the nation.  If Clemson wins, it will be on account of the defense.

Cincy – 28 at Navy (48.5):  Navy has been underwhelming this year; the Bearcats need a big win to keep attention focused on them as a potential CFP participant.

NC State – 3 at Miami (52):  The Wolfpack has lost a game this year, but it is undefeated in conference games.  Miami is a disappointing 2-4 overall and 0-2 in conference games.

Wake Forest – 3 at Army (52.5):  Army will run the ball and then run the ball again and then run it some more.  Wake Forest’s run defense is not all that great; it ranks 92nd in the country giving up 173.2 yards per game.  This could be very interesting…

Oklahoma – 38.5 at Kansas (66.5):  The Sooners average 42.7 points per game; the Jayhawks give up 43.3 points per game.  Here are the Money Line odds for this game:

  • Kansas  =  +10,000
  • Oklahoma  =  minus-30,000

Colorado at Cal – 9 (43):  Two of the PAC-12’s weak sisters sort out which is the weaker…

Utah – 3 at Oregon State (57):  Utah leads the PAC-12 South and Oregon St. is tied for the lead in the PAC-12 North.

Oklahoma St. at Iowa St. – 7 (47):  I call this the college football Game of the Week.  A loss for the Cyclones would be hard for them to overcome.  The Cowboys need a win to stay abreast of Oklahoma who – – given the numbers cited above – – should have an easy victory this week.    I think Oklahoma St. is on a roll here and will make it to its showdown with Oklahoma such that the Big-12 Championship will be decided then; I am tempted to take the Cowboys on the Money Line but will resist that; I will take them plus the points here; put that in the Six-Pack.

Wisconsin – 3.5 at Purdue (40):  The oddsmakers show no love for the Boilermakers after their convincing win over Iowa last week.  The Total Line here looks inviting; two college football teams surely will go OVER 40 points, right?  Well, Purdue has played 6 games this year and every one of them has gone UNDER the total.

LSU at Ole Miss – 9 (76):  Ole Miss is 3rd in the country in rushing offense gaining an average of 262.8 yards per game on the ground.  LSU ranks 75th in the nation in rushing defense giving up an average of 151.9 yards per game.  Both teams can and like to score.  LSU puts 32.4 points per game on the scoreboard and Ole Miss lights it up at 43.7 points per game.  Expect a lot of fireworks here…

UTSA – 6.5 at La-Tech (60):  The Roadrunners seek to stay unbeaten for 2021…

San Diego St. at Air Force – 3.5 (39):  San Diego St. is 6-0 this year; Air Force is 6-1.  For followers of the Mountain West Conference, this is the biggest game of the year to date.  Just for  your information, Air Force leads the nation in rushing offense averaging 336.4 yards per game on the ground.  [Ironic that Air Force is the best team on the ground, no?]  Meanwhile, San Diego St. leads the nation in rushing defense yielding only 60.8 yards per game.  There was a similar matchup last week between Wisconsin and Army and the defensive stalwart prevailed…

USC at Notre Dame – 6.5 (58):  Listen up, children.  There was a time when USC/Notre Dame was THE biggest game of the year…

Nevada at Fresno St. – 3 (65):  This is another interesting Mountain West game.  Nevada is undefeated in conference with 1 loss overall; Fresno St. has lost twice and one of those losses was in conference.

BYU – 4 at Washington St. (55.5):  This game is interesting only because I have no idea how Washington State will react to the firing of head coach Nick Rolovich and 4 of his assistants earlier this week.  The only other thing about the game that is interesting is that both teams are the Cougars so you could call this a cat-fight…

 

NFL Commentary:

 

Let me begin by responding to an item in Bob Molinaro’s column last week in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Fan duel: The WFT has the lowest average home attendance in the league. Not sure if that’s surprising for a franchise that’s experienced so much turmoil. The team’s average of 51,002 spectators over three games represents only 62.2% of FedEx Field capacity. The woeful Jaguars are drawing about 7,000 more a game than Snyder’s team. Whatever happened to that years-long season-ticket waiting list the franchise once proudly touted?”

Living in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC back in the days when the Washington Football team maintained the fiction of consecutive sellouts and a huge waiting list for season tickets, I would get a cold call about once a year asking if I was interested in a season ticket or two.  The team did not publicize it and did not blanket the area with calls, but I am not the only person who got the calls infrequently.  What happened to the “waiting list” is that it was a fiction for most – if not all – of the period of time since Danny Boy Snyder took over the team.  As to the other fiction of consecutive sellouts, the second deck of Fed Ex Field had bright yellow seats and even when the team was contending, those yellow seats showed that the sections were only about two-thirds full – – when they were even that full.

It was all a distraction by the marketing genius of Danny Boy Snyder.  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…

Speaking of the WFT, the team retired the jersey number of Sean Taylor last week.  The fact that they did not even announce that they were thinking about doing that until a couple of days before the game led some to believe that this was a distraction by the team to get the focus off the emails that Bruce Allen – former team president – had sent and received from folks like Jon Gruden and Jeff Pash.  I do not know if that is the case nor do I particularly care.  But I will say the following:

Until last Sunday only 2 players in the history of the Boston/Washington franchise ever had their numbers retired.

  • Those players were Sammy Baugh and Bobby Mitchell.
  • I saw Sammy Baugh play once when I was about 8 years old; I know about him mainly from reports and statistics.  He is in the Hall of Fame and richly deserves that honor.
  • I saw Bobby Mitchell play many times in the 1960s.  He too is in the Hall of Fame and richly deserves that honor.
  • I saw Sean Taylor play at least 90% of the games he took part in.  He made some spectacular head-hunting hits in the days before that was made illegal and he also gave up a lot of big plays as a safety because he was seeking to make those big hits.  Sean Taylor is not in the Hall of Fame; he should not be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and he really does not belong on a short list of three when the other two are Sammy Baugh and Bobby Mitchell.

Allow me one more Washington Football Team comment if you will…  This week the team cut its kicker, Dustin Hopkins, and replaced him with Chris Blewitt.  Hopkins had missed a couple of extra points in addition to some readily makeable field goals so far this year, so this was not a shocking move.  What I think is interesting is that the team decision to sign Blewitt had to bring a sigh of relief to reporters who cover the WFT and to their copy editors.  The other kicker in competition with Blewitt was the spelling nightmare that is Lirim Hajrullahu.

Let me point out a statistical oddity from the NFC North standings:

  • The Packers are 5-1 with a point differential of only 8 points
  • Two of their five victories have been by a total of 5 points.
  • Their one loss was by 35 points  – – to the Saints in Week 1.

The NFL is a copycat league; when one team tries something “different” and it works, other teams put that in their bag of tricks also.  Well, last week we saw two NFL teams win big games in the week after their head coaches were severely embarrassed to the point that Jon Gruden lost his job and Urban Meyer was scrutinized more closely than he ever had been in his life.

  • So, will other teams look for ways to embarrass their head coaches in the copycat NFL?

Moving on to last week’s results:

Jags 23  Dolphins 20:  The Jags’ losing streak is over.  The game was as even on the stat sheet as it was on the scoreboard.  The Dolphins have now lost 5 in a row after winning in Week 1.  If you believe in omens, that is what happened to the Jags last year; they won in Week 1 too…   The Dolphins only managed to run the ball for 77 yards in the game despite playing a team that gives up 114 yards per game.  The Jags’ defense played well after letting the Dolphins run out to a 10-0 lead.  Here are the results of the 9 Dolphins’ possessions from the start of the second quarter to the end of the game:

  1. Punt
  2. FG
  3. Punt
  4. Missed FG
  5. Punt
  6. INT
  7. TD
  8. Punt
  9. Turnover on downs

Packers 24  Bears 14:  The Bears trailed only 17-14 in the middle of the fourth quarter, but Aaron Rodgers led a 7-play 75-yard drive that took 4 minutes off the clock.  The TD from that drive resulted in the final score here.  Justin Fields played well for the Bears throwing for 175 yards and gaining another 43 yards rushing.  However, he did throw 1 INT and that was in the end-zone thereby killing a scoring opportunity.

Chiefs 31  Football Team  13:  The Football Team led at halftime 13-10 and then the Chiefs’ defense – statistically the worst defense in the NFLat the time – shut down the Washington offense for the entire second half.  However, the less scrutinized blame should be placed on the Washington defense – – that unit where 4 first round draft picks line up on the D-line” and another one plays linebacker:

  • The Chiefs had 499 yards of offense.
  • The WFT defense allowed more than 30 points for the 4th week in a row.
  • The Chiefs were 11 for 17 on third down conversions including a stretch of 8 consecutive third-down conversions in the second half.

Sounds bad, right?  Oh, wait… there’s more.

  • The score was 24-13 with ten-and-a-half minutes left in the game.  The Chiefs got the ball at their own 4 yardline.  If the defense can get a three-and-out, the offense would likely get decent field position and could possibly make a game of it.  Here is what happened when that defense was faced with this task:
  • The Chiefs drove 96 yards on 15 plays to score a TD and take 7 minutes and 18 seconds off the game clock.

That is what is called “coming up small”…

Cowboys 35  Pats 29: (OT):  The stat sheet says this should have been a blowout – – but it was an OT game.  The Cowboys had 567 yards on offense; the Pats only managed to get 335 yards.  The Cowboys had the ball for just over 39 minutes in the game.  Dak Prescott was 36 of 51 for the day gaining 445 yards passing with 3 TDs and 1 INT.  So much for that mysterious shoulder injury he “had” during the Exhibition Season…  The only Cowboys’ flaw was committing 12 penalties for 115 yards in the game.

Raiders 34  Broncos  24:  The total offense for both teams was a dead heat here; the Broncos held the ball for almost 35 minutes; the Broncos had 9 more first downs than the Raiders; the penalties were the same.  Here is the difference that led to the Raiders’ victory:

  • Raiders had zero turnovers
  • Broncos had 4 turnovers (3 INTs)
  • The Raiders also booked 5 sacks for the game; Maxx Crosby had 2 of them.

Vikes 34  Panthers 28 (OT):  The Panthers arrived at the kickoff with the top-rated pass defense in the NFL.  Kirk Cousins shredded it for 373 yards and 3 TDs going 33 for 48 on the day.   Adam Theilin caught 11 passes for 126 yards and 1 TD in the game.  Total offense for the Vikes was 571 yards.  The Vikes’ offense was in a zone last week, but the Vikes’ special teams were in the toilet.  The Panthers blocked a punt that led to a TD and the kicker missed two makeable field goals in the game including one as time expired that would have negated the need for OT.

Steelers 23  Seahawks 20 (OT):    The Steelers dominated the first half leading 14-0 at the intermission.  Then the Seahawks woke up and dominated the second half sending the game to OT.  Alex Collins subbing for injured starting RB, Chris Carson gained 101 yards on the ground for the Seahawks.  Geno Smith was solid if not spectacular subbing for injured starting QB, Russell Wilson – – until late in the OT when Geno did what Seahawks’ fans fear the most.  It is almost as if he shook his head and remembered who he is and how he had been playing so well; that could not be allowed to stand.  So, he lost a fumble late in the OT period deep in Seahawks’ territory that gave the Steelers a 36-yard field goal try to win the game.  Of course, it was good; that is how “Geno Smith Stories” always end.

Titans 34  Bills 31:  Looking at the score, you would think that neither defense showed up for the game.  Not true, this was a hard-hitting game with plenty of good defensive plays in it; it was also a night where both offenses were hitting on all cylinders.

  • Josh Allen threw for 353 yards and 3 TDs
  • Derrick Henry averaged just over 7 yards per carry and scored 3 rushing TDs

Last weekend saw an unusual number of blowout games in the NFL.  I put 5 games from last week in that category and there were only 14 games last week.  Let me go through them together here…

Colts 31  Texans 3:  Here is a 28-point margin of victory; that is a lot for an NFL game.  The stat sheet says the game should have been close; the Colts had 388 yards on offense and the Texans had 353 yards.  There is not much of a difference there.  However, the Texans turned the ball over 3 times in the game so the fact that they controlled the ball for almost 35 minutes and the fact that the Texans were 9 for 17 on third down tries meant nothing.  The Texans had a “players only” meeting prior to this game; that motivational gambit produced nothing of value on the field.  For the Colts, RB Jonathan Taylor rushed for 145 yards and 2 TDs on only 14 rushing attempts.

Ravens 34  Chargers 6:  Here is another 28-point margin of victory; that is a lot for an NFL game.  The Ravens defense held the Chargers to 208 yards on offense and only 26 yards on the ground; Justin Herbert was the Chargers’ leading rusher in the game.   The Ravens’ offense held the ball for 38 minutes and ran the ball 38 times for 187 yards.  It was indeed a butt-stomping.

Rams 38  Giants 11:  Here is a 27-point margin of victory; that is a lot for an NFL game.  The Giants led 3-0 at the end of the first quarter.    The next time the Giants scored, the Rams had 38 points and there were about 6 minutes left to play in the game.  Matthew Stafford had himself a fun time here posting this stat line:

  • 22 of  28 for 251 yards with 4 TDs and 1 INT

Cooper Kupp caught 9 balls for 130 yards and 2 TDs in the game.  The Rams’’ defense recorded 4 sacks and created 4 turnovers too.  It was a beat down.

Bengals 34  Lions 11:  Here is a 23-oint margin of victory; that is a lot for an NFL game.  The Bengals were pitching a shutout until the middle of the fourth quarter when the Lions kicked a field goal to make the score 27-3.  The Lions’ offense was anemic at best and the running game was embarrassing.  The Lions ran the ball 18 times for 36 yards.  The Bengals were 8 for 15 on third down conversions and 2 for 2 on fourth-down tries.  The Lions’ total offense for the day was 228 yards.  It was an ass-kicking.

Cardinals 37  Browns 14:  Here is a 23-point margin of victory; that is a lot for an NFL game.  AND it could well have been even worse because the Browns got a TD – half of their scoring for the day – on a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the first half.  This could have been a 30-point margin of victory!  It was 23-14 at the half and the Browns made a defensive stop to start the 3rd quarter.  If they were going make a game of this, that was the time and place for a momentum swing.  However, here are the results of the Browns’ possessions in the second half of this game:

  • Punt (after a 3-and-out)
  • Lost Fumble
  • Turnover on Downs
  • Turnover on Downs

This may have been the biggest rout of the weekend…

 

NFL Games:

 

There are 6 teams on their BYE Week this week leaving 13 games on the schedule.  Here are the inactive teams:

  1. Bills:  They have an extra week to stew over their loss to the Titans
  2. Chargers:  They have an extra week to watch how the Ravens blew them out last week.
  3. Cowboys:  Dak Prescott was in a walking boot with a calf injury at the end of last week’s game; good timing here!
  4. Jags:  Bathing in the glory of victory for the first time in a long time.
  5. Steelers:  Hoping they get to play Geno Smith once again next week.
  6. Vikes:  Two weeks to clean up special teams and to find the key to consistency from week to week.

The Sunday late afternoon time slot (I am talking about the Eastern Time Zone here) is usually where the league showcases top teams and good games.  Not so this week.  There are 4 games that fit into that time slot.  Three of those four games have double-digit spreads and the Lions and the Texans appear in two of the four games.  The schedule-maker gets a loud case of the raspberries from NFL fans watching on TV this week.

Of course, I watched last night’s game between the Broncos and the Browns.  It was hardly an enjoyable way to spend three or so hours; the game was a slog.  Back before the regular season began, I predicted 5 wins for the Denver Broncos and I had Vic Fangio as one of my coaches on a hot seat; when they won their first 3 games, I figured I would have to eat those predictions.  Well, the Broncos have now lost 4 in a row and given the way they looked last night, I am feeling comfortable with my prognostication.

The Browns won with Case Keenum at QB and a RB named D’Ernest Johnson who gashed the Broncos’ defense for 146 yards rushing on 22 carries.  The Broncos offense was AWOL; the Broncos only ran 49 offensive plays in the game and the rushing stats were an anemic 41 yards on 14 carries.  The Browns need to “get healthy”; the Broncos need more than that.

Cincy at Baltimore – 6 (47):  This is a division game and – take a deep breath here – the Bengals can wind up tied with the Ravens for first place in the AFC North if they can win this game.  I think the Bengals have their work cut out for them, but they do have something going for them.  The Ravens’ pass defense is not great, and it has given up more than its share of ‘chunk plays”.  The Bengals can and do throw the ball downfield particularly to Ja’Marr Chase.  I label this one the Game of the Week.

Carolina – 3 at Giants (43.5):  Lots of “negative momentum” in play here.  [Yes, I know, momentum is not negative; it is a vector quantity; sometimes it is just pointing in the wrong direction.]  The Panthers have lost their last 3 games; the Giants have lost their last two games by 22 points and then by 27 points.  Both offenses are – shall we say – stagnant.  The Panthers have some injuries on offense; the Giants just aren’t any good on that side of the ball.  Unless there are defensive or special team scores here, I think the first team to 20 points wins it; I like the game to stay UNDER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Washington at Green Bay – 8 (48):  The spread for this game is as low as 7.5 at two Internet sportsbooks and as high as 9.5  at another.  You can find it at every stop along the way between those two points.  For one of the books with the game at 7.5 points, the line was 9.5 all week long until Thursday afternoon when it was dropped to 7.5 in one step down.  The other book currently at 7.5 points had the game at 10 points until Thursday when it was dropped to 8.5 and then quickly to 7.5.  That movement can only mean lots of WFT money showed up at those two sportsbooks.  Why that is the case is a mystery to me; I have not seen any reports that Aaron Rodgers has been kidnapped by aliens from the Xygork Nebula…

KC – 4.5 at Tennessee (56.5):  That is a big Total Line and I think it represents the way this game will unfold.  Derrick Henry should have a big day against  a Chiefs’ run defense that ranks 27th in the league giving up an average of 133.2 yards per game.  The Titans’ defensive backfield looks as if it belongs in a M*A*S*H unit and that would point to Patrick Mahomes and his speedy pass catchers also having a big day.  This could be one of those days were putting 30 points on the scoreboard is only the ante for the game; I’ll take the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Atlanta – 2.5 at Miami (47.5):  The Falcons played in London two weeks ago; they came home and got a BYE Week leading up to this game.  The Dolphins played in London last week; they came home needing to get ready to play this weekend.  What did the Dolphins do to piss off the schedule-maker?  I do not think the Falcons are a good team, but I think they are a step above the Dolphins.  Normally, taking a mediocre-at-best team on the road and laying points is a bad idea.  However, the Dolphins are playing very badly right now; they may not be as bad as say the Lions, but they are playing badly.  So, I will go against the grain here and take the Falcons and lay the points on the road; put it in the Six-Pack.

Jets at New England – 7 (43):  So, is the storyline here Zach Wilson against Mac Jones as two rookie QBs from the same draft oppose one another?  Or is it that this is Zach Wilson and the Jets’ offensive braintrust matching wits with Bill Belichick’s defensive wrinkles?  The Jets have had 2 weeks to come up with their plans of attack on offense and defense and I don’t think that is enough.  I’ll take the Pats to win and cover at home; put it in the Six-Pack.

Detroit at Rams – 16 (50):  Jared Goff “goes home” to LA – – or maybe it’s that the Lions go out to LA to check out how their old buddy Matthew Stafford is doing?  The only way I see this game being marginally interesting/competitive is if the Rams look past the Lions and only give a quarter-assed effort.  [Aside:  A half-assed Rams’ effort should still produce a victory.]  Lions’ coach, Dan Campbell, said he wanted players that never give up and will bite opponents at the kneecaps as they are going down.  If he has really assembled a roster that buys into that philosophy, then the Rams coaches and equipment folks had better make sure they have plenty of kneepads available and also to have cameras on the sidelines to record the bite marks.  I will not make this a selection for the Six-Pack because I hate double-digit spreads in NFL games.  And because I think this game will be most uncompetitive, I will crown it as the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.

Philly at Las Vegas – 3 (48.5):  The Eagles come to the game off a “mini-BYE” having played on Thursday last week; the Raiders now have the opportunity to level out the emotional roller coaster they had to be on last week in their first game of the Rich Bisaccia era.  It appears that Eagles’ OT, Lane Johnson, will be back with the team after taking some time off to deal with “anxiety issues”.  The key to this game will be the Raiders’ ability – or inability – to keep Jalen Hurts in the pocket; Hurts is a lot better when he has room to move and throw.  On the other side, I think the Raiders will be able to do plenty of business against the Eagles’ defense.  I am hoping that this is the “late game’ in my viewing area since it will be the only game in that time slot with less than a 13-point spread. And there will be fireworks here; I like the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Chicago at Tampa – 13 (47):  Here we have another potential blowout game in the late Sunday afternoon time slot.  The Bucs have been strong on offense scoring more than 30 points in 5 of their 7 games this year.  The Bears only give up 21 points per game so that is the force opposing a blowout game here.  Justin Fields has been playing well for a rookie but this week he gets to try his hand against Todd Bowles as the defensive coordinator in the other sideline.  I don’t think that is going to be a fair fight.

Houston at Arizona – 17.5 (47):  The Texans are not in the same echelon as the Cardinals and the Texans are on the road for the second week in a row.  The spread for this game opened at 14.5 points and shot up to 17 points in the first 24 hours.  At some sportsbooks, it went as high as 18.5 points before settling in at this level at most of the sportsbooks on the Internet.  Similar to the Rams’ situation, I cannot see the Cards losing or even being threatened seriously here unless they take the game for granted and just go through the motions.

(Sun Nite) Indy at SF – 4 (44):  Back in August when the coaches and GMs here looked at this game in Week 7, my guess is that all of them thought this would be a yardstick game between two teams that were 5-1 or at worst 4-2.  Well, it is a yardstick game but in the other direction.  The Colts are 2-4 while the Niners are 2-3.  The winner stays viable and relevant; the loser may find itself on life support.  The Niners’ QB for Sunday night is still up in the air as I compose this; if Jimmy G can play, he will be the better QB on the field; if Trey Lance plays it will be a North Dakota State QB reunion.

(Mon Nite) New Orleans – 5 at Seattle (43):  This is the battle of the mistake-prone QBs; Jameis Winston versus Geno Smith; on every snap of the ball in this game, no fan of either team would dare think, “What could possibly happen?”  Why not?  Because with those two, anything can happen at any time.  Here is what I see as the difference in the game:

  • Saints’ defense is 15th in the league giving up 354 yards per game.
  • Seahawks defense is 32nd in the league giving up 433.2 yards per game.

Also, the Saints defense is +5 in turnover differential.  The only reason I will not make a selection here is the game venue; the Saints are not a great road team, and the Seattle crowd just might get in Jameis Winston’s head.  I am tempted to take the Saints – – but will demur.

So let me review this week’s Six-Pack – – which is heavily tilted toward NFL games:

  1. Oklahoma St. +7 against Iowa St.
  2. Panthers/Giants UNDER 43.5
  3. Chiefs/Titans OVER 56.5
  4. Falcons – 2.5 over Dolphins
  5. Pats – 7 over Jets
  6. Raiders/Eagles OVER 48.5

Finally, since this all began with an  homage to M*A* S*H let me close with this observation by George Bernard Shaw about the medical profession:

“We have not lost faith, but we have transferred it from God to the medical profession.”

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Football Version Of The Dirty Dozen

The NFL season is approximately one-third finished – – now with 17 games in a regular season, there are no easily identified simple fractions for a season – – and there is about enough of the season in our collective rearview mirror to take a synoptic view of the league in 2021.  Here is the difference between what I try to do here and what others who comment on and analyze pro football try to do:

  • I want to focus on the really bad teams so far – – AND – –
  • I want to focus on the teams I think are the most disappointing so far in 2021.

It is easy – and therefore commonplace – to comment on the positive surprises and the  top teams in the league to date.  But these words by H. L. Mencken explain why the curmudgeonly option is to do the opposite:

“Men became civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt.”

I shall begin with the teams that have played most poorly to date in the 2020 NFL season.  These are the bottom 6 teams to date:

  1. Lions:  As the only winless team in the league (0-6) the Lions cannot possibly avoid being on this list; in fact, they really have to be at the top of the list even though I try to do these sorts of things alphabetically.  With a point differential to date at minus -63, the Lions are tied with the Giants for the biggest scoring deficit in the NFC.
  2. Dolphins:  They won a game in Week 1 and have lost 5 in a row since then.  Hell, they lost to the sorry-assed Jaguars last week.  This team was 10-6 last year but they have been awful in 2021.  The Dolphins point differential is minus-78; they are losing on average by 13 points per game.
  3. Giants:  They arrive at this party with a 1-5 record.  Last week, the Giants honored the Giants’ team that won the 2011 Super Bowl, and the current version of the Giants went out and laid a giant rotten egg on the field of play.
  4. Jags:  Yes, they won last week breaking a 20-game losing streak.  Nonetheless, I will need to see lots of signs of life from the Dolphins over the next several weeks before I consider that Jags’ victory to be some sort of “breakthrough.”
  5. Jets:  The Jets have won a game, but they have only lost 4 games as opposed to 5 games for other 1-win teams on this list.  How can that be?  The Jets had a BYE Week last week and it is extremely difficult to lose in one’s BYE Week.  The Jets’ offense is anemic; it ranks 31st in the NFL gaining only 267 yards per game.  That is simply not good enough.
  6. Texans:  They too have won a game in 2021 – but it is sometimes hard to fathom how they did that.  The Texans have the worst point differential in the NFL as of this morning at minus-80 points over 6 games which is ever so slightly worse than the Dolphins so far this year.

The six teams listed above are surely disappointing to their fanbase – – and probably to their owners.  However, with the possible exception of the Dolphins, most folks did not expect much from teams on that list.  Objective outside observers look at the list and say something along the line of , “So, what’s the big deal?”

I believe there are six other NFL teams where fans and owners should have expected a better start to the first third of the 2021 season and none of these six teams are close to being on the list above:

  1. Browns:  The Browns were a fashionable pick to make to the Super Bowl this year as the AFC representative.  As of this morning, the Browns are 3-3 with injuries and offensive inconsistency being the most prevalent storylines for the team.  The Browns are not a bad team, but they have not lived up to the expectations of their fans.
  2. Chiefs:  Maybe the football gods have inflicted the team with the “Curse of the Super Bowl Loser”.  Or maybe, some of the defensive coordinators have caught up to the gimmickry of Andy Reid’s offense which is based in large part on the mobility and “arm-talent” of Patrick Mahomes.  I do not know the answer there but here is what I do know: The Chiefs have been very successful for the past several years with a mediocre defense because that offense could bail the team out of more than a few desperate circumstances.  And that has not been happening nearly as routinely in 2021 as it did in the past couple of seasons.
  3. Football Team:  These guys won the NFC East last year and the expectation was that they would have a Top 5 defense that would shut down opponents.  If only the offense could find a way to score 24 points in a game, the Football Team would be in a position to win that game.  Not so fast my friend…  The defense has been awful despite starting 5 first round picks in that defensive unit; opponents score an average of 31 points per game on that elite defense and that is the worst scoring statistic in the league.
  4. Niners:  Like the Browns, the Niners had a significant following during the Exhibition Season as a dark-horse candidate to arrive at the Super Bowl as the NFC champ.  I know; they have only lost 3 games in 2021; so, that achievement is not rendered impossible.  But it is looking more and more improbable as the weeks go by.  Trey Lance is starting at QB for an injured Jimmy Garoppolo – – no surprise regarding that injury status, please – – and I cannot see any way that a rookie QB will be able to carry the Niners through the tough divisional games presented by the NFC  West.
  5. Pats:  The team acquired free agents in the offseason and drafted someone who was supposedly “their guy” in the Draft to take over as QB.  OK, the offense has struggled a bit with a rookie QB even with the genius of Josh McDaniels scheming and designing game plans.  The real issue so far has been the defense’s inability to carry the team in light of the mediocre – and hopefully improving – team offense.  There is lots of time left in the 2021 season, but I really do not believe that the Pats have the ability to catch the Bills in the NFC East.
  6. Seahawks:  Calm down “Seahawk Nation”; I know that losing a top-shelf QB such as Russell Wilson ought to allow this team to get a pass from this sort of list.  However, my problem is not with the Seahawks’ offense; it is with the defense that was supposedly upgraded and improved over the offseason.  Well, as of this morning, the Seahawks defense has allowed an average of 433.2 yards per game and that ranks the defensive unit dead last in the NFL

Finally, I began this morning with some words from H. L. Mencken; so, let me close with another of his observations:

“[Hollywood] is the true and original arse-hole of creation.  The movie dogs, compared with the rest of the population, actually seem like an ancient Italian noblesse.”

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

 

 

Mostly Basketball Stuff Today

Today is National Calvados Day.  If you like cognac, you will also like calvados.  Too many folks go out of their way to create cocktails using calvados.  My preference is to enjoy it neat after dinner.  I stop short, however, of just sticking a straw in the bottle…

The NBA tipped off the 2021/2022 regular season last night with two top-shelf matchups – – Lakers/Warriors and Bucks/Nets.  The NBA regular season consists of 1230 games; it could well be the case that the next night when there will be four comparably qualified teams meeting each other will be in the NBA Semi-Finals.  That is the problem with the NBA regular season; there are far too many games that have very little meaning and do not put on display either balanced talent levels for both squads or sufficient talent on one or both teams to make the game interesting.

That may sound cynical, and it may not be what dedicated NBA fans want to hear, but I am hardly alone in my thinking that the NBA regular season takes a very long time (indisputably correct) without a lot of surprises or drama involved.  Barring significant injuries, we all pretty much “know” the outcomes.  The Las Vegas sportsbooks allow fans to wager on the winners of the 6 NBA Divisions.  Here are the numbers; the oddsmakers signal here that they are confident they know the winners in the divisions:

  • Atlantic Division:  Nets at minus-275
  • Central Division:  Bucks at minus-1,000
  • Southeast Division:  Heat at even money
  • Northwest Division:  Jazz at minus-225
  • Pacific Division:  Lakers at +110
  • Southwest Division:  Mavericks at minus-225

Only one of the divisions offers bettors a choice where every team pays out more than even money if the pick is successful; that would be in the Pacific Division where the Lakers are at +110 partially because the Warriors are in the same division, and the Warriors are at +180.  The oddsmakers go further in their expression of confidence in the ultimate outcome of the NBA season.  Here is an overview of the odds for teams to win the NBA Championship next summer:

  • Six of the thirty NBA teams have odds of +50,000
  • Nine other teams have odds between +10,000 and +50,000.

[Aside:  I know most everyone understands the odds notation here but just to be clear, odds of +50,000 means if you bet $100 and you win the bet, you collect your original $100 PLUS $50,000.]

Looking at the data above, the bookmakers believe that half of the teams in the NBA have no real shot at “winning it all”.  But those 15 teams will take part in plenty of those 1230 regular season games.  I cannot wait until I have the chance to tune in to see the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the Sacramento Kings.  Wake me in early or mid-March so I can begin to care about half the games on any given evening.

Moving along…  You may recall that a whole bunch of NFL players stand accused of defrauding the healthcare plan that covers retired NFL players and about half of them have pleaded guilty.  The way it worked was that they filed false claims for expensive items – like hyperbaric chambers – and kept the reimbursements.  There were forged prescriptions and receipts involved; it was a sordid mess.

Well, one of two things seems to have occurred here:

  1. Great minds run in similar channels – – OR – –
  2. NBA players “went to school” on how NFL players were cashing in.

Eighteen former NBA players have been charged with defrauding the NBA’s healthcare plan and pocketing between $2.5 and $4M in bogus claims.  According to reports, Terrence Williams – originally drafted by the then-NJ Nets – concocted the scheme and is the alleged “ringleader”.  The indictment in the matter alleges that Williams provided “false invoices” to the other players so that they could file claims and in return for those false invoices Williams got a kickback from the players once they were reimbursed.

There are a few recognizable names among the accused including:

  • Tony Allen
  • Glen “Big Baby” Davis
  • Darius Miles
  • Sebastian Telfair

Dwight Perry’s take on this fraudulent scheme is interesting:

“Eighteen ex-NBA players have been charged with defrauding the league’s health and welfare benefit plan out of about $4 million for claiming fake ailments.

“Even worse, they won’t get their $35 copays back.”

Finally, apropos of nothing, here is a response made by English essayist Samuel Johnson to an unnamed author:

“Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good.”

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

 

 

I Thought We Would Be Over This By Now …

I am feeling like Pollyanna a bit this morning.  I had thought that by the time the NHL and the NBA began their seasons in the Fall that there would be a much more normal modus vivendi regarding COVID-19 and protocols and the like.  Well, the NHL has seemingly figured out how to make all that stuff work in a way that allows the focus to be on teams and players and games and standings and – you know – the interesting and important stuff.  Not so for the NBA…

The NHL season is underway; some of the teams already have four games in the books.  The stories surrounding the NHL have to do with wins and losses and injuries; that is how things worked in the “normal times” before the coronavirus.  The NBA season begins this week.  Here are the “big storylines” coming out of training camps for the league:

  • Can the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo repeat?  [That is a fill in the blanks storyline that happens every year in every sport.]
  • Has Lebron assembled a team around him that is of championship caliber?  [I think we have heard that one before…]
  • Ben Simmons and John Wall want to be traded.  [The names change but we have heard that song sung before.]

If those were the big storylines hanging in the balance as the NBA prepared to tip off its new season, it would seem that a return to normalcy was well underway.  However, the really big storyline coming out of training camp for the NBA has to do with – – drum roll please – – COVID-19 and the vaccine(s) available for COVID-19.  Kyrie Irving chooses not to take the vaccine making him ineligible to play in games in NYC under current procedures in that city.  The Nets have told Irving he cannot be part of the team if he can only play in about half of the Nets’ games this year and that he should stay away from meetings and practices and should not travel with the team.

Irving’s contract calls for him to make just a smidgen over $35M for the upcoming season – – predicated on his availability to play for something other than an injury.  I am certain that there will be litigation/arbitration to come as to whether Irving can invoke the “guarantees” in that contract and continue to collect some or all that salary, but it would seem as if he is going to sacrifice at least a portion of it.  He says he is willing to do so.

Adam Silver is trying to take a moral high ground here saying that the situation between Irving and the Brooklyn Nets is “between Kyrie and New York City right now.”  Silver also said that he was happy with the way the league has managed the COVID issue citing mandatory vaccination status for all coaches, referees, trainers and media representatives that would come into close contact with players on a routine basis.  The one area over which Silver and his minions have not been able to require vaccines is among the players themselves.  The NBA protocols exist to protect the players and their ability to play; the players’ union has opposed mandating vaccines for the players themselves.  Even COVID-19 cannot change the fact that the league and the union find themselves at loggerheads over just about everything.

Silver said that about 96% of the players have chosen to take the vaccine.  Let us do some math; there are 30 NBA teams with 15-man rosters.  If 4% of that cadre are unvaccinated, that translates to 18 vaccine holdouts.  That means that Kyrie Irving has 17 colleagues who have made the same choice he has.  Andrew Wiggins faced a comparable situation to Irving because the city of San Francisco has similar restrictions in place that would have barred him from playing games in San Francisco for the Warriors.  Wiggins made the choice to take the vaccine; Irving has not.

Moreover, the coronavirus has an ongoing effect in another sport – college football.  Washington State has fired head football coach, Nick Rolovich, for “not adhering to a statewide order” issued in August 2021 that mandated vaccines for all public employees.  Rolovich was not only a public employee; he was the highest paid public employee in the State of Washington earning $3.2M per year.  In addition to Rolovich, four assistant coaches (two on the offense and two on the defense) also lost their jobs over vaccination issues.

It is not as if this mid-season coaching upheaval was a surprise – or at least it should not have been.  Back in August, Rolovich did not participate in person at the PAC-12 media day because it was held in Los Angeles and the city had a mandate for participants to be vaccinated.  So, in this case, I find it difficult to “take sides.”

Let me be clear; I have been vaccinated and am waiting for the FDA approval of my booster shot which I will take as soon as I can.  I respect the right of someone to refuse to take the vaccine and believe that any adverse consequences that arise from that refusal are good and proper.

  • [Aside:  The specific consequence of an unvaccinated person contracting the virus and spreading it to someone else so that “someone else” also suffers health consequences is neither good nor proper – – but I think you get what I mean here.]

The reason I find it hard to “take sides here is because the real loser(s) in the Washington State/Nick Rolovich standoff are the players on the football team.  Those players have worked and trained in an attempt to play competitive college football; they did not go through all those rigors to be part of a drama that results in them losing a third of their coaching staff in the middle of the season.  The chronological adults involved in this matter – the coaches, the Athletic Director, the university administrators, the state and local politicians – could be expected to have seen this coming and taken action before the fact.  Instead, it sure seems as if process ruled the day and got us to a situation where it is the athletes who are collateral damage in a standoff involving none of them.

Finally, since much of the overhang of COVID on sports today involves individuals and their convictions, let me close with this note from Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche:

“Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.”

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

 

 

Baseball Musings…

According to Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

Emerson lived in the 1800s, so he did not have the joyful experience of having to cope with the consistency not demonstrated by today’s politicians and by virtue-signalers everywhere.  The latest example of inconsistency might be ascribed to the commissioner of Baseball, Rob Manfred.  It was a little more than 6 months ago that Manfred led MLB in a tour de force of virtue-signaling.  Here is the sequence of events:

  • The duly elected legislature in Georgia passed new voting laws and the Governor signed them into law.  [For the record, I have never lived in Georgia but from all I have read, that law was put on the books in a way that is consistent with the Constitution of Georgia.]
  • Lot of people were outraged by the law.  [For the record, based solely on reports I read I would not have supported passage of that bill were I in the Georgia Legislature – – but I have never lived in Georgia, so my philosophical opposition carries little to no weight.]
  • MLB broadcast its outrage by moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver back in April 2021.

And so, we now come to October 2021 and we have a potential test of the level of MLB’s outrage.  Consider:

  • That abhorrent voting law that caused the  All-Star Game to be pulled out of Georgia in protest is still on the books.
  • As of this morning, the Atlanta Braves are two wins away from being in the World Series.
  • Will MLB allow those games to take place in Georgia?
  • Will the Commish attend any of the games in Atlanta if he allows the games to happen there?

At the time the decision was made to move the All-Star Game to Denver, here is how NPR reported the position of MLB on the issue:

“When the MLB took the summertime game away from Atlanta, Manfred, the baseball commissioner, called it ‘the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport,’ adding that the league ‘fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.’”

So, if the Braves go on to win the NLCS, having the World Series in Atlanta should run counter to MLB’s “values as a sport” simply because that law placing “restrictions to the ballot box” is still there.  Anyone want to bet that no one asks the Commish to comment on that?

Speaking of the MLB playoffs – obliquely – there are some fans who reacted negatively to the Giants (best record in MLB) and the Rays (best record in the AL) being sidelined in the Divisional Series round of the playoffs.  And some of those fans also think that the Braves having the home game advantage in the NLCS over the Dodgers who had a better record is a flawed system.  I have read about and heard several proposals nominally to address those complaints but the only one I think it reasonable is to re-seed the teams based on regular season records after every round.

The fact of the matter is that in 99% of the MLB seasons, all the teams that are playing in the Divisional Round are good teams.  That means it is certain that good teams will be eliminated there and sometimes it will be the teams with the better regular season record that get to book tee times sooner rather than later.  This is not a basis to expand the Divisional Round to seven games; the end of the World Series this year could be as late as November 3rd; that is already a tad too late in the year for my taste.

Another idea I heard about is even worse:

  • The playoffs would be expanded to seven teams in each league.  The team with the best record in that league would get a BYE into the Divisional Round.
  • All the Wild Card series would be best-of-three.  As a reward for regular season performance, all three of the games would be home games for the team with the better record.
  • After those six teams in the Wild Card round sort themselves out, the team that had the BYE would get to choose its opponent for the Divisional Round and each Divisional series would be best-of-seven.

If we keep thinking in this creative mode, we might wind up with the World Series ending on Christmas Eve.  So, if this kind of thinking begins to gain traction, the only compensating thing MLB can do is to cut back the regular season to something like 144 games.  Dwight Perry had this observation in the Seattle Times over the weekend:

“And then there’s the hard-core baseball fan who uses a Yankees-Red Sox replay to time the cooking of his Thanksgiving turkey.”

Make these sorts of changes and it might not be necessary to use a replay…

Finally, since I began today with words from Ralph Waldo Emerson let me close with two more of his observations:

“Go put your creed into the deed, nor speak with double tongue.”

And …

“Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis.”

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

 

 

MLB On TV

On Monday of this week in response to a comment by Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot, I said that MLB has a fundamental problem when a game that ends with a 3-1 score takes 4 hours and 15 minutes to play.  One of the problems that drags out games – certainly not the only problem but a problem nonetheless – is that the time between innings is more than 2 minutes and sometimes as much as 3 minutes; there are at least 17 such time-hogs in a nine-inning game.  I said then – and I still believe – that until and unless the TV ratings drop to a point where networks are unwilling to pay premium prices for TV rights, that situation will not change.

One of the comments attached to that rant came from someone I have known in real life for approximately 40 years.  He is a “baseball guy”.  I want to present his comment here for those who did not see it on Monday:

“It’s not just wasted time that makes baseball so long. There is also a paucity of action during a game filled up with the following sequence: ball one, ball two, foul ball, ball three, strike two, foul ball (repeat),and ball four or strike three. Deep counts leading to a record number of strikeouts are making baseball games unbearable. In the meantime, remarkable fielders are just standing around. No circus catches, no remarkable throws, no close slide plays, very little action to hold the attention of the fan. And the high pitch counts lead to the early departure of the starting pitchers and the relentless bullpen parade. The new philosophy that starters cannot face the other team’s line-up more than twice in a game makes it worse.

“As a lifelong fan and long time umpire, I appreciate the philosophy of pitching and how the pitcher sets up a batter. But at some point, even I drift off to sleep.

“Without fundamental change, baseball is moving toward the fate that struck down horse racing and boxing. With players and management unable to agree on anything, and influential traditionalist (older) fans arguing against change, I see no reason to be optimistic about the future.”

Those comments come from a “baseball guy”.  When I read them, I wondered if this was an indication of an erosion process among “foundational fans” that could lead to declining TV ratings.  I made a note on my clipboard to keep an eye out for reports on MLB TV ratings.  Then, yesterday I got an email from another person I have known for about 30 years.  He too is a “baseball guy” and here is the content of his email:

“I have a sports curmudgeon rant to share:

“As you know I have been a Phillies and baseball fan since I have been a little kid.  My dad took me to my first game in 1968 at Connie Mack Stadium when I was seven years old.  I played through high school, American legion and club level baseball in college.  I coached/managed  baseball teams from age 4 to 19 years old. I watched every Phillies game this year including spring training. I love the game and think it is the most difficult professional sport to play.

“Bona Fides established.

“That said:  I watched the Dodgers/Giants game last night and decided last night if the Gabe Kapler method of playing the game (and I know he won 110 games and was very successful) I’m out.  It’s so painful to watch for four hours, for soooo many reasons.

RIP MLB if you are losing me.

Rant complete.

[Aside:  For the record, one of this person’s players/proteges is currently on a team in MLB and has been there for 3 seasons.  This person knows baseball from multiple perspectives.]

There is a saying on Wall Street that if something happens once it is an occurrence.  If the same thing happens twice, it is a coincidence.  If it happens a third time, it is a trend.  Maybe these two expressions of frustration with MLB’s product on TV are a coincidence – – or maybe they indicate a serious trend.  I am not nearly sufficiently capable in the fields of the social sciences to make that sort of call, but I must admit that I am surprised that two of the biggest “baseball guys” that I know feel the way that they have expressed here.

As I said above, all this began with my reaction to a comment from Bob Molinaro; so, let me take another of his observations and move on from there:

“Add clock: Griping about the duration of baseball games is the unalienable right of all Americans, especially when postseason play goes past midnight on the East Coast. But very little is ever said when college football games routinely bump up against the four-hour mark.”

I have opined on the length of college football games in the past and have proposed a rule change that would start the process of shortening those games.

  • Do not stop the clock on every first down until the chains are reset; let the game clock run.  It is not uncommon for a college game to have 45-50 first downs.  If the clock ran while all those chains were being reset, it could shave 8 minutes or so off the running time of the game.

Finally, let me close with a baseball item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The White Sox-Astros series features managers Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker, 77 and 72 years old.

“In lieu of the seventh-inning stretch, it’ll be first call to the early-bird buffet.”

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

 

 

Jon Gruden’s E-mails

In case you had not heard, Jon Gruden resigned as the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders and the basis for his need to resign was the revelation of several very inappropriate emails that he exchanged with Bruce Allen about 10 years ago when Gruden was doing Monday Night Football for ESPN and Bruce Allen was the team president for the Washington Football Team under its previous name.  Let me make several things clear about my position in order to frame my remarks today:

  • Had Jon Gruden sent those emails in 2021, he probably would not have been allowed to resign; he would have been fired as soon as the emails were made public.
  • Even acknowledging that fact, the content of his decade-old emails is not nearly as racially insensitive or sexual orientation insensitive as I have heard or read in my lifetime.

The media are piling on – – and that is where I have a problem.  Gruden did something offensive ten years ago; he has probably made “improper remarks and references” along these lines in the intervening years; he has been outed; he has been fired. I find the celebration of his demise a bit ghoulish and over the top.

Jerry Brewer is an excellent columnist for the Washington Post.  In yesterday’s print edition, his column ran under this headline:

  • “Coach is gone, and don’t you dare feel sorry for him.”

Here is the link to that column – with a different online headline – and I commend it to your reading:

Anyone who has read these rants for a while knows that I hold Sally Jenkins in high regard as a sports columnist.  In today’s Washington Post, her column – which I also link to here and recommend that you read – has the following headline:

  • “Football made Jon Gruden.  Now the NFL must reckon with its creation.”

Let me pose some questions to any reporters, columnists, or commentators out there:

  • If Jon Gruden can be fired – yes, I know he “resigned” – from a job that he did not hold when he made some offensive remarks, can he ever hold any other job in his life?
  • Have those emails alone without any yet demonstrated action(s) to further the nefarious intent subsumed in them disqualified him from any second chance in any profession?

In the last several weeks, we have seen John Hinckley released unconditionally and Sirhan Sirhan granted parole.  They have been deemed worthy of a “second chance.”  Maybe it’s just me, but I think what both of those men did is hundreds of times worse than any offense anyone might take at the verbiage in Jon Gruden’s emails.  However, the way I read the stories and the stated opinions of columnists and commentators, Gruden’s actions were so horrific that he should be shunned by civil society.  And I think that is piling on…

Let me say it again.  Jon Gruden was fired from his job and that is a situation that every employed person faces as a consequence of his/her actions.  Jon Gruden was not wronged here; he is not a victim; he is not to be pitied.   AND, his actions are not nearly the worst examples of human depravity on record so let us stop trying to put them in that category.

[Aside:  I saw a YouTube video of Randy Moss on a TV studio show talking about Gruden’s emails and how horrible they were, and he was crying.  I was moved to tears on a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  I merely shuddered when I read Jon Gruden’s words.  Perspective, folks…]

The story about how those emails made their way into the public’s awareness is that they were contained in a trove of emails sent to and from Bruce Allen as the then-team president of the Washington franchise that was uncovered as part of the investigation into the “toxic work environment” for women in the Front Office of that franchise.  I cannot confirm or deny that to be true but let me assume for a moment that it is exactly true.

People are now calling for the rest of those emails to become known.  One report said that there were 650,000 such emails in the possession of the NFL from that investigation.  The NFL has said that it has no plans to release those emails and considers that the confidentiality offered to individuals as part of the investigation requires the emails to remain sequestered.

Excuse me!  The fact of Gruden’s emails making their way to the Wall Street Journal and to the NY Times for publication there seems to me to negate any protestation about the sanctity of confidentiality.  Those emails did not forward themselves to the Journal or the Times; someone who had access to them, leaked them.

  • Yes, I know, the “leak” could possibly have been purely accidental with no malicious intent involved.
  • Yes, I also know that an unidentified radar bleep could be Santa Claus’ flying sleigh pulled by reindeer.
  • I think the probability of those two statements is approximately the same.

The NFL is going to dodge and deflect calls for a total release of those emails; I can speculate about why it will behave that way but there has been sufficient mind-reading and speculation involved here already.  I would love to see them all made public but to make that happen we will need to have a modern-day Daniel Ellsberg arrive on the scene and for him/her to find a way to put them in the hands of a major publication.  That could happen; it has a higher probability than another “accidental leak” of a portion of those emails…

Finally, since I believe that there has been far too much virtue-signaling in the process of piling on here, let me close with this comment by Thoreau:

“What men call social virtues, good fellowship, is commonly but the virtue of pigs in a litter, which lie close together to keep each other warm.”

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

 

 

Two Baseball Issues Today …

The MLB playoffs are underway. The two American League Division Series stand at 2-1; both National League Division Series are tied at one game apiece.  I am sure that baseball fans already know about the games and do not need me to try to do any “gamers” here.  But there are two “baseball issues” that are worthy of consideration today.  The first is contained in an observation by Bob Molinaro in his column last week in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

On the clock: Despite efforts to speed up things, MLB games this season averaged three hours and 10 minutes, the longest ever. Considering how many catnaps I’ve been known to fit into a game, I would have thought they were even longer. The added time is attributed to teams using a record average of 3.4 relievers per game. In the Dodgers’ 3-1 win over the Cardinals Wednesday, the teams combined to use nine relievers over the four hours and 15 minutes it took to play nine innings.”

This is a fundamental baseball problem.  Look, there are days where both teams are hot at the plate and the final score is something like 15-11.  Those games might take 4 hours and 15 minutes to play simply because just about everyone and his Aunt Matilda is on base for most of the game.  But a game that ends up 3-1 should not take 4 hours and 15 minutes; it might actually only need 2 hours and 15 minutes to reach its conclusion.

Yes, much of the problem is the time between innings when the networks insert a profusion of advertisements.  Having acknowledged that, let us come to the realization that it is those ads that drive major numbers of dollars into the league coffers and thereby to the owners.  Those ads are not going away.  So, the only meaningful way for MLB to address this is to stop all the time-wasting activities on the field.  We know what they are; they have been chronicled in hundreds of places; the fact that there have not been changes to address them in any meaningful way can only mean that MLB does not see this as a problem worthy of resolving.

So, while I am in total harmony with Bob Molinaro on this issue, I have abandoned any idea that the execs in MLB and/or the MLBPA care at all about this issue.  This is the vector heading for MLB now and into the foreseeable future.  Only when ratings drop enough for the TV networks to refuse to pay more for television rights will there be any real action to effect change.

There is another baseball issue worth contemplating today.  The Tampa Bay Rays won 100 games this year; they were the only AL team to do that; as of this morning, they trail the Red Sox two games to one in their best-of-five American League Division Series matchup.  The Rays led the AL in wins, and one might think that success on the field translated into a strong showing at the stadium turnstiles.  WRONG!  The Rays had the third-best record on the field in MLB in 2021 and the Rays also had the third-worst average home attendance in all of MLB in 2021.  The average attendance for a Rays’ home game was 9,396.  Even the hapless Baltimore Orioles – a team that lost 110 games and finished 48 games behind the Rays in the standings drew more fans than the Rays did.

Last week, the Rays’ team president, Brian Auld, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying that playing full seasons in the Rays home stadium in St. Petersburg, FL is not a viable option.  Here is the precise quote from the Journal:

“We’ve concluded that it’s next to impossible that full-season baseball can succeed in Tampa Bay today.”

We have been here before.  The Rays are poorly supported in the Tampa/St. Pete area and have been for just about all their existence there.  Let me go through some of the standard arguments here:

  • The Rays play in an “outdated stadium” that was not specifically designed for baseball.  [I have never been inside Tropicana Field so I cannot confirm or deny that assertion.]
  • Tropicana Field is not conveniently located.  [I have driven by the stadium and can agree it is not near anything resembling a population center or a commercial center.  It is well served by highways, but it is not in an area where there might be a “walk-up crowd”.]
  • The Rays do not pay their players so fans do not get attached to players because the team will trade them away rather than pay them.  [Clearly this is true; but when there is a season in which the Rays are dominating the division and heading for the playoffs, you might think they could get 10,000 folks per game in the stands, no?]

The owner of the Rays “studied” and tried to promote the idea of building a downtown stadium in Tampa.  That went through all the ritualistic stages of a “new stadium proposal” and died on the vine,  The last pronouncement I recall from one of the folks in charge in Tampa was that this idea was tabled permanently.  Then, the Rays’ owner, Stuart Sternberg, proposed the idea of a split-season; the idea is that the Rays would play half of their home games in Tampa and the other half in Montreal.  That is the idea behind team-president Auld’s statement that “full-season baseball” is not going to work in Tampa Bay anymore.

The Rays’ circumstance regarding home attendance is parallel to that of the Oakland A’s except that the A’s have received the blessing of the Commish to chat up other cities that might want to have the A’s as their home team.  Both franchises have suffered at the gate for more than a couple of years; both franchises have suffered at the gate despite being successful on the field; yet, the A’s have the support of MLB to move if they can find a better deal, but the Rays do not.

I do not pretend to know the answer for the Rays – – but it is clear to me that there is not a significant fanbase in that area for that team playing in that stadium; the status quo is a mess.  The problem I have with the idea of splitting time between Tampa and Montreal is that Montreal gave up on the Expos to the point where MLB had to take over the team and run it before selling it to the owners of the Washington franchise that rebranded the team as the Nats.  If I were the Rays’ team president and were trying to attract support for the idea, I think I would look for a shared venue where there was “pent up demand for MLB games” rather than a shared venue where both cities have a history of shunning MLB teams.

Let me throw out an idea here for which I have no solution:

  • MLB has two teams that play regular season games in Florida.  Both teams – the Rays and the Miami Marlins – have trouble at the gate.  The Rays stand 28th in average attendance for 2021; the Marlins are dead last in average attendance per game drawing almost 1500 fewer fans than do the Rays.
  • Maybe – just maybe – Florida is a great place for Spring Training and there is interest there to support those activities, but Florida is not so great a place for MLB to offer up 162-game seasons of baseball?

Finally, having mentioned the idea of the Rays moving half of their games to Montreal in Canada, let me close with this observation about Canada by Voltaire:

“A few acres of snow.”

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

 

 

Football Friday 10/8/21

Back in the 1960s, Nancy Sinatra recorded Friday’s Child.  One verse in that song is as follows:

“Friday’s child hard luck is her brother

Friday’s child her sister’s misery

Friday’s child her daddy they call hard times

Friday’s child that’s me.”

While the tone of those lyrics is certainly “curmudgeonly”, that is not an anthem for Friday here in Curmudgeon Central because around these parts, Friday in the Fall means another Football Friday.

As is customary, I shall begin with a review of last week’s Six-Pack:

  • College:  1-0-0
  • NFL:  3-2-0
  • Combined:  4-2-0

The cumulative results for the season are now:

  • College: 3-5-0
  • NFL:  8-7-1
  • Combined:  11-12-1

 

College Football Commentary:

 

The Linfield College Wildcats ran their record to 3-0 last week with a drubbing of the Puget Sound Loggers.  Linfield has had three excellent offensive showings so far in 2021 scoring 163 points in 3 games.  On Saturday, the Wildcats will host the Whitworth Pirates as part of Linfield’s Homecoming weekend.  The Pirates are 4-0 so far in 2021 and are allowing only 18 points per game.  This is also a Northwest Conference game which could have lots of bearing on an invitation to the Division III football playoffs down the line.  Go Wildcats!

They say that great minds run in similar channels.  Well, last Friday I mentioned that ACC football was topsy-turvy this year with the normal “big dogs” looking weaker than usual (Clemson, UNC) and some of the middle-of-the-pack teams looking stronger than usual (Wake Forest, NC State, Va Tech).  On that same day, here is a comment from Bob Molinaro – – clearly a great mind – – in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Take your pick: Glass half full: ACC football this year is a welcome example of parity. Glass half empty: it’s a mishmash of mediocrity.”

I agree that ACC football is a “glass half-full” this year.  Actually, I think it is both a “mishmash of mediocrity” and a “welcome” change from having far too many blowout wins by the likes of Clemson throughout the season.  Competitive games are always better than blowouts…

Just to check in on the teams contending for The Brothel Defense of the Year Award – – it goes to the team that allows any and all opponents to score a lot :

  • Kansas allows 43.8 points per game to date.
  • Arkansas State allows 45.6 points per game to date.
  • UMass allows 47.2 points per game to date.

[For the record, Kansas won this award last  year giving up 46.0 points per game in 2020 and they are threatening to win it again this year.]

If you have been reading these rants over the months and years of their existence, you know that I like to have fun with the names of players and coaches.  Here are five football player names I have run across so far this year, and I wonder if any of them have brothers with names I propose here:

  1. Sincere McCormick – RB – UTSA:  Brother named Disingenuous?
  2. Jack Sanborn – LB – Wisconsin:  Brother named Chase?
  3. Jared Summons – OL – Arkansas St.: Brother named Jury?
  4. Sean Dollars – RB – Oregon:  Brother named Silver?
  5. Jack Christ – OL – Penn St.: Brother named – – Nah … too easy.

Another thing you surely know if you have been reading football commentary from me is that I do not place a lot of value in polls early in the season.  So, what I am about to do here is sort of in opposition to that belief and I need to explain.  Much later this season, I will start to rank the worst teams in Division 1-A football to select the 8 worst teams that I can bracket into an imaginary SHOE Tournament to “identify” the worst team in the country.  The idea is that the teams would play one another, and the loser must continue to play until there is an ultimate loser – the SHOE Team where SHOE is an acronym for Steaming Heap Of Excrement.

This year, some of the “usual suspects” are on my early warning radar such as Kansas and Vandy and UConn and UMass.  However, there are several other teams that – while never to be confused with powerhouse programs – are not normally part of this sort of derision.  So, let me just highlight a couple of bad teams that might not have yet caught your attention in 2021:

  • Arizona  The Wildcats are 0-4 and one of those losses was to Division 1-AA, Northern Arizona.
  • Arkansas St.  The Red Wolves are 1-4; the win was over Central Arkansas; they are currently second in the running for the Brothel Defense of the Year Award.
  • Colorado  The Buffaloes are 1-4 having beaten Division 1-AA, Northern Colorado.  In 4 losing games against Division 1-A opponents, the cumulative score for those games is 112 – 34.
  • New Mexico  It is not uncommon for New Mexico State to be on the SHOE radar, but this year New Mexico started the season with 2 wins (albeit wins over a Division 1-AA team and then over New Mexico State) and have stunk out the joint in 3 games since then losing by a combined 92 – 23.
  • UNLV  The Runnin’ Rebels are 0-5; they opened the season with an overtime loss to a Division 1-AA team and since then they have been outscored 147 – 60 by Division 1-A opponents.

The big impact result from last week was Cincinnati beating Notre Dame 24-13 in South Bend.  Cincy led 17-0 at the half and coasted home.  Notre Dame continued to have difficulty running the ball in this game; the Irish gained 84 yards on 28 carries.  The Bearcats were similarly constrained gaining 89 yards on 30 carries.  Cincy is undefeated at 4-0; Notre Dame is now 4-1 and is probably no longer in serious consideration as a CFP team given its unimpressive wins to date.  As I mentioned earlier this week, Cincy needs for both Notre Dame and Indiana to finish the season strong to make the wins by the Bearcats over those two schools look impressive to the CFP Selection Committee.

In action last week involving Big-10 teams…

Michigan 38  Wisconsin 17:  The Wolverines are undefeated in 2021 and have cracked the Top 10 in the latest polls.  Is this a reawakening or a mirage?  We shall see.  On the other hand, if Badger fans are thinking about anything as lofty as a New Year’s Day Bowl Game, they are likely to be sadly disappointed.  The Wolverines need to stay vigilant because the latter part of the Michigan schedule has Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State on the dance card.

Ohio State 52  Rutgers  13:  The Buckeyes led 45-3 at the half and then called off the dogs.  Rutgers was able to move the ball gaining 346 yards on offense but 3 turnovers and only 1 of 5 fourth down conversions assured that the Knights would not be keeping up with Ohio State last week.  Ohio State amassed 534 yards of offense here.

Nebraska 56  Northwestern 7:  The Huskers ran up 657 yards of offense here including 427 yards rushing.  Nebraska is now 3-3 for the season while Northwestern drops to 2-3.

Iowa 51  Maryland 14:  I said last week that Iowa was winning on defense this year and that was certainly the case here as the Hawkeyes forced 7 turnovers (6 INTs and a fumble recovery) in the game.  The Terps led 7-3 but then the “Turnover Tsunami” hit, and it was 34-7 favor of Iowa at the half.  Here are the results of the eleven Maryland possessions from the start of the second quarter until the end of the game:

  1. INT
  2. INT
  3. Punt
  4. INT
  5. Punt
  6. TD
  7. INT
  8. Punt
  9. Punt
  10. INT
  11. End of Game.

In games relevant to the ACC…

UVa 30  Miami  28:  I am not sufficiently facile in English to describe how Virginia scored the TD that put them in the lead late in the 4th quarter of this game.  You will have to track that down on YouTube or somewhere else for yourself.  It was as improbable an ending as the one the Hurricanes suffered on the infamous “Doug Flutie Hail Mary Play” almost 40 years ago.  However, I can tell you that the Hurricanes missed a field goal at the very end that would have won it for them.  A bizarre game ending indeed…

UNC 38  Duke 7:  I said last week that the Duke defense was not in the same class as the UNC offense…

Pitt 52  Ga Tech  21:  This game was over at the half when Pitt led 42-14.

Wake Forest 37 Louisville 34:  Wake remains undefeated for 2021.  Also, I got this game right in last week’s Six-Pack with the game going comfortably over 60 points.

Florida St 33  Syracuse 30:  The Seminoles got “off the schneid” here and advanced their record to 1-4.  The rushing totals in this game were interesting.  Syracuse ran for 239 yards on 40 attempts by only two RBs.  Florida State ran for 244 yards on 36 carries – – 33 of which were by two RBs.  Those four running backs earned a little extra time in the whirlpool…

Clemson 19  BC 13:  This is the first loss of the year for BC.  Clemson’s offense showed signs of life here gaining 438 yards on the day.  Clemson’s defense held BC to 46 yards rushing on 33 attempts.  Notwithstanding those stats, BC had the ball late in the game where a TD would have changed the outcome.

In SEC action …

Georgia 37  Arkansas 0:  This says a lot more about Georgia’s team than it does about how folks have wished for Arkansas to be back among the “relevant programs” in the country.  The Razorbacks may get back to relevancy one of these years, but they are still a significant step down in quality as compared to the top-shelf of the SEC in 2021.   This is the second shutout this season by the Dawgs’ defense; that is a special defensive unit. The score may not look like it, but Georgia won this game with its backup QB.  Georgia leaned on its run game gaining 275 yards on 57 carries.  Here are data about the Georgia defense through the first 5 games of the 2021 season:

  • They have allowed a total of 23 points (two TDs and three FGs).  That is #1 in the nation.
  • They are 4th in the nation in rushing defense allowing 70.6 yards per game.
  • They are 4th in the nation in yards allowed per rush attempt at 2.35 yards per try.
  • They are 1st in the nation in pass defense allowing only 110 yards per game in the air.
  • They are 1st in the nation in yards allowed per pass attempt at 4.7 yards per attempt.
  • As I said, these guys are awfully good…

Alabama 42  Ole Miss 21:  The Total Line for this game went to 78.5 at kickoff; the Bama defense saw to it that number was never seriously threatened.  Ole Miss scored its first TD of the day with 8:25 to go in the third quarter; by that time Alabama already had 35 points on the scoreboard.  The Alabama offense was balanced here gaining 241 yards passing and another 210 yards on the ground.   Ole Miss now needs Bama to lose twice for the Rebels to get to the SEC Championship game.  Not likely …  Ole Miss coach, Lane Kiffin, spent time at Alabama as an assistant to Nick Saban.  Coach Saban has not been kind to his former assistants when they get head coaching jobs and then face Alabama on the field.  That situation has happened 24 times and the record is:

  • Nick Saban  24 wins
  • Former assistants  0 wins.

[Aside:  Alabama and Georgia are not scheduled to play each other this year save for possibly in the SEC Championship Game.  Georgia coach, Kirby Smart, used to be an assistant to Nick Saban for 9 years at Alabama.  Just saying …]

Kentucky 20  Florida 13:  Kentucky moves to 5-0 while Florida falls to 3-2.  Kentucky has LSU this week and then Georgia next week.  Those are big games in SEC-world.  This was the first loss for Florida at Kentucky since 1986.  Florida was sloppy in the game committing 15 penalties including 8 “false starts” and the Gators had a field goal attempt blocked and run back for a TD.

Miss St. 26  Texas A&M 22:  This was the other surprise result in the SEC last week.  The Bulldogs dominated the stat sheet gaining 438 yards to 326 yards for the Aggies.  As you might expect from a Mike Leach coached team, Mississippi St. only gained 30 yards rushing and the rest came through the air.  The Aggies were ranked #15 in the country last week; this is their second loss for the season.

Auburn 24  LSU 19:  LSU only gained 37 yards rushing – – on 22 attempts – – for the game.  LSU led 13-0 until late in the second quarter but three times had to settle for short field goals – – shorter than 35 yards.  Those points left on the field were the difference in the game.     The win for Auburn at LSU was their first since 1999, increasing the scrutiny of Ed Orgeron by LSU fans.

Vandy 30  UConn 28: Vandy is now 2-3 while UConn drops to 0-6.   Sigh…

In Big-12 contests…

Texas 32 TCU 27:  Texas is 4-1 but it is one of the the least impressive teams with that record today.  Maybe Texas was looking ahead to the Red River Showdown this week?  Anyhow, beating TCU by 5 is not going to impress anyone regarding post-season play…

Oklahoma 37  K-State 31:  Once again the Wildcats are a tough home team.  Oklahoma advances to 5-0 but the last couple of wins have been anything but “dominant” – – but winning is a whole lot better than losing.

Oklahoma St. 24  Baylor 14:  The Cowboys are still undefeated in 2021; this was Baylor’s first loss of the season.

Iowa State 59  Kansas 7: This was never a game; the Cyclones led 38-0 at halftime.

Some PAC-12 results …

USC 37  Colorado  14:  The Trojans had 494 yards on offense (276 in the air and 218 on the ground).  Meanwhile the offensively challenged Buffaloes only gained 242 yards for the day.  Colorado faced third down 10 times and converted once; they also had a fourth down try and it too failed.

Stanford 31  Oregon  24 (OT):  Now the PAC-12 has no undefeated teams.  The leader in the PAC-12 North Division this morning is Oregon State at 2-0.  Who saw that coming?  Oregon outgained Stanford by 60 yards for the day but that was not enough to overcome a dramatic finish here.  Stanford QB, Tanner McKee threw a TD pass on an untimed down at the end of the 4th quarter to tie the game and send it to OT.  That TD pass came at the end of an 86-yard drive in the final two minutes.  Stanford visits Arizona St this week in what is an important PAC-12 game.

Oregon St. 27  Washington 24:  The Beavers lead the PAC-12 North and Washington is now 2-3 for the season.  Oregon St. was outgained on the field, and its offense was lopsided.  The Beavers gained only 48 yards passing to 242 yards rushing.

Arizona St. 42  UCLA 23:  Arizona St. shut out the Bruins for the entire second half to advance its record to 4-1 for the season.  UCLA fell to 3-2.  The Sun Devils are now the team to beat in the Pac-12 South after this dominating win at UCLA. Sun Devils’ QB, Jayden Daniels, took shots downfield during the game gaining 286 yards through the air on only 18 pass attempts.

In miscellaneous games …

Hawaii 27  Fresno St.  24:  I said last week that Fresno St, was not a reliable team and the Hawaii was much better at home than on the mainland; nevertheless, this was still unexpected.  Fresno St outgained Hawaii by 162 yards but turned the ball over 6 times in the game.  Four of those turnovers were INTs and three of those INTs were inside the Hawaii 10-yardline!   Notwithstanding that ineptitude, the Bulldogs led 24-10 at the start of the 4th quarter only to cough up a hairball over the final 15 minutes,

Rice 24  So Mississippi  19:  That makes two wins in a row for Rice.

Navy 34  UCF 30:  Navy won its first game of the year here.  As usual, the Middies’ offense was run-oriented gaining 348 yards on the ground and only 58 yards in the air.

Ball St. 28  Army 16:  Army lost its first game of the year here.  As usual, the Cadets’ offense was run-oriented gaining 216 yards on the ground and only 66 yards in the air.

SMU 41  USF 17:  SMU is 5-0 and perhaps their game against Cincy way down the road will be an important game relative to post-season invitations or exclusions.

Ohio 34  Akron  17  Could this be a SHOE Tournament foreshadowing?

Coastal Carolina 59  La-Monroe 6:  Coastal was ranked #16 in the country and this kind of blowout win ought to keep them favorably ranked next week…  However, consider this:

  • The Chanticleers have played one Power 5 opponent and that was Kansas who might be the worst Power 5 team in the country.
  • None of Coastal’s opponents this year has a winning record.
  • For the record, the Chanticleers’ five opponents have a combined record of 7-16.

Toledo 45  UMass 7:  Given the results to date, it is hard to imagine a SHOE Tournament without UMass participation.

BYU 34  Utah St.  20.  BYU remains undefeated.  The Cougars had to go to their third string QB after the backup QB who started the game had to leave with a “head injury”.

 

College Games of Interest:

 

(Fri Nite) Stanford at Arizona St. – 13.5 (51.5):  The Sun Devils lead the PAC-12 South; the Cardinal – with their win last week over Oregon – controls its ability to finish atop the PAC-12 North.  This is a big game for both teams.  I don’t think Stanford is a great team – – but neither do I think Arizona State is a great team. That is a generous helping of points so I’ll take Stanford plus the points and hope they can make some defensive stops and keep the game close; put it in the Six-Pack.

Florida St. at UNC – 17.5 (64.5):  Was last week an “awakening” for the Seminoles or was it an “anomaly”.  That spread is a three-score number that the Tar Heels are expected to cover.  We shall see…

Michigan St. – 6 at Rutgers (50):  The spread opened at 5 points and now is as high as 6.5 points on various Internet sportsbooks.  That means there is a lot of Michigan St. money showing up…

Wake Forest – 6 at Syracuse (57):    Wake is 5-0 but the oddsmakers are unimpressed.  Syracuse is 3-2 with those three unimpressive wins coming over Ohio, Albany and Liberty.

Maryland at Ohio State -21 (71):    The Buckeyes cannot afford a close game at home against a lightly regarded opponent.

Ga Tech – 3.5 at Duke (61):  I do not think either team here is reliable from week to week.

Boise St. at BYU – 6 (57):  BYU looks to go 6-0 here; Boise St. looks to get back to .500 here.

San Jose St. at Colorado St. – 2.5 (45):    Colorado St. is not a good team this year; so, what might that spread say about San Jose St.?

Utah at USC – 3 (52):  Before the season, I thought this game would be a contender for Game of the Week.  Not so as the 2021 season has unfolded.  The combined record for these two teams is 5-4 and USC already has 2 in-conference losses.

Oregon St. – 3.5 at Washington St. (59):  Oregon St. is undefeated in conference games and its only loss was on the road at Purdue.  Washington St is 1-2 in PAC-12 games and 1-2 overall at home.

SMU – 13.5 at Navy (55.5):  Cincy fans are pulling for a big win by the Mustangs here…

Georgia – 16 at Auburn (57):  Auburn may not be close to Alabama in terms of proficiency this year, but they just might be the second-best team in the SEC – West.  So how does a team “like that” fare against the Georgia defense?  Auburn, QB, Bo Nix, will need to be at his best when “extending the play”/running for his life” in this game.

LSU at Kentucky – 3 (50.5):  LSU is regularly an underdog at Kentucky in basketball – – but this is the spread on a football game.  Here is something unusual about the Tigers in 2021; they rank 128th in the country in rushing offense gaining only 70.6 yards per game and 2.58 yards per carry.  Kentucky’s pass defense is good yielding only 180.2 yards per game.  I like Kentucky at home to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.

Vandy at Florida – 38.5 (60):  This matchup is dictated by SEC scheduling protocols; nonetheless, it should be a boring mismatch.

Wisconsin – 10 at Illinois (42):  The Badgers’ excellent defense goes up against a mediocre offense.  Probably not a day that will exhaust the scoreboard operator.

Oklahoma – 3.5 vs, Texas (63.5):  Normally, the so-called Red River Showdown is the Game of the Week in early October.  Not this year (see below).  The Sooners have “won ugly” a couple of times this year – – but they are undefeated.  Texas is 4-1 and has not been impressive in doing so.  It’s awfully early, but this smells like a “must-win game” for Oklahoma.

Michigan – 3.5 at Nebraska (50.5):  I am more impressed by Michigan’s undefeated record than I am by Nebraska being 3-3 at this point in the season.

Alabama – 17.5 at Texas A&M (51.5):  The only advantage I can assign to the Aggies here is the home field…

UTEP – 2 at So. Mississippi (44.5):  Loser here is a likely SHOE Tournament participant.  The same might apply to the winner.

Arkansas – 5 at Ole Miss (67.5):  Both teams were waxed last week by the two best teams in the SEC – – and maybe in the country.  Which team reacts more positively…???

Notre Dame at Va Tech  “pick ‘em” (47):  A second loss in a row here for the Irish might just get some of the “faithful” to begin to question the competency of the coaching staff…

Penn St. at Iowa – 1.5 (41.5):  This is the Game of the Week in college football.  If you believe the polls and you agree with Alabama and Georgia at #1 and #2 – in whichever order you prefer – in those polls, then you will find Iowa at #3 and Penn St. at #4.  There is a ton of importance here on the Big-10 standings and on the CFP stature for both teams as of early October.  This is a late afternoon game on Saturday; set aside time for it…  Let me present some stats that make this an interesting contest:

  • Iowa is 2nd in the nation in scoring defense allowing 11.6 points per game
  • Penn State is 3rd in the nation in scoring defense allowing 12.0 points per game.
  • Iowa’s defense is 1st in the nation in turnover margin per game (2.4)
  • Penn State’s defense is 12th in the nation in turnover margin per game (1.2)
  • Iowa scores 33.2 points per game
  • Penn State scores 30.0 points per game.

Iowa and Penn State have played one common opponent, Indiana:

  • Iowa 34  Indiana 6
  • Penn State 24  Indiana 0

I purposely saved this game for last.  It is a game of no importance, but it is surely a game of interest here in Curmudgeon Central.  Let me present the betting lines and then a comment:

UConn – 3.5 at UMass (56):   How bad are the teams in this scheduling blunder?  Let me count the ways:

  • Needless to say, neither team has won a game so far in 2021; it is almost unfortunate that one of them must win this weekend.
  • UMass gives up the most points per game so far this year (47/2 points per game).
  • UConn is not nearly so bad only yielding merely 39.7 points per game.
  • UMass allows opponents to run the ball for 238.4 yards per game.
  • UConn is much stingier allowing only 212.5 yards per game.
  • UMass ranks 128th in the country (out of 130 teams) in scoring offense at 14.6 points per game.
  • UConn ranks 125th in the country in scoring offense with a prodigious 16.5 points per game.

This is an “avert your eyes game” or maybe a “wish for a natural disaster that will force a cancellation” game.  The winner this weekend should take a photo of the losing team leaving the field and caption that picture:

  • “There but for the Grace of God go we.”

 

NFL Commentary:

 

            Bob Molinaro had another cogent observation in his column in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week:

Foot soldier: The Ravens’ Justin Tucker was the NFL’s best clutch kicker long before he nailed the game-winning 66-yarder against Detroit. He’s now 16 for 16 on field goals in the final minute of regulation.”

Forget the distance of his most recent incident of kicking heroics and focus your attention on the number of times he has withstood the pressure and made something good happen for the Ravens…

There were a couple of headlines earlier this week indicating that Dolphins’ head coach Brian Flores might be “falling out of favor” in Miami.  The Dolphins are a disappointing 1-3 at this point in the season and they have a tough assignment this week on the road against the defending  Super Bowl Champs in Tampa.  So, I mentally checked that game off as a loss and a 1-4 start for the Dolphins and then went to look at the team schedule beyond that.  It becomes “pillow soft” through December 19th

  • At Jags – Jags are 0-4
  • Vs Falcons – Falcons are 1-3
  • At Bills – Bills are 3-1
  • Vs Texans – Texans are 1-3
  • Vs Ravens – Ravens are 3-1
  • At Jets – Jets are 1-3 ‘
  • Vs Panthers – Panthers are 3-1
  • Vs Giants – Giants are 1-3
  • Vs Jets – Jets are 1-3.

The Bills, Ravens and Panthers should be tough games – – but two of those three games are in Miami.  The rest of those games are clearly winnable.  The Dolphins could well be 7-6 with 4 games to play,  It may be a bit early to “have issues” with Brian Flores and his coaching staff – – but if the Dolphins are significantly worse than 7-6 come Christmas week, have at Coach Flores…

I want to pose a contrarian interpretation of what has become a “commonplace” occurrence in the NFL.  I have been watching a lot of game highlights this year and I keep hearing color analysts having verbal orgasms over a QBs’ ability to execute a “back-shoulder throw”.  After seeing multiple dozens of these completions over the first 4 weeks of the season here is my problem:

  • How many of those completions were planned to happen that way as opposed to the QB underthrowing the pass route and the receiver adjusting to the ball to make a circus catch?

Next time you hear the analyst say it was a great back-shoulder throw and you get to see the replay, you make the call there…

Moving along to last week’s games…

Cowboys 36  Panthers 28:  The Panthers went into the game giving up the fewest passing yards in the NFL and the fewest rushing yards in the NFL; they had dominated their way to a 3-0 start. The Panthers’ defense was expected to dominate on Sunday, but instead, it was the Cowboys’ defense that put on the show in an impressive 36-28 win.  Sam Darnold was sacked 5 times and threw 2 INTs in the game.

Football Team 34  Falcons 30:  In my Pre-Season predictions, I said that Washington’s defense would carry the team this year, but that definitely has not been the case so far, and it was certainly not the case last Sunday. The Football Team’s defense surrendered 30 points, but they were bailed out by the offense that gained more than 400 yards and scored 34 points.  Once again, the Falcons loss can be attributed to the failure of its defense in the final quarter or so of a game – – reminiscent of the Falcons’ defensive collapse in the Super Bowl against the Pats a couple of years ago.  Last week, the Falcons’ defense yielded 12 points in the final four minutes and the difference on the scoreboard was only 4 points.

Chiefs 42  Eagles 30:  The Eagles had three deep penetrations into Chiefs’ territory that resulted in very short field goals (25, 29 and 31 yards).  That represents 12 points left on the field.  Check it out; the margin of victory for the Chiefs was 12 points.  Hmmm…    The Eagles were able to move the ball against the Chiefs, not having to punt even once in the game. The Eagles finished with 461 yards and scored 30 points (seven of which were in garbage time) behind an offensive line missing four of five starters. What doomed the Eagles were:

  • Failed opportunities in the Red Zone (three times resulting in those really short field goals)
  • Nine penalties
  • Rushing for only 103 yards against one of the NFL’s worst run defenses.

The Eagles’ defense also did not get stops, it allowed the Chiefs to convert 9 of 10 third downs and score touchdowns on six of seven possessions.

Giants 27  Saints 21 (OT):  This was the “home-opener” for the Saints, but it did not go according to plan.  This game turned out to be a coming out party for Giants’ QB, Daniel Jones who threw for a career-high 402 yards.  Jones threw two touchdown passes of more than 50 yards including one in the fourth quarter to Saquon Barkley. Jones led the Giants on scoring drives on each of the Giants’ final three possessions of the game.  This was the first win of the year for the Giants.

And in a perfect juxtaposition…

Jets 27  Titans 24 (OT):  Both NY teams won their first game of the season on the same weekend; both scored 27 points to get the win; both won their games in OT.   Derrick Henry gave the Titans an excellent performance (33 carries, 157 yards, one TD), but it wasn’t quite enough. The Titans had a chance to tie things up at the end, but a missed field goal gave the Jets their first win of the year.   The Titans were without Julio Jones and A. J. Brown, so the passing game was limited; moreover, the Jets’ defense scored 7 sacks and Zach Wilson had a good day throwing for 298 yards.  The AFC South is not a powerhouse division; if the Titans are seen as the best team there, the Colts might not think they are so far from “contending”.

[Aside:  Another NYC football happenstance I ran across this week.  Since the beginning of the 2017 season, the two teams in the NFL with the worst record going into Sunday’s games were the Jets and the Giants.  Both had cumulative records of 18-49.  Both teams won last week but they still have the worst cumulative records since the beginning of 2017.]

Bills 40  Texans 0:  Last week, I said that this game could turn into a rout.  Well, it did just that.   During an ugly first half, Texans’ QB Davis Mills completed more passes to folks wearing Bills’ jerseys (2) than he did to his Texans’ teammates (1). The Texans only totaled 8 yards on offense in the first half and things didn’t get much better in the second half. The Texans finished with just 109 yards of offense, and the Bills’ defense recorded 3 sacks and 3 INTs.

Colts 27  Dolphins 17:  The Colts’ defense absolutely shut down the Dolphins last week. The Dolphins went into halftime with a total of 73 yards on offense.  The Colts’ offense in the first half was nothing to write home about and the score at the intermission was a manageable 7-3.  Carson Wentz had a decent game, and he won his first game as an Indy Colt.  The Dolphins’ offense was a no-show until garbage time; their first visit to the Red Zone did not happen until the fourth quarter when they trailed 20-3.  For the day, the Dolphins were 3 for 11 on third down.

Bucs 19 Pats 17:  Mac Jones played very well here despite being on the losing side.  Not only did he throw for 275 yards, but he also completed 19 straight passes at one point.  The Bucs showed that they can run the ball if need be in inclement weather rushing for 119 yards on 30 carries.

Bears 24  Lions 14:  I said last week that the first team to 17 points would win.  Nailed that.  During the first half alone, the Lions got inside of Chicago’s 8-yard line on THREE separate drives, but on each drive, they came away with zero points.  The results of those three drives were

  1. Fumble
  2. Turnover on downs
  3. Strip sack lost fumble

The Lions spent much of the day proving that they are indeed “the Lions”.  They got inside the Bears’ 10-yardline a fourth time in the 4th quarter and turned the ball over on downs then too.  Justin Fields threw for 215 yards in the game – – but remember, this was against the Lions.

Browns 14  Vikes 7:  It was the Browns defense who won this game holding Dalvin Cook and company to under 3 yards per carry.  That made play-action pass plays a lot less frightening and allowed the Browns to come away with a win even though this was a less-than-productive offensive showing.  Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 169 rushing yards for the Browns.

Packers 27  Steelers 17:  This was a chapter in a recurring story in Pittsburgh; the Steelers’ defense played well – – but not well enough to overcome the play of a mild-mannered Steelers’ offense.   The Packers’ defense held Pittsburgh to just 4 of 11 on third down and 0-for-2 on fourth down.   I saw a stat that said only 9 of Roethlisberger’s 40 pass attempts went more than 10 yards downfield; Had you asked me to guess, I would have said “Five”.  I have come to believe that the Steelers’ offensive coordinator has Big Ben on a “long-pass pitch count”.

Cards 37  Rams 20:  This was an excellent game by the Cards’ defense.  They limited Cooper Kupp to only 5 catches on 13 targets for only 66 yards.  The Rams’ defense was good but not at its normal “elite” level here.  Maybe the Cards are for real?

Seahawks 28  Niners 21:   Defensively, the box score will tell you the Seahawks weren’t great — they gave up 457 yards of offense — but they came up with big plays when they had to. The Seahawks held the Niners to 2 of 14 on third-down conversions and created a turnover too. Jimmy G had to leave the game with an injury and Trey Lance took over the offense.  Lance did throw a 76-yard TD to Deebo Samuel but that was as much a catch-and-run over blown coverage as anything else., The stat sheet says that Lance had “accuracy issues” completing just 9 of 18 pass attempts.

  • Question:  If QB is the most important position on a team, are the Niners consigned to second-tier status in the NFC West because they clearly have the weakest starting QB of the 4 teams there?

Ravens 23  Broncos 7:  Teddy Bridgewater suffered a concussion in the game; while that is not the reason why the Broncos lost, it did assure that the Broncos were not going to win this game.    Bridgewater completed 7 of 16 passes for 65 yards and one touchdown in the first half, but the Ravens held the lead at halftime, 17-7. Drew Lock took over for Bridgewater but he was not able to mount any significant threat to the Ravens’ defense in the second half.  The Ravens were the first decent opponent the Broncos faced this season after the Broncos built a 3-0 record over the likes of the Jags, Jets and Giants.

Chargers 28  Raiders 14:  The Chargers totally dominated the first half; it looked like a college game when the home team had invited Cupcake U as their Homecoming opponent.  Then the Raiders came out in the 3rd quarter and moved the ball at will until the Chargers woke up and regained control of the game.  These are two good teams and in case you had not heard, Justin Herbert is a very good QB.  The Raiders only gained 213 yards on offense in this game which is a far cry from the 471 yards per game they had averaged in their first 3 games.  That should tell you something about the Chargers’ defense too.

 

NFL Games:

 

In an interesting game last night, the Rams advanced their record to 4-1 beating the NFC West rival Seahawks 26-17.  Russell Wilson injured a finger on his throwing hand and had to leave the game in the second half.  Wilson has been an “iron man” since coming into the league; he has started every game.  Off the bench for Seattle came Geno Smith and Geno Smith did what Geno Smith usually does.

  1. He led a TD drive that closed the margin in the game to 2 points.
  2. He threw what had to be one of the uglier INTs of the year to ice the game for the Rams.

Here are the rest of the Week 5 games… 

Jets at Falcons – 3 (46) [Game is in London]:  I guess the calculus in NFL HQs is that the UK audience for “London Games” is not yet sufficiently sophisticated to realize that the NFL is exporting some of its worst games.  Both teams carry 1-3 records to the kickoff but that does not tell the story of how sorry these teams have shown to be in 2021.  Kickoff for this game is at 9:30 AM EDT; I will not be partaking of the first half for sure; perhaps I will catch some the second half – – or not.  This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week     .

Dolphins at Bucs – 11 (48):  The spread here opened at 9 points and jumped to this level almost overnight.  The Bucs have not been as dominant as most folks figured they would be with just about everyone who matters from last year’s Super Bowl roster back for another go in 2021.  However, the Dolphins are about as meek and mild on offense as any defensive coordinator would want.  I will not make this a selection because of my aversion to double-digit spreads in NFL games, but this could turn into a rout – – sort of like the way I thought the Bills/Texans game might turn into a rout last weekend.

Eagles at Panthers – 3.5 (45):  I think this is the next episode in a long season for Eagles’ fans.  The defense is good – not great; the offense is fair – not good; the coaching decisions are random – not rational.  The Panthers won their first three games and were then pushed around by the Cowboys last week.  Which version of their team shows up here?

Saints – 1 at Football Team (43.5):  Is this the game where the over-hyped Football Team defense shows up and plays like something more than a bunch of formerly employed piano movers?  Even if that is the case, I think there will be scoring in the game, so I like this game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Titans – 4.5 at Jags (48.5):  If the Titans show up spring loaded to be pissed-off after losing to the Jets last week, this game will not be in doubt after the first quarter.  However, last week’s loss to the Jets also showed that the Titans’ defense is not ready to carry the team when its two best pass receivers cannot play.  By the same token, one needs to try to imagine how the Jags will play in the week after the “Urban Meyer Video Scandal”.  If I were to watch this contest – and I do not plan to do so in real time or after the fact – I would be interested to hear how the announcing crew dances ever so gingerly around the issues raised by the “Video Scandal”.

Lions at Vikes – 9 (49):  One Internet sportsbook had the spread here at 10.5 points; it is unusual for spreads to straddle such a common score differential as 10 points.  The Vikes are 1-3 and are 2 full games behind the division-leading Packers.  The Vikes need this game badly.  The schedule maker must have granted the Vikes a wish because for a game they need badly, the schedule brings a bad team to town.

Broncos at Steelers “pick ‘em” (39.5):  Will Teddy Bridgewater be able to play here, or will we see “Dull Drew” Lock squaring off against “Boring Ben” Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh?  This will be the early CBS game in my viewing area this week so I will not be able to avoid it – – but you can and should.  I am tempted to take the UNDER here – – but if I did that, I would want to watch the game and that is just not my idea of a good way to spend my Sunday afternoon.

Packers – 3 at Bengals (50):  Were it not for a couple of games lower on the card this week, this might get some consideration for the Game of the Week.  Who woulda thunk it?  Both teams are 3-1; say it again, the Bengals are 3-1.  And the Bengals are undefeated at home in 2021.  I do not see either defense asserting itself to the point where it shuts down the opposing offense.  I see score upon score here; I like the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Pats at Texans – 9 (39.5):  Davis Mills was “confused” by the Bills’ defense last week and the Bills tend to play defense straight and simply outperform the opposition.  The Pats prefer to play Jedi mind games with rookie QBs so this could be a fun game to watch.

Bears at Raiders – 5.5 (44):  Justin Fields is going to be the Bears’ QB here – – and presumably for the rest of the year unless he really wets the bed.  He will need all of his inherent “athleticism” here because the Raiders have a couple of excellent pass rushers and the Bears’ OL is – to be ultra-polite – a work in progress.  I think the Raiders put a whoopin’ on the Bears here; I’ll take the Raiders to win and cover at home; put it in the Six-Pack.

Browns at Chargers – 1 (47):  This is my runner-up for Game of the Week.  The Chargers looked dominant against the Raiders last week and the Raiders are a good football team.  The Browns are also a good football team, and it will be an interesting yardstick to see if the Chargers can play dominantly against them too.

  • The Chargers are in a three-way tie in the AFC West with a record of 3-1.
  • The Browns are in a three-way tie in the AFC North with a record of 3-1.
  •  Something’s gotta give…

Giants at Cowboys – 7 (52):  Can Daniel Jones replicate his performance from last week?  If so, this game might hit the OVER in the 3rd quarter.  The Giants’ defense should have trouble stopping the Cowboys’ offense so this game could get out of hand should Jones have a less-than-wonderful game.

Niners at Cards – 5.5 (50):  It looks as if Trey Lance will be the Niners’ QB here and that is not the matchup against Kyler Murray that is ideal for the Niners.

(Sun Nite) Bills at Chiefs – 3 (56.5):  This is the Game of the Week.  Not only do the Chiefs need a win here to stay in touch with the AFC West leaders (remember, the Chiefs are in last place in that division), but this head-to-head result could easily have tie-breaker implications involving playoff seeding.  The Chiefs’ defense is a mess; so, what do they do?  They sign “troubled” WR, Josh Gordon and he is likely to be activated for the game here.  If you only have time to watch one game this week, make it this one…

(Mon Nite) Colts at Ravens – 7 (46):  This is the third game in a row where the Colts are on the road.  That is always a big challenge for an NFL team – – and when that third consecutive road game is against a very good opponent, the challenge gets even bigger.  Yes, the Colts’ defense is good, but Lamar Jackson presents challenges to good defenses that many of those defenses are not capable of handling.  I think that is the case here; I like the Ravens to win on both defense and offense; I think the Ravens will coast to a win here; give me the Ravens to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.

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

  1. Stanford + 13.5 against Arizona State (Fri Nite)
  2. Kentucky – 3 over LSU
  3. Saints/Football Team OVER 43.5
  4. Packers/Bengals OVER 50
  5. Raiders – 5.5 over Bears
  6. Ravens – 7 over Colts (Mon Nite)

Finally, Brad Dickson formerly with the Omaha World Herald had this observation about the upcoming Super Bowl Halftime Show:

“Breaking news: Snoop Dogg will be the Super Bowl halftime performer. Which answers the age old question: do the halftime performers need to pass a drug test? No.”

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