Football Friday 9/16/22

About a hundred years ago, George Gershwin penned these song lyrics:

“I got rhythm

I got music

I got my man

Who could ask for anything more? …”

Well, I have no rhythm and all the musical talents of a foghorn, but I do recognize and respond to a 7-day periodicity that leads to the next iteration of Football Friday.  So, here we go.  As always, I begin with a review of last week’s Six-Pack.

Against the spread/Totals:

  • Last week:  College: 1-2-0   NFL:  1-2-0
  • Season to date:  College:  2-4-0  NFL:  1-2-0

Money Line Parlays:

  • Last Week:  2-0  “Profit/Loss”  +$281
  • Season to date:  2-2  “Profit/Loss”  +$81

I need to put a footnote on last week’s Money Line Parlay results.  One of the three team parlays had a tie game on the wager.  The way sportsbooks handle such a situation is to assume that game never happened so if the rest of the ticket was a winner – – as it was last week – – the payout is calculated as if it were a 2-team parlay with the team odds as stated on the ticket.  That happened last week with the Money Line Parlay of Eagles/Colts/Saints.  The Colts’ game was a tie; the Eagles and Saints won their games.

 

College Football Commentary:

 

The Linfield College Wildcats had last week off as they prepared to host the University of Redlands Bulldogs as Homecoming opponents tomorrow.  The Bulldogs bring a record of 0-2 to the kickoff but those two losses came by a total of 8 points.  These teams met last year in out-of-conference action and Linfield won handily 51-10 as the visiting team.  Go Wildcats!

Kansas is 2-0 this year; who had that back in July?  Moreover, one of the wins came against a real team in Division 1-A – – West Virginia – – and Kansas has scored 111 points in those two wins.  Let me put this in perspective for you:

  • Ever since Kansas fired Mark Mangino as the head football coach in 2009, the Jayhawks have not won more than 3 games in any season.
  • In that timespan, the Jayhawks have had 2 winless seasons and 2 seasons with only 1 victory.
  • Their record under 5 coaches from 2009-2021 is 23-118-0.
  • Starting this year at 2-0 is a big deal in Lawrence, KS.

When head coaches move around on the college coaching carousel, lots of folks pay lots of attention.  I want to point out two defensive coordinators who “changed jobs” in this offseason and they seem to have had a significant positive effect on their new teams in the first couple of weeks:

  1. Jim Knowles:  The Ohio State Buckeyes hired him away from Oklahoma State back in January.  Last year, the Ohio State defense was clearly the weak link in the chain at Columbus and Knowles had achieved significant improvements in the Oklahoma State defense over the previous 4 seasons in Stillwater.  Acknowledging the small sample size, it is clear so far that the Ohio State defense is much improved over what I saw last year.  In two games, the Buckeye’s defense has only allowed a total of 22 points.
  2. Gary Patterson:  Last  year in mid-season, Patterson was the head coach at TCU when he and TCU “mutually agreed to go in different directions” .  Patterson had been the head coach there since 2000 and had  compiled a 181-79 record in that time.  His teams went to a bowl game 17 times including an appearance in both the Fiesta Bowl and the Rose Bowl.  Patterson’s teams emphasized defense; his teams did not play many games where both teams went north of 50 points.  Technically, he is the “Assistant to the Head Coach” at Texas these days but if you watch on the sidelines, he is the guy working with the defense for the Longhorns.  The Texas defense has been a mess for several seasons now; with Patterson on board, the Longhorns held Alabama to 20 points last week and almost upset the team ranked #1 in the country at the time.

College football has already had one coach at a major school fired.  The University of Nebraska fired Scott Frost after the Huskers lost to Georgia Southern 45-42 last week.  Here is how badly the folks in charge in Lincoln, NE wanted to get rid of Scott Frost:

  • According to reports, the amount of money it would take to buy him out of the rest of his contract would drop by more than $6M on October 1, 2022.
  • There are two games (one tomorrow and another on 1 October 2022) between now and the time when the athletic department could save $6M.
  • They opted to fire Scott Frost anyway.

[Aside:  Scott Frost is the leader in the clubhouse to win the Thomas Wolfe Award for 2022 demonstrating that indeed, “You Can’t Go Home Again”.]

Here are some results from last week’s games – – a week where top teams either lost outright or did not cover:

Ohio State 45  Arkansas St. 12:  The Buckeyes have a very good team in 2022 and as noted above, their defense is now pulling its weight.

Iowa St. 10  Iowa 7:  There is good news and bad news for the Hawkeyes’ offense here:

  • Good news:  They scored a TD this week
  • Bad news:  Their total offense in the game was 150 yards.

Alabama 20  Texas 19:  The Texas defense almost pulled this one out for the Longhorns.  What Alabama does not have this year that it has had in abundance in the last 4 or 5 years is a speed receiver on the outside that demands deep coverage help.  The NFL is littered with such players – not counting Henry Ruggs II who is suspended from the NFL for off-field issues and who may be the fastest of that corps of Alabama speed burners.

Ole Miss 59  Central Arkansas 3:  At the start of the 4th quarter the score was 52-0.  Central Arkansas drove to the Ole Miss 13-yardline – – and chose to kick a 30-yard field goal.  I wonder how the coaches explain that decision to their offensive unit…

Arkansas 44  South Carolina 30:  The Razorbacks look pretty good to me this year.  Granted, they are in the SEC West so it is difficult to project them as a force majeure, but they could be a tough out for teams down the line.

Kentucky 26  Florida 16:  The Gators were shut out in the second half of this game; the Kentucky defense was very good last week.  A Pick-Six late in the 3rd quarter put the Wildcats on top to stay.

Appalachian St. 17  Texas A&M 14:  This was the upset of the day.  According to a report I read, Appalachian St. got $1.1M to come to College Station to play this game; the idea was for the Aggies to win that home game and generate excitement among its passionate fans.  So, the Mountaineers just took the money and the game too.  This was a real win for Appalachian St.:

  • Total Offense:  Appalachian St.  315 yards  – –  Texas A&M  186 yards
  • First downs:  Appalachian St.  22  – –  Texas A&M  9
  • Third down conversions:  Appalachian St.  9 of 20  – –  Texas A&M  2 of 8

Wake Forest 45  Vandy 25:  The trajectory for a Vanderbilt undefeated season [eyeroll here] came to a screeching halt last week.  This was a butt-stomping…

Tennessee 34  Pitt 27 (OT):  You expect an OT game to be a close contest on the stat sheet and this game does not disappoint:

  • Total Offense:  Tennessee 416 yards  – –  Pitt 415 yards.

Duke 31  Northwestern 23:  The Blue Devils are 2-0 on the season.  Their projected win total for the year was 3 wins; I said in my college football preview that I liked the OVER there.  We shall see…

UNC 35  Georgia State 28:  The Tar Heels are 3-0 to start this season and they have won those 3 games on offense.  So far, the Heels have given up 113 points in 3 games; most teams that give up 38 points per game are not on the list of undefeated teams.

Marshall 26  Notre Dame 21:  This game was not a fluke, Marshall out played and out hit Notre Dame for four quarters of football.  The Irish are 0-2 under new head coach, Marcus Freeman and the Irish schedule is not a cakewalk from here on out.  The Irish are 0-3 under Freeman since he coached the team as it lost in the Fiesta Bowl last year.  Freeman is not on a hot seat just now, but the folks who pull the strings in South Bend will likely be most attentive to this week’s game against an undefeated albeit mediocre Cal team in South Bend.

Washington St.  17  Wisconsin 14:  The home field in Wisconsin is a significant home field advantage.  The fact that the Cougars went there and came out with a win could be a significant factor for the PAC-12 in terms of its perceived strength as a conference.  Wisconsin only had 4 possessions in the second half of the game; here are the outcomes of those possessions:

  • 3 plays and a PUNT
  • 11 plays and a MISSED FG
  • 14 plays (41 yards) and an INT
  • 2 plays and a LOST FUMBLE

USC 41  Stanford 28:  So. Cal had this game in hand at the end of the 3rd quarter leading 41-14.  There was not a lot of defense here, the teams combined to rack up 946 yards of total offense.  There were 57 first downs in the game!

Mississippi St 39  Arizona 17:  I had this game as an OVER 57.5 last week – – the line dropped to 56.5 at game time.  Note the total points is 56…  Then, check the stats to find out that Mississippi State missed a point after touchdown in the game.  It would not have made my Six-Pack selection good, but it would have made a big difference for bettors who took the OVER proximal to game time.

 

College Football Games of Interest:

 

UConn at Michigan – 48.5 (60):  After hosting a miserable Hawaii team last week Michigan now welcomes another patsy to Ann Arbor.  Clearly, there is no shame in the scheduling department at Michigan.  The Wolverines did not cover a 52.5 point spread last week; let’s see what they do here.

Rutgers – 18.5 at Temple (44):  Rutgers enters the game at 2-0.  Temple won last week over Division 1-AA, Lafayette.

Georgia – 28.5 over South Carolina (55):  The Georgia defense is awfully good again this year.  They pitched a shutout against Samford last week.

Oklahoma – 11 at Nebraska (64.5):  The spread opened at 14.5 points has dropped earlier in the week.  Perhaps bettors think the Huskers will rally under new coaching leadership?

Old Dominion at Virginia – 9 (54):  The Cavaliers disappointed in last week’s Six-Pack and seemed to abandon its wide-open pass offense against Illinois.  Old Dominion shocked Va Tech two weeks ago in Blacksburg.  Should be an interesting game…

South Alabama at UCLA – 15.5 (59):  The Bruins have averaged 45 points per game in the first two games of the season.  The Jaguars scored 31 points in the first half last week against a bad Central Michigan defense.  I think this game will produce a lot of offense and big plays; I like the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Cal at Notre Dame – 11.5 (41):  These lines show little faith in the Notre Dame offense.  If they are going to win by 11.5 points that means they should only score 27 points against a mediocre defense …

Penn St. – 3 at Auburn (48):  All I can say is that Auburn’s home field is a big advantage for the Auburn team.

Vandy at Northern Illinois – 2 (59.5):  A week ago, Vandy was undefeated.  This week they are a 2-point underdog to a MAC team.  Sic transit gloria mundi …

BYU at Oregon – 3.5 (58):  This game lost some of its preseason luster when Oregon was steamrolled by Georgia two weeks ago.

Kansas at Houston – 8.5 (58):  Kansas is 2-0; Houston had a Top 20 pre-season ranking.  What gives here?

La-Monroe at Alabama – 49 (61.5):  ‘Bama only scored 20 points last week at Texas.  They might exceed that score in the first quarter here…

Mississippi St. – 2.5 at LSU (54):  I do not understand these lines at all.  If you made me guess what the lines would be, I would have said LSU -3 at home with a total of 60.

Michigan St. at Washington – 3 (56):  An important game for the PAC-12’s reputation nationally.

Nevada at Iowa – 24 (40): This line says a ton about the perception of the Nevada defense.  Iowa has scored a total of 14 points – – and one TD – – in two full games and they are more than a 3 TD favorite here.  Supporting that idea that Iowa might score a bit this week is last week’s performance by Nevada.  They lost to Incarnate Word by a score of 55-41.

Miami at Texas A&M – 6.5 (45):  I call this the College Game of the Week.  Miami is rebuilding its program quickly and the Aggies cannot afford to lose another game at home.  I will definitely be tuned in for this one.

San Diego St. at Utah – 20.5 (48):  After a disappointing loss to Florida in the opener, Utah went home and crushed Southern Utah 73-7.  The Aztecs beat Utah last year in triple OT; so, this is sort of a revenge game for the Utes.  San Diego won 12 games last year with a strong running attack and a very good defense – – but neither aspect of that sort of play has shown up this year.  I like Utah to keep winning big to try to “repair” its national image.  I’ll take Utah and lay the points here; put it in the Six-Pack.

 

NFL Commentary:

 

            There was a lot of sloppy football on display in Week 1 and conventional wisdom has it that the lack of playing time for starters in the Exhibition Season is the cause of the sloppiness.  Let me assume that statement is absolutely correct; that makes the Exhibition Games even worse than they are.  They are meaningless; they do not give the “real players” the reps they need to be efficient/effective in Week 1; they inflict injuries on players who never really had a chance to make the team just so the owners can make a bit more money and the networks can sell a little more ad time.  Shameful…

Every team seemed to partake of the “unpreparedness waters” last Sunday.  There were fourteen games then; eight were one-score games and 5 games were decided by a total of 4 points including a tie-game.  As was the case last season, the Packers – – and Aaron Rodgers – – looked amateurish in Week 1.  Rodgers was visibly upset with his receives on more than a handful of botched catches and/or patterns; he did not demonstrate unconditional love for his teammates on that day.

Sean Payton is on TV as of this morning but after the egg that the Cowboys’ offense laid on Sunday Night Football, I have to believe that Jerry Jones is loosening up the fingers on his writing hand to put an offer on a piece of paper and slide it across a table to Payton’s agent.  According to reports, Bill Belichick was the highest paid coach last year making $12M.  I suspect that Jerry Jones is beginning to think about how big a gap he wants to put between Belichick’s annual salary and the one he is about to offer to Sean Payton.

With the thumb injury to Dak Prescott, the Cowboys will turn to Cooper Rush to hold the fort until Prescott is ready to come back.  There was speculation that the Cowboys would try to trade for the niners’ backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, but I think that is not going to happen for 2 reasons:

  1. The Niners may need to play Jimmy G given how poorly Trey Lance played last week in what was admittedly terrible weather conditions.
  2. Jimmy G has a no-trade clause.  Why would he waive it to go to a team that will sit him down the minute Dak Prescott is healthy?  He is on the bench in SF so going to the Cowboys is not much different…

Sometimes it is interesting to compare statistical results with the “Eyeball Test”.  So, for last week consider:

  • The NFC QB with the highest QB Rating was – – Geno Smith.  The Seahawks’ passing offense was 177 yards and he threw for 31 yards in the second half of the game.  Really?
  • Geno Smith’s QB Rating was 7.5 points higher than Josh Allen’s QB Rating.  Allen threw for 297 yards and 3 TDs.  Really?
  • Geno Smith’s QB Rating was 19.2 points higher than Russell Wilson’s QB Rating.  Wilson threw for 340 yards and a TD.  Really?

There are 10 new head coaches in the NFL this season.  In first appearances, those new guys had their teams go 6-3-1 which should be encouraging to at least 6 NFL fanbases.  The fanbase that must be the most unhappy this week is the Broncos; “Orange Nation”.  Coach Hackett’s decision to run down the clock and try a 64-yard field goal instead of going for it on 4th and 5 is mind-boggling.  I thought Payton Manning was going to have a cerebral hemorrhage as that clock was counting down to the time-out taken by the Broncos.

In last week’s games …

Seahawks 17  Broncos 16:  The Broncos fumbled and lost the ball twice inside the Seahawks’ 2-yardline in the game.  The contest should never have come down to that stupid 64-yard field goal attempt…

Ravens 24  Jets 9:  The Ravens did not impress in the way they won this game.  The Jets were just awful.  The Ravens usually produce some solid rushing stats; last week their leading rusher was Kenyan Drake who gained all of 31 yards on 11 carries.  Jets’ coach Robert Saleh says he is “taking receipts” for all those who are mocking the Jets.  I think the Jets are better than they were last year but take a receipt from me today for saying the Jets were horrible last week.

  • [Aside:  He better lease a storage locker to keep all those receipts in one place; they are not going to fit in his office.]

Browns 26  Panthers 24:  That makes 8 losses in a row for the Panthers going back to last year.  Maybe now that they have the “Baker Mayfield Revenge Game” out of the way, the Panthers can get down to a more normal state of preparation.

Colts 20  Texans 20:  When Gene Mauch managed the Phillies, he said that splitting a doubleheader was like kissing your sister through a screen door.  I guess that applies to an NFL game that ends in a tie as well…

Commanders 28  Jags 22:  The Jags led 22-14 with about 12 minutes left in the game.  On their final two possessions, the Jags went:

  • 4 plays and a PUNT
  • 4 plays and an INT.

Meanwhile, the Jags’ defense gave up two TD passes (49 yards and 24 yards) in those remaining minutes to secure the loss.

Dolphins 20  Pats 7:  All during Training Camp and the Exhibition Season, folks focused on the fact that bill Belichick did not name an offensive coordinator and that he must have some deep dark master plan that he was about  spring on the league come Week 1.  Well, if he has a master plan, it sure did not work well last week.  The Pats need to worry significantly about this failure in Week 1:

  • Their pass receivers were not getting any separation on short passes or long passes.  Mac Jones may be an accurate passer, but he is not a magician.

Saints 27  Falcons 26:  It was another come from ahead loss for the Falcons who led the game 23-10 when the 4th quarter started.

Eagles 38  Lions 35:  After one week, the Eagles lead the NFC in total offense having racked up 455 yards in this game.   However, they also gave up 355 yards on defense.

Steelers 23  Bengals 20 (OT):  It took a blocked PAT buy Steelers DB, Minkah Fitzpatrick  to put the game into OT. Fitzpatrick also had a Pick-Six earlier in the game.  The Steelers have lost TJ Watt to a pectoral muscle injury, but they say he will not need season-ending surgery.  If/when Watt returns at close to his all-Pro form, the Steelers’ defense will be formidable indeed.

Bears 19  Niners 10: Yes, it was one game and most assuredly, the playing conditions were horrible with standing water all over the field.    And yes, in those adverse conditions, Trey Lance was terrible at QB in his first game as “The Guy” in SF.  This week’s game at home against the Seahawks is a big game for the team and for Trey Lance…

Vikings 23  Packers 7:  As noted above, the Packers’ offense was discombobulated last week, and Aaron Rodgers was not happy about it.  In addition to having to find rapport with young receivers, Rodgers needs to worry about his OL which was overwhelmed for much of the game last week.

Chiefs 44  Cards 21:  Basically, the Cards were a no-show at home in the opener.  Patrick Mahomes was 30 of 39 for 360 yards and 5 TDs with zero INTs.

Chargers 24  Raiders 19:  The Raiders’ OL was much worse than a mere “mess”; they  need to buy the “Flex Seal Family of Products” to patch all those leaks.

Giants 21  Titans 20:  Saquon Barkley carried the ball 18 times for 164 yards and a TD.  He also caught 6 passes for 30 yards.  Not a bad day at the office…

Bucs 19   Cowboys 3:  Mike McCarthy is an “offensive coach”; the Cowboys’ offense last week was somewhere between rancid and fetid.  Total Cowboys’ offense was 244 yards.  But that does not tell the whole story.  After an opening drive that produced a field goal, here is the Dallas offense for the rest of the game:

  • 3 plays and a PUNT
  • 3 plays and a PUNT
  • 3 plays and an INT
  • 5 plays and a PUNT
  • 1 play to end the half
  • 5 plays and a PUNT
  • 9 plays and a TURNOVER ON DOWNS
  • 3 plays and a PUNT
  • 11 plays and a TURNOVER ON DOWNS
  • 8 plays and a TURNOVER ON DOWNS.

Meanwhile, the Bucs should not be overconfident here.  Micah Parsons spent more time in the Bucs’ backfield than some of the Bucs’ RBs.  The Bucs’ OL was not good last week.

 

NFL Games This Week:

 

Last night the Chiefs beat the Chargers in KC by a field goal in a very entertaining game.  Last year, the Bills played the Chiefs in KC in early October.  After that game, I wrote that I thought Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes where the two most fun QBs to watch in the NFL – – not necessarily the two best but the two most fun to watch.  I would now like to have the same privilege as is afforded to members of the US Congress and I would like to revise and extend my remarks:

  • I think Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert are the three most fun to watch QBs in the NFL.

The Chargers had to play without WR Keenan Allen last night, so they turned to Mike Williams to be the #1 WR.  Williams caught 8 passes for 113 yards and a TD.  Not bad for a “sub”…  A 99-yard Pick-Six by the Chiefs provided the margin of victory here.

Dolphins at Ravens – 3.5 (44.5):  The Dolphins’ defense is for real, but their 20 points scored last week might be a tad misleading about the Dolphins’ offense.  The team had s strip sack for a TD.  The Ravens are a better team than the Pats and this game is in Baltimore.

Jets at Browns – 7 (39.5):  The Jets shut down the Ravens’ running attack last week (see above).  The Ravens had Lamar Jackson to pick up the slack.  If they Jets can contain the Browns’ running game, the Browns will have to rely on Jacoby Brissett who is not nearly Lamar Jackson.  Shop this line because the spread varies from 6.5 to 7.5 at various sportsbooks.  I like the Jets plus the points here; put it in the Six-Pack.

Commanders at Lions – 1 (48):  I have no idea why the Lions are favored here, and I do not trust either team in terms of consistency.  However, I do believe that both offenses can dominate the other defense, so I’ll take the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Colts – 3.5 at Jags (45.5):  The Colts are not a great road team, but they produced 517 yards of offense in their tie-game with the Texans last week.  The Jags gave up 390 yards on offense last week – – but I am queasy about this game.  I wanted to put it in the Six-Pack, but I will not.

Bucs – 2.5 at Saints (44.5):  Since joining the Bucs, Tom Brady is 0-4 against the Saints in the regular season.  Both teams won last week; neither team was impressive in doing so.

Panthers at Giants – 2.5 (43):  Yes, the Giants won last week and the Panthers lost.  Having said that, the only impressive performance by either team was Saquon Barkley.  This is my Dog-Breath Game of the Week.

Pats – 3 at Steelers (40.5):  Both teams struggled on offense last week – – and that is being polite about it.  Losing TJ Watt is a big deal here but given the way the Steelers’ DBs cover, I don’t think Mac Jones will have many easy pitch-and-catch opportunities here.  I like the Steelers plus the points at home; put it in the Six Pack.

Falcons at Rams – 10 (46.5):  The Rams need to win because they are going to be in a tough divisional race down the road; the Falcons put up a fight against the Saints last week, but I think they are over-matched here.

Seahawks at Niners – 9 (41):  The Niners need to win because they are going to be in a tough divisional race down the road; Trey Lance had better be 200% better than he was last week in the Niners’ home opener this year.

Bengals – 7 at Cowboys (42):  The Cowboys will probably have to run the ball really well to win and I don’t think they can do that.  Micah Parsons may have 4 sacks in the game, but I don’t expect Joe Burrow to throw a bunch of INTs.  Give me the Bengals to win and cover even on the road; put it in the Six-Pack.

Texans at Broncos – 10 (45):  Yes, the Texans are not good, and the Broncos will not fumble at the goal line twice in this  game.  But I hate double-digit spreads in NFL games, so I’ll pass…

Cards at Raiders – 5 (51.5):  It is awfully early to call this a “must win” for both teams – – but it feels that way to me.  Both teams were disappointing last week to say the very least.

(Sun Nite) Bears at Packers – 10 (41.5):  The Packers are the better team, but it is not as if they are without “issues”.  Yes, Aaron Rodgers “owns” the Bears.  No, I will not make a selection in this double-digit spread game…

(Mon Nite) Titans at Bills – 10 (48):  The only double-digit spread on the card this week that tempts me even a little bit is this one and I would lean toward taking the points with the Titans.  But I have the Six-Pack full already so this one must go by the wayside.

(Mon Nite) Vikes at Eagles – 2 (50.5):  I am not sure why the Eagles are favored in this game other than it is in Philly.

So, let me review the Six-Pack:

  • UCLA/South Alabama OVER 59
  • Utah – 20.5 over San Diego State
  • Steelers +3 against Pats
  • Jets +7 against Browns
  • Commanders/Lions OVER 48
  • Bengals – 7 over Cowboys

And here are two Money Line parlays just for fun:

  1. Steelers @ +120 and Saints @ +120  $100 wager wins $384.
  2. Vikes @ +115 and Bills @ – 470 and Bengals @ – 340.  $100 wager wins $237

            Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in the Seattle Times two weeks ago – – before Scott Frost got fired at Nebraska:

“Comedy writer Brad Dickson, on the Cornhuskers rallying from a 7-7 halftime tie to beat North Dakota: ‘Nebraska served notice (they) are slightly better than the second-best team in North Dakota. … OK, that doesn’t sound as impressive as I thought.’”

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

 

 

Changes Coming ?

Sometimes, sports fans become so immersed in their fandom and their focus on some aspect of a sport or an event that they neglect the rest of the world around them.  Given the fanaticism that attaches to the FIFA World Cup, there is the potential for such oblivious behavior to manifest itself come November in Qatar.  And that could be most unpleasant.

Qatar is a nation dominated by Islam which does not approve of alcohol consumption; in fact, there are laws against it except under extremely specific circumstances and venues.  Beer will be allowed in some limited manner for fans of these World Cup games, but there are restrictions on where and when the beer may be purchased and consumed.  And recently, the authorities in Qatar warned fans planning to see the World Cup games in Qatar not to try to smuggle alcohol into the country in their luggage.  According to an ESPN.com report:

“Fans travelling to the 2022 World Cup will not be able to take alcohol for personal consumption into Qatar, with the head of the country’s safety and security committee saying that ‘specific measures’ are in place to take action against anyone attempting to smuggle liquor in their luggage.

“Although alcohol is strictly restricted in Qatar — drinking in public can lead to fines of up to 3,000 riyal (£720) or prison sentences up to six months — it can be purchased inside hotels, and the supreme committee in charge of the tournament has agreed to make beer — provided by World Cup sponsor Budweiser — available at stadiums and in fan zones during the World Cup, which begins on Nov. 20.”

I think the statement by the “head of the country’s safety and security committee” related to “special measures” should be taken by fans visiting Qatar as a promise and not as a threat.  Sadly, I suspect that there will be fans who ignore this warning and will thereby find themselves in an undesirable situation.

Moving along …  The University of Nebraska obviously recognizes that payments to athletes is no longer verboten, and it seems as if the administrators there are busy finding ways to create new ways to funnel money to players.  According to a report on KETV – the local ABC station in Lincoln, NE – athletes at the University of Nebraska can earn money by passing the courses they are enrolled in.  Here is the essence of the report:

“Starting this fall, UNL scholarship athletes will be awarded money each semester for passing grades, maxing at $5,980 a year. It’s an effort to reward them for academic efforts in a trend that’s spreading throughout college athletics.

“UNL athletes have the potential to graduate with more than $25,000 in cash, now available legally thanks to a court ruling last year. The University’s compliance office calls it an “academic incentive.” UNL’s incentive program is among the most generous in the Big 10 Conference.

“UNL leaders said they recognize that being a student athlete is an “overtime” job and they should be rewarded for their achievements in the classroom.”

Frankly, this action will do more in terms of making the “student-athlete” a reality than any of the bloviating issued by the NCAA over the past 50-75 years.

Next up …  Often, change is accompanied by unintended consequences and sometimes those unintended consequences are not particularly helpful.  I think the whole issue of “name/image/likeness” payments to college athletes is an example here.  Of course, an athlete should be able to benefit from someone else’s use of their name, image or likeness (NIL) for the profit of someone else; payments in that realm make perfect sense.  However, opening that door has led to some – dare I say – perverted constructs whereby money is paid to people to play college sports at a specific institution.

How to fix those unintended consequences?  Well, the Power 5 Commissioners seem to have come up with an idea that I believe is very dangerous.  According to SI.com the commissioners sent a letter to two US Senators seeking Congressional legislation to help with regulation in that area.  According to the commissioners, boosters for college programs are “inducing” recruits and athletes who have entered the transfer portal to come to the boosters’ schools with “payments inaccurately labeled as NIL”.  The commissioners have put forth six “pillars” that are needed to create an orderly marketplace here.  Those pillars are:

  1. “Having a national standard allowing all athletes to earn compensation from third parties.
  2. “Prohibiting pay-for-play as well as outlawing booster involvement in recruiting.
  3. “Providing protections for athletes, including assurances that agents ‘are subject to meaningful regulation’.
  4. “Banning third parties or agents from obtaining ‘long term rights’ of an athlete’s NIL.
  5. “Requiring deals commensurate with market rates for NIL activity.
  6. “Requiring athletes to disclose NIL deals to their university.”

That sounds so easy.  What might the unintended consequences be if all that were codified into law and US Government regulation and oversight?  Well, if I knew the answer there, the consequences would not be unintended…  and just for the record, the US Congress is the undisputed champion of creating unintended consequences in the history of mankind.

Finally, here is an example of an unintended consequence that we should not hope ever comes to pass:

  • If a member of a synchronized swim team drowns, do the other members drown too?

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

 

 

Robert Sarver To The Bench…

The big story from yesterday is the fining and the suspension of Robert Sarver – principal owner of the Phoenix Suns – by the NBA for overseeing an unacceptable workplace environment.  I will not spend time here itemizing the findings of an extensive NBA sponsored investigation into this matter; you can find those details in dozens of different places.

The punishment for Sarver is that he will be fined $10M and will be suspended from the league – – meaning he cannot be associated with his team – – for one year during which he will have to take part in “treatment/training” in proper workplace behaviors.  Two things struck me when I read about that punishment:

  1. This is just about the same thing that the NFL handed down as punishment for Danny Boy Snyder after its investigation into the Washington Commanders’ “toxic workplace culture”.
  2. The NBA did not move to force a sale of the Suns’ franchise even though it very recently reached that level of punishment for a previous owner.  Presuming that Sarver completes his “treatment/training” and is appropriately outwardly penitent, he will continue to own his team unless he decides he wants to sell it to someone else.

I want to focus on those two issues today.  Regarding the parallelism between the punishments for Sarver and Snyder, I think the similarity is coincidental and not purposeful.  I believe the league bylaws for both the NFL and the NBA set $10M as the maximum fine that the league is allowed to levy against an owner or a franchise.  That being the case, the conclusion that I draw here is that both leagues found enough “dirt” in their investigations to allow the league to virtue-signal and appear to be as tough as possible on such improprieties.

A Google search says this morning that Sarver has a net worth of $800M.  I think that is hugely underestimated simply because if he sold the Suns’ franchise, that transaction would probably net more than $2B; since he owns “about 35%” of the franchise, that asset alone is worth more than $800M.  My point is that a $10M fine for him is not nearly crippling to whatever lifestyle he enjoys or seeks to enjoy.  As for his banishment from running the team, that really means he cannot be physically present in the team HQs – where he perpetrated those actions that got him punished in the first place – but does not preclude him from any and all contact with other folks who are indeed running the franchise on a day-to-day basis.

In the end, the effect(s) on both Sarver and Snyder are consequential but not harsh.  Neither “bad boy owner” is going to lose his favorite toy – – his sports franchise.

And that leads me to this conclusion about why Snyder’s and Sarver’s behavior fell short of the mark that made the NBA choose to kick Donald Sterling to the curb.  This is my opinion – and you know what they say about opinions:

  • Opinions are like armpits; everyone has them; lots of them stink.

I believe that what Sterling did – and it was caught on audio and video recording – was bad for business at the NBA level.  I do not think the league gives a fig if a team owner runs his team such that the individual team does not maximize its revenue potential.  If all Donald Sterling did was to reduce the live gate revenue for Clippers’ home games, he would probably still be the owner of the team.  But that is not all that Sterling did…

His comments and his behaviors toward women and Black people went beyond individual team revenue damage.  The NBA has been courting women as a growth area for its fanbase both for the NBA itself and then hopefully as an increased fanbase for the WNBA.  Sterling’s behavior toward women would not help that effort even a little bit.  However, much worse than that was the potential alienation of part of the Black fanbase the NBA enjoys, and that is important because the NBA TV audience has a large Black representation – – larger than the percentages of the US population as a whole.  That is important because the TV audience drives the TV rights fees that the league can charge and that is the biggest revenue stream the league has.  Donald Sterling’s behavior(s) might have put some of that revenue stream growth in jeopardy.

  • [Aside:  Do not extrapolate what I said here.  Sterling did not put the NBA on the brink of financial ruin.  He threatened an important segment of the NBA fanbase that might have reduced potential revenue growth league-wide.]

We do not know the detailed findings of the NFL’s investigation, but we do know from a lengthy report released by the NBA what it found about Sarver’s conduct.  What Sarver did was crude and improper and juvenile and stupid and hurtful; it would be difficult to deny any of that.  And at the same time, his conduct poses no threat to the league’s revenue growth plans and practices.  And so, he will keep his admission credential to the NBA club after he serves his year in Purgatory.

If and/or when the Danny Boy Snyder hijinks ever become public, I suggest you use the yardstick proposed here as a way to understand how and why the NFL decided to punish him in what seems to be a harsh way but does not drop him like a hot rock.  Their assessment is that Snyder may not be the poster child for the warm and fuzzy prototypical NFL owner, but he is not costing the NFL any part of its TV audience.  And that, folks, is The Bottom Line.

  • [Aside:  If you really want to know what the NFL found in its investigation, you should root for Jon Gruden’s lawsuit regarding the release of his emails that cost him his job with the Raiders to proceed.  Absent that event, I doubt that anything in that report will ever see the light of day.]

Finally, if you take the time to go and read about what the NBA found in its investigation of Robert Sarver’s behavior, you might conclude that he should be ashamed of himself.  Therefore, I will close today with this definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Shame:  The realization that nobody else thinks the thing you were caught doing was as wholesome as you thought it was.”

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

 

 

Football Friday 9/9/22

Today is obviously a Sesame Street rant brought to you by the letter “F”.  Today is the:

  • First Full-blown Football Friday of the Fall

The college season started in earnest last week presenting the opportunity for an abbreviated Football Friday; now we have the full breadth of football in its active mode so time’s a wasting.  Let me put this bus in gear…

The first order of business is to look back as last week’s Not-Quite-A-Six-Pack and the Money Line Parlays.  It was not an auspicious start to the season:

  • College = 1-2-0
  • Money Line Parlays = 0-2  Imaginary loss on Parlays = $200

The Linfield College Wildcats opened their season about 2200 miles from home taking on the Huntingdon Hawks.  The Wildcats won the game 41-34.  As a Division III school, Linfield plays a 9-game regular season; this victory in an out-of-conference game is a positive step toward Linfield’s 66th consecutive winning season in football.  The Wildcats have this week off to prepare for a game at home against the University of Redlands Bulldogs on September 17th.

I got an email from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times after last week’s abbreviated Football Friday hit the Internet.  He took note of my “fascination” with Linfield football and wondered if I was aware of another sports connection there:

“ … Ad Rutschman, the patriarch of Linfield sports, is (a)  the grandfather of Orioles rookie catching sensation Adley Rutschman and (b) the only coach in college history at any level to win national championships in two sports, his being football and baseball.”

I was aware that Adley Rutschman’s grandfather – – actually, I thought it was his father – – had been a coach at Linfield but I did not know he had won national championships in two sports.  A little research revealed that Ad Rutschman was the head football coach at Linfield from 1968 until 1991 and was one of the coaches who built the string of winning football seasons that Linfield enjoys today.

 

College Football Commentary

 

            I often criticize powerhouse schools and conferences here for scheduling meaningless cupcake games out of conference.  Humorist and culture critic, Brad Dickson took note of Nebraska’s early season schedule in this Tweet:

“Nebraska opens against Northwestern, North Dakota and Georgia Southern. That means three weeks into the season and the Huskers still will not have played a team ranked no. 1 in its own state.”

Nebraska has no choice but to play Northwestern; they are in the same division in the same conference and play each other annually.  However, the other two are purely by Nebraska’s choice…

Another school – UCLA – achieved some notoriety last week for one of its scheduling choices.  UCLA hosted Bowling Green in the Rose Bowl for its opening game.  The Bruins won handily as was expected by any and all people not a blood relative of a member of the Bowling Green team – – but that was not the issue.  Here is a stat that the UCLA athletic department did not want to see:

  • Attendance for the game was the lowest in UCLA football history in the Rose Bowl.  Only 27,143 fans bought a ticket for the game, snapping a record that has stood for roughly 30 years.   The previous attendance low happened in 1992 when the Bruins only sold 32,513 tix to a game in the Rose Bowl against Oregon State.
  • The Rose Bowl seats 90,888 people.  So, if everyone who bought a ticket showed up, you would expect the stadium to be about 30% full.  Please take a few seconds and follow this link to see a picture of the crowd in the stands at the game.
  • If the stadium is 30% full, lots of people showed up wearing their Harry Potter invisibility cloaks.

Looking at that photo, I would have thought it would have favored Bowling Green – – a MAC team that plays most its games in front of a stadium with attendance filling less than a third of the capacity.  It should have been like old home week…

The folks at UCLA might want to strap themselves in for some more embarrassing attendance moments in the coming weeks.  UCLA has also scheduled South Alabama and then Alabama State as its next two home games.  Those schools ought to be a big draw in the greater LA region.

Granted it is only one week of college football action, but maybe there were a few clear indicators of things to come for the rest of the season:

  • Georgia lost 15 players to the NFL via the Draft last April.  Nonetheless, Georgia opened the season against Oregon – – a Power 5 team that is highly ranked in its conference – –  and blew the doors off the Ducks.  Maybe Georgia is not as good as last year, but they are going to quite good, thank you.
  • NC State was touted as a serious contender in the ACC for 2022.  Well, if that is to be the case, the Wolfpack is going to have to show a lot more than it did in eking out a 1-point win over East Carolina.  ECU gave the game away with a missed PAT, a missed field goal and had a punt blocked resulting in a TD.
  • LSU is the only team in the SEC with a losing record as of today; the Tigers lost to Florida State 24-23 in the opener when a Seminole player blocked a PAT with no time on the clock in the 4th quarter that would have sent the game to OT.  What makes the LSU record all the more embarrassing is that even Vanderbilt has a winning record at 2-0 at this point in the season.
  • The PAC-12 lost two games to SEC schools over the weekend.  Probably the best showing for a PAC-12 team against a reasonable opponent was Oregon State’s 34-17 win over Boise State.  The Beavers dominated here; they forced 5 turnovers on defense, and they had 5 offensive plays of 40 yards or more.

Ohio St.  21  Notre Dame 10:  I wondered aloud last week if the Ohio State defense had been fixed in the offseason.  Based on the small sample of one game, it looks as if it has; that unit held Notre Dame scoreless in the second half of the game.  The defensive stats for the game were impressive.  Notre Dame only gained 253 yards on offense and only managed 12 first downs in the game.

Florida 29  Utah 26:  This was one of the losses for a PAC-12 team against an SEC team last week, but this was a good showing by Utah.  The Utes had a real shot to win the game; trailing 29-26 with a minute and a half left in the game, they drove the field and had the ball second and goal at the Gators’ 6-yardline. At that point it looked as if overtime was the best outcome for the Gators – – until Cam Rising, the Utah QB, threw an INT that ended the game.  Close but no cigar…

Georgia 49  Oregon  3:  This was the other loss by a PAC-12 team to an SEC school.  Oregon is one of the power schools in the PAC-12; that makes this debacle more than just an embarrassment for the school; it is an embarrassment for the conference.  Yes, Oregon was a 17-point underdog; so, the expectation was that they would lose the game – – but not by 46 points.  Georgia scored a TD on its first 6 possessions of the game; can anyone in Oregon spell d-e-f-e-n-s-e?  Georgia was ranked #3 coming into the game behind Alabama and Ohio State; imagine how good those two teams are considered to be.

Arkansas 31  Cincy  24:  Keep the “Cincy Cinderella Narrative” on ice for a while in 2022…

Tennessee 59  Ball St.  10:  The game was never “close”; the score was 45-0 in the third quarter.  Games involving SEC teams against MAC teams often wind up in this sort of situation.  Total offense for the Vols was 588 yards.

UNC 63  Appalachian St.  61:  Obviously there was not a lot of defense in the game.  In the 4th quarter alone, the teams combined to score a total of 62 points.  Total offense in the game was 1216 yards; the teams combined to produce 64 first downs; there were only 3 punts in the game.  In that 4th quarter, I suspect that the field was declared a “Tackle-Free Zone”…

Old Dominion 20  Va Tech 17:  I wondered about this game last week marveling that Tech was less than a TD favorite over Old Dominion.  Well, the oddsmakers were a lot closer to right than I was; Tech lost outright even though they outgained the Monarchs by 134 yards.  Tech also held Old Dominion to 3 of 16 third down conversions and 0 of 2 fourth down conversions – – and they still lost.  It might be a long season in Blacksburg…

Duke 30  Temple 0:  Total offense for Temple in the game was 179 yards.  The passing game for the Owls was 14 for 29 for a total of 114 yards.  So, the Owls’ offense was non-existent.  The Temple defense performed similarly ineffectively allowing Duke to run up 500 yards on offense.  It is definitely going to be a LONG season for Temple.  This week, Temple hosts Division 1-AA Lafayette – – a team that only managed to beat Sacred Heart last week 6-0.  Temple must not lose this game…

Pitt 38  W. Virginia 31:  This is the renewal of a rivalry game known as the Backyard Brawl.  The key play here was a Pick Six by the Panthers in the final 3 minutes of the game to provide the margin of victory.

Penn St. 35  Purdue 31:  Penn St. QB, Sean Clifford, threw for 4 TDs in the game and ran for the Lions’ other score.  He also threw a Pick Six that gave Purdue a 31-28 lead in the middle of the 4th quarter.  As Job said in the Bible, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away…

Iowa 7  S. Dakota St.  3:  This is the odd way to get such a score.  Iowa scored a field goal and two safeties; S. Dakota St. kicked a field goal; that was it.  Total offense for both teams was a meager 293 yards; there were only 16 first downs in the game by both teams; the teams combined to punt the ball 21 times.  The longest drive for S. Dakota St. was 26 yards; the longest drive for Iowa was 57 yards – – and that drive resulted in a lost fumble.  Iowa had trouble scoring last season – it ranked 99th in the country in points per game.  Looks as if that situation may still be in place…

Oklahoma St. 58  C. Michigan 44:  Giving a MAC team 44 points does not speak well of the Oklahoma St. defense…  In fact, C. Michigan outgained Oklahoma State for the game 544 yards to 521 yards.

W. Kentucky 49 Hawaii 17: In its first game, Hawaii gave up 66 points, so I guess this is an improvement?

James Madison 44  Middle Tennessee St. 7:  James Madison announced its presence in the Sun Belt Conference with this dominating performance.  The Dukes gained 548 yards of offense and held Middle Tennessee St. to only 119 yards of offense.  At the half, Middle Tennessee St. only had 24 yards total offense.

Delaware 14  Navy 7:  This is not a good omen for Navy fans.  With James Madison having moved up to Division 1-A, could Delaware be the CAA team to take over the conference?  Villanova might have something to say about that.

 

Games of Interest this Week

 

For the record, I will try to avoid listing any games here with spreads over 30 points – – and there are plenty of them this week.  The heading here is “Games of Interest” and very few games of that sort are even marginally interesting.  There will be a few  however…

Duke at Northwestern – 10.5 (58):  Both teams are 1-0.  Northwestern beat Nebraska two weeks ago in Dublin; Duke beat Temple last week.  Neither Nebraska nor Temple is a football juggernaut in 2022 – – but I suspect that Nebraska would wax Temple if they were scheduled against each other.

Alabama – 20 at Texas (65):  Has Texas ever been a 3-touchdown underdog at home before?  This is the Game of the Week in college football even though it could turn into a rout.

Wake Forest – 12.5 at Vandy (65):  Wake’s starting QB has been cleared of a “non-football medical issue” and may be able to play here.

Tennessee – 6 at Pitt (64.5):  I think there will be lots of points in this one.

Colorado at Air Force – 17.5 (50):  This is not a good look for the Buffaloes as a 3-score underdog to a service academy…

Appalachian St. at Texas A&M – 19 (54.5):  You cannot accuse Appalachian State of cupcake scheduling with UNC last week and the Aggies in week two.

Washington St. at Wisconsin – 17.5 (49):  The Cougars beat Idaho last week by a TD; Wisconsin is a Top 25 team and enjoys a strong home field advantage.  This looks like a problem for Washington St.

Virginia at Illinois – 4.5 (57.5):  Illinois had it’s game in hand against Indiana last week and choked the game away 23-20.  I think UVA is at least as good as Indiana, so I have no idea why the Illini are favored.  I like Virginia to win outright so I will be happy to take them with the points here; put it in the Six-Pack.

Houston at Texas Tech – 3.5 (63.5):  Tech’s QB was injured in last week’s game and has been ruled out for this week and possibly next week with an unspecified shoulder problem.  Houston disappointed me last week, but I still think they are a good team.  So, I’ll go to the well one more time here and take Houston plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack.

Iowa St at Iowa – 3.5 (40.5):  Always an interesting rivalry game early in the season.  After Iowa had its offense pull a no-show last week, I have no idea what will happen here.

Kentucky at Florida – 6 (51.5):  The Gators looked good playing a strong Utah team last week, but Kentucky is no push-over.  The Total Line began the week at 54 points and has been dropping slowly all week long.

UMass at Toledo – 29 (47.5):  Why even have a football team if you are going to be more than a 4 TD underdog to Toledo?

USC – 8 at Stanford (67):  This is the first conference game for USC under Lincoln Riley sandwiched in between two non-conference opponents.  Both teams opened the season against meaningless competition.

Arizona St. at Oklahoma St. – 11 (58):  Remember, the Cowboys gave up 44 points to a MAC team last week…

Hawaii at Michigan – 52 (68):  Yes, the spread here is 52 points.  Hawaii looks to be that bad and Michigan – under Jim Harbaugh – is not known to coast once they have a game in hand…  In case you were wondering what the Money Line odds for this game are:

  • Hawaii is +135,000
  • Michigan is minus-405,000

BC at Va Tech – 2.5 (45.5):  The Hokies lost at home to Old Dominion last week and are now favored at home against BC?  That is almost blackboard material for BC…

Baylor at BYU – 3.5 (53):  Maybe not the two best teams to play this weekend, but this might be one of the best games of the weekend.

Oregon St. – 1 at Fresno St. (61.5):  Oregon St. looked good beating Boise St, last week; Fresno St. dominated Cal-Poly last week.  Fresno St. is tough at home.  The spread opened the week with Fresno St. as a 1.5-point favorite.

Mississippi St. – 10.5 at Arizona (57.5):  Arizona beat San Diego State and scored 38 points last week.  Mississippi St. under Mike Leach is known for offense and not defense.  I think this game will go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

 

NFL Commentary

 

            The real NFL season – – no more Exhibition Games – – began last night with two top teams setting the tone for the season.  The schedule maker knew about Von Miller going from the Rams to the Bills as (s)he was making up the schedule, so maybe this opening match-up as a “Revenge Game” was a way to deflect attention from all the spooky stuff that would follow?

The Bills were dominant last night; beating the reigning Super Bowl champs on the champs’ home field by 3 TDs is a big deal.  Registering 7 sacks in any game is a big deal; converting on 9 of 10 third down attempts is a big deal.  The Bills were far the better team last night.  My only caution here is to point out that this is the first of 17 games that each team will play and things will change for both teams as the season moves on.  Do not consign the Rams to mediocrity just yet and resist the urge to anoint the Bills as the best team in the history of football anywhere in the galaxy.  Having said that:

  • Damn!  The Bills looked spectacular last night.

            For those of you who have a devotion to conspiracy theories, look at the NFL opening week schedule and take a look at all the possible “Revenge Games” on the card.  How did the schedule maker know about all these moves way back in April/May when the schedule was under construction?  Enquiring minds want to know …

The schedule maker was also about as kind as he could have been to the Washington Commanders for the start of the season.  The Commanders have the Jags in Week 1 and then the Lions in Week 2.  The Jags picked first in the Draft last April and then the Lions picked second.  I said in my NFL predictions piece earlier this week that I expected improvement from both teams – – but this is as soft a start as the Commanders could hope for as they ease into what might become the “Carson Wentz Era” – – or not.

Meanwhile the injury bug has already created a blister for the NY Jets.  Earlier this week it was announced that QB Zach Wilson will not be able to play in Week 1 and that, in fact, he would be hors de combat for the first four weeks of the season.  The Jets announced Joe Flacco as the starter for this week’s opener and coach Robert Saleh told reporters:

“To be honest with you guys … the earliest [Wilson] is gonna be available is Pittsburgh.  That’s gonna be the earliest. Now can it change? Sure, I’m always gonna leave that door open. You guys know me, I’m the eternal optimist. But we are gonna make sure that both mind and body are 110 percent and make sure we do right by him, and we feel like, talking to the doctors, it’s gonna be that Pittsburgh week.”

The oddsmakers have played it very cautiously for the first week of the season.  There are no spreads greater than 7 points anywhere on the card for the weekend – – and last night’s game carried a spread of 2.5 points.

 

NFL Games:

 

Baltimore – 5.5 at Jets (44.5):  The spread opened at 5.5 and rose sharply to 7 points after news that Zach Wilson’s injury would have him out of the game; then it settled back to where it started.  At the same time, it created a “Revenge Game” where Joe Flacco goes against one of his former teams and his former coach, John Harbaugh.

New Orleans – 5.5 at Atlanta (42.5):  The Saints will be enigmatic for most of the season because they will have Jameis Winston at QB.  He is the Jekyll and Hyde of QBs; he can throw a team into and out of the same game – – twice.  The Saints are the better team here particularly on defense.  I hope that Jameis Winston has a decent game and avoids one of his blunderful performances because I am taking the Saints to win and cover on the road; put it in the Six-Pack.

New England at Miami – 3.5 (46.5):  The Dolphins enjoy a 3-game win streak against the Pats and there is a ton of hype around Tua and his upgraded offensive counterparts.  The Pats continue to project their businesslike approach to games as prescribed by “The Patriot Way” but this team has more question marks than previous teams.

Cleveland at Carolina – 1 (42):  The line opened with the Browns favored by 4 points for a reason that I cannot understand.  Now the Panthers are favored.  This is another “Revenge Game” as Baker Mayfield  goes against the Browns.  Here is an outlandish stat I ran across:

  • Since 2004, the Cleveland Browns are 0-16-1 in Week 1 games.

Pittsburgh at Cincy – 6 (44.5):  Joe Burrow missed a bunch of training camp as he needed an appendectomy.  Is he ready for the start of the season or will there be some rust to shake off?  Najee Harris played in the final Exhibition Game for the Steelers because he had missed a lot of time in camp due to a sprained Lisfranc tendon in his foot.  Will he be ready for the season opener here?

SF – 7 at Chicago (40.5):  There are two competing factors in this game:

  1. This is Trey Lance’s first start as “The Guy” in SF and it is on the road.  It is not a good idea to take the Niners and lay a full TD with that being the case.
  2. The Niners are significantly more talented than the Bears.  It is not a good idea to take the Bears only getting 7 points with that being the case.

Philly – 4 at Detroit (48.5):  I like the Eagles offense against the Lions’ defense in this match-up.  I’ll take the Eagles to win and cover on the road; put it in the Six-Pack.

Indy – 7 at Houston (46):  The Texans have a new system  under a new coach with a young QB who may or may not be a real QB.  The Colts always seem to have a new QB; in fact, this is the 5th year in a row that the Colts have a new starting QB in Game 1.  I like the Colts to win and cover even on the road; put it in the Six-Pack.

Jax at Washington – 2.5 (44):  The spread here opened at 4 points and has shrunk slowly to this level over the week.  This is a “Sort Of Revenge Game” with Carson Wentz taking on his former coach, Doug Pederson from their days in Philly.  Another angle here is that the Jags beat the Colts – – with Wentz playing terribly – – in Week 18 last year knocking the colts out of the playoffs and making it important for the Colts to have gotten rid of Wentz.  Plenty of mind games at work here…

KC – 6 at Arizona (53.5):  If you like offensive football, this game should be high on your list of must-see TV programming.

Las Vegas at Chargers – 3 (52):  The Chargers needed to improve their defense from last year and they seem to have done so with the addition of JC Jackson and Kahlil Mack; Jackson will miss this game, but Mack makes the Chargers pass rush significantly better than it was.  The Raiders will unveil their new offense under Josh McDaniels.

Green Bay – 1.5 at Minnesota (47)  Vikes’ LB, Za’Darius Smith turned this into a “Revenge Game” saying he wanted to sign with the Vikes so he could get back at the Packers twice a season because they did not treat him well in Green Bay.  Who knows if that is factual?  The question I want answered is this:

  • How long will it take for the Packers’ offense without Davante Adams in the lineup to function as if he were still in the lineup?

I think this is the NFL Game of the Week.

Giants at Tennessee – 5.5 (43.5):  The Titans have been a run-based offense for several years now; the loss of AJ Brown should make them even more run-based.  Can the Giants stop that?  Meanwhile, the Titans lost their best linebacker, Harold Landry, for the year to a torn ACL.  How might the new Giants’ offense under Brian Daboll exploit that?

(Sun Nite) Tampa Bay – 2.5 at Dallas (50.5):  Micah Parsons will give folks an idea of how seriously degraded the Bucs’ OL is this year given all of its injuries.

(Mon Nite) Denver – 6.5 at Seattle (44.5):  This spread opened at 4 points and has been climbing slowly over the week.  This is the biggest “Revenge Game” of the week with Russell Wilson returning to Seattle.

Time to review this week’s Six-Pack

  1. Houston + 3.5 against Texas Tech
  2. Virginia +4.5 against Illinois
  3. Mississippi St./Arizona OVER 57.5
  4. Eagles – 4 over Lions
  5. Saints – 5.5 over Falcons
  6. Colts – 7 over Texans

Here are two Money Line Parlays for the Week:

USC @ minus-300 over Stanford

[email protected] minus-270 over Georgia State

Memphis @ -220 over Navy     Imaginary $100 wager wins $166.00

And …

Eagles @ minus-200 over Lions

Saints @ minus-230 over Falcons

Colts @ minus-310 over Texans    Imaginary $100 wager wins $185.00

Finally, today began with a reference to Sesame Street.  So, let me close with an “inspirational quote” from my favorite Sesame Street character, Oscar the Grouch:

“Just because you’re trash doesn’t mean you can’t do great things.  It called ‘garbage can’, not ‘garbage cannot.’”

[Aside:  Certainly, you are not surprised to learn that Oscar the Grouch was my favorite Sesame Street character…]

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

 

 

Something Different Today …

I am going to try a new ”art form” here today – – simply because I think it might be fun to do once in a while.  Given that I am the author and the editor-in-chief here in Curmudgeon Central, I have the opportunity to see if this new form can clear the Supreme Court’s hurdle for obscenity by having an iota of “redeeming social value”.  So, take a look at my new thing out for a test drive…

  Here are four things that I know:

  1. The Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour is a good thing for the PGA players – – even those who will never play in an LIV event.  To counteract the LIV Tour’s poaching of players, the PGA found more money to add to purse structures and seems poised to relax their strictures on “appearance fees”.  That is good for the PGA players.  The fact that it is good for the PGA players does not alter the fact that the money behind the LIV Tour is tainted.  It demonstrates the validity of the adage that it is an ill wind that blows no good.
  2. I do not understand the fascination with esports on television.  When my grandson – – The Fog – – is playing one of his computer games, I might be able to watch him do his thing for two minutes before losing interest.  So, how are esports even a thing in the world of television?  I have to admit that I am not an accurate barometer of what makes for mass entertainment.  I have said for  years that I do now understand how pornography is sustained in the Internet because I do not think sex is a spectator sport.  Shows what I know…
  3. I know professional wrestling is fake; and so, I do not understand how it is as popular as it must be.  Basically, pro wrestling is an athletic soap opera; the pitting of good versus evil.  And yet, there is a company traded on the NYSE that exists solely to put on professional wrestling events and it is successful.  World Wrestling Entertainment stock is up 16% in the last year; its revenue for the past year has been $328M and its total capitalization is $2.1B.  Wow!
  4. I know that minor league baseball players are going to vote to be represented by the MLBPA to get better salaries and working conditions.

Here are three things I think:

  1. I think there will ultimately be a rapprochement between the PGA Tour and the LIV Golf Tour.  The LIV Tour does not need to win its anti-trust suit and collect humongous damages from the PGA Tour; it has enough money of its own.  The PGA Tour cannot afford to lose that lawsuit and another large chunk of its players such that it becomes a minor league of golf.  Ergo, it is time for some diplomacy and reconciliation…
  2. I think when the MLBPA negotiates on behalf of minor league players, the players will benefit significantly in terms of salary and benefits.  I also think that major league teams will reduce the number of players they pay to be in their minor league systems either by shrinking rosters or dropping teams or both.  Players will make more but there will be fewer players in the minor leagues.
  3. I think the Big-10 and the SEC have not finished their expansions in college athletics.

Here are two things I feel:

  1. I feel there is a need for an American woman to emerge in the tennis world with Serena Williams “evolving away from tennis” to maintain interest in the sport here in the US .  There are no American men at center stage at the moment; the most recent ATP rankings I saw had only two American men in the Top 25.
  2. I feel sorry for people who misuse two English words – – unique and masterpiece.  Unique cannot have modifiers; things are not very unique or somewhat unique; things are either unique or they are not unique.  Masterpiece does not have a proper plural form.  An artist or an author can only produce one masterpiece.  This is not a pet peeve of mine because I am only allowed one “pet peeve” in life and this one is not nearly important enough to have earned that status.

Here are three things that will come next:

  1. Now that Dennis Rodman has canceled his trip to Russia for the purpose of bringing Brittney Griner home, I suspect the next attention seeker to take up that challenge will be Jose Canseco, Terrell Owens or Megan Rapinoe.
  2. I will spend less time using Facebook.  I have spent about 1.5 hours per week on the site over the last month – – and it is just not worth it.
  3. The NFL starts tonight with the first of its 272-game regular season schedule.  Let the games begin…

Finally, apropos of nothing, here is an entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Leaf Blower:  A device that answers the age-old question, Hey, can we design a rake that makes noise?”

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

 

 

An Expanded College Football Playoff

About two weeks ago, I posted a bunch of comments about the upcoming college football season.  Here is a paragraph from that essay which has seemingly come to pass:

“The CFP remains at 4 teams playing 3 games to determine the national champion for a year.  The CFP poohbahs said that would stay the same until 2026 – – but that pronouncement was before the stratospheric TV deal struck by the Big-10.  Expanding the CFP to 8 teams will slightly more than double the games to be put on TV and that means big money for the CFP beneficiaries.  Do not be surprised when that decision to stand pat at 4 teams is ‘revisited’.”

The “revisitation” seems to have happened already as the CFP overseers recently announced a plan to expand the CFP – – not to 8 teams as I think would make sense – – but all the way to 12 teams and they might implement that change as soon as 2024.  There have always been competing and parochial interests in college football that have made a national championship tournament difficult if not impossible to achieve.  It seems to me that the amount of money to be derived by such a thing is now so big that those competing interests have coalesced sufficiently to allow all of them to have a taste.

The idea of determining the national college football champion on the field is not a new idea.  I recall articles in Sports Illustrated about 50 years ago calling for such a thing in support of a proposal put to the NCAA for just – – such a thing.  Obviously, those articles and the proposal itself had no impact on the NCAA mavens at the time because nothing really happened until the late 1990s when the BCS came into existence.

There is an adage that says:

“Perfection is the enemy of progress.”

And that was certainly the case with the BCS which was anything but perfect, but it was progress.  Compared to the idea that a national champion would be decided by a vote of either scribes or coaches – – NONE OF WHOM would have seen very much of all the potential candidates for the title – – the BCS was great.  The problem with the BCS is that it was one game involving two teams; and in most years, there were more than two “worthy teams”.  The BCS Committee tried every which way to come up with a process to make the selection that would minimize the bitching and moaning the minute they announced the pairing and were never able to do that.  However, the BCS did one thing exceedingly well:

  • It showed that there was a large TV appetite for a championship game and that such a “large appetite” resulted in the ability to get a large payment for the rights from media outlets.

Ultimately, the BCS exited stage left as the CFP came to center stage in 2014.  The CFP doubled the number of teams in the tournament and tripled the number of games that could be sold to TV companies.  As was the case with the BCS, people still bitched and moaned about teams that were not selected to take part and a drumbeat for expanding the CFP beyond 4 teams began almost immediately.  And so, here we are with an expanded CFP in sight; so, all is well.  It is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius for college football:

“Harmony and understanding

Sympathy and trust abounding

No more falsehoods or derisions

Golden living dreams of visions

Mystic crystal revelation

And the mind’s true liberation…”

[Hat tip to The Fifth Dimension here…]

Allow me to channel my inner Lee Corso here for a moment:

“Not so fast my friend!”

There will assuredly be complaints that there is no need to wait even until 2024 to effect the expansion; it should be done immediately.  If you have not yet heard that criticism, be prepared.  And while it will be very difficult for folks to have a meaningful basis for including even more teams, I will be shocked if we do not hear a ton of complaints about which conferences are “over-represented” and which ones never get a chance to show that they can compete with the big boys.  Diversity and inclusivity are touchstones for US society in 2022 but I will argue that in terms of deciding a college football champion, diversity and inclusivity have virtually no place in the decision process.

Let me point to last year when Cincy made the CFP as the first team outside the Power 5 conferences to do so.  Cincy was a very good team in 2021 and arrived at the game with a 13-0 record playing in the AAC.  What kicked them up in the consideration for a spot in the CFP was a victory at Notre Dame early in the season; that win purported to show that they could “hang with the big guys”.  I had no problem with that selection; I felt that Georgia and Alabama were clearly the best two teams in the country last year, but adding Cincy to the mix made no big difference to me.

Then Cincy ran into Alabama in a first-round game, and it was not even close.  Cincy was a very good team; Alabama was an excellent team; picking participants in the CFP based on diversity and inclusivity is such a bad idea.

In a 12-team field, the only thing that makes sense to me is for the Selection Committee to identify its “Top 4 Teams” and give them a BYE Week; then play the other 8 teams to cut the field to 8 and take that bracket down to a championship game.  I want to be wrong here, but I am afraid that this will set up some blowout games in the first two rounds.  If that is the case, then a 12-team field simply represents placing a higher value on quantity of games as opposed to quality of games.

The arguing and the negotiating on the matter is not over.

  • The expansion will happen by 2026 but might happen as soon as 2024.  Negotiation item.
  • The expanded CFP will need either a new media rights deal or a modification to the current one depending on the timing of the expansion.  Negotiation item.
  • Will there be a formula for CFP invitations, or will it be free-form every year?  Negotiation item.
  • Quo vadis the myriad college bowl games?  Negotiation item.

And because there are some people who always want more than they have:

What is the OVER/UNDER on how long after the 12-team field is implemented until there are calls for expanding the field to 16 teams?

  • I set the OVER/UNDER at 7 days after the championship game in the first 12-team field.

Finally, since the Selection Committee for the CFP has been – and should continue to be – considered as college football experts, let me close with this definition of an expert from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Expert:  A person who gets to give an opinion via satellite on television news programs simply because he is an adjunct professor of public health policy at Sunnydale Community College and wrote a book called something like ‘World Perspectives on the Indigenous Growth of Interdepartmental Conflict in Tanzania, 1929-1947.’”

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

 

 

NFL Predictions – 2022

A common adage advises:

“It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.”

I shall not heed the advice contained above; if I did, I would not be in any position to produce my annual set of predictions about the upcoming NFL season.  A few predictions here will be perfectly accurate; most will be somewhat off target; some will be laughably incorrect; that is how these things always turn out.  I will not ignore my failures because sometime after the NFL regular season ends, I will prepare and produce a post-mortem on these predictions and grade my prognostications.

There will be four sets of predictions here:

  1. NFL coaches on a hot seat
  2. NFL players who may be “disappointing” in 2022
  3. Will any team go “worst to first” in their division – – and vice versa
  4. Predicting the exact regular season record for all 32 NFL teams.

There is no hidden agenda here; I do not begin this undertaking with some sort of sinister intention toward a team or two in the league.  The same goes for the coaches and players about whom I will predict “disappointment” or even firing; I have nothing against any of them; I do not know any of them.  And most importantly, when I make a huge mistake about a teams’ record for the year and vastly underestimate their record, I do not owe that team or the fans of that team any sort of apology.  What I do owe them – and everyone else – is an admission that I made a huge mistake and that is what I will do in the post-mortem after the season is over.

With that as the preamble, let me begin with my NFL coaches on a hot seat.  Last year, I mentioned 8 coaches in this category.  Three were fired; there were caveats attached to three others that did not come to pass; the other two were just plain wrong.  So, here is this year’s list of 6 coaches on a hot seat in alphabetical order lest anyone think I am prioritizing:

  1. Klif Kingsbury (Cardinals):  I had him on this list last year; I thought he needed a playoff appearance to save his job last year.  The Cards did make the playoffs but made an early and embarrassing exit losing to the Rams 34-11.  The Cards were also disappointing in another way last year that could give the execs in Arizona pause.  The Cards started out 7-0; then they finished the season going 4-6.  That tendency to “fade in December” has happened for all the time Kingsbury has been with the team.  The Cards’ record under Kingsbury in September and October has been 15-8-1.  His record in November, December and January has been 9-17.  I think that trend needs to change in 2022.
  2. Mike McCarthy (Cowboys):  This is another encore appearance on this list by a coach.  Yes, the Cowboys handily won their division last year posting a 12-5 record, but they too lost in the first round of the playoffs and the Cowboys played  a terribly sloppy game that day.  McCarthy’s burden is that Cowboys’ fans always think that their team on the field is Super Bowl worthy – even when that is not nearly close to true.  Making that even worse is that owner Jerry Jones usually thinks the same thing – and Jones has let it be known that he realizes he is getting up in years and wants a Super Bowl winner now or even sooner.  I think it might take an appearance in the NFC Championship Game for McCarthy to save his job this time around because the retirement of Sean Payton from the Saints would give Jerry Jones a shot at a coach that he has “admired” for years.
  3. Frank Reich (Colts):  His record over the past 4 seasons in Indy has been 37-28; that sort of record usually does not get a guy fired.  However, the way that the Colts played and lost in Week 18 to the sorry-assed Jaguars last year such that they were denied a playoff slot paints a bullseye on Reich’s back.  Yes, you can pin a large amount of the blame for that loss on the way Carson Wentz played on that day – – and Carson Wentz is no longer a member of the Colts.  Reich has Matt Ryan under center this year and the Colts should be in the thick of the playoff hunt all season long; that is the expectation in Indy, and I think that can become a litmus test for Reich staying on in Indy.
  4. Ron Rivera (Commanders):  Ron Rivera comes across as a genuine human being; sometimes he seems almost too nice a guy to be a football coach.  He has been with the Commanders for two seasons posting a combined record of 14-19 and given the organizational turmoil – – none of it of his doing by the way – – that record is solid.  But that organization has a history of hasty decisions that sometimes make you shake your head in disbelief.  I don’t think he will be fired but you never know with Danny Boy Snyder in charge…
  5. Matt Ruhle (Panthers):  He is two years into a six-year deal and the first two years have been less than inspiring.  I said above that Klif Kingsbury’s Cardinals’ teams have faded in November, December and January; well, Ruhle’s Panthers’ teams have been even worse late in the season.  In his two years there, the Panthers have posted a 3-14 record in November and later in the regular season.  The Panthers were 5-12 last year and lost their last 7 games in a row.  If either thing happens again in 2022, Matt Ruhle will be out of work early in 2023.
  6. Robert Saleh (Jets):  He came to NY with the reputation as a tough defensive-minded coach and the Jets’ defense had been a hot mess.  Well, they weren’t much better under Saleh last year – – and the Jets’ offense was pretty bad too.  Like Ron Rivera, Saleh also works for an organization that has been known to make head-scratchingly bad decisions.  In a rational world, Saleh would be safe for at least another year – – barring a 1-16 record in 2022 – – but working for the Jets is not necessarily a “rational world.”

NFL  players have a saying:

  • “Father Time never missed a tackle.”

Advancing age catches up with everyone – Tom Brady and George Blanda notwithstanding – so last year, I put together a list of players that I thought might see some decreased level of performance in 2021.  There were 6 players on the list; I think 4 of the 6 had disappointing years.  So, here is my list for 2022; it too has 6 entries:

  1. Calais Campbell:  He was on this same list last year and his stats suffered in comparison with his Pro Bowl seasons.  Campbell recorded only 1.5 sacks and 49 tackles last year.  He is back with Ravens again this year at age 36.  I suspect that he is a serviceable D-lineman at this point in his career and I have no doubt that he is a competent leader for that unit, but he is no longer anywhere near a Pro Bowl player.
  2. Fletcher Cox:   His numbers went down significantly last year with  only 3.5 sacks and 35 tackles.  Remember, Cox plays an interior defensive tackle position so that total of 35 tackles is a real red flag to me.  He will be 32 this year.
  3. Brandon Graham:  He missed 15 games last year due to injury and he is 34 years old having been in the NFL since 2010.  In the two games where he did see the field, he recorded exactly 2 tackles.
  4. AJ Green:  In his first 7 years in the league, Green amassed more than 1000 yards receiving 6 times.  He is a 7 time Pro Bowl nominee and a 2-teim All-Pro but I do not think he can play at that level any more.  The good thing for the Cards is that they have Marquise Brown and will have DeAndre Hopkins (after a 6-game suspension) to take a portion of the load off AJ Green.  He is 34 years old and put up 848 yards receiving last year.  I think he may struggle to get 600 yards receiving this year.
  5. Alvin Kamara:  He has some legal entanglements stemming from an arrest in Las Vegas in the offseason and the arresting documents say the incident involved “battery resulting in substantial bodily harm”.  That situation could well be a “distraction” for Kamara.  Moreover, Kamara has quite the statistical profile to live up to.  He was the Offensive Rookie of the Year 5 years ago; he has been nominated to the Pro Bowl in all 5 of his seasons; he was an All-Pro twice and he has always produced more than 1250 yards from scrimmage in a season.  He achieved those numbers with a total of 1285 touches over his career; that is a whole lot of wear and tear on a body…
  6. JJ Watt:  Time and injuries have made it seem impossible for him to be the Hall of Fame level player he used to be.  He has missed significant fractions of seasons in 4 of the last 6 years and this year he is 33 years old.

Every once in a while during the NFL offseason, I find a couple of NFL team fan sites and check out what the rabid fanboys are projecting for their favorites.  As long as you don’t take them literally or seriously, it can be an interesting way to lose a half-hour of your life.  Teams that finished last in their division last year provide the fanboys on their fan sites with the fantasy of a “worst-to-first” resurgence for the local heroes come next year.

So, this year, I have added a feature here; I will try to identify which – if any – division cellar dwellers from last year have a chance at winning their division this year.  And because I am opining from Curmudgeon Central, I will also look to see if any of last year’s first place finishers might experience a “first to worst” catastrophe.

Here are last year’s last place finishers:

  • Jets: No way they win the AFC East
  • Broncos:  The offense will certainly be better with Russell Wilson in place of Drew Lock and the defense is very good.  The AFC West is awfully tough, but the Broncos have a glimmer of hope there.
  • Ravens:  If the Bengals suffer “Super Bowl Loser Syndrome”, the Ravens could easily be the AFC North champion.
  • Jaguars:  No way they win the AFC South
  • Giants:  No way they win the NFC East.
  • Lions:  I expect improvement here, but no way they win the NFC North.
  • Panthers:  No way they win the NFC South
  • Seahawks:  Even if they improve from last year – – which I doubt – – the NFC West is loaded with strong teams; no way they win the NFC West.

I think the Baltimore Ravens have the best chance in the AFC of having a “worst-to-first” revival season.

And for symmetry’s sake, here are last year’s division winners:

  • Bills:  They won 11 games last year; it would take a catastrophic set of circumstances for them to finish last in the AFC East.
  • Chiefs:  They won 12 games last year; however, the strength of the other three teams in the division makes the Chiefs vulnerable here simply because it might not take a significant decline to wind up in last place in the AFC West.
  • Bengals:  Super Bowl losing teams often “underperform” in the next season; still, I do not see the Bengals finishing last in the AFC North.
  • Titans:  To finish last in the AFC South, they would have to finish behind the Jaguars and the Texans, and I don’t see that happening.
  • Cowboys:  The only way they finish last in the NFC East is for Dak Prescott to go down for the season in Week 1 leaving the team to go through the season with Cooper Rush and Will Grier at QB.
  • Rams:  They may not make it back to the Super Bowl in 2022, but they will not finish last in the NFC West.
  • Packers:  To finish last in the NFC North, they would have to finish behind the Lions and the Bears; that is not happening.
  • Bucs:  They won 13 games last year; two teams in the division (Falcons and Panthers) are not very good; the Bucs may not equal last year’s record, but they are not finishing last in the NFC South.

I do not think it is likely that we will see a “first-to-worst” situation in the NFL this season but if forced to pick a favorite to do that, I would go with the Kansas City Chiefs.

            The preliminaries are out of the way.  There are opportunities for me to have already embarrassed myself with the comments/predictions above; however, the last phase of this piece really opens the door so that I can shame myself mightily.  I shall now embark on a mission to predict the exact record for all 32 NFL teams for the 2022 regular season thereby setting up the seeding process for the playoffs that will start in January 2023.

However, before I get to the numbers for 2022, I want to focus on 3 teams that I think are going to be less than mediocre because I do not think they have any plan on how to get better.  I am not just talking about teams that will lose a lot of games in 2022; I think the Jags will be out of the playoff chase by early October, but the Jags have a potential for improvement in upcoming seasons if they develop Trevor Lawrence and give him an offensive line that will protect him. Similarly, the Texans are going to lose plenty of times this year – – but at least they have a boatload of draft picks in their pocket for the next couple of years.  Here are the teams that seem to be poorly constructed AND are also adrift in that sea of sub-mediocrity:

  1. Bears:  They have a high draft pick installed at QB.  Good move.  Now, without peeking, name me two better than average players on the offensive unit that complement Justin Fields.  Given the history of decisions made by the owners and the GMs over the past several years, I do not think that a “tanking strategy” is a surefire way for the franchise to right itself.
  2. Falcons:  The flirtation with the Texans while trying to land Deshaun Watson did not work.  So, the team “pivoted” and traded Matt Ryan away so it could acquire Marcus Mariota to play QB until – – maybe – – Desmond Ridder shows that he may be able to do that in the NFL
  3. Panthers:  The owner in Carolina seems to me to be like a gardener who about twice a week pulls up his plants by the roots to see how those roots are growing before putting them back in the ground.  If indeed patience is a virtue, he may not be overly virtuous…

Let me start with the AFC West.  I think this will be toughest division in the NFL in 2022; I believe all four teams will finish over .500 and the combined record for the four teams will be 42-26.

  • Chargers:  I have the Chargers finishing 12-5 in the AFC West and winning the division.  The Chargers have an excellent young QB; they can run the ball and their defense should be improved.  Their head coach, Brandon Staley, is “unconventional” and sometimes takes gambles that turn out to be ill-advised.  He needs to stifle his creativity.  The Chargers’ defense got better in the offseason with the additions of OLB, Khalil Mack, and CB, JC Jackson.
  • Chiefs:  I have the Chiefs finishing 11-6 taking second place in the AFC West.  The Chiefs have won this division in each of the last six years; this year should break that string.  The loss of Tyreek Hill is going to affect how the Chiefs go about getting their “chunk plays” and it now remains to be seen how quickly Patrick Mahomes can elevate the performance of the rest of his WR corps.  One weakness on the Chiefs could be their defensive backfield; if you cannot stop the pass in this division, you are in trouble.  In case you had not noticed, the Chiefs also lost WRs Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle in free agency over the offseason.  One advantage the Chiefs have in the division is Andy Reid; his physical stature and his performances at pressers make him easy to poke fun at.  But the man can coach…
  • Broncos:  I have the Broncos finishing at 10-7 in the AFC West.  I think the Broncos are hard to scrutinize this year.  They should be stacked on defense and now they have a quality QB to run the offense; they have always been a tough out at home; that could make them the division winner here – – or they may suffer adjustment pains with their new QB and new coach.  I took a middle ground here, but the Broncos could win as many as 13 games or as few as 8.  Hi ho!  [Aside:  If history is a guide, the Broncos traded to acquire John Elway and won the Super Bowl twice and they also traded for Peyton Manning and won the Super Bowl again.  Now they just traded for Russell Wilson …]
  • Raiders:  I have the Raiders finishing at 9-8 in the AFC West meaning that all four teams will be above .500.  The Raiders have a new coach and a new system, but I think their defense is not up to the task of containing the potent offenses in the rest of the division.  Moreover, the Raiders lost Yannick Ngakoue during the offseason, and he was the team leader in QB sacks last year with 10.  In addition, the Raiders’ OL is suspect.  There are three or four other NFL divisions where the Raiders would be the favorites to take the crown – – but not here.

Moving on to the AFC North …  I think this is the third-best division in the league this year and that the division will post a combined 37-31 record for 2022.

  • Ravens:  I have the Ravens finishing at 11-6 and winning the AFC North.  Given the tsunami of injuries the Ravens endured in 2021, one has to assume the burden will be significantly lighter this season – – unless there is an incredibly angry football god somewhere up on Mount Lombardi.  Other than injuries, the only Achilles Heel I can see for the team is that Lamar Jackson needs to compartmentalize his contract negotiations with the team and just go out and play QB.
  • Bengals:  I have the Bengals finishing at 10-7 for second place in the AFC North.  Part of this prediction is a sense that the “Super Bowl Loser Syndrome” will kick in to some degree and part is based on some discomfort I have with their defensive backfield.  Not to worry, Bengals’ fanboys, the Bengals will still make the playoffs this year.  The OL was not a team strength last year but for the 2022 campaign, the Bengals added La’el Collins from the Cowboys and Ted Karras from the Pats to bolster that unit.
  • Steelers:  I have the Steelers finishing at 9-8 for third place in the AFC North.  Much of my optimism here is due to my conviction that Mike Tomlin will find ways to win games.  The Steelers are not going to blow people away with huge plays; they will win by grinding it out and making opponents deal with a “disruptive defense”.  Not only will this year’s Steelers have to deal with a new QB – – Mitch Trubisky in for the retired Ben Roethlisberger – – the Steelers also lost 3 competent WRs in the offseason, RayRay McCloud to the Niners, JuJu Smith-Schuster to the Chiefs and James Washington to the Cowboys.
  • Browns:  I have the Browns finishing at 7-10 in last place in the AFC North.  [Aside: I just realized that this is the 8th team I am “reviewing”, and it is the first one that I project to be under .500 for the season.]  Jacoby Brisset has shown himself to be a valuable  backup QB  with the emphasis on the word “backup”.  Now the Browns need him to start their first 11 games and I think that is going to be a problem that any late season rally will not be able to overcome.  Moreover, if Brisset has to miss any time, the Browns will need to trot Josh Dobbs onto the field.  In those first 11 games, the Browns will have to face the Steelers, Chargers, Pats, Ravens, Bengals Dolphins, Bills and Bucs – – with a backup QB.  Maybe losing Jarvis Landry in free agency will come back to haunt the Browns too.

Here we go into the AFC South … I think this will be the worst division in the NFL and the teams will combine for a miserable 28-40 record over the 2022 season.

  • Colts:  I have the Colts winding up with a 10-7 record which will give them the AFC South division title.  I know that Matt Ryan is 37 years old, but he is an upgrade over Carson Wentz at QB.  The Colts’ defense got upgrades too with signings of Stephon Gilmore and Yannick Ngakoue.  And, of course, Jonathon Taylor is still the featured RB…
  • Titans:  I have the Titans winding up with an 8-9 record putting them in second place in the AFC South.  I think the Titans will be weaker on offense this  year for two reasons.  First, they traded A.J., Brown away and I will not be surprised if Darrick Henry begins to look merely human at the RB position.  Henry missed 9 games last season, but in the 8 games he played, he had a total of 237 touches; round that off and it comes to 30 touches per game.  In 2020, Henry led the NFL in rushing attempts (303) and in 2021 he led the NFL in total touches (397).  Derrick Henry is a great running back and those stats represent a lot of wear and tear on his body.  Both of those statements can be true…
  • Jaguars:  I have the Jags winding up with a 6-11 record putting them in third place in the AFC South.  Clearly, the Urban Meyer experiment last year was a total failure; Joe Flabeetz would probably represent an improvement even if “good old Joe” did not arrive with a Super Bowl ring in his pocket.  The Jags have been a testament to futility in the NFL for a decade; they only won more than 6 games in a season once in that last decade.  Then they chose to hire Urban Meyer and it managed to get even worse.  The Jags drafted a “workout warrior” with their first pick in the NFL Draft this year; they need for their scouts to have made a great call on that decision; Travon Walker needs to be a defensive ace.
  • Texans:  I have the Texans winding up with a 4-13 record which will seat them firmly in last place in the AFC South.  They have a new coach in Lovie Smith who has been to a Super Bowl in his career – – and with Rex Grossman as his QB! – – but that was a LONG time ago and Smith spent most of his recent times at Illinois where things did not go well.  With Davis Mills at QB, the Texans will need a healthy supply of legerdemain to win more than 4 games.

Let me finish up the AFC by looking at the AFC East.  I think this will be the second-best division in the NFL with the teams posting a combined record of 38-30 over the course of the 2022 season.

  • Bills:  I have the Bills going 14-3 for the season giving them the NFC East title and giving them the best record in the AFC and awarding them the coveted BYE Week in the playoffs.  Josh Allen, Gabriel Davis and Stefon Diggs make for an exciting offense; adding Von Miller to an already stout defense can’t hurt.  The Bills should be “appointment viewing” this season.
  • Dolphins:  I have the Dolphins going 9-8 for the season putting them in a tie for second place in the AFC East.  Tua Tagovailoa has been heavily criticized during his time in Miami and this year he has weapons that can either put the criticisms aside or give throat to all those fans who want to say “I told you so.”  With Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle on the field, the defenses have to play deep just about every play.  That should open up short pass routes for Tua and that has been his forte so far in the NFL.   Also, the Dolphins’ running back situation improved with the acquisitions of Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert and Sony Michel.
  • Patriots:  I have the Pats going 9-8 for the season putting them in a tie for second place in the AFC East.  Believe it or not, my biggest concern with the Pats in 2022 is coaching.  I do not mean that I think Bill Belichick has lost it but the departure of Josh McDaniels along with some other assistants who joined him in Las Vegas and the rehiring of Joe Judge and Mike Patricia who both flamed out in head coaching positions gives me pause.
  • Jets:  I have the Jets going 6-11 for the season consigning them to last place in the AFC East.  That projection counts on a rapid return to the field for Zach Wilson AND that when he returns, he plays a more controlled brand of football than he showed in 2021.  If Wilson has to miss a lot of time for any reason, the Jets will not win the 6 games I have projected here.  The Jets’ backup QBs are Joe Flacco (Tweedle-Dee), Mike White (Tweedle-Dum) and Chris Streveler (Who’s he?).  Beyond the horizon of this season, the Jets desperately need to find out if Zach Wilson is indeed their franchise QB.  The Jets upgraded the OL and the TE  position in the offseason.  Now Wilson has to show that he is worthy of having a team built around him.

So, in the AFC, the playoff picture looks like this:

  • Bills get the BYE Week
  • Chargers are the #2 seed
  • Ravens are the #3 seed
  • Colts are the #4 seed
  • Chiefs are the #5 seed
  • Bengals are the #6 seed
  • Broncos are the #7 seed

It is now time to turn attention to the NFC.  Before I begin, let me say that there is a significant disparity in quality between the conferences this season.  Three of the four AFC divisions above were the top 3 divisions as measured by my projected combined record for the teams; in the NFC there is only one division that is above .500 in my projection.

Because it is natural for me to read from left to right and looking at a map the west coast teams are on the left, let me begin with the NFC West.  This is the only division in the NFC that I project to be over .500 for the season; the teams will finish with a combined record of 36-32.

  • Rams:  I have the Rams finishing at 11-6 for the 2022 season and that will put them in a tie for first place in the NFC West with the Niners.  The schedule maker has not created tension for resolving that tiebreaker because the two teams will have played each other twice by the time Halloween rolls around.  The Rams needed to replace Odell Beckham, Jr. so they did that with Allen Robinson.  The Rams saw an opportunity to add experience to an already excellent defense and did so with Bobby Wagner.  The big concern here is Matthew Stafford’s “elbow tendonitis”; if that is real and if that is going to degrade his passing abilities, the Rams will suffer a significant decrease at the QB position.  In case you did not know, John Wolford and Bryce Perkins back up Matthew Stafford…  Another concern is that the Rams’ OL might not be as good as it was last season.
  • Niners:  I have the Niners finishing at 11-6 for the 2022 season and that will put them in a tie for first place in the NFC West.  Both teams will make the playoffs; the division winner will host a first-round game and the other will go on the road.  Obviously, I am counting on Trey Lance being ready for his big moment as “The Guy” in SF.  He has enough weapons around him that he need not play at an All-Pro level for the Niners to be successful, but he cannot go out there and become a turnover machine.  The loss of RB, Raheem Mostert in free agency is not a good thing for the Niners.
  • Cardinals:  I have the Cards finishing at 9-8 for the 2022 season and that will put them in third place in the NFC West.  The suspension for DeAndre Hopkins could put the Cards in a hole early this year.  In the first 6 games, the Cards will face the Chiefs, Raiders, Rams and Eagles.  You can be sure that the infamous clause inserted in – and then removed from – Kyler Murray’s contract regarding required home study time will come up if he makes a blunderous error.  And I cannot bring myself to count on JJ Watt being available to the team and playing at a high level for anywhere near 17 games.  (See above).  The loss of Chandler Jones in free agency did not help the Cards’ defense either.
  • Seahawks:  I have the Seahawks finishing at 5-12 for the 2022 season and that will put them in fourth place in the NFC West.  The Seahawks entered training camp with an open competition at QB between Geno Smith and Drew Lock.  That is a riddle without a good answer; Geno Smith is going to be the starter in Seattle.  The pass catchers in Seattle are just fine; Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf and Noah Fant make up a solid trio – – assuming there is a QB who can get them the ball reliably.  If the Seahawks are going to overachieve this projection, they are going to need their “12th Man fans” to be as raucous as possible.

Moving on to the NFC North … I have this as a weak division where the teams will combine to produce a 31-37 record.  It is a division with two “haves” and two “have nots”.

  • Packers:  I have the Packers going 12-5 for the 2022 season putting them in first place in the NFC North.  Aaron Rodgers makes the Packers the best team here on his own even though he will not have Davante Adams to throw to this year.  Rodgers’ challenge will be to teach his young pass catchers how to become real players – – sort of the way he did with Adams in the past.  Moreover, the Packers’ have a better than average set of RBs led by Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon.
  • Vikings:  I have the Vikes going 10-7 for the 2022 season putting them solidly in second place in the NFC North.  The Vikes are another one of those teams that could easily do much better than this projection or they might finish below .500.  The new coach is Kevin O’Connell who was the offensive coordinator for the Rams; one of his charges is to elevate the offense in general and Kirk Cousins in particular.  Cousins has talent around him in WR John Jefferson and in RB Davin Cook and the defense looks solid.  Adding Za’Darius Smith to the Vikes’ linebacking corps serves a double purpose; it improves the Vikes’ defense, and it creates a hole in the rival Packers’ defense for them to fill.  Nonetheless, this prediction of the Vikes’ record is much closer to a guess than to something based on analytical thought.
  • Lions:  I have the Lions going 5-12 for the 2022 season putting them in third place in the NFC North.  This prediction represents an improvement for the Lions on two fronts.  First, I have them winning more games in 2022 than they won in 2021 and I have them finishing out of the NFC North Division cellar for the first time since 2017.  This is an important year for QB, Jared Goff.  He has pass-catching weapons with him in the huddle in the persons of DJ Chark, TJ Hockenson, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams; now his job is to get them the ball.  The Lions’ OL and their running game are above average, but the Lions’ defense is still suspicious despite getting Aiden Hutchinson high in the Draft last April.
  • Bears:  I have the Bears going 4-13 for the 2022 season putting them in the NFC North division basement.  As noted above, the Bears have spent draft capital to get what they believe is a franchise QB, but he has nothing around him, and he has a porous OL.  The Bear’s defense is not in such horrible shape – – but their best defender, Roquan Smith, wanted to be traded and is playing on a contract year that will likely take him elsewhere starting next year.

Charging ahead toward the NFC South …  I have this as a mediocre division where the four teams will combine to achieve a 33-35 record.

  • Buccaneers:  I have the Bucs finishing with a 12-5 record in 2022 putting them atop the NFC South.  I am well aware that Tom Brady is 45 years old, and that the Bucs’ OL has been devastated with injuries and defections over the past year.  I am also aware of all the speculation that Brady is having marital problems that might take his focus off football.  Notwithstanding all that, I think the Bucs are the best team in this division by a long shot – – unless Brady is injured, and they then turn to Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Griffin or Kyle Trask.
  • Saints:  I have the Saints finishing with a 9-8 record in 2022 putting them in second place in the NFC South.  Sean Payton will not be on the Saints’ sideline this year for the first time in a long time.  That puts a big question mark in the team given that new coach Dennis Allen is a “defensive guy” not an “offensive guy” and because Allen’s earlier stint as a head coach was for just over two seasons with the Raiders where his team’s record was 8-28-0.  And then, there is the enigma known as Jameis Winston who is perfectly capable of throwing 4 TDs and 4 INTs in the same game.  Quien sabe…?
  • Panthers:  I have the Panthers finishing with an 8-9 record in 2022 putting them in third place in the NFC South.  I am not trying to suggest that Baker Mayfield is a great QB but getting him from the Browns for a bargain basement price makes the Panthers a better team in 2022 than they were in 2021.  Now if Christian McCaffrey can stay healthy- – he has missed 23 games in the last two seasons – – and if the impatient owner there can resist creating unnecessary drama surrounding the team, the Panthers can move closer to the playoffs than in the recent past.  But those are two big “ifs”…
  • Falcons:  I have the Falcons finishing with a 4-13 record in 2022 putting them in fourth place in the NFC South.  The Falcons will go with Marcus Mariota at QB; when he has managed to stay healthy for an extended period of time, he has shown himself to be a slightly-below-average-QB.  When a team anoints a QB of that stature as “the guy” even before training camp begins, it does not portend much success for the season.  When a team looks like it will struggle on offense, it would be nice to be able to look at the defense and say that unit might carry the team to glory.  When I look at the Falcons’ defense, I do not see much “toting capability.”

The last NFL division awaiting prediction is the NFC East …  I think this will be a weak division where the teams have a combined record of 32-36 for the season.

  • Eagles:  I see the Eagles going 10-7 in 2022.  That will put them in the top spot in the NFC East.  The Eagles made a cameo appearance in the playoffs last year but were summarily dismissed by the Bucs.  In the offseason, they improved the offense getting AJ Brown and the defense in the draft and by signing Hassan Reddick.  The OL is excellent; the DL has the potential to be very good.  The question mark is Jalen Hurts.  He showed plenty of improvement as the season progressed last year but there is no way one might consider him a Top-15 QB in the league as this season begins.  But if he plays to that sort of level, the Eagles will be hosting a playoff game in January 2023.
  • Cowboys:  I see the Cowboys going 9-8 in 2022.  That will have them finish second in the NFC East.  Yes, the Cowboys have the best QB in the division in Dak Prescott and yes, he has a bona fide deep threat in Cee Dee Lamb but the OL is nowhere near what Cowboys’ OLs have been recently to the point that there are reports the Cowboys are trying to lure Adam Whitworth and/or Jason Peters out of retirement and both players are over 40 years old.  On defense the Cowboys have Micah Parsons who is extremely disruptive and Trevon Diggs who can serve as a shut-down corner.  What else …?
  • Commanders:  I see the Commanders going 7-10 in 2022.  That will have the Commanders in third place in the NFC East.  The team is hoping for a significant upgrade at the QB position in the person of Carson Wentz; he has the physical skills to be a fine QB but some of his decision making is beyond bizarre.  The Commanders’ projected starting RB, Brian Robinson, Jr., will miss time because he was shot twice when people tried to carjack him, and he resisted.  The DL will be missing Chase Young for at least 4 games, and it suffered the loss of two other players who saw plenty of field time.  The best things to happen to the team over the off season is that it was able to sign a contract extension with Terry McLaurin and drafting Jahan Dotson in April.  The worst thing to happen to the team over the offseason was losing perennial Pro Bowl G, Brandon Scherff, to free agency.
  • Giants:  I see the Giants going 6-11 in 2022.  That will have them existing in the cellar in the NFC East.  [Aside:  Note the symmetry here regarding the two NYC teams; I think both will finish 6-11.  Fun times in the Big Apple…]  This is a make-or-break year for Daniel Jones, and he has a new coach in Brian Daboll who is given some credit for “developing” Josh Allen in Buffalo.  He certainly will not turn Jones into Allen in a single season; so, Jones needs to show enough improvement for the team to keep him around for further tutelage.  It would also help if Saquon Barkley could avoid the injury bug in 2022; he has missed 18 games in the last two seasons and only carried the ball 181 times in those two seasons.  Drafting Kayvon Thibodeaux to pair with Dexter Lawrence in the defensive front seven was a good move.

So here is how my NFC playoff seeding looks.  The Packers and the Bucs play each other on September 25.  Since I have them finishing the season with the same 12-5 record, the winner of that game will be the #1 seed in the NFC Playoffs and the loser will be the #2 seed.  The final NFC seed will be decided by a tiebreaker among the Cardinals, Cowboys and Saints.  The Cardinals and Saints play each other on October 20; the Cowboys play neither of these teams.  So, the tiebreaker will be complicated, and I will wait until it is much closer to the time to worry about how it will be broken.

So here is my NFC Playoff bracket:

  • Packers/Bucs winner is the #1 seed and gets a Bye Week
  • Packers/Bucs loser is the #2 seed
  • Rams/Niners are the #3 seed
  • Eagles are the #4 seed
  • Niners/Rams are the #5 seed
  • Vikes are the #6 seed.
  • Cards/Cowboys/Saints tiebreaker is the #7 seed

Now before wrapping this monster up for the year, let me try to look and see who will get the overall #1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.  I have the Bears, Falcons and Texans all with  4-13 records and with them in different conferences, it might take the ninth level of tiebreaker to figure out who picks first and who picks third next year.  I went looking at the schedules to see if by any chance they all played one another; they do not.  But in my searching I came across three games on the Chicago Bears schedule that would appear to be “avert-your-eyes awful”.

  • On September 25th, the Bears host the Houston Texans.
  • On November 20th, the Bears visit the Atlanta Falcons
  • On November 27th, the Bears visit the NY Jets
  • Yowza!

Finally, I began this essay by ignoring the wisdom of a common adage.  So, let me close with another observation by Casey Stengel that I obviously also ignored here:

“Never make predictions, especially about the future.”

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

 

 

Football Friday 9/2/22

Football season is back; there is a full slate of college football games on tap for this weekend; in fact, about a dozen Division 1-A schools played last night.  The return of football has meaning here in Curmudgeon Central; the return of football season means the return of Football Friday.

For new readers who have hopped aboard this vehicle over the past year, let me set the stage:

  • From now until the Super Bowl, Friday rants will be about college and NFL football.  There will be at least one “Dark Friday” during the season because I already know of a travel commitment down the line that will preclude such a posting.  However, when I have the time and the access to my keyboard, Fridays will be devoted to football.
  • I will try each week to present a Six-Pack of picks either against the spread or using the Total Line for games.  I will also keep a running score for the season to show how decidedly bad my picking skills are.  I will also look to see if I can find a Money Line parlay or two each week and keep track of those imaginary wagers separately.

With those two items about schedule and content in mind, the individual rants will follow a formula:

  • First will be a review of the previous week’s imaginary Six-Pack wagers and Money Line parlays.
  • Then I will review the progress of the football season for the Division III Linfield College Wildcats.  I have no affiliation with the school whatsoever, but I have followed their football program for about the last 20 years since I learned that their last losing season in football was in 1956.  I know of no other school or franchise that can match 65 consecutive winning seasons in football.  [Aside: Linfield did not play any football in 2020 due to COVID.]
  • After that, there will be college football comments followed by a look at some of the games on the schedule for that weekend.  I will also keep track of the teams in contention for my Brothel Defense of the Year Award.  That award goes to the team that gives up the most points per game for the year; everyone scores on the Brothel Defense…
  • Starting in late October/early November I will begin to identify teams I want to place in an imaginary thing I call the SHOE Tournament.  SHOE is an acronym standing for Steaming Heap Of Excrement; what I want to do is identify the worst team of the year.  So, I pick my worst 8 teams and put them in an imaginary tournament where the winner goes home, and the loser must play on until there is an ultimate loser – – the SHOE Team.
  • Then there will be NFL commentary followed by comments on the games for the weekend.

So, let me get started for this first week by noting the obvious that there was no Six-Pack from last week to review nor did Linfield College play a game last weekend.  However, the Wildcats will open their season tomorrow with a cross-country journey to Montgomery, AL to take on the Huntingdon Hawks.  Last year, Huntingdon was 8-3 for the season and was the conference champion in the USA South Athletic Conference.  Last year, Linfield was 11-1 for the season losing only in the third round of the Division III national playoffs and the Wildcats won their Northwest Conference title for the 11th time in the last 12 seasons.  Go Wildcats!

College Football Comments:

Nick Saban got a new extended contract from the University of  Alabama.  It runs through the end of the 2030 football season and will pay Saban a total of $93.6M over that time period.  In case you are wondering, Saban will be 79 years old when this extension expires.  Someone looked at the terms of the contract and came up with this interesting comparison:

  • Nick Saban will make $29,315 per day in the first year of his contract.
  • Instate tuition plus room and board at Alabama for the 2022/23 academic year is only $26,326.

One  more Nick Saban note if I may.  More than a few times, a football coach who has failed in a position or maybe one who has been terminated in an embarrassing way has gone to Alabama as an assistant under Saban.  It seems as if time in Tuscaloosa with Saban is like the fountain at Lourdes because it seems to cleanse the unsuccessful or embarrassed assistant and puts him on a path to get a new gig.  I mention this because I read earlier this week that Jon Gruden wants to get back into the coaching game after being fired for sending “shameful emails”.

  • Memo to Jon Gruden:  You must have Coach Saban’s phone number somewhere.

Northwestern 31 Nebraska 28:  The Huskers’ offense looked good in the first half; the defense – – not so much.  Early in the third quarter, Nebraska led 28-17 and seemed to have the game in hand.  Then they call for an onside kick that Northwestern recovered and had a short field.  That led to a quick TD that put Northwestern back in the game.  At that point the Huskers’ offense vaporized and from that point on, here are the results of Nebraska offensive possessions:

  • Punt
  • Punt
  • INT
  • Punt
  • Punt
  • INT
  • Total net  yards on those 6 possessions = 85 yards

Meanwhile, the Huskers’ inability on defense to stop the run or to tackle efficiently came to the fore.  Northwestern – – probably not an offensive juggernaut – – wound up gaining 528 yards on offense.

I had Scott Frost on the coaching hot seat in my College Football Pre-season analysis about two weeks ago; He gets a breather on his schedule for the next two weeks with North Dakota and Georgia Southern on tap.  But on September 17, Nebraska plays Oklahoma and if the Sooners win that game in a blowout, Scott Frost may not make it until 1 October as the head coach in Lincoln.

Nebraska football has not been the same since Tom Osborne hung up the whistle.  Osborne was the coach in Lincoln from 1973 through 1997; his record over that stretch was a gaudy 255-49-3.  His teams won 3 national championships and won or shared 13 Conference titles.  Since his departure, Nebraska has had five head coaches – including Scott Frost – and none have satisfied the Husker fans because none have come close to Osborne’s level of success.  Indeed, the Huskers’ ran Bo Pelini out of town notwithstanding a record over 6.5 seasons of 67-27; that was just not good enough for fans to put up with Pelini’s “prickly personality”.

This is Scott Frost’s fifth season at Nebraska and at this moment his combined record is 15-30 and the best conference finish in those seasons has been tied for 5th place in the Big-10 West.  Sure, things might turn around in Lincoln this year – – but I am not betting on it.

  • [Aside:  You have surely read that there was a computer/Internet glitch at the stadium in Dublin for this game meaning people could not pay for things or get money from ATMs, so the catering company gave away free food and beer for a coup-le of hours.  #1 son and his wife were at the game; I texted them to be careful because “free beer” is not necessarily a good thing at a sporting event.  Their text in reply said that if fans had been deprived of food and beer for the game, that alone would have started a riot.  Fortunately, there was no violence at the game – – unless you count what happened to the Nebraska football team on the field.]

By the way, last  year Nebraska was a 7-point favorite over Illinois in the first game of the year and Nebraska lost outright by more than a TD.  This year, Nebraska closed as an 11.5-point favorite over Northwestern and lost outright again.  Just another negative indicator…

Vandy 63  Hawaii 10:  I know; it is only Week Zero in the college football season, but that score indicates to me that Hawaii is going to be very bad this season.  Yes, Vandy is an SEC team and Hawaii is an also-ran in the Mountain West Conference; yes, Vandy was supposed to win this game.  But no, Vandy was not supposed to romp and stomp its way to 63 points including 35 points in the third quarter alone.  How bad was this beating?

  • Vandy gained 404 yards on the ground
  • Vandy gained a total of 601  yards on offense.

To put that in perspective, I am confident that there will be at least three SEC games on Vandy’s schedule this  year where their total rushing yards over the three games will not equal 404 yards.

College Football Games This Week:

(Fri nite) Illinois at Indiana – 4.5 (48.5):  Two also-rans in the Big-10 get their seasons started.  Hi ho…

(Fri nite) Va Tech – 6.5 at Old Dominion (48):  Really?  I know the Hokies are “rebuilding” but only 6.5 points over Old Dominion?  Over the last 4 seasons in C-USA, Old Dominion has posted a combined record of 16-33; the Monarchs have jumped to the Sun Belt Conference for this season, and this is their first game.  And Va Tech is less than a touchdown favorite?

(Fri nite) Temple at Duke – 9.5 (50):  Both of these teams are going to be bad this year.  The winner of this contest will be the “less worse” team…

(Fri nite) TCU – 13.5 at Colorado (57):  The spread here opened the week at 7.5 points and has exploded to this level as the week wore on.  You can even find the spread at 14 points at one Internet sportsbook.

Utah – 2.5 at Florida (51):  Utah was the PAC-12 rep to the Rose Bowl last year; Florida was good but not great in the SEC last year.  This is an important recognition game for Utah; they are seeking to garner attention east of the Mississippi River with a good showing against a well-recognized SEC team in a difficult venue.  I won’t make a selection in this game – – but I will watch it.

BYU – 11 at USF (58.5):  BYU won 10 games last year and I read a report somewhere that said the entire defensive unit is back for this year.  USF has been miserable for the past 3 seasons posting a record of 7-26 over that span.  I like BYU to win and cover here; put this in this week’s abbreviated Six-Pack.

Notre Dame at Ohio St. – 17 (59):  Ohio State beat people last year by outscoring them with a potent offense; the Buckeyes’ defense was not nearly so good.  Has that been fixed over the offseason?  If not, that line is more than fat; it is obese.  I will not make a selection, but this is a game to watch to provide data for future games involving both teams.

Colorado St. at Michigan – 31 (62):  Jim Harbaugh and the schedulers in Ann Arbor should be ashamed…

UNC at Appalachian St. – 1.5 (57):  The spread opened with UNC as a 2.5-point favorite and has moved toward Appalachian St. steadily all week long.  I know it is a road game for the Tar Heels, but I am a bit surprised at this line and this line movement.

Army at Coastal Carolina – 2.5 (54.5):  Army will run the ball at least 80 % of the time; Coastal will run the ball more than half the time.  That makes for a running clock and less time for scoring drives.  Ergo, I like this game to stay UNDER 54.5; put this in this week’s abbreviated Six-Pack.

Tulsa – 6.5 at Wyoming (44.5):  The spread opened with Tulsa as a 1-point favorite, and it jumped quickly to 3.5 points and has continued to rise.  I have no idea why, but that sort of line movement makes the game interesting to observe.

Rice at USC – 32 (62):  This is another mismatch that should never have been scheduled.

Bowling Green at UCLA – 23.5 (57):  The Bruins are not exactly a powerhouse, but Bowling Green has not won more than 4 games in a season playing a MAC schedule since 2015.

Oregon at Georgia – 17 (53):  The Dawgs are the defending national champions but an awful lot of their superb defensive players from last year have moved on to the NFL.  Also, their defensive coordinator from last year, Dan Lanning, has moved on; Lanning is now the head coach at – – Oregon.  As the PAC-12 struggles for recognition and relevance, Oregon is one of its top-shelf programs; they must not be blown out here.

Utah St. at Alabama – 41.5 (62):  The only way this game is important is if Utah State wins outright.  As of this morning, you can get Utah St. on the Money Line at +25,000.  Good luck…

Cincy at Arkansas – 7 (53):  Cincy was last year’s Cinderella making it to the CFP with a 13-0 record until they ran into Alabama.  Last year Cincy punched over its head and beat Notre Dame in South Bend.  Arkansas is neither Notre Dame nor Alabama, but Cincy is not the same squad either; they lost plenty of starters in the NFL Draft.

Houston – 4 at UT – San Antonio (61.5):  I like Houston this year; I think they could win 11 games.  Give me Houston to win and cover here on the road; put this in this week’s abbreviated Six-Pack.

La-Monroe at Texas – 41 (66.5):  The spread opened at 37.5 points, and it has climbed all week to reach this level.  When the Longhorns win, you will hear lots of screeching that “Texas is back!”  When you  hear that remember that Texas lost its last 7 Big-12 games in a row last year including a 57-56 loss to Kansas.  I said KANSAS!  So, if beating up on a team that aspires someday to achieve mediocrity means “Texas is back!”, it may be a situation of diminished expectations for the Longhorn faithful.

(Mon nite) Clemson – 23.5 at Ga Tech (50.5):  The spread opened at 18 points and has risen steadily.  The oddsmakers obviously believe that Clemson is back after a down season; the betting public obviously is even more convinced on that point than are the oddsmakers.  It may be interesting to tune into this game for “future reference”.

Let me review this week’s abbreviated Six-Pack – – which should be called a Three-Pack:

  • Houston – 4 over UT-San Antonio
  • Army/Coastal Carolina UNDER 54.5
  • BYU – 11 over USF.

And here are two Money Line Parlays of interest:

  • BYU @ minus-400
  • Ohio State @ minus 750
  • Georgia @ minus 750
  • Va Tech @ minus 245        $100 wager wins $126.09

And …

  • Arkansas @ minus-250
  • San Diego St. @ minus-230
  • James Madison @ minus-215  $100 wager wins $194.30

Finally, I have resumed Football Friday because the calendar tells me to do so.  Let me close this first one of the season with some observations about “the calendar” from folks you know:

“The calendar and the clock are both set by football season and the offseason.”  [Tom Coughlin]

And …

“My wife’s jealousy is getting ridiculous.  The other day, she looked at my calendar and wanted to know who May was.”  [Rodney Dangerfield]

And …

“Football teams represent cities and colleges and schools.  The people have built great stadiums, and the game is culturally intertwined with our calendar.  We don’t go back to college for the college.  We go back for a football game, and,  yes, we even call that ‘homecoming’.”  [Frank Deford]

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

 

 

More Than You Wanted To Know About Practice Squads

The NFL teams have cut their rosters down to 53 players.  Simplistically, one might think all they have to do now is to get ready for the first game of the year starting a week from today.   Not quite so…  If you look at the agate section of the sports section today, you will find that teams are busy claiming players who were cut by Team A and signing them onto Team B thereby causing Team B to release some player who had been on their squad.  Or Team B might claim them and sign them onto Team B’s practice squad.  And so, I thought I would spend a bit of time today trying to explain what a practice squad is and what happens with the players assigned there.

The practice squad is what the name implies; it is a cadre of players who are attached to an NFL team more loosely than roster players.  Practice squad guys do indeed practice with the team and are often involved in simulating the team’s upcoming opponent.  And of course, practice squad players can be reassigned to the 53-man roster by a team in case of injuries and the benefit to the team is that the practice squad guy has lots of familiarity with the team’s system(s).

Prior to the COVID outbreak in 2020, the practice squad was limited to 10 players per team but that was expanded to 16 players for the 2020 season with the idea that COVID infections could force a team to quarantine a bunch of the roster without warning.  The league did not want to cancel any regular season games – – and did not have to – – and the expanded practice squad for 2020 was sort of an insurance policy against such an event.

The new CBA – completed prior to the 2020 season – called for an expansion of practice squads from 10 players to 12 players and then on to 14 players in the course of the new CBA.  However, after the 2020 season, the league presented the NFLPA with a modification to the CBA to keep the limit at 16 players and the union accepted that addendum.

To explain the details of practice squad limits and player salaries, I have to give you the definition of an “NFL accrued season”:

  • A player earns an accrued season when he is on the roster of a team at full-pay – – not practice squad pay – – for six games.

With that definition in mind, there are restrictions on the composition of any team’s practice squad.  Heaven forbid that a team could just sign 16 free agents to the squad and let it go from there; that would be far too simple and understandable.  So, here are team constraints on the 16-man practice squad:

  • Any player who does not have 1 accrued season is eligible to be placed on a practice squad.
  • If a player has only 1 accrued season AND he was on the active list for fewer than nine games in that accrued season, he is eligible for a practice squad.
  • A team’s practice squad may contain no more than 10 players who have earned more than 2 accrued seasons.
  • A team’s practice squad may contain no more than 6 players who have “no limitations to their number of earned accrued seasons.”

[Aside:  Why do I think these constraints were put together by lawyers and not coaches and players?]

            Now that you know all about what sorts of players are on practice squads, the question is, how are they paid.  As you might suspect, there are rules that govern that issue too.

  • Players with two or fewer accrued NFL seasons earn at least $11,500 per week, which equals $207,000 for a player on a practice squad for an entire regular season.
  • Players with two or more accrued seasons make a minimum of $15,400 per week amounting to $277,200 for a whole season.
  • If a practice squad player is promoted to the active roster, he earns the prorated minimum salary for a player with his years of experience.

The fundamental difference between a “roster player” and a “practice squad player” is the strength of the attachment between the player and the team.  Practice squad players are free agents; if Team A needs to sign a tight end because of injuries on Team A, and if Team B has a tight end on its practice squad who had been graded highly by Team A’s scouts, then Team A can sign that tight end to its active roster.  Note, the tampering rules associated with poaching players on the active roster do not apply.  And if a player is signed away from his current practice squad status to the active roster of another team, that players is guaranteed three game checks at the minimum salary for his number of accrued seasons.

As if all those procedural strings were not enough to turn management of a practice squad into an undertaking only slightly less challenging than 3-D chess, here are a couple more random rules:

  • Teams can elevate a player three times in the regular season.  After that, they must sign the player to the 53-man roster. This is a new wrinkle, in the past, a team could only elevate a player twice throughout the regular season or postseason.
  • Teams can protect up to four practice players each week from being signed by another team. There is no limit on how many times a player can be protected throughout the season.
  • A practice squad player signed by another team must be signed to the new team’s 53-man roster.   Practice squad to practice squad signings are forbidden.

So, as you read and hear about a player from Podunk State signing onto the practice squad for an NFL team, keep in mind that there are folks in the pro personnel department of that team who are concerned with following all these rules and regulations.  It is not just a handshake deal between player and team.

Switching to the other kind of football – – the one played in the English Premier League …  Last season was very successful for Bournemouth under the direction of manager, Scott Parker; the club had been relegated from the EPL to the Championship League in 2020, but last year Bournemouth finished second in the Championship to qualify for a return to the Premiership.

The team has played 5 games in this season winning 1 losing 3 and earning a tie in 1 game.  That is not a great record, but it does have the team just outside the relegation zone so early in the EPL season.  Nonetheless, the team fired Parker after the fourth game.  No, he was not caught up in something scandalous which was my first thought when I read about his firing.  The reason is that in that fourth game of the season, Bournemouth lost to Liverpool by the outrageous score of 9 to Nil.

Obviously, the team focus shifted from “What have you done for us lately?” to “What have you done to us this week?”

Finally, after yesterday’s rant mentioned the over-abundance of stats delivered by baseball broadcasters these days, I received this email from a former colleague who is a long-term reader and an LA Dodgers’ fan:

“Jack–

“Another type of stat I can do without:

“’When the count is 2-1 on Joe Flabeetz and the next pitch is a 92 MPH cutter on the outside part of the plate and the temperature is between 70 and 75 degrees, he puts the ball in play 8.5% of the time.’

“Jim”

Can we have an AMEN! for Brother Jim here…???

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

 

 

MLB Hits The Home Stretch…

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Aaron Judge being on pace to eclipse Roger Maris’ home run total in a single season.  Back then Judge was on pace to hit 64 home runs.  As of this morning Judge has hit 51 home runs putting him on a pace to hit 63 for the season.  It will be an interesting chase, but his “margin for error” has shrunk.

Since only two of the six MLB division races are even marginally in doubt, it probably behooves baseball fans to focus on some of the “individual dramas” that will unfold down the stretch to the 2022 season.  Aaron Judge’s chase of the Roger Maris standard is one of three that I think will be interesting.

  • Albert Pujols:  He has said he will retire at the end of the 2022 season; assuming that to be the case, he has 32 games left in his MLB career.   As of this morning, he has hit a total of 694 home runs, which puts him in 5th place on the all-time list.  A-Rod hit 696 home runs; Pujols has an excellent chance to pass him and be 4th on the all-time list.  Moreover, he has a shot at hitting 700 home runs for his career – – a mark reached only by Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron and Babe Ruth.  Thirty-two games and counting…
  • Paul Goldschmidt:  As of this morning, he is in an excellent position to win the National League Triple Crown.  The Triple Crown is a big deal; the last time anyone achieved that feat in the National League was in 1933 when Chuck Klein (Phillies) did it.  The last player to win the AL Triple Crown was Miguel Cabrera in 2012.  As of this morning, Goldschmidt is hitting  .333 putting him .007 ahead of Freddie Freeman.  Goldschmidt is  tied with Pete Alonso with 105 RBIs and Goldschmidt is second in the NL in home runs trailing Kyle Schwarber by 2 home runs.

There will be no nail biting while wondering who is going to win the NL West or the AL West.  But the efforts of Messrs. Judge, Pujols and Goldschmidt should provide events worth following in September.

The reason there will be no drama in the NL West is that the Dodgers have maintained a torrid pace for the 2022 season.  The Yankees started out 2022 on a roll and at times projected to be a 120-game winner for this year.  However, the Yankees hit a rough patch after the All-Star Game and now only project to win 98 games.  The Dodgers have had no such “slump”; right now, the Dodgers are on place to win 113 games and currently lead the second place Padres by 19.5 games.  Assuming that the Dodgers keep their foot on the gas pedal, they re on track to set a franchise record:

  • The Dodgers’ franchise record for wins in a single season going all the way back to 1884 is 106 wins.
  • Dodgers’ teams have hit that mark twice (in 2021 and in 2019) indicating that the Dodgers have been dominant in recent times.
  • At the current pace in 2022, the Dodgers could pass that mark with about two weeks left to go.

[Aside #1:  When we are all driving electric cars, will we still call that thing on the car floor the “gas pedal?]

[Aside #2:  The Dodgers might challenge the 2001 Mariners’ record of 116 wins in a season but would need to win more than three-quarters of their remaining games to do so.  Possible – – but not likely…]

And since I mentioned the San Diego Padres in passing above, let me insert here something from Gregg Drinnan’s blog, Keeping Score:

THE BEST LAID PLANS: When the San Diego Padres’ marketing team scheduled its 2022 promotions, it put a Fernando Tatis Jr. bobblehead game on the calendar for Sept. 7. But then Tatis Jr. tested positive for a PED and drew an 80-game suspension. That took care of the bobblehead promotion. So now that Sept. 7 come-on will involve a Juan Soto City Connect shirt. And that’s what you call a great job of stick-handling around a sticky situation.”

One more baseball thing for today…  Am I the only one who is fed up to my earbrows with irrelevant “advanced stats” from baseball broadcasts and telecasts?  This has really gotten a bit out of hand.  I do not care even a little bit about the velocity of the ball as it comes off the bat nor do I care about the launch angle of a batted ball.  I have a passing interest in the length of a home run that made it to the seats, but the exit velocity of a single to right field is stats for the sake of stats.  Here is what I want to know from broadcasters/telecasters about batted balls:

  1. Was it fair or foul?
  2. Was it a hit or an out?

That’s it; that’s the list!

Finally, let me close today with two small capsule movie descriptions that I found in The Illustrated Dictionary of Snark:

West Side Story:  The whitest gangs ever who break into song every time they’re supposed to fight.”

And …

High Noon:  Three men come into town to kill a sheriff with no facial expressions or any discernible acting ability.”

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