Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 11/8/15

Let me now sugar-coat this; last week’s Mythical Picks were horrible. The record for the week was 4-8-2 taking the season record below .500 to 59-63-5.

The “Best Pick” last week was taking the Raiders and getting points; the Raiders won the game against the Jets handily.

The “Worst Pick” last week was the Steelers/Bengals game. I took the Steelers and gave a point; they lost outright. I took the game OVER 48; it never came close to that. And to add insult to injury, the Steelers wore those damnable “bumblebee throwback uniforms”; watching that game was objectionable.

Obviously, no one should use any information here as the basis for making a wager on an NFL game if that wager involved real money or anything of real or personal value. Here is how dumb you would have to be to do that:

    You think someone who is outstanding in his field is an expert farmer.

General Comments:

The Indianapolis Colts continue on the track destined to arrive at Dysfunction Junction. After three playoff seasons in a row – and a place in the AFC Championship Game last year – there were rumblings before this season began that chuck Pagano was on the hot seat because he and the GM, Ryan Grigson, were at odds. There were also rumblings that owner Jim Irsay was involved in that imbroglio and that Irsay was siding with Grigson. Given that no games had been played at that point and that the Colts’ had dominated their division in recent times, that seemed more than a tad strange.

The on-field debacle that has been the Colts this year only added fuel to the fire. After losing on Monday night to the undefeated Panthers, the Colts proceeded to fire offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton. Blaming Hamilton for the ineptitude of the Colts’ OL and the Colts’ soft defense is sort of like blaming Mayor Bloomberg for the 9/11 attack on New York City. Yes, Hizzonner was in charge of the city when it happened, but somehow that does not attach any significant responsibility for the disaster to him.

As a sidebar to the Colts’ poor record, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported last week that Andrew Luck was playing after sitting out two games because he had a shoulder injury and some broken ribs. That is newsworthy because the Colts never reported any rib injuries and the NFL rules require them to do so. The league office has been mighty quiet about that.

    Imagine for just a millisecond if this report had been about the Patriots “hiding” an injury to Tom Brady. Had that been the case, Roger Goodell would be foaming at the mouth about now and there would be another Investigation Committee at work – probably under the guidance of Ted Wells.

The Colts enter the week tied for the lead in the miserable AFC South Division with a record of 3-5. To give you a perspective as to why I call is the “miserable AFC South Division” the Colts and co-leader Texans have exactly a 0.5 game lead on the Jags and a 1.5 game lead over the Titans. In a good division, the Jags would not be able to see the top of the division anytime in November.

The Rams beat the Niners last week 27-6. The Rams’ defense is really good and it held the Niners to 189 yards of total offense. At least some of the blame for that poor offensive showing has to go to the Niners themselves; after all, this is the 4th time this year (in 8 games) that the Niners have failed to put up 200 yards of total offense. Here is a stat from last week’s game to demonstrate how poorly the Niners played:

    The Niners had more penalties (13) than they had first downs (11).

Going into last week’s game, the Niners were last in the NFL in scoring (14.6 points per game) and last in total offense (295 yards per game). They did not match either stat last week and to shake things up, the Niners’ braintrust has chosen to bench Colin Kaepernick and start Blaine Gabbert. Yes, that is the same Blaine Gabbert who was declared excess baggage by the Jaguars. Before you ask, Gabbert and Kaepernick are the only 2 QBs on the Niners’ roster…

The Rams recorded a safety in last week’s game against the Niners but it was not the typical way that safeties happen – holding in the end zone or sacking the QB in the end zone. Here is how it happened according to the play chart:

    Niners had the ball at their own 3 yardline.
    Niners ran the ball into the middle 3 times.
    Each play lost a yard.
    Ergo, a safety…

By the way, neither the Rams nor the Niners were sharp on offense last week. The Niners were 3-17 on third down; that is awful. However, the Rams were worse; the Rams were 1-12 on third down. Todd Gurley continued to show well for the Rams; he carried the ball 20 times for 133 yards last week.

The Vikings beat the Bears last week and are second in the NFC North and have an eye on a playoff slot with a 5-2 record so far this year. One of those losses was to the sorry-assed Niners in Week 1; since then, the only loss has come at the hands of the undefeated Broncos. The Vikings are playing well. However, the Vikes’ upcoming schedule over the next 6 games is not exactly a tea party:

    Vs Rams
    At Raiders
    Vs Packers
    At Falcons
    Vs Seahawks
    At Cardinals

Oh, by the way, the Vikes also have another game against the Packers in Green Bay in the final week of the season after two softer games against the Bears and Giants. It would appear that 9 wins will give an NFC team a real shot at the playoffs this year; a split over the next 6 games and another win against the Bears would put the Vikes at 9 wins…

The Seahawks beat the Cowboys handing the Cowboys their 5th loss in a row since Tony Romo broke his collarbone. First Jerry Jones proclaimed that Brandon Weeden would play QB for the Cowboys and there would be no diminution in proficiency; then he went out and signed Matt Cassel to do the job. Things started out bleakly for the Cowboys and nothing has gotten brighter in the past few weeks. Last week Matt Cassel produced a total of 97 yards passing. At times, he looked as if he had never played QB before.

Dez Bryant was back on the field for the Cowboys and Richard Sherman took Bryant out of the game. Bryant caught 2 passes for 12 yards – – and one of those catches was for 15 yards so you can see that the other catch was less than productive. Some Cowboys’ fanboys have said that Bryant was far less than 100% for the game and he was only out there as a decoy. Really? Then explain to me the value of that “decoy” when the offense only got 97 yards passing.

The Cowboys’ defense kept them in the game; for the most part, the Seahawks offense was pretty meek for most of the game. At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Seahawks led 10-9; when the Cowboys got a field goal soon after the 4th quarter began, it seemed as if the Seahawks were going to lose another game where they led in the 4th quarter. However, the Seahawks’ offense came alive sufficiently to drive the ball 79 yards to get a field goal to take the lead at 13-12 with about a minute left to play. Here is the Dallas offense in the final minute of the game down one point and starting at their own 20 yardline:

    1. Long pass incomplete – but roughing the passer so first down at the 35.

    2. Strip-sack and fumble recovery – but reversed by replay official to incomplete pass.

    3. Short pass incomplete.

    4. Sack for 6-yard loss.

    5. False start for 5-yard loss.

    6. Long pass incomplete – turnover on downs.

The Texans beat the Titans 20-6 giving the Texans a 3-5 record for the year and equaling the Colts record in the AFC South. Zach Mettenberger played QB for the Titans and generated a total of 171 yards in the air. If you wondered why the Titans used the #2 pick in the draft to take another young QB when they had Mettenberger on the roster, here is the answer to your question.

The Texans are an enigma; they are not a good team but they are not a horrible team either. They get a week off now to prepare for a visit to Cincy a week from Monday night. It would appear they are over-matched for that game so put them at 3-6 after that game. Here is what follows:

    Vs Jets
    Vs Saints
    At Bills
    Vs Patriots
    At Colts
    At Titans
    Vs Jags

If the Texans can split those two home games against the Jets and Saints and win in Buffalo, that would give then 5 wins going into the final 3 weeks of the season where all their games are in the division. On the other hand, they could lose those first 4 games and go into their divisional games with a 3-10 record. Like I said, they are an enigma…

The Chargers lost to the Ravens on a last second field goal. With that result, both the Chargers and the Ravens are 2-6 for the season, both are in last place in their division and both are looking up at an undefeated 7-0 team atop their division. Neither team is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, however…

The Ravens have lost Steve Smith for the rest of the year to an Achilles tendon injury. They have a week off to regroup and they do have some winnable games ahead of them (Jags, Browns, Chiefs) and they get to play the Bengals in the final game of the season when the Bengals could well be in the mode of resting starters to get ready for the playoffs. Having said all of that, I think Justin Tucker may have experienced “irrational exuberance” [ /Alan Greenspan] with this comment after kicking the game-winning field goal:

“As soon as we’re done enjoying it, we’ve got to give ourselves the best opportunity to go 8-0 the last half of the season. I think we’ve got just the men for the job.”

Meanwhile, the Chargers are just a mess on offense, defense and special teams. Consider that after 8 games, here are the punt return stats for the Chargers:

    Keenan Allan – 3 returns for 5 yards
    Jacoby Jones – 5 returns for minus-4 yards

That’s it; that’s the list. In 8 games they have only had the opportunity to try to return 8 punts and the net return yardage is 1 yard. On, and the “better of the two” returners, Keenan Allen is on IR with a kidney injury.

The Steelers lost to the Bengals in the last minutes of the game last week and the Steelers lost RB, LeVeon Bell for the rest of the year. In the AFC North, the Steelers are 3.5 games behind the Bengals and are 2 full game ahead of both the Browns and the Ravens. It is going to take some seismic events there to keep the Bengals from winning the division. The Bengals won last week despite Andy Dalton throwing two INTs – one of them deep in the red zone. The Bengals’ cause was aided and abetted by the fact that Ben Roethlisberger threw 3 INTs in the second half of the game to assure that the Steelers never got a really comfortable lead in the game. The Steelers are still in playoff contention for a wild card slot with their 4-4 record because the only non-division leaders in the AFC with better records are the Raiders and the Jets (both at 4-3).

I mentioned Justin Tucker’s “irrational exuberance” above and it seems to be something that is going around in the AFC North. Steelers CB, Antwon Blake had this to say after last week’s loss:

“I can’t see why we can’t go undefeated the rest of the way out.”

Putting Justin Tucker’s statement in juxtaposition with Antwon Blake’s statement creates an interesting situation. On 27 December, the Ravens and the Steelers will play one another in Baltimore. For both players to be correct, that game would have to end in a tie. So if you put any credence in these projections, you need to find a sportsbook that has an advance line on the game and take the underdog plus the points.

The Patriots did not merely beat the Dolphins; they dominated them. Instead of bumping his players and stalking the sidelines like a caged cat, Dolphins’ coach Dan Campbell spent much of the time bent over with his hands on his knees staring at what was happening on the field in front of him. Greg Cote of the Miami Herald summed up the situation succinctly:

“Good seats at reduced rates are newly available on the Dan Campbell Bandwagon.”

The Cardinals turned the ball over 4 times last week and fell behind the Browns 20-7 in the first half. They rallied to win the game 34-20 so the question is this:

    Should they be praised for the comeback or kicked in the posterior for falling behind to the Browns?

The Browns ran the ball for a grand total of 39 yards in that game. So, obviously, that is the quarterback’s fault and the Browns will be starting Johnny Manziel this week against the Bengals. Look, I understand that the Browns do need to figure out if Manziel can play QB in the NFL so that they might then make a rational assessment as to whether he is worth the baggage he brings to the party. But anyone who thinks that the Browns lost last week’s game because of quarterback play when they could not run the ball even a whit does not understand the game. The leading rusher last week was QB Josh McCown (5 carries for 18 yards). The next best runner was Isaiah Crowell (10 carries for 14 yards). Really now…

The Falcons lost to the Bucs last week by a score of 23-20. The Falcons turned the ball over 4 times and that gave the Bucs 20 of their 23 points. After starting out the season with a bang at 5-0, the Falcons are disappearing like the Wicked Witch of the West in a thunderstorm.

The Lions went to London and lost badly to the Chiefs. The Lions had fired their offensive coordinator a week before this game putting Jim Bob Cooter in the position; other than having the announcers proclaim his lyrical name, he seemed to have exactly no effect on the game. Not to worry, though; the Lions’ defense was as toothless as the offense. The Lions just plain stink. The Chiefs forced 2 turnovers and sacked Matthew Stafford 6 times last week.

The Chiefs have won 2 in a row and are now 3-5 for the season but without Jamaal Charles, I think their prospects for a winning season are dim indeed.

During the week, Lions’ coach Jim Caldwell decried the “persistent negativity” of the Detroit media with respect to the Lions. I think he is being a bit thin-skinned here; Detroit is no different from other cities with bad teams. If he doubts that statement, he should take an hour to read what the San Francisco papers are saying about Jed York, Trent Baalke and Jim Tomsula.

Caldwell needs to realize that there is a special dimension to criticizing the Lions. It is called “History”. Consider these historical facts:

    Lions last won the NFL Championship in 1957.

    Since then, the Lions have had 35 losing seasons, 18 winning seasons and 4 break-even seasons.

    Since 2000, the Lions’ record is 81-167-0.

    No Lions’ coach since the merger has ever coached another NFL game after the Lions got rid of him. The last Lions’ head coach to get a job elsewhere was Buddy Parker who left in 1956 with 2 NFL Championships under his belt.

      Memo to Jim Caldwell: That kind of history tends to make people think negatively…

The Raiders beat the Jets last week 34-20 behind Derek Carr’s 4 TDs and 333 yards passing against a good Jets’ defense and RB, Latavius Murray’s 113 yards rushing. The Jets have lost 2 games in a row now and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has an injury to the thumb on his non-throwing hand; he will play this week but only time will tell if that injury will affect his play significantly. If he cannot go, the Jets will have to put Geno Smith on the field and that cannot be good news for Jets’ fans. Behind Smith is rookie Bryce Petty. For a team that has playoff aspirations and decent position at this point in the season, that is not an uplifting QB situation.

The Raiders limited Chris Ivory to 1.1 yards per carry last week; that clearly has to improve if the Jets are going to be serious playoff contenders. The other thing the Raiders did last week that the Jets have to correct is this:

    The Raiders gained 451 yards on offense. Until last week – including a game against the high-powered Patriots – the Jets’ defense had not allowed more than 353 yards in a game this year.

For Raiders’ fans here is a bit of news that can only be seen as positive:

    As of November 1, the Raiders had won more games in 2015 than they won in all of 2014.

What looked like the best game of the week between two undefeated teams turned out to be a dud. The Broncos’ defense simply smothered the Packer’s offense holding Aaron Rodgers to a mere 77 yards passing and 140 yards of total offense. Despite the fact that the NFL has spent the last 25 years goosing the rules to favor offensive football, the Broncos’ defense is a dominant unit as were defenses like the Rams, Vikes and Steelers in the 70s, the Bears in the 80s and the Ravens in the early aughts. Those guys are really good…!

Meanwhile, it would appear as if protestations that Peyton Manning was ready for the boneyard were just a tad premature. He threw for 340 yards last week and was accurate on passes well down the field. Maybe he needed the week’s rest from the Bye Week to get his arm rested – or some injury to heal. Whatever happened, he looked like he had turned the clock back about 2 years last week. Manning was not the only offensive weapon that was working for the Broncos last week; their total offensive output was 500 yards.

The most unusual and exciting game last week had to be the Saints/Giants encounter that ended 52-49. Here are some things that happened in that game:

    Drew Brees threw for 7 TDs and 511 yards. He is the only QB ever to have 2 games with 500 yards in his career.

    Eli Manning threw for 6 TDs. The combined 13 TD passes in a game is an NFL record.

    Giants’ defense gave up 614 yards.

    17 different receivers caught passes in the game.

The last 4 times that the Giants have played in New Orleans, they have given up a total of 194 points (48.5 points per game). Are Giants’ defenders allergic to Cajun cooking?

The Saints evened their record at 4-4 even though the Saints’ defense did not shower itself in glory in the game. With the Falcons losing to the Bucs last week, might that be an indication of a Falcons’ collapse that could put the Saints in a position to make the playoffs? Stay tuned…

The Games:

Here are the teams taking the week off:

    Arizona gets a week off while leading their division by 1.5 games.

    Baltimore gets a week off to regroup after a 2-6 start to the season.

    Detroit gets a week off; at least they won’t lose this week.

    Houston gets a week off and could lead the division if Indy loses.

    KC gets the week off feeling good after winning 2 in a row.

    Seattle gets the week off to ponder how good it is not to be SF.

(Thurs Nite): Cleveland at Cincy – 11 (45.5): Everything points to the Bengals here. They are 7-0 for the season; the Browns are 2-6. Andy Dalton has played well in all of the games save last week; the Browns will start Johnny Manziel who has more question marks than accomplishments relative to his NFL status. The Bengals are 44 yards per game better on offense and the Bengals are 37 yards per game better on defense. However, recall that these two teams played in Cincy on a Thursday night last year and the Browns won the game outright. If I thought that had a reasonable chance to happen, I would take the Browns on the Money Line at +500. Please note that I am not doing that… If you like trends, here are two for you; no matter which side you take here, one of these trends will reinforce your selection:

    Bengals are 15-4-2 against the spread in their last 21 home games.

    The underdog is 13-2-1 against the spread in the last 16 Bengals/Browns games.

I hate laying double digit spreads in NFL games but I cannot take the Browns here with Manziel at QB against that defense. With trepidation, I’ll take the Bengals and lay the points.

Oakland at Pittsburgh – 4.5 (47.5): The spread opened at 7 points and dropped like a rock to this number. It has been steady here for about a day so perhaps the drop is over. I think Ben Roethlisberger shook off some of the rust in last week’s game and will play much better this week against a Raiders’ defense that gives up almost 400 yards per game. I also think that the Raiders will be able to move the ball well on a Steelers’ defense that has been spotty. I like this game to go OVER.

Jax at Jets (no lines): If the Jags win here and the Colts lose, then the Jags and Texans will be tied for first in the AFC South and the Colts will be in third place. The Colts have a Bye Week next week; if they are in third place, I would not be surprised to see Chuck Pagano fired as the head coach. Maybe this is what is going on in Indy:

    Jim Irsay has gotten tired of seeing Danny Boy Snyder have a stranglehold on the trophy for “Dumbest Meddlesome NFL Owner of the Year” and has decided to do something about it.

St Louis at Minnesota – 2.5 (40): If this game is available in your viewing area, I think you ought to watch it. Adrian Peterson will run against a very good Rams’ defense. Meanwhile, Todd Gurley will run against a very good Vikes’ defense. Neither QB is above average; both are capable of big games and both are capable of stinking out the joint. The game is meaningful to both teams as they jockey for position in the NFC Wild Card race. The teams are very evenly matched and I expect a low scoring game so I’ll take the Rams plus the points.

Miami at Buffalo – 3 (44): Let me make this simple. I think the wrong team is favored here. I’ll take Miami plus the points because I expect them to win this game.

Tennessee at New Orleans – 7.5 (48): Here is another game with a simple bottom line. The Titans stink; the Saints are definitely improved on offense and the Saints’ defense will do much better against Zach Mettenberger/Marcus Mariotta than it did against Eli Manning last week. I like the Saints to win and cover at home.

Washington at New England – 15 (52): The Skins have had 2 weeks to bask in the glory of their comeback from a 24-0 deficit to win a game against the Bucs and to prepare to play the Patriots in Foxboro. In terms of the outcome of the game, you can find the Skins on the Money line anywhere between +850 and +950 as of this morning; oddsmakers do not think they are going to win – and neither do I. But I think that line is so fat that if it were a person it would leave footprints in granite rock. I’ll take the Skins plus the points here.

Green Bay – 2.5 at Carolina (46): Talk about motivational points for the two coaches here…

    Ron Rivera can tell the Panthers that they are undefeated and they are at home and the oddsmakers think they are going to lose. That is the essence of the “we-get-no-respect card”.

    Mike McCarthy can tell the Packers that the short line here means oddsmakers think the Panthers’ defense might do the same thing to the Packers that the Broncos’ defense did last week. Go prove that was an aberration… !

I think this game will stay UNDER and I’ll take the Panthers at home taking points.

Atlanta – 7 at SF (44.5): The spread for this game opened at 3 points and then came the announcement that Blaine Gabbert would be playing QB for the Niners this week. The spread went up almost immediately to this level giving you an idea that whatever disdain folks may have for Colin Kaepernick as an NFL QB, there is always room for deprovement. The Niners’ OL is porous and Blaine Gabbert is not mobile; I think this game might get ugly. I’ll take the Falcons and lay the points even on the road.

Giants – 2.5 at Tampa (48): The Bucs are 3-4; the Giants are 4-4. The Bucs are in last place in their division; the Giants are in first place in their division. Both teams are inconsistent from week to week except for one thing. The Giants’ pass rush has been a no-show all season long. I think there will be points-a-plenty in this game because Jameis Winston will have lots of time to do his thing and because Eli Manning will pick apart the Bucs secondary. I like this game to go OVER.

Denver – 5 at Indy (45): Peyton Manning returns to Indy… If the Broncos’ take the Colts to the woodshed, I think Chuck Pagano will be gone (see above). Any loss by the Colts will be their 4th in a row and the Broncos are indeed on a roll. I might be able to conjure up a scenario where the Colts’ defense puts forth a heroic effort here to save their beleaguered coach; it would indeed take some conjuring, but it could happen. What I cannot do is to imagine the Colts’ OL protecting Andrew Luck – or Matt Hasselbeck for that matter – from the Broncos’ pass rush. I think it will be feeding time at the zoo. I like the Broncos to win and cover here. Having made that pick, here are some “disturbing” trends I have ignored:

    Broncos are 0-8 against the spread in the last 8 games against the Colts

    Colts are 22-9-1 against the spread in their last 32 home games.

(Sun Nite) Philly – 2.5 at Dallas (44): The Eagles had a Bye Week last week while the Cowboys were stinking out the joint against the Seahawks. Even with the marginally productive year that Sam Bradford has had with the Eagles, he will be the better QB on the field no matter who gets under center for the Cowboys. It is unlikely that any wild card team will emerge from the NFC East so winning the division is the path to the playoffs for these teams. They both need the game. I think the Eagles are the better team; I’ll take them and lay the points.

(Mon Nite) Chicago at San Diego – 4 (49): You may have been wondering what happened to the Committee of One (Me!) that has the responsibility to identify the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Fear not; the Committee has not been disbanded; it just happens that the sure-fire worst game of the week happens to be the Monday Night Game. The teams are a combined 4-11; in quiet moments of reflection, the coaches on both teams know that their season is down the drain; it is a non-conference game. This game is a runaway winner for the Who Gives A Rat’s Ass Prize. Since my lack of enthusiasm is clear, I shall immediately turn this game over the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol and the coin says to take the Chargers and lay the points.

Finally, Scott Ostler had this observation in the SF Chronicle about “coachspeak”:

“Please, coaches, stop telling us after wins and losses, ‘We’ve got some things to clean up. We’ll go to work and fix ’em.’ Just once tell us, ‘Our problems can’t be fixed. We’re canceling all further practices.’ “

Wouldn’t that be refreshing…?

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend OF 11/1/15

Last week continued the vanilla flavor of Mythical Picks for this season. Last week, the Mythical picks record was 8-8-0 bringing the season record to 55-55-3. The Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip games did not do as well; last week the coin flip games were 1-2-0 dropping the season record to a sub-.500 record of 6-7-0.

The “Best Pick” of the week was picking the Raiders/Chargers OVER 47. The game went comfortably over.

The “Worst Pick of the week was the Colts/Saints game. I picked the game to go OVER 52 (It did not.) and I took the Colts – 4.5 (They lost the game outright.)

No one should use any information here as the basis for making a wager involving real money on an actual NFL game this weekend – or any other weekend for that matter. To do that, here is how stupid you would have to be:

    If your computer “freezes up”, you think the proper remedy is to put it in the microwave.

General Comments:

I will try to be brief this week; there is a lot on my plate at the moment…

Kudos to Dan Campbell for getting the Dolphins to play hard and to play well in the last two weeks. Clearly the team has responded to his gung-ho/tough-guy message as the coach. The cautionary note here is that the opponents for the dolphins in the last two weeks have been the Titans and the Texans who have a combined record of 3-10. Those are not elite NFL squads.

At one point in the game last week, the Texans trailed the Dolphins 41-0; I thought that had to be the nadir of the season for them. A friend said that he thought the Texans had been behind the Falcons by that much earlier this year and so I went and looked. My friend was wrong; the Texans trailed the Falcons 42-0 earlier this year. The Texans lost Arian Foster for the year with an Achilles tendon injury; at age 29, that might be career ending for Foster. I am not wishing that for him, but many RBs reach their “sell by date” at age 29 without an injury that significant.

The Colts lost to the Saints and the Indy fans booed Andrew Luck in the first half of the game. Luck had a bad game and he has not played well much of the year. However, Colts’ fans really need to think about that booing; Luck has had the team in the playoffs for 3 straight years and the Colts were in the AFC Championship Game last year. You may recall that game; it is the one that introduced the word “Deflategate” to the sports vocabulary.

The Colts’ problems reside in their OL and DL; those were team weaknesses last year. In the offseason, management did little or nothing to strengthen those weaknesses and that is not Andrew Luck’s fault nor the fault of the veteran “skill position players” the Colts did sign in free agency. Consider that the Colts defense gave up more than 10 yards per carry to Mark Ingram in the loss last week (14 carries 143 yards) and allowed the Saints to hold the ball for more than 38 minutes.

The Colts continue to lead the AFC South simply because the other teams there are beneath mediocre. With the weaknesses of the Colts on display for all teams to see and with Andrew Luck still coming back from a shoulder injury, it would not be a surprise to see the Colts at .500 for the year. And that ought to win the AFC South comfortably…

The Bills continue to underachieve. Not only did they lose to the Jags in London last week, they lost because their defense gave up a game winning drive in the final moments and that put the Jags over 30 points for the game. The Bills have a Bye Week this week and that should get them back to their #1 QB, Tyrod Taylor.

    That is sort of a frightening thought. Tyrod Taylor as your starting QB is considered a gift from the gods…

As is often the case, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle sees things differently than most other folks. Here is his question in the wake of the Bills Jags game in London:

“Checking out the massive logistics and cost of taking two NFL teams to London for a game, wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier to bring 70,000 London fans to America instead?”

In training camp, the Bills had Matt Cassel as part of their QB mix and then they cut him to go with EJ Manuel as the backup. Manuel has been “less than mediocre” in two starts but before Bills’ fans lament that personnel decision back in August, consider that Matt Cassel started for the Cowboys last week against the Giants and the Cowboys lost by a TD. Cassel threw 3 INTs in the second half and one was a Pick Six. In 2015, neither QB is anything more than a stop-gap.

The Giants beat the Cowboys but surely did not look dominant in doing so. The Giants lead the NFC East and – like the Colts in the AFC – they do not look nearly as competent/dominating as the other division leaders in the NFC.

The Jets played the Pats even for 3 quarters; in fact, they led 17-16 at the end of the 3rd quarter. No one seems to have caught this on videotape, but somehow Tom Brady found a phone booth between quarters and came out as Superman in the 4th quarter. Here is his stat line for the 4th quarter:

    14-17 for 150 yards and 2 TDs with 0 INTs

Those would be phenomenal stats for many QBs for a half game.

Oh, by the way, Brady led the pats in rushing for the game carrying 4 times for 15 yards. Clearly, the Pats determined that they would do little business trying to run on the Jets’ DL and so they did something else; they threw the ball all over the field.

The Jets are playing very well this year because they are running the ball well and they are playing sound defense. They give up only 17.5 points per game – second only to the Broncos who give up 17.0 points per game. They are getting sound if not stirring QB play from Ryan Fitzpatrick and capitalizing on the totality of their game to be in second place in the AFC East a game ahead of the Dolphins.

The Raiders demolished the Chargers 37-29. It was not nearly that close:

    Early in the 4th quarter, the score was 37-6. The Raiders put the game on cruise control at that point and the Chargers scored 3 meaningless TDs to make it appear as if the game might have been in doubt at some point in the second half. It was not.

    Amari Cooper is the real deal at WR. He caught a TD pass last week and for the season he has 33 catches and is averaging over 16 yards per catch.

The Chiefs beat the Steelers last week but did not look inspiring in doing so. They beat the Steelers’ #3 QB and in that game Landry Jones showed why he is the #3 QB. He lost a fumble and threw 2 INTs putting the Steelers 3 games behind the Bengals in the loss column in the AFC North. The Chiefs raised their record to 2-5.

In the AFC West, the Raiders look as they are the most likely team to pick up the pieces if the Broncos come apart at the seams down the line. Both the Chargers and the Chiefs have looked awful this year – and the Chiefs have lost their best offensive weapon for the rest of the season. I am not trying to say that the Raiders are a good team yet; they are improved over last year and they are young enough to expect improvement next year. However, if abject misfortune befalls the Broncos, I think the Raiders are the least worst of the other teams in the AFC west.

Speaking of good young WRs as I was above, Stefon Diggs may be the main man in Minnesota. He made a highlight reel TD catch against the Lions last week that NFL Films will probably use for the next 5 years. Yes, I know; it was against the Lions last week. Nevertheless, Diggs was impressive.

The Lions led by 2 scores early in the game and then seemed lost at sea for the rest of the game. The Lions are the only team in the NFL to have won only 1 game this year. Sadly for Lions’ fans – there are probably still a few of them around somewhere – they are playing as if they deserve that record and that opprobrium.

Here is the fundamental reason the Falcons beat the Titans 10-7 last week:

    The Titans were even more incompetent than the Falcons were.

In the NFC West, I think the Rams are for real because they have an elite defense and they have discovered that Todd Gurley is indeed a fine NFL caliber RB. Last week against the Browns, he carried 19 times for 128 yards and 2 TDs. Here is what the Rams’ defense did:

    Forced four fumbles
    Recovered all four of the forced fumbles
    Ran back one of the recovered forced fumbles for a TD
    Sacked the QB four times.

Josh McCown suffered a shoulder injury in the game after running into the stadium wall. It may not be such a burden for the Browns should they have to turn to Johnny Manziel to play QB. Josh McCown is 36 years old; Father Time has determined that he is not going to be the franchise QB for any team in the league. The Browns at some point probably want to find out if Manziel can play the position well enough to be the starter – or the long term backup. It may tell them if they need to go and find one QB or two QBs.

The Panthers beat the Eagles despite the fact that Cam Newton threw 3 INTs. Other than those 3 plays, Newton played a very good game and Jonathan Stewart fan for 100+ yards. The Eagles have a problem on offense – and it is not just their QB.

The Eagles cannot or will not – makes no difference which is the case – throw the ball downfield 20 yards or more. That allows the safeties to “play up” and that limits the yards after the catch by receivers in the short passing game.

I have said for the last year or so that the best QB on the Skins’ roster to play in Jay Gruden’s offensive system is Kirk Cousins. After the Bucs jumped out to a 24-0 lead last week, Cousins led the Skins back to win the game 31-30 including a game winning 80-yard drive in the final moments. He threw for 300+ yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs in the game; oh, and he ran for the Skins’ fourth TD.

The Bucs meanwhile played a miserable second half of football. Not only did they surrender a generous lead; they were called for 16 penalties in the game. I realize that Lovie Smith is a darling of the football media but consider:

    He is an anointed defensive genius and master of the “Tampa 2 defense”. The Skins torched that defense in their comeback.

    Stupid penalties are partially attributable to bad coaching.

The Bucs had the overall #1 pick in the draft last year and they are 2-4 this year.

The Games:

Here are the teams with Bye Weeks:

    Bills will take 2 weeks to contemplate how they can be as good as their coach proclaims them to be and yet be at the bottom of the AFC East.

    Eagles will take 2 weeks to figure out how to stretch the field just a bit so that defenses play them honestly.

    Jags will take 2 weeks to bask in the glory of being tied for second place in the AFC South; that is rarefied air for the Jags.

    Skins will take 2 weeks to analyze what they fed kirk Cousins for his pre-game meal last week so that they can duplicate it next time they play.

(Thurs Nite) Miami at New England – 8 (51): Not only is this a division game; this is a game in which the Dolphins will demonstrate if the “Dan Campbell Turnaround” is for real. Here is what I have seen from the Dolphins over the past two weeks:

    They are playing much harder.
    They are playing smarter.
    They are playing a more open offense.

Does that mean they will beat the Pats here? I doubt it, but they are more likely to do so tonight than they were to do so four weeks ago. If you like the Dolphins to win straight up, you can find them at +340 at several sportsbooks. I think this will be an offensive game on both sides and so I like the game to go OVER.

Detroit vs KC – 5 (46) [Game is in London]: The spread here opened at 3.5 points and expanded to this level quickly. The Committee of One (me) who selects the Dog-Breath Game of the Week thought long and hard about this one since the teams bring a combined 3-11 record to the coin toss. However, there is another game below to which that “honor” will fall. Neither team in this game is even marginally relevant for 2015. Matthew Stafford will be the superior QB on the field but to say that he can be erratic is to say that Jeffrey Dahmer was not a nice man. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game – to a large extent because I do not care enough about this game to waste any synapse firings over it – and the coin says to take the Lions plus the points.

Minnesota at Chicago “pick ‘em” (42): Look, in a “pick ‘em” game, my inclination is to go with the team that I consider to be the superior side. Therefore, I’ll take the Vikings to win the game.

Tampa at Atlanta – 7 (48.5): If I were only to consider this game off of last week’s performances, this would clearly be the Dog-Breath Game of the Week but the Falcons have shown better in previous weeks than they did last week. It will be interesting to see how the Bucs coaching staff gets their young team to forget the come-from-WAAY-ahead loss and to focus on this division rival. I think this is the week the Falcons shake off the fog they have been playing in for the past 2 weeks and come back to life. I’ll take the Falcons at home and lay the points. After making that pick, I ran across these two meaningless trends that seem to support the pick:

    In the last 29 meetings head-to-head, the favorite is 20-8-1 ATS.
    In the last 8 meetings head-to-head, the home team is 5-2-1 ATS

Giants at New Orleans – 3 (48.5): The Saints have won 2 games in a row over the Falcons and the Colts; the Giants come off an important win over the Cowboys in which they got a Pick Six and a kickoff return for a TD as they scored a grand total of 27 points. The Saints are not likely to offer up the same level of largesse here but by the same token, the Giants’ OL is not likely to allow the same level of pressure to Eli Manning that the Colts OL allowed the Saints to apply to Andrew Luck. More importantly, Mark Ingram will not be running for an average of 10 yards per carry against the Giants. I think the wrong team is favored here; I’ll take the Giants plus the points.

SF at St. Louis – 8 (39): In games I think will be low-scoring, I usually want to take the points – particularly if there are more than a TD’s worth of points on the table. However, I am loathe to do that here because the Rams’ defense just might hold the Niners to single digits in this game. The Rams’ defense should feast on Colin Kaepernick once they shut down the threat of Carlos Hyde running the ball. The Rams offense is not fearsome, but against the Niners’ defense, it should have a decent day. I like the Rams to win and cover here. Not counting defensive/special teams scores or scores coming from ridiculously short fields, I will not be surprised to see this game wind up 20-6.

Arizona – 4.5 at Cleveland (46.5): The Cardinals fly way to the east to play a non-conference opponent. That is not the stuff of adrenaline and emotion. Fortunately for the Cardinals, that non-conference opponent is the sorry-assed Browns. The Cards are 86 yards per game better on offense and 30 yards per game better on defense. That should translate to a Cardinals’ win but a 4.5-point spread often translates into a need to win by a TD. That scares me enough to opt to take the game to go OVER.

Cincy at Pittsburgh – 1 (48): This spread opened with the Bengals as a 3-point favorite; what we see here represents a 4-point swing in the spread and that is a lot. Ben Roethlisberger practiced this week and is “probable” for this game. After watching Landry Jones play last week and Michael Vick play the two weeks before that, I think Ben Roethlisberger playing on a crutch would be an upgrade at QB. The Bengals are playoff bound; they have 6 wins already and at least 4 easy games on the schedule after this one. The Steelers are sitting at 4-3 but they have all 3 of their losses in conference. That will not help in wild-card tiebreakers. I will assume that Roethlisberger will play here. I will take the Steelers and lay the point and I will take the game to go OVER.

San Diego at Baltimore – 3 (50): Here is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. The Ravens started the season looking at getting a bye week in the playoffs; they are now 1-6 overall and 0-2 at home. The Chargers were the “sexy pick” in the AFC West to dethrone the Broncos; they are now 2-5 overall and 0-3 on the road. I am turning the game over immediately to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol just to get out of the stench here. The coin says to take the Chargers plus the points.

Tennessee at Houston (no lines): If there were lines up for this game it would have been the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Now I – and you too – have a perfectly good reason to ignore it and pretend it does not exist…

Jets – 2.5 at Oakland (45): This is not the best game on the card by far but it is a game that ought to be interesting. The Raiders are not going to run away and hide with a 31-point lead over the Jets; their offense is improved to be sure but not that much improved. Both teams have running games that could exploit the opposing defense but the Jets’ pass defense is much better than the Raiders’ pass defense. That is a long way to travel for those Jets and they did have a hard-fought game in New England that went down to the final moments. Make this a venue call; I’ll take the Raiders plus the points.

Seattle – 6 at Dallas (41): With apologies to Rick Pitino from his days with the Celtics:

“Look, Tony Romo isn’t walking in through that door – – and if he does, he will still have his arm in a sling.”

The Cowboys’ defense will pressure Russell Wilson all day long but he will still make fewer mistakes than either Matt Cassel or Brandon Weeden or Jason Garrett should he put on a uniform and hit the field to play QB. Darren McFadden ran well last week but he does not have a history of stringing together excellent games. Both teams are in dire straits when it comes to their playoff aspirations this year. The Seahawks are 1-3 on the road this year; the Cowboys are 1-2 at home this year; that does not seem to be much of a venue advantage. Out comes the Curmudgeon Central Coin for the Coin Flip Protocol and the coin says to take the Seahawks and lay the points.

(Sun Nite) Green Bay – 3 at Denver (46): Here you have the Game of the Week; two undefeated teams took last week off to prep for this game; two outstanding QBs face off against each other. We have a dinner engagement on Sunday evening, but you may be certain that I will record this game and watch it in its entirety after our guests depart. At this moment, Aaron Rodgers is the better QB; at this moment the Denver defense is the better defensive unit. Rodgers and the Packers have not faced a defense nearly this good all year long; their toughest opposing defense was the Rams. At the same time, the Broncos have not faced an offense – and a QB – as potent as the Packers are; there toughest opposing offense was the Chiefs back with they had a healthy Jamaal Charles on the field. The Packers run the ball better than the Broncos by 1 yard per carry; however the Broncos run defense is better than the Packers run defense by 1.1 yards per carry. I like the Packers to win and cover on the road.

(Mon Nite) Indy at Carolina – 7 (47): If I am correct about the Packers winning on Sunday night, that will set up the Game of the Week next week when the Packers meet the Panthers because I think the Panthers are going to win this game handily. I like the Panthers at home to win and cover.

Finally, here is an NFL observation from Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“The NFL Network did a quick apology after accidentally showing nude Cincinnati players in the background of a locker room interview.

“But with a 6-0 record, the Bengals are having a tough time proving they’ve been exposed in any way this year.”

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 10/25/15

[I know it is only Wednesday and there is a daily rant already posted for today [scroll down to see it if you wish] but this is my annual Las Vegas weekend and all of the picks and postings have to be done by tomorrow afternoon. The NCAA flavor of Mythical picks will be posted here sometime tomorrow – not sure when since I have things to do this afternoon and we are having guests for dinner tonite.]

Last week was not a great week of mythical picking and it reduced the season-long totals to such a state of blandness that you might think Dean Blandino was making the picks. The record last week was 7-9-1; the cumulative record now stands at 47-47-3; the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games have gone 5-5-0.

The “Best Picks” were taking the Dolphins +2 points and watching them win in a walk over the Titans and taking the Saints +3.5 points and watching them win handily over the Falcons.

The “Worst Pick” was the pair of picks in the Broncos/Browns game. I took the Broncos – 4 (they won by only 3) and I took the game to stay UNDER 42.5. Cannot do much worse than that…

The picks for this week have been assembled much earlier than usual because this is the week I go to Las Vegas with friends. These are early lines and I would be surprised if many of them did not change significantly between now and kickoff.

Surely, no one will be tempted by any of the data above to think of anything that follows here as a realistic glimpse of the future. However, just in case … no one should use anything here as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game involving real money. If you are that stupid …

    You also think that the archives are where Noah kept the bees.

General Comments:

Where else might I possibly begin this week other than the Colts’ “fake punt play”? If you did not see it live on Sunday Night Football and you have not seen it replayed on ESPN or checked out the Internet to see it, you are one of three things:

    A rabid Colts’ fan who cannot bear to see your heroes do something so stupid

    A member of Chuck Pagano’s nuclear family

    A baseball fan who ought not to be wasting time reading all these words about the NFL.

I have long thought that the dumbest premeditated decision in the history of the NFL – or at least that portion of the history of the NFL that occurred during my sentient times – was the decision to hand the ball off in the situation that led to The Miracle at the Meadowlands. This decision resides up in that sort of rarefied air; in fact it may have been a diminished oxygen supply to the brain that made it happen.

Trailing by one score late in the 3rd quarter at your own 37 yardline with 4th and 3, this is clearly the time to punt the ball and play defense. It might be the time to line up in a goofy formation to try to draw the Patriots offsides knowing that if you take the delay of game penalty you will be punting from the 32 and not the 37. Big deal; the commitment here has to be to punt the damned ball. But the Colts did not and when the ball was snapped the guy under center had no more chance of making a play than Steven Seagal has of winning a Best Actor Oscar. Here is the note I wrote on my notepad at the end of that fiasco:

“Michigan had only the second worst punt play of the weekend. That was a physical error; this was just plain stupid.”

“Thought for a minute I was watching the Lions on the field with Wayne Fontes on the sidelines.”

There have been reports/rumors that Chuck Pagano’s job may be in jeopardy in Indy despite the fact that his teams always seem to go to the playoffs and have dominated the AFC South for much of the last decade or so. I have no inside information with regard to that but if the reports are accurate, there may be a rift between/among coach Pagano, GM Grigson and owner Irsay. Were I the owner and there were no rift between me and the coach up until last Sunday night, there might well be one there now…

Look Irsay owns the team and he can hire and fire whomever he wants to. I tend to think coach firings are more about owners’ egos than just about anything else, but he is the owner … However, were I the owner, I would be looking analytically at the team that has been assembled this year to wear the Colts’ uniforms. In most circumstances, that responsibility falls in the main to the GM and not the coach; in this circumstance, the GM would have a lot of ‘splainin to do. [/Ricky Ricardo]

    The Colts’ major asset is QB Andrew Luck. For a football team – like any enterprise – protection of one’s major asset is of primary importance.

    Some teams protect the QB by assembling an OL that is really good at opening holes for running backs such that the defense has to play the run and not get set to tee off on the QB.

    Other teams protect the QB by assembling an OL that is really good at pass blocking and picking up blitzes.

    The Colts have done neither; theirs is a mediocre-at-best OL.

    The most undervalued portion of a team’s defense is the DL. The Colts’ DL is also mediocre-at-best.

I understand that drafting players is a crap-shoot and draft picks sometimes make good and sometimes suck wind. No GM does that perfectly to be sure. But when GMs make trades and sign free agents, you would think that they are working in an area where the uncertainties are less than in the draft. So, let me highlight just 3 of the GMs decisions in that arena:

    He traded a first round pick to acquire Trent Richardson from the Browns. The operative phrase here is “from the Browns”; he was not good enough to be a cornerstone for the offense of the Browns.

    In 2013, he signed OG Gosder Cherilus to a 5-year contract theoretically worth $35M. As of 2015 Cherilus is gone and has signed on with the Bucs at $3.5M per year; meanwhile, the Colts are on the hook for a total of $8.7M of “dead money” against their salary cap for the next two seasons. Where did the GM find Cherilus? He had been on the OL for the Detroit Lions for the five years leading up to his free agency; he was not good enough to be a cornerstone of the OL for the Detroit Lions.

    Also in 2013, he signed S LaRon Landry to a 4-year contract theoretically worth $24M. As of 2015, Landry is gone and is serving a 10-game suspension for substance abuse policy violations. The Colts released him and are eating about $5M in dead money on their salary cap over the next two years. Where did the GM find Landry? He had been with the Skins and the Jets for 6 seasons meaning there was plenty of film available to show that he could not cover a corpse with a bed sheet.

I do not know if Chuck Pagano’s job is in jeopardy or if he will be fired. Truth be told, I really do not care all that much either. However, if the Colts’ GM stays on and gets a raise based on his performance over the past three years or so, I would have to suspect that he has come very incriminating pictures/videos in his possession…

As of this morning, the Colts are 3-0 against the AFC South and 0-3 against the rest of the NFL. Even if you extrapolate that record to its most wildly pessimistic end – the Colts only win 6 games for the whole season – it might be enough to win that division. If anyone were to beat them out, that team would have to win 7 games because the Colts would own all the tie-breakers. I am not so sure any other team in the AFC South can win that often.

Two other AFC South teams squared off last weekend; the Texans beat the Jags 31-20. The Jags are one of the AFC South teams that are not going to win 7 games this year; as of today they are averaging less than 20 points per game and giving up almost 30 points per game. Last week, their leading rusher was QB Blake Bortles with 37 yards. The Texans are now 2-4 and I guess they might win 7 games. I really like WR DeAndre Hopkins and I think he does not get nearly the acclaim he has earned because he plays in Houston for a mediocre offensive team. So far this year, he has caught 52 passes for 726 yards in 6 games. Not bad…

Going into last week’s game against the Dolphins, Ken Whisenhunt had led the Titans to a 3-17 record; now it is 3-18. The Dolphins waxed the Titans 38-10 last week making a lot of folks in South Florida a lot happier than they were two weeks ago. I am not ready to proclaim a new and rosy era for Miami football based on a single week of dominance; after all, those were the Titans out there in the opposing uniforms last weekend – a team that has won one out of seven games over the last season and a half… Oh, for the record, the Titans are the fourth team in the AFC South and they are not going to win 7 games this year either.

The Vikes beat the Chiefs 16-10 last week. I said in last week’s Mythical Picks that I thought this would be a boring game; it was pretty much like that. With Jamaal Charles on the shelf, the Chiefs ran for a grand total of 57 yards; with a defense focused on stopping Adrian Peterson, the Chiefs held him to 60 yards rushing on 26 carries. Neither team is exciting to watch; putting both on the field together showed that two individually unexciting teams can produce a completely unexciting game.

The Steelers beat the Cards 25-13. This is their second win with Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines with his knee injury; those two wins might be extremely important in December as playoff tie-breakers come into play. Landry Jones relieved Michael Vick in this game and played very well. I think the more important thing to note here is that Carson Palmer threw the ball for 421 yards in the game and that only produced 13 points. The Cards dominated the stat sheet but could not make that dominance into scores.

Speaking of dominating the stat sheet and losing the game, Philip Rivers threw the ball 65 times (completed 43 of them) for 503 yards with no INTs. Keenan Allen caught 14 passes for 159 yards in the game. Nonetheless, the Packers won by 7 points to remain undefeated; that is the most important stat to come out of this – or any – NFL game.

The Jets bet the Skins handily last week by 2 TDs. The focus of the moaning and groaning in the DC area has been Kirk Cousins throwing 2 INTs in the second half. While not trying to minimize how that makes winning more difficult consider some other factors:

    The Skins got 3 turnovers in the first half; the Jets had none in the half. With that advantage, the Skins only led at halftime by 3 points.

    As a team, the Skins ran the ball 17 times for 34 yards. Once the Jets got the lead, do you think the defensive coordinator there focused on stopping the passing attack or the running game?

    The Skins’ defense gave up 221 yards rushing (5.4 yards per carry) and 474 yards of total offense.

The Jets/Skins game had an unusual twist to it. There were no penalties assessed until 10 minutes were left to play in the 4th quarter. For the entire game there were only 4 assessed penalties – all of the 5-yard variety. That does not happen very often in 2015…

The Broncos beat the Browns by a field goal in OT to advance their record to 6-0. It was a “winning-ugly” situation. Peyton Manning threw 2 INTs – one of which was of the Pick six variety – and really looked like an ordinary QB for much of the game. Of all the undefeated teams, the Broncos look to be the worst of the lot; having said that, there are an awful lot of teams that would like to be the worst undefeated team in the league as of today…

The Lions beat the Bears by a field goal in OT giving the Lions their first win of the year. The game had another controversial call with regard to a ball caught/not caught in the end zone for a TD/not-a-TD; if you see a replay and can explain the call here as it might be consistent with previous calls of this nature, please give it a try because I cannot. Matthew Stafford returned to the field after his second-half benching last week to throw for 400+ yards and the Lions accumulated 546 yards of total offense. Was this an awakening by the Lions’ offense – – or was this just the Bears’ defense being the Bears’ defense? Consider:

    The Bears have allowed more points than any team in the NFL (179 in 6 games).

On Monday night, it looked after the first possession by the two teams that the Giants were going to win the game in a walk. Exactly the opposite happened; the Eagles came to life – particularly on defense – and the Giants started playing like zombies. The teams combined to fumble the ball 5 times (2 of them were lost) and to throw another 5 INTs. It was hardly a game where the adjective “artistic” might be applicable. Nonetheless, the Eagles now lead the NFC East by virtue of their head-to-head win over the Giants. That did not look likely just two weeks ago.

The Bengals stayed unbeaten by beating the Bills in Buffalo last week; the first snowflakes of the NFL season showed up on the screen as the teams were warming up. The Bills are now 3-3 for the season and all 3 of their losses have come at home. Andy Dalton picked the Bills apart surgically here with 3 TD passes and no INTs; most of the time he was unhurried. The Bills have a lot of high-paid players in the front-seven but they are not getting a lot of return for all that spending. Moreover, the needless and blockheaded penalties continue to pile up. At some point, you have to consider that the lack of production from the front-seven and the stupid penalties is a result of poor coaching by someone(s) on the staff.

Last week, Sammy Watkins went public with his complaint that he was not being targeted enough times. Basically he said that he was the best offensive option and they just needed to “get him the damned ball”. [/ Keyshawn Johnson] Late in the first half, QB, EJ Manuel, did just that; Watkins caught the ball in the end zone for a TD and was never touched on the play. He did wind up on crutches however with an ankle injury.

    Memo to Sammy Watkins: You are indeed the best offensive player on the Bills’ squad. However, availability trumps talent.

Let me offer up a dangerous game for those of you who think you need more excitement in your life:

    It is a drinking game. Watch a Bills game and every time there is a penalty flag against the Bills, you chug a beer. The last person to have to hit the head – to relieve pressure from the top of the alimentary canal or from the bladder – wins the game. Win or lose, be prepared for a humongous headache the next morning…

The Niners beat the Ravens 25-20 in my Dog-Breath Game of the Week last week. The Ravens are toast; I projected that they would win 11 games this year; to do that they need to win out from here and that will happen about two weeks after Urkel wins the Olympic Decathlon Gold Medal. The Ravens’ defense is simply a mess; they get only a modicum of pressure on the QB and the DBs need the kind of help that is illegal in the NFL – namely they need a couple of extra guys back there in the secondary so they would have 13 or 14 men on the field. Colin Kaepernick threw for 340 yards on that defense last week and that is the second highest total passing yards in a game for Kaepernick. By the way, the Ravens’ OL is not “getting it done” very well to establish a running game either. Now, Ravens’ fans will surely attack my thesis here by noting – correctly – that the Ravens have lost their 5 games by a total of 22 points and that the worst loss was by 6 points. I do not dispute those numbers; they are correct. What is equally correct is that the Ravens’ record is 1-5…

A team that had high aspirations for this season that similar to the Ravens finds itself on the brink of a disastrous season is the Seattle Seahawks who lost last week to the Panthers after leading by 6 points after 3 quarters. Yes, they blew a 4th quarter lead for the 4th time this season. In the final 10 minutes of the game, the Panthers drove 80 yards twice to put 2 TDs on the board and win the game. Giving up 160 yards in 10 minutes in the 4th quarter to lose a game is hardly a competent defense let alone a champion’s defense. I thought Kam Chancellor was supposed to prevent that sort of thing from ever happening again…

The Panthers are now 5-0. Going into the game last weekend, the Panthers had beaten a bunch of bad teams (Jags, Texans, Saints and Bucs). They showed in this game that they can play with teams that put a lot more talent on the field than those first four opponents. The Panthers and Falcons meet twice down the road; the outcome of those two games should determine the winner of the NFC South. Question:

    Will the “other team” in those matchups be a wild card team?

The Games:

Teams that will take the week off are:

    Bears: They will prepare to host the Vikes next week and will pretend that the rest of their season is relevant.

    Bengals: They are undefeated at 6-0 with a 2 game lead over the Steelers. However, next week, they need to go to Pittsburgh for an important game.

    Broncos: They are undefeated at 6-0 with a 3.5 game lead over the Raiders in a woeful division. Next week, the Packers come to town in a match of undefeated teams.

    Packers: They are undefeated at 6-0 with a 2.5 game lead over the Vikes. Next week they go to Denver to play the Broncos.

(Thurs Nite) Seattle – 6 at SF (42.5): The spread for this game opened at 4.5 points and has been climbing in the early part of the week. I suspect it could climb higher by game time. The good news for the Seahawks is that they finally found a way to get Jimmy Graham featured in their offense last week; he caught 8 passes. There are two bits of bad news for the Seahawks:

    1. Russell Wilson has been sacked 26 times in 6 games. That is the most of any QB in the league. For the record, that is not a good thing…

    2. Not only do the Seahawks have a bad habit of giving up 4th quarter leads, they have been outscored in the 4th quarter of their last 5 games 48-9.

Both teams are 2-4; the loser will be in last place in the NFC West. The Niners won last week and Colin Kaepernick played his best game of the season by far. Anquan Boldin had his second consecutive 100-yard receiving game last week; it seems he has been in the league for about 25 years now. Here is a disturbing trend:

    The Niners are 2-10 in their last 12 games against the spread on grass fields.

Why is that disturbing? Their home field is a grass field. I think the Seahawks are the significantly better team here so I’ll take them on the road to win and cover.

Buffalo – 6.5 vs. Jax (42) [Game is in London]: The spread here opened at 5 points and has climbed steadily to this level. You can see this game through streaming on Yahoo! Sonny Jurgensen is still alive; I wonder if he ever imagined the construction of that sentence when he was playing in the NFL. I found two meaningless and contradictory trends for the Bills to share with you here:

    Bills are 16-6 to go UNDER in their last 22 games overall.
    Bills are 15-7 to go OVER in their last 22 games in October.

Make of that what you will… The Jags’ offense is 15 yards per game better than the Bills’ offense; the Bills’ defense is 10 yards per game better than the Jags. The Bills have some significant injuries to starting QB, Tyrod Taylor and to their two best WRs, Sammy Watkins and Percy Harvin. DT Kyle Williams hurt his knee in last week’s game and is out for this one. LeSean McCoy played last week and looked as if he was over his leg injury; Taylor said he is going to play this week. The Jags have no set of injuries to key players that begins to compare to that list. I think that line is fat; I think the Jags have a legitimate shot to win the game straight up and the Money Line has the Jags at +220. For mythical purposes, I will take the Jags plus the points here. However, this is my Las Vegas weekend and should I find that Money Line steady at that level …

Cleveland at St. Louis – 5.5 (42): Todd Gurley has emerged as a threat to run the ball for the Rams in the last couple of games. The Rams had last week off to be sure to keep him involved in the offense because he is averaging 5.7 yards per carry. The Rams have to win with defense and running the football because their passing attack does not scare anyone. Josh McCown has had some good games for the Browns at QB this year but he is still a career journeyman. I think the Rams will hold the Browns offense in check and I will take the Rams win and cover at home.

Pittsburgh – 2 at KC (no Total Line): Many sportsbooks have not posted a spread on this game and I cannot find a Total Line even at the sportsbooks that have this spread up on the board. The reason is that no one knows who will play QB for the Steelers in the game. Landry Jones played well last week and is clearly the healthiest of the Steelers’ 3 QBs. Ben Roethlisberger will “give it a go” in practice this week; Michael Vick has a “small tear in his hamstring” according to USA Today. What we know for sure is that Jamaal Charles will not play for the Chiefs and that is not something the Chiefs’ offense can overcome. The Steelers are 2 games behind the idle Bengals and face the Bengals next week. They need a win here so that a home win over the Bengals next week puts them only a half-game out of first place in the AFC North. I’ll take the Steelers to win and cover on the road – – and hope they do not have to go to an “emergency QB” sometime during the game.

Houston at Miami – 4.5 (44.5): The spread opened at 5.5 points, dropped quickly to this level and has stayed here for the last day or so. The Dolphins played a strong game last week dominating the Titans. It is the last three words of that previous sentence that are most important, “dominating the Titans”. I do not want to make the Texans out to be some kind of super-team because they are not but they are better than the Titans. Here is the question:

    Was last week’s resurgence by the Dolphins a revival of their fortunes that will last or was it – as they call it on Wall Street – a dead-cat-bounce?

I shall turn the answer to that question over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip protocol and the coin says to take the Texans plus the points.

Jets at New England – 9.5 (48): Even though Todd Bowles is in his first year as a head coach, the Pats ought not to expect that he will gift them the game the way Chuck Pagano and his staff did last week. The Pats average 380 yards per game on offense; that is very good. The Jets allow an average of 269 yards on defense; that is very good. The biggest mismatch on the field is Ryan Fitzpatrick vis a vis Tom Brady. I do not expect the Jets’ defense to shut down Brady but they could easily keep him from throwing for 450 yards and 4 TDs. The question for me is how Fitzpatrick plays and how he controls the game. I think the line is fat; I’ll take the Jets plus the points.

Minnesota – 2.5 at Detroit (44.5): You can be sure that I will not be playing this game in Las Vegas this weekend and will likely be giving it only minimal attention as it progresses. Neither team is reliable; you never really know which version of the team – or either QB for that matter – will show up and play. Only because I said I would make a pick in every game will I turn this one over the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip. The coin says to take the Lions plus the points. Hey, if the coin says so…

Atlanta – 4 at Tennessee (48): I am surprised that there is a line on this game early in the week because there were questions about Marcus Mariotta’s availability for the game on Monday. Normally, that sort of thing postpones posting a line. The Falcons’ loss last Thursday to the Saints was an ugly loss and the Saints are not a good team. However, as noted above, the Titans are 3-18 during the tenure of head coach Ken Whisenhunt so there is no way to pretend that the Titans are any good either. I like the Falcons to regroup here and to win and cover on the road.

Tampa Bay at Washington – 3.5 (43.5): This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. More than likely, the team that makes the last mistake will lose the game and both QBs have shown that they are very error-prone. Between the two of them, they have thrown 15 INTs this year. Once again, this is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Bucs plus the points. Really…?

New Orleans at Indy – 4.5 (52): The Saints need to build on their win last week if they have any hope of relevance for their season past Thanksgiving. After last week’s soiling of the sheets, the Colts will likely get an earful of scorn from their home crowd if they do not play dominantly. Here is the key question for this game:

    Can the Saints’ defense repeat the positive performance it showed last week in beating the Falcons or was that a one-time aberration?

I do not think the Saints’ defense matured last week; I think they just got on a roll in the game. I like the Colts to win and cover here and I like this game to go OVER. I smell a shoot-out; both teams give up more than 400 yards per game on defense.

Oakland at San Diego – 4 (47): The spread opened the week at 5.5 points. Both teams are on a 2-game losing streak; the Raiders had last week off to prepare for this game. If these teams harbor thoughts of the Broncos coming back to Earth sometime later this year, they each need to win here to become the “team in the best position to pick up the pieces”. Both teams throw the ball better than they run the ball and neither pass defense is outstanding. I like this game to go OVER. Now if that spread were to drop all the way to 3 points…

Dallas at Giants – 3.5 (45): The spread here opened the week at 6 points and dropped to this level almost immediately. This is an important NFC East game; the Cowboys had a Bye Week to prepare; the Giants had a short week to prepare. Brandon Weeden goes to the bench and Matt Cassel takes over under center for the Cowboys. Cassel is not the second coming of John Elway by any means, but he should be a significant step up from Weeden. The Giants’ offense was AWOL last week. Was that because the Eagles’ defense smothered it or was it a mass drop in their collective biorhythms. Consider:

    In the first half against the Eagles, the Giants threw the ball to Odell Beckham, Jr 7 times and he caught all 7 passes.

    In the second half, they only threw it at him once.

    Was that a great defensive adjustment by the Eagles or a total brain-freeze by the Giants?

The Eagles’ DL harassed Eli Manning most of the night; will Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory be able to do the same this week? On the other hand, the Giants’ DL seems to think it is Lent and they have chosen to give up rushing the passer for Lent. I like this game to go OVER.

(Sun Nite) Philly at Carolina – 3 (46): The Eagles need this game to stay atop the NFC East; the Panthers are only a half-game ahead of the Falcons in the NFC South. Both teams will know how their rivals fared in earlier games as they take the field here. Consider these comparisons:

    Carolina is 5-0 with a point differential of +41.
    Philly is 3-3 with a point differential of +34.
    Both teams score in the mid-20s on average.
    Both teams allow less than 20 on average.

This might be the best game of the week. I’ll take the Eagles plus the points here.

(Mon Nite) Baltimore at Arizona – 7.5 (48): I think this game comes down to a single factor. The Ravens’ pass defense is a mess; they do not pressure the QB nearly well enough to cover for the mediocrity that exists in their injury-depleted secondary. At the same time Carson Palmer and his corps of pass-catchers average 8.7 yards per pass attempt. The Ravens are 1-5 for a reason and I think that reason will be on display front and center next Monday night. I like the Cardinals to win and cover here and I like the game to go OVER.

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 10/18/15

Well, last week’s Mythical Picks were more than just a little bad; they stunk. The record for last week was 5-9-1 bringing the cumulative record for the year to 40-38-2. Even the coin used for Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games had a bad week. The coin went 0-2-0 taking that record down to 4-5-0 for the season.

The “Best Pick” from last week was taking Philly and giving 4.5 points to New Orleans and seeing the Eagles win by 3 TDs.

The “Worst Pick” from last week – other than my choice to make Mythical Picks in the first place – was taking Washington/Atlanta to go OVER 47.5 and seeing the game go to OT with no prayer of that happening.

I shall, however press on… As I do that, I must remind everyone that nothing herein should be taken as information of value should you be contemplating a real wager on a real NFL game this weekend involving real money. These are Mythical Picks and nothing more. Here is how stupid you would have to be to rely on information here as the basis for a real wager:

    You might hurt yourself watching the move, The Exorcist, because you might mistake it for a workout video.

General Comments:

Something very unusual happened in the Cowboys/Patriots game last week; if you recorded the game on your DVR, go back and watch for this in the first half. There were two consecutive punts in the game on which there were no flags thrown. Two in a row… If you subscribe to the theory that one element of “news” is the reporting on things that are out of the ordinary, that pair of plays ought to be part of the headline for the gamers written about that contest.

Speaking obliquely of the Cowboys, does anyone besides me recall all of the Jerry Jones bluster and bravado 3 weeks ago when he lavished praise and confidence on Brandon Weeden right after he learned that Tony Romo had a broken clavicle and would be out for 2 months or so. He said basically that Weeden was an outstanding QB with one of the best arms in the NFL and that the Cowboys would not miss a beat with Weeden at the controls. I wish someone at ESPN had the cajones to sit Jerry Jones down and play that tape back to him. Here is reality:

    The Cowboys are 0-3 with Weeden as the starting QB. Weeden himself has lost 11 straight NFL games as a starter.

    The play-callers for the Cowboys cannot have much faith in his very strong arm because they rarely if ever call a play that calls for him to throw the ball more than 10 yards downfield.

    Weeden led the Cowboys to a loss against the Saints where the Cowboys scored 20 points in an OT game. That is the lowest number of points allowed by a miserable Saints’ defense so far this year.

Last week, the Cowboys never found the end zone against the Patriots. That was not a fluke; the Cowboys’ offense was inept. At one point in the first half, the Cowboys had four consecutive 3-and-out possessions… This week, the Cowboys have a Bye Week and the announcement has already come that they will be going to Matt Cassel as the starter next week when they return to action.

A year ago, the Pats struggled in their first several games and some folks began to express the opinion that Tom Brady was over the hill and that perhaps the Pats ought to think about a demotion for him. All Brady did then was to lead the Pats to a Super Bowl win – aided and augmented to be sure by Pete Carroll’s boneheaded play-calling near the goal line in the final 2 minutes of that game. This year, the “nominally washed-up” Brady is doing this:

    Completing 72.5% of his throws
    Passing for 374 yards per game
    Scoring 37.25 points per game.

Every QB in the league would wish to have those stats when they are considered “washed-up”…

And that story brings me to comment on a question posed to Broncos’ coach Gary Kubiak in a news conference earlier this week. Peyton Manning is not having a year that anyone has come to expect from him based on past performances; he has not looked good while he has been underperforming expectations. Nonetheless, someone asked Coach Kubiak if he had thought of benching Peyton Manning in favor of Brock Osweiler. Even ignoring the data presented just above, just let the thought process that produced that question wash over your existence. Kubiak had the perfect answer; he said:


I am not suggesting that Peyton Manning will get to a point where he starts putting up stats like the ones we came to expect from him 5 years ago; I think he is indeed on the downside of his career. Nonetheless, he is on the downside from a peak that is well beyond what is reasonable to expect from a QB whose only meaningful action has been in exhibition games or in mop-up situations.

Last week, the Broncos beat the Raiders 16-10 despite scoring no offensive TDs; a Pick Six late in the game set them up for the win. In that same game, the Raiders’ kicker, Sebastian Janikowski, had a field goal blocked and also missed what for him is basically a chip shot (40 yards). I hope no one would look at that poor game and begin to suggest that Janikowski is washed-up…

If you want to believe in conspiracy theories, think about the cabal that must be going on in NFL Headquarters to humiliate and frustrate the pro football fans in the State of Florida. There are three teams in the state – no state has more than that – and all three of those teams are bad. Moreover, the Bucs and the Jags have been bad for an extended period of time; the Dolphins on the other hand have been bland and mediocre for an extended period of time which is almost as bad because apathy is almost as bad as depression for the fanbase. Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel composed a short song on this topic to be sung to the tune of Three Blind Mice:

Three bad teams; three bad teams;
See how they lose; see how they lose;
They fire their coaches; they miss their kicks;
Jameis Winston just threw four picks.
They’re a football version of the New York Knicks;
Three bad teams…

The Dolphins did not have the opportunity to soil themselves last week because they had a Bye Week and were busy doing the old Oklahoma drill for their new interim-coach Dan Campbell. Moreover, one of the other of the “Three bad teams” had to win last week because the Jags and Bucs played each other. The Bucs won the game 38-31 despite the fact that Jags’ QB, Blake Bortles, threw 4 TD passes in the game. If the Jags are going to lose games where Bortles performs like that, they may be consigning themselves to a record in the vicinity of 2-14. By the way, this was Lovie Smith’s first home win since taking over the Bucs last year; as of now, his home record stands at 1-10.

It is Quick Quiz time… Which team has been the most disappointing this year based on what they did last year?

    A. The Ravens
    B. The Lions
    C. The Seahawks

Last year, the Seahawks were about one yard away from winning a second consecutive Super Bowl game. This year they start off 2-3 and they have lost 4th quarter leads in all three losses. Last week, they sacked Andy Dalton 4 times (he had only been sacked twice in the first four games) and created a defensive TD. However, in the 4th quarter, with the Seahawks leading by 14 points, the Bengals rolled over the Seahawks as if they were a middling college team. In addition, the Seattle offense went dormant at the end of the game too. On the Seahawks last 6 possessions of the game, they were forced to punt. The Seahawks have been disappointing but they are not the worst offenders on my list…

    [Aside: In their last 20 home games, the Bengals are 17-2-1 straight up.]

Last year, the Ravens were 10-6 and a wild card team in the AFC Playoffs; they advanced in the playoffs beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh and then losing to the Patriots by 4 points. This year, they start off 1-4 losing their first two home games; what is even worse is that in all 4 losses this year, the Ravens have led in the 4th quarter. Last week, they allowed a team they have dominated for a long time – the Browns – to come into Baltimore and take an OT win home. The Ravens’ defense gave up 457 passing yards to Josh McCown. John Harbaugh had been 13-1 against the Browns going into that game. The Ravens have been more disappointing than the Seahawks, but they are still not at the top/bottom of my list…

Last year, the Lions were 11-5 and were the first wild-card team in the NFC Playoffs; they lost to the Cowboys by 4 points in the opening round. This year, the Lions start out 0-5 – they are the only winless team in the NFL by the way – and they found it reasonable to bench Matthew Stafford last weekend in favor of Dan Orlovsky. Seriously, they did that… The Lions’ average margin of losing this year is 11 points; since Week 1, they have not scored more than 17 points in any game. On defense last week, Carson Palmer torched the Lions’ defense going 11-14 for 161 yards and 3 TDs. Meanwhile, on the ground the Lions’ defense allowed 187 yards on only 25 carries. This level of noisomeness is a team-wide phenomenon; they stink in all phases of the game. It is too early to contemplate the Lions equaling their 0-16 showing from 2008 but if they start to look as if they are just going through the motions, they do not necessarily have the reserves of confidence to change that vector heading. To this point in 2015, the Lions are the most disappointing team in the league.

The Detroit News reported that only about 1000 fans stayed in the stadium to see the end of last week’s 42-17 shellacking at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals. WR, Golden Tate moaned about that and the lack of energy in the stadium saying that the fans in Detroit had turned their backs on the team.

    Memo to Golden Tate:

    This team has been awful for an awfully long time.

    In 2015, the Lions as a football team owe the fans a lot more than the fans owe the Lions. Hashtag – reality…

The last 5 times the Titans and Bills played each other, the Titans came away with the win. They led last week 10-0 in the third quarter – and then snatched defeat from the jaws of victory losing 14-13. The Bills had a measly 209 yards of offense against a mediocre defense and still managed to win the game. That stat tells you something about the Titans along with the fact that this is the second game in a row where the Titans have been at home and led by double digits in the second half and lost straight up. Not good…

No Rex Ryan team has ever been confused with one that is disciplined and business-like and methodical. However, they may have outdone themselves last week. On the opening kickoff of the game, the Bills recovered a fumble inside the Titans’ 10-yardline – – except – – the Bills were flagged for being offside on the kickoff and got to kick off one more time.

The Colts started and played Matt Hasselbeck at QB for the entire game and beat the Texans 27-20. Is it time to revise the thinking that the Texans have a dominant defense that can carry the team to contention despite a lack of quality at QB and WR? I know they have JJ Watt on defense and he is indeed an excellent player, but the rest of the unit seems awfully ordinary to me. Oh and for the record, Jadeveon Clowney still has not recorded a sack in the NFL. Last week against the Colts he was more AWOL than anything else.

With the Skins losing in OT to the Falcons in Atlanta last week, the Skins now have a record of 1-16 in their last 17 road games. In the game, the Falcons missed 2 field goal tries and the Skins missed 1. Late in the game when the Skins lined up to attempt a game-tying field goal to send the game to OT, play-by-play announcer Chris Myers said:

“It’s been hit or miss for kickers today.”

    Memo for Chris Myers: It is pretty much hit or miss for kickers every day and on every kick…

Coming into the game, the Skins led the NFL in rushing yards and the Falcons’ defensive unit was not near the best in the league stopping the run. So, when the Skins gained a total of 55 yards rushing, one has to wonder how that happened. The Falcons did not “load the box”; they just beat blocks and hustled to the ball all day long. Speaking of running the football, Falcons’ RB, Devonta Freeman is really good; the Falcons gained 176 yards rushing in the game.

The Bears beat the Chiefs 18-17 with another 4th quarter comeback for 2 TDs led by Jay Cutler. The Bears are not going anywhere this year but the Chiefs’ season is done and cooked. Even with Jamaal Charles healthy and involved, the Chiefs offense was merely adequate; Charles’ knee injury puts him out for the year and the Chiefs down for the count. To date the Chiefs have played a murderous schedule losing to the Broncos, Packers and Bengals prior to last week’s loss. There is a common factor here:

    The Broncos, Packers and Bengals are all undefeated teams.

This would be the part of the schedule where one might have expected the Chiefs to “get going”. Not now…

The Packers beat the Rams; that is not shocking news. What is “shocking” is that Aaron Rodgers threw not one but two INTs in a game at Lambeau Field. The last time he threw an INT at home was a little more than 3 years ago. The Packers’ defense played well here grabbing 4 INTs (one was a Pick Six) and sacking Nick Foles 3 times. The Rams defense held the Packers running game to a meager 44 yards in the game. Meanwhile Rams’ rookie RB, Todd Gurley ran the ball 30 times for 159 yards.

The Giants got a late TD to beat the Niners 30-27 and no one can blame this defeat on Colin Kaepernick. The Niners’ defense was a no-show here allowing the Giants to amass 525 yards of total offense for the day. Eli Manning was 41-54 for 441 yards and 3 TDs. Earlier in the week before the game, a reporter asked Jim Tomsula the same question put to Gary Kubiak in Denver; had he thought of benching Colin Kaepernick. Coach Tomsula showed great restraint in not laughing out loud or addressing the questioner as “You asshat…” Look at the depth chart in SF and you will see that the backup for Colin Kaepernick is Blaine Gabbert. Ladies and gentlemen, that is ALL you need to know.

The Eagles’ offense came to life last week – – or perhaps it marched up and down the field efficiently and effectively because it was the Saints out there trying to play defense. Watching most of the replay of the game, it was not clear to me what the more important factor here was. The Eagles scored 39 points and had 519 yards of total offense; that is not shocking for a “Chip Kelly offense”. What was surprising was that the Eagles held the ball for just over 34 minutes in the game; that is not commonplace for a “Chip Kelly offense”. The Eagles’ defense had 5 sacks and forced 4 turnovers; Fletcher Cox had a highly productive day for a defensive end recording 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery. Yowza!

Earlier in the week before the game, Terrell Owens went on sports radio in Philly to flog his new book and told the folks tuned into that program that he could still help the Eagles’ offense and that he was definitely available. For the record, the Eagles are more likely to sign me to a contract to play WR than they are Terrell Owens and I am 72 years old and run the 40-yard dash in about 3 minutes. I wonder if Chip Kelly played that radio segment for the offense as a reminder that if they could not get the job done, there was a guy out there who might come in and “shake things up”. Were I the coach, I would probably have done that…

The Saints are on the edge of an abyss – sort of like the Lions and the Chiefs. Their defense is giving up an average of 400 yards per game and 3 of their previous opponents were:

    Tampa Bay – with a rookie QB
    Carolina – not an offensive juggernaut
    Dallas – with Brandon Weeden at QB.

As if that were not bad enough, the Saints’ offense is no longer the bright light that it was. The biggest scoring output this year is 26 points (in the win over the Cowboys) and the Saints are only averaging 20.6 points per game. The Saints have some potentially winnable games down the road, but not if the team comes apart at the seams.

The Games:

Taking a breather this week are:

    Dallas – They will use the two week stretch to get Matt Cassel coached-up and ready to try to “hold the fort” until Tony Romo might be ready to return to the field.

    Oakland – They will use next weekend to pull for the Packers at home to beat the Chargers because that would give the Raiders sole possession of second place in the AFC West.

    St. Louis – They will use the two weeks to try to goose the offensive point production. So far this year, the Rams scoring is very close to that of the Niners, Lions and Bears in the NFC. For the record, that is not a good thing…

    Tampa – They will take two weeks and bask in the comfort of a win last week and the knowledge that they are a full game ahead of the Saints in the NFC South.

Before going through the individual games, the Curmudgeon Committee of One that has the responsibility to identify the most interesting games of the week and the Dog-Breath Game of the Week had a difficult time this week. There are several interesting games and there is a plethora of bad games.

(Thurs Nite) Atlanta – 3.5 at New Orleans (52): Hey, at least it is a divisional game. Hey, if the Saints lose here, they can join a bunch of other teams who will swear that they are not going to toss in the towel for the season – but the season is over in reality. The Falcons remained undefeated last week but did not look all that good in doing so. My memory tells me that getting 3.5 points with the Saints at home is a gift from the gods but then I wonder how the Saints’ defense is going to stop Devonta Freeman and Matt Ryan. So how about a trend or two:

    Falcons won in New Orleans last year. Last time Falcons won two in a row in New Orleans was in 2001/2002.

    The underdog in this rivalry is 9-3 in their last 12 meetings.

This is purely a hunch. I’ll take the Saints plus the points because they are at home and because they are clearly the more desperate team.

Denver – 4 at Cleveland (42.5): The spread for this game opened at 6 points. I wonder if the drop is due to a recognition of the offensive greatness of Josh McCown and the Cleveland Browns. Could be… However, Denver has the top defense in the NFL at the moment and I am not ready to believe that Browns are a top-shelf offensive team. I’ll take the Broncos and lay the points here and I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Cincy – 3 at Buffalo (42): The spread for this game opened as a “pick ‘em” game. Had it stayed there I would have had to say that I had no idea why that was the case. The Bengals are undefeated; the Bills struggle to run the football; the Bills young QB is hobbling and they may need to play EJ Manuel here. Yes, the Bills are at home but they are 1-2 at home so far this year. Here are two of the more meaningless trends I have seen in a while:

    Bengals are 1-7 against the spread in their last 6 road games in Week 6.
    Bengals are 18-7-1 to go OVER in their last 26 games in October.

I like the Bengals to win and cover on the road.

KC at Minnesota – 4 (44): I have a hunch this will be a most uninteresting game given the plodding Chiefs’ offense and the Vikes’ methodical mode of play. With Jamaal Charles on IR, I think the Chiefs are cooked. Their defense may keep them close in some games but if it has not yet dawned on the rest of the squad that they are “playing for pride”, it soon will. I like the Vikes at home to win and cover.

Houston at Jax “pick ‘em” (43.5): As a definite candidate for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week, do I really have to pick one of these teams? The answer is that I must because I cannot declare this a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game without violating the well-established and never-violated protocols for such games. The Texans are marginally better on offense and defense statistically so I’ll take the Texans here even though they are winless on the road this year.

Chicago at Detroit – 3 (43): Yes, I triple-checked this line and the winless team is indeed a field-goal favorite here. Clearly what we have here is a contender for Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Neither of these teams is remotely relevant this year. However, there is a motivational factor here for Matthew Stafford. He was benched last week in favor of Dan Orlovsky; he will be back in the starting role this week and he may feel the need to demonstrate that last week was an aberration and not an omen. (Stafford leads the NFL in INTs with 8 so far this year; continuing at that pace, he may well be riding the bench at some time later this year despite his $50M contract extension.) The Lions need Stafford to be engaged and aware because they really do not run the football very well at all; like it or not – and like Stafford or not – the Lions’ offense centers on throwing the football; the Lions are dead last in rushing yards in the NFL. I’ll take the Lions at home to win and cover here.

After making that selection, I went to find a trend that was in favor of that selection simply because taking an 0-5 team and laying points gives me a knot in my stomach. Here is what I found:

    Bears are 4-12 against the spread in their last 16 games against the AFC North.

That takes care of that…

Washington at Jets – 6.5 (40.5): Kirk Cousins has a proclivity for throwing INTs; the Jets’ defense has feasted on teams by forcing turnovers. The Skins have a corps of mediocre/interchangeable receivers and this game will give Skins’ fans a hint regarding something they probably want to know:

    Since the Jets like to line Darrelle Revis up on the opponent’s best WR, fans can look to see who the Jets’ defensive coaches think is their best WR – because it is surely not an obvious choice.

I think the key to this game is the Skins ability to rush the passer in order to force Ryan Fitzpatrick to make quick decisions. If they can do that, they may get a couple of turnovers to give their offense a short field to navigate. People nag Kirk Cousins about his propensity to throw INTs; he has thrown 6 of them this year as opposed to 5 TD passes; not so good. Then again, consider Ryan Fitzpatrick; he has thrown 7 INTs this year as opposed to 6 TD passes; also not so good. I see a low scoring game and a fat line. I’ll take the Skins plus the points.

Arizona – 3 at Pittsburgh (44): This is my 1-Star Game of the Week. Bruce Arians used to be the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh and his departure from that town did not involve a totally positive relationship with the fans. This could be an interesting game. The Steelers have a short week coming off the Monday Nite game last week; the Cards have to fly east and start early in the day. Ben Roethlisberger practiced on Wednesday this week; if he is ready to play to an extent more than standing like a statue and throwing the football, he will make a big difference. If the Steelers have to play Michael Vick for 60 minutes, I think the Steelers are in deep yogurt. I’ll take the Cards and lay the points on the road and I also like the game to go OVER.

Miami at Tennessee – 2 (43): This could be the Dog Breath Game of the Week – but the Dolphins are temporarily interesting because of their new coach and his “tough guy methods”. Other than that, the game does not matter a whit. The Dolphins have had two weeks under a new coaching regime that stresses “toughness” to prepare for a bland Titans team with a rookie QB. The stats say that the Titans’ offense is better than the Dolphins’ offense (by 36 yards per game) and that the Titans’ defense is better than the Dolphins defense (by a whopping 116 yards per game). I am going to go against all of that and take the Dolphins plus the points here because I think they are going to play differently this week then they did in their first 4 games.

Carolina at Seattle – 6.5 (41): In Detroit we saw the winless team installed as the favorite; here we have the undefeated team as the underdog. This is Bizarro World week in the world of NFL betting lines. The Panthers had their Bye Week last week to get ready for this game but the Seahawks loss last week clearly makes them the more desperate team here. A loss here gives the Seahawks 4 losses already and they have not played the Cardinals yet. They would greatly prefer not to have that situation obtain. The coaches do not want players looking ahead so perhaps the Seahawks players have not done so; but if they have, they probably recognize that the upcoming schedule is a lot softer than the one they faced already – having to play the Rams, Packers and Bengals on the road. Carolina is good and the Seahawks are not nearly as good as they have been for the last two years; nonetheless I like the Seahawks at home to win and cover here.

San Diego at Green Bay – 10 (50): The Chargers have a short week after playing last Monday and have to go on the road where they are not nearly as good as they are at home. I do not like laying double-digit points but I just cannot believe that Aaron Rodgers is going to throw 2 INTs again this week in Lambeau Field. I’ll take the Packers at home and lay the points.

Baltimore – 2.5 at SF (44): The Curmudgeon Central Committee of One (namely me) who decides on the Dog-Breath Game of the Week bypassed all of the candidate games cited above and bestowed the ignominy on this one. Back on Feb 3, 2013, these two teams met in the Super Bowl game; that was not ancient history; Al Gore had already invented the Internet. In the span of 32 months, these teams have devolved to this… The Ravens give away games after holding 4th quarter leads with regularity. The Niners find themselves in this situation as reported by Gregg Drinnan in his blog, Keeping Score:

“Last week, Jed York, the owner of the San Francisco 49ers, tweeted: ‘I have a few tickets left for the game Sunday. Let me know if you can make it. #FaithfulFanTix”’. . . Jake Echanove, a 49ers fan, tweeted this response: ‘I can’t give my tickets away either, Jed.’”

The Ravens are 53 yards per game better on offense here and the Ravens are 29 yards per game better on defense. I think the most important stat here is that the Ravens’ defensive vulnerability has mainly been their pass defense but the Niners’ pass offense ranks somewhere between meager and pathetic (178 yards per game). Having cited all those stats, how can I feel comfortable taking a team that has played as badly as the Ravens have on the road and laying points? The answer is that I do not want the Niners here unless I get a TD’s worth of points. Holding my nose, I’ll take the Ravens to win and cover.

(Sun Nite) New England – 7.5 at Indy (55): This is my 3-Star Game of the Week. This is the Post-Defleategate Game between these two teams and my suspicion is that the Pats will be pissed when they take the field. The Pats have won the last 6 games between these two teams and a couple of them have been rather lopsided. Tom Brady will want to leave an exclamation point on the field as punctuation for the game when he gives his calm and controlled after-game press conference. I really would prefer not to have the hook on top of the 7 point spread, but it is there. Nonetheless, I’ll take the Pats to win and cover at Indy and I’ll take the game to go OVER.

(Mon Nite) Giants at Philly – 4 (49): This is my 2-Star Game of the Week. This is a very interesting and potentially important NFC East game. The Giants lead the division but the Eagles have struggled mightily to this point in the season and only trail by a game – and they can make up that game right here at Lincoln Financial Field on MNF. I think both teams will play well here and so I will turn the game over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Toss protocol. The coin says to take the Eagles to win and cover.

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

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

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

The “Best Picks” last week were:

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

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

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

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

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

General Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Games:

There are 4 teams with Bye Weeks this time around:

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

    The Jets also get a week off.

    The Panthers will remain undefeated this weekend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      You make the call…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    He missed makeable field goals of 41 and 33 yards.

    He missed a gargantuan field goal try at 57 yards.

    AND he missed an extra point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    I can go on here for a while…

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

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

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

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

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

The Games:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Chiefs are a good road team – and –

    The Chiefs’ defense is a good unit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    2. Take whomever is the dog plus the points.

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

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

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

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 9/27/15

Last week’s Mythical Picks would have been ever so slightly mythically profitable. The record last week was 9-8-0 bringing the season total to 16-16-1. The best pick last week was Tampa Bay plus 10.5 points when the Bucs won the game outright. The worst pick last week was Indy minus 7 when the Colts lost outright and it was not close. The Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games worked out exactly the way one might expect coin flip games to work out. The record last week was 1-1-0; for the season the coin is 3-1-0.

Clearly, the performance to date is not inspiring in any way. No one should look at those results and think that they have stumbled upon a path to wagering nirvana. No one should use anything here as the basis for making a real wager involving real money on an actual NFL game this weekend. Here is how stupid one would have to be to do that:

    If someone offered you a penny for your thoughts, you would have to give them some change back.

General Comments:

Before I get to the details of what happened last week and what that might portend for the season, I want to share with you a great question posed by Gregg Drinnan in a recent iteration of Keeping Score:

“When an NFL team calls timeout, someone runs around the field squirting water into the mouths of the players. Just wondering, but what does that person put on their income tax return under Occupation?”

I guess the same question would apply to the “ball boys” because that occupation designation might be ambiguous…

OK, enough high school humor. Last week was a bad week for a good friend who is in several fantasy leagues – about which I do not care – and also 3 different survival pools/knockout pools. I spoke with him on Tuesday and he was not a happy camper. In his three survival pools he took:

    The Ravens to beat the Raiders
    The Dolphins to beat the Jags
    The Saints to beat the Bucs

His survival pool action for the year is finito. I wonder what the “knockout rate” was last week for those sorts of pools all over the country…

The season is two weeks old; if we equate that to a baseball season, it is about May 1st. Recall last year about this time, fans were thinking that Tom Brady was washed up and were speculating about his benching in favor of Jimmy Garoppolo. Also about this time last year, the Packers were not doing well and Aaron Rodgers felt is necessary to go on the radio to tell the fans in Green Bay to R-E-L-A-X.

That is where we are today. I am not pushing any panic buttons here; I am pointing out some teams that have played surprisingly well and others that have been surprisingly bad in the first two games. The fact that this happens every year does not mean we should ignore it; however, it does mean we should not afford it more credence than it deserves.

I think there are 5 surprisingly good teams:

    Arizona Cardinals: I said I was not sold on the Cards and predicted they would win only 7 games for the season. They are 2-0 and they have played really well averaging 39.5 points per game in those 2 wins. Buried way down in the Cards’ stats is the fact that they have yet to give up a sack this year.

    Atlanta Falcons: They are also 2-0. Their defense last year was miserable and so far this year they are only giving up 22 points per game. Oh, and they have Julio Jones on the roster and he is healthy…

    Carolina Panthers: In their two wins so far this year, the Panthers have only yielded a total of 26 points. Granted, they have only scored a total of 44 points in those two wins, but still…

    Cincinnati Bengals: I thought they would only win 8 games this year taking a step back from 4 consecutive years in the playoffs. They have played very well so far this year especially on defense.

    New York Jets: I projected them to win 4 games this year and they have half of that number already. In their two wins, their defense has created 10 takeaways. They are not going to keep up that pace, but it has been impressive indeed.

Here in Curmudgeon Central, the focus is generally not on the surprisingly good teams; rather, it is on the teams that seem to be on a path to the bottom or on teams that are asking themselves if things can possibly get any worse. Falling into that category are 7 teams:

    Baltimore Ravens: I guess it is OK to lose to a good Broncos’ team in Denver if you do not give up an offensive TD in the loss. It is not OK to lose to the Raiders when you score 33 points. I know that Terrell Suggs is out for the year, but still…

    Chicago Bears: They have simply been dreadful. I did not have lofty expectations for the team this year (5 projected wins) but they are giving up 39.5 points per game in their 2 losses…

    Detroit Lions: Yes, both losses have come on the road but this was nominally a team that would win on offense this year. Now it could be that Matthew Stafford is “hurting” and that would mean the field presence of Dan Orlovsky. How long until someone gives him the name “Oy-oy Orlovsky”?

    Indianapolis Colts: Put simply, their OL is substandard. They cannot run the ball and they are not protecting Andrew Luck well. The Colts’ defense is not good enough to carry the team.

    New Orleans Saints: In a nutshell, the Saints’ defense is offensive. That is not a good thing. Oh, and Drew Brees has a sore shoulder. Shudder

    New York Giants: They have blown a 10-point lead in both losses this year with blockheaded plays at the end of both games. On the bright side, they have a short week game tonight meaning they have had less time to think up ways to screw up the next one.

    Philadelphia Eagles: Where is the vaunted Chip Kelly offense? The OL is MIA; the Eagles cannot run the ball even a little bit. Dwight Perry found this “headline” and had it in the Seattle Times earlier this week:

    “Sam Bradford defeats deer in headlights in staring competition.”

    It is not that far off target…

There is plenty of time for all of these teams to change the vector heading for their seasons. All I am saying here is that the 7 surprisingly bad teams need to throw it into gear pretty soon and the 5 surprisingly good teams need to avoid believing all their press clippings.

Last week, I saw the Broncos/Chiefs game and I saw enough to convince myself that Peyton Manning is not “finished”. He is clearly on the downward arc of his career, but he can still play QB with no embarrassment. I think the issue in Denver is their OL. On passing plays, the offensive line is supposed to get in the way of the pass rushers in order to slow them down on their trek to get to the QB. The Broncos’ OL is doing that in the most nominal fashion. Quarterbacks and receivers have to have a little time to get their plays to work…

With regard to the Pats win over the Bills last week, I think it is time for media to stop taking the easy way out during the week prior to any game where a team coached by Rex Ryan is playing the Pats. The braggadocio act has become hackneyed for one simple reason:

    The Pats win those confrontations too often to make the pontifications interesting.

Against the Bills in his career, Tom Brady is 24-3 in 27 starts and has thrown 61 TD passes. No player on the Bills nor any fan in Buffalo needs to say a word about what they are going to do to Brady in any game. After they do something positive – like beat the Pats on a Pick Six from Brady – they may be allowed a few hours to crow. Until them, please go the bar and get a free mug of Shut The Hell Up

There were several Bills’ players who felt emboldened by Ryan’s bluster to denigrate the Pats as a team and specific players on that team. Well, the Pats had 466 yards passing against the defense that was doing most of the posturing and preening. In the end, the Bills’ defensive players look like primary standard asshats. Demonstrating their high degree of professionalism, the Bills amassed a total of 140 yards in penalties during the game. Make that asshats-squared…

After the game, here is what Rex Ryan had to say:

“I have to do a better job at controlling my emotions. And it starts with me.”

And with that statement alone, Rex Ryan earns is Masters’ Degree in The Obvious from Curmudgeon College. Congrats…

Last year, people in Dallas were referring to Tony Romo/Dez Bryant/DeMarco Murray as the reincarnation of “The Triplets”. Murray is gone in free agency, Bryant is out 10-12 weeks with a broken foot; Romo is out 8 weeks with a broken clavicle. The objective now is for the Cowboys to try to hold serve and break even while those guys heal. Brandon Weeden will be at the helm with Matt Cassel behind him. There will be a lot of reliance on the defense – and it is a good defense. The return of Sean Lee from ACL surgery has been a big plus for the Cowboys. Against the Eagles last week, he had an INT and at one point in the 4th quarter the announcers said he had made 11 solo tackles. I did not count any of his tackles from that point forward so I do not know the total, but he was all over the field.

Speaking of the Eagles – and I am reminded here of my mother’s admonition never to speak evil of the dead – they have stunk in spades in their first two games. The offense has been virtually non-existent; on the rare occasions where Sam Bradford actually hits Jordan Matthews in both hands, Matthews drops the ball. There is no rhythm or pace to the offense. Adding to that ineptitude, the defense has played well – except for when it matters. At the end of the first half against the Cowboys last week, the Cowboys drove the field helped along by 5 defensive penalties all of which resulted in 1st downs. Maybe that is something that just happens to a pee-wee football team; that is not acceptable for an NFL team. If the Eagles are not the most disappointing team in the league so far, then the Colts are…

The Colts have to find ways to protect Andrew Luck because that is the only hope they have to win games. They cannot depend on the running game and they cannot depend on the defense. Luck was not sacked last week by the Jets, but he was hurried and hit and had to scramble on about 75% of his dropbacks. The Colts are in a bad division; as of this morning, Jax and Tennessee are tied for the division lead. I suspect that will not be the outcome at the end of the season but the Colts are a flawed team. Make no mistake about that…

The Steelers beat the Niners last week and I think that Antonio Brown may be the best WR in the NFL if Julio Jones and/or Odell Beckham Jr. are not. Against the Niners, Brown caught 9 passes for 195 yards and a TD; not a bad day at work… Back in training camp, Ben Roethlisberger said that his goal for the year was to have the Steelers average 30 points per game. Indeed, the season is young but the Steelers have scored 64 points in 2 games; last week against the Niners, Roethlisberger threw for 369 yards and 3 TDs. Oh, by the way, the Steelers get RB, LeVeon Bell back from his suspension starting this week. Here is a capsule of how the Steelers dominated that game:

    On 2 long drives, the Niners ran17 plays in each one and came away with a total of 3 points. 34 plays = 3 points…

    At one point in the 3rd quarter, the Steelers had run a total of 36 offensive plays and had produced 29 points…

This was to be the “Year of the Dolphin”. Ryan Tannehill was going to take a big step forward and the acquisition of Ndamukong Suh to that DL was going to produce a lockdown unit there. Not so fast Sparky; the Dolphins lost to the Jags last week with another lackluster offensive performance. Moreover, there were reports that Suh was freelancing on defense and ignoring the calls made by the defensive coordinator. Obviously, I have no idea if that is true or not but there is a cautionary tale here for Messr. Suh:

    You got the largest contract and the largest guaranteed money for a defensive player in the history of the NFL. You are a defensive tackle and there have been instances in your career when fans, commentators and other players have thought you were a dirty player. Now IF these stories about your “freelancing” are correct and you are ignoring your coaches, you are entering into dangerous NFL historical territory.

    That profile fits beautifully with the career arc of one Albert Haynesworth.

      Memo for Ndamukong Suh: You really, REALLY, do not want your name mentioned in the same paragraph with his.

The Raiders scored 40 points on the Ravens’ defense to earn a win last week; recall that the Broncos were unable to score an offensive TD on that defense just a week prior to this game. They looked like the “old-time Raiders” in the first half amassing 10 penalties in the first 30 minutes of the game. However, the present Raiders’ defense is nothing like the “old-time Raiders”; last week they gave up 493 yards of offense and still won the game. Al Davis would be happy that they won; somehow I think that Ted Hendricks, Jack Tatum and “The Tooz” would not be so happy with that performance. In two games, the Raiders have yielded 889 yards or 6.5 yards per offensive play by the opponents. This week the Raiders go on the road to Cleveland. There is good news and bad news:

    Bad news: Raiders are 3-24 in their last 27 road games.

    Good news: Raiders will play the Browns this week.

Meanwhile, the Ravens’ defense was a real no-show last week. They exerted little if any pressure on Derek Carr and put the Raiders in “third-and-long” situations only on rare occasions. That has to change if the Ravens are going to get things turned in a positive direction…

The Titans lost to the Browns last week and Marcus Mariota looked as bad in that game as he looked good in the opening week win over the Bucs. Such is the story of rookie NFL QBs… In that same game, Johnny Manziel threw two long TD passes to Travis Benjamin (50 yards and 60 yards) and Benjamin had a long punt return for a TD too. Please do not extrapolate this to conclude that Manziel-to-Benjamin is the reincarnation of “Montana-to-Rice”. Remember, those were the Titans playing defense out there last week…

The Bucs beat the Saints in N’awlins last week making it 6 games in arrow that the Saints have lost at home in their dome. That site used to be one of the great home-field advantages but not recently. The Saints are a mess; their defense could not stop a faucet drip. So far this year they have lost to the Bucs and the Titans; last year, the Bucs and the Titans were the two worst teams in the NFL.

Last week, the Bears gave up 48 points to the Cardinals and they lost Jay Cutler to a hamstring injury. For all those Bears’ fans who have been clamoring for the team to get rid of Cutler, you now have Jimmy Claussen under center for the next several weeks. Should he be unable to play, you will get to see David Fales. In that circumstance, two things should become clear to Bears’ fans quickly:

    1. Jay Cutler ain’t all that horrible as a QB or as a human being.

    2. David Fales is a person with a name that is a complete sentence.

As they used to say on the old TV show, To Tell The Truth, will the real St. Louis Rams please stand up? After an opening week win over the Seahawks, the Rams’ defense was gashed repeatedly by the Skins running game last week and the Rams’ offense was meek as a lamb. The biggest improvement in the Skins so far this year has nothing at all to do with the drama that surrounds their QB situation; the biggest improvement has been in the OL which is opening good holes in the running game and giving Kirk Cousins time to set up his passing attack.

The NFC East is a division in flux. The Cowboys have bad karma with the football gods so far this year; the Giants are intent on giving games away; the Eagles just have stunk out the joint and the Skins have played the best football in the division to date. Can those situations continue to obtain?

The Games:

(Thurs Nite) Washington at Giants – 3.5 (44): The Giants have lost two games by a total of 5 points after leading by double digits in both games. The offense has moved the ball but has not scored a lot. The question here is whether the Giants defense can slow down the power running attack of the Skins sufficiently to allow that same defense to try to put some pressure on Kirk Cousins. I think this will be a low scoring game and so I will take the Skins plus the points here – with very little conviction.

Pittsburgh – 1 at St. Louis (48): Ben Roethlisberger said he wanted the Steelers to average 30 points per game this year (see above). They will have a fast track on Sunday to chase that goal. The Rams did not play well last week particularly on defense so that unit might be highly motivated here. I think the Steelers will prevail here mainly because they have the better QB and the better RBs. I’ll take the Steelers and lay the point on the road.

San Diego at Minnesota – 2 (44.5): The Vikings featured Adrian Peterson last week in their win over the Lions so I expect they will do the same here. The Vikings’ defense also harassed Matthew Stafford all game long and I expect they will do the same here. I like the Vikes at home to win and cover.

Tampa Bay at Houston – 6.5 (40): Jameis Winston has faced the Titans’ defense and the Saints’ defense so far. This week he gets to see the Texans’ defense and that is a more competent unit. The Texans’ have a different sort of QB issue to deal with. The Bucs have a young QB who will be up and down all year long; the Texans have two QBs neither of which is very good. The Texans really do need a healthy Arian Foster to run the ball because that will mean it spends less time in the hands of whichever QB happens to be in the game at the moment. I think points will be at a premium in this game so I will take the Bucs plus the points here and hold my breath…

Philly at Jets – 3 (46.5): The Eagles have two things going for them in this game:

    1. The Jets played on Monday night last week and have a short week to prepare.

    2. The game is at the Jets where the Eagles will be booed much less than they would had the game been in Philly.

It is put up or shut up time for the Eagles’ offense here – but the problem is that the Jets’ defense is very good even if they do not get 5 takeaways again this week. If Sam Bradford stinks it up in the first half again this week, and the Eagles go to Mark Sanchez in the second half, think of the pre-cooked storyline comments the announcers will have. I like this game to stay UNDER.

New Orleans at Carolina – 3 (45): The Saints may have lost 6 straight home games (see above) but that does not mean I like them on the road outdoors. If the team is not spoofing about Drew Brees’ shoulder issues, the Saints will be in big trouble here; they are not likely to run the ball well against the Panthers’ defense. I like the Panthers to win and cover at home.

Jax at New England – 14 (48): After feeling the adrenaline of playing Rex Ryan’s Bills last week, the Pats may have difficulty getting themselves into a fiery state of mind with the Jags coming to visit. Moreover, the Pats get their BYE Week in the first available slot next week so they may be looking through this game to the week off. I think that line is fat; I’ll take the Jags plus the points.

Cincy at Baltimore – 2.5 (44): This is the Ravens’ home opener and it is pretty much a “must-win” game for the Ravens’ fans if they want their team to be a factor in the AFC North Division race. The Bengals are 2-0 and have played really well in both games. I like the “desperation factor” here even if it may be just a tad hyperbolic this early in the season. I’ll take the Ravens and lay the points at home.

Oakland at Cleveland – 3.5 (44.5): This will not be a pretty game; it may be the worst game of the week. The Raiders do not travel well (see above); the Browns will go back to Josh McCown at QB if he is cleared to play and that is surely not a warm and fuzzy feeling for anyone looking to back the Browns with some cash on the line. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the game to go OVER. Why not?

Indy – 3 at Tennessee (45): The Colts have a chance here to take their record to 1-2. If they win here, the Titans will also be 1-2 and after the Jags lose in New England they will also be 1-2. The best that the Texans can be on Sunday night is also 1-2. So, the Colts have motivation here… Yes, they are coming off a short week after a Monday night game, but I think they are the better team here. The spread opened the week at 5 points and dropped to 3.5 points almost immediately and is now at 3 points. I like the Colts to win and cover even on the road.

Atlanta – 1.5 at Dallas (45): This game features two undefeated teams; no other game on the card this weekend can make that statement. The oddsmakers set this line and it has stayed pretty much at these numbers for the entire week. That tells you what they and the betting public think about the injuries to the Cowboys; no one looking at this game on Labor Day would have had the Falcons as road favorites. The Falcons play their third consecutive team from the NFC East and their second straight road game. Just a hunch, but I like the Cowboys here plus the points.

SF at Arizona – 6 (44): The Cards are on a roll and the Niners’ defense showed some holes against the Steelers last week. I think Carson Palmer and company will exploit those holes and light up the scoreboard. I like the Cards to win and cover at home.

Chicago at Seattle – 14 (43.5): This is the only game this weekend featuring two teams without a win so far. The Seahawks have an excuse; one of their losses was in OT and the other was to the Packers – a very good team. The Bears have no such excuses and are going to start the game with a sorry excuse for a QB. I will not lay that many points (and in fact, you can find the spread at 14.5 points at two Internet sportsbooks this morning) even with the game in Seattle. I like the game to go OVER because I think the Seahawks are going to score close to 40 points by themselves.

Buffalo at Miami – 3 (43): Absent the hype and bluster of a thousand press conferences, Rex Ryan will likely have the Bills more than ready to play this game. The Dolphins have been sleepwalking in two games against the Skins and the Jags and have split those two games against opponents that are not as good as the Bills. I like the Bills to win outright so I’ll gladly take them plus the points here.

(Sun Nite) Denver – 3 at Detroit (44.5): The Lions are finally at home for a game and the Broncos are on the road for the second week in a row. Often, that is the feather on the balance that would get me to take the home team in a game like this. HOW-EVAH … The Lions have not been running the ball well and Matthew Stafford is hurting – albeit not injured. The longest offensive play for the Lions last week was a 17-yard pass completion even though the Lions threw the ball 53 times in the game. The Broncos defense is the superior defense here and Peyton Manning may not be the same QB he was 5 years ago, but he is still very good. I’ll take the Broncos and lay the points on the road.

(Mon Nite) KC at Green Bay – 6.5 (49): The Chiefs have had a long time to get ready for this game coming off the Thursday night game last week. It is almost like an additional BYE Week. The trip from KC to Green Bay is not transcontinental by any means but it is a road game and the Packers play very well at Lambeau Field. I think this will be an offensive game and I do not think the Chiefs can keep pace. Alex Smith is overmatched here against Aaron Rodgers. I like the Packers to win and cover.

Finally, consider this comment from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot after the first week of this NFL season:

“Complaints: Four missed extra points in the NFL’s Week 1 are half as many as were missed all of last season. Bengals booter Mike Nugent, whose point-after attempt was blocked, says of the directive that pushed kicks back to 33 yards, ‘I don’t know of any rules that have been changed to make guys fail more.’ After the way the league has changed rules to help the offense, defensive players would take exception to that. But the extra point issue will be with us all season, giving fans one more thing to talk about. Which is always the NFL’s plan.”

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 9/20/15

Last week’s Mythical Picks went 7-8-1. That is not a good omen for the 2015 season – and yet, I shall press on. On the other hand, the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games were 2-0 for the weekend. The “best Mythical Pick” form last week was taking the Bills and getting points as the Bills won outright by 13 points. The “worst Mythical Pick” was taking the Cowboys and giving 6 when the Cowboys were just dumb lucky to win the game by a point.

Anyhow, last week’s results should convince any rational person not to take very seriously any of the selections here. Just in case someone chooses not to be so rational, let me say it clearly. No one should use anything herein as the basis for making a real wager involving real money on a real NFL game this weekend. Here is how dumb you would have to be to do that:

    You think an “utter disaster” is a cow jumping over a barbed wire fence.

General Comments:

It is clearly a small sample size – size equal to one to be exact – but I did notice that ESPN Countdown seemed to spend a lot more time chatting up fantasy picks and matchups and that kind of stuff. I really hope that I am wrong on that because if that is what the suits at ESPN have chosen as their new “points of emphasis” for the year, I will need to find new pre-game viewing options. I am sure that Matthew Berry is a nice human being but I really do not care about his opinions regarding whom to play and whom to sit in fantasy leagues this week – or any week for that matter.

The Raiders signed Aldon Smith last week and started him at LB in Sunday’s game. About a month ago, Smith was released by the Niners after a DUI incident that allegedly involved vandalism and hit-and-run action. That is bad enough but to provide context here, that incident was Smith’s fifth up close and personal interaction with police in 4 years. Of course, Smith is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law; nonetheless, he does tote a little baggage with him as he arrives in Oakland. Smith was suspended for half of the season last year based on previous incidents; now we have these charges. What is the OVER/UNDER on the length of his next suspension should he be convicted here?

Raiders’ GM, Reggie McKenzie, had this to say about this signing:

“We are confident that the Raiders provide an environment where Aldon can thrive through the support, structure and leadership within the building. We are excited to have Aldon here in the Raiders’ family.”

Let me take McKenzie at his word here for a moment and point out something about the environment there that will provide support, structure and leadership to Aldon Smith. If McKenzie is correct, then the Raiders of Al Davis’ glory days are indeed dead and gone. If Al Davis’ Raiders had signed someone like Smith way back when here is what they would have done in lieu of providing support, structure and leadership:

    They would have patted him on the back and invited him to join them at the local watering hole and bought his drinks for the night.

Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle has a message for paranoid NFL coaches:

“Hey, you coaches of Patriots’ opponents who are worried about Bill Belichick’s Bandits stealing your signals: Send dummy signals and let your quarterback call his own plays.”

There is no question that Marcus Mariota outplayed Jameis Winston in the first NFL game for both QBs. There is also no question that it is far too soon to conclude any of the following:

    Winston is/will be a bust.
    Mariota is destined for stardom and maybe even the Hall of Fame
    The Bucs’ front office is dumber than mule snot.
    The Titans’ front office is the cradle of geniuses.

For me, the most telling moment of the game was when the Bucs’ TE Austin Seferain-Jenkins caught a pass from Winston and went high-stepping into the end zone. At that point in the game there were about 4 minutes left to play and his TD brought the Bucs from a 35-point deficit to a 28 point deficit. And he was styling and preening for the home crowd – the vast majority of whom had already left the building.

By the way, the Tampa Bay Bucs have now lost 10 consecutive home games. Just saying…

After the Broncos looked pretty bad even in victory last week, many folks have taken up shovels and have been pouring dirt on the carcass of Peyton Manning. I think that is premature even though it is a certainty that his career is on the downslope because he is facing Father Time as his opponent now. His passes did not look crisp last week and he was uncharacteristically inaccurate on a few throws. However, before I send Manning down for an autopsy, I will point out that the Ravens have a much better than average defense and it might have been those guys – who also collect paychecks I might point out – who had a lot to do with his apparent discombobulation.

I did notice something about the new Broncos’ offense under Gary Kubiak that I found strange. He had two plays that stuck out in my mind because on those plays he had Peyton Manning in a designed roll out – once left and once right. Folks, Peyton Manning is going to the Pro Football Hall of Fame; there is no doubt about that. None of the credentials that will get him enshrined there have anything to do with his foot speed or his elusiveness or his ability to scramble or … you get the picture. Gary Kubiak has had success as an offensive coordinator and a head coach in the NFL, but it does not matter what worked with other QBs. Peyton Manning is not a “roll out QB”. Kubiak needs to lose those play selections.

I mentioned the Ravens’ defense above and the loss of Terrell Suggs for the rest of the year is a significant loss for the team. Suggs is 32 years old; it only seems as if he has been in the league for 20 years. In his 12-year career up until last weekend, he only missed 11 games and he is going to miss 15 this year alone. Unless, of course, his former teammate, Ray Lewis, still has some of that magic deer-antler spray left over…

The Browns lost starting QB, Josh McCown, early on in their game against the Jets last week and had to insert Johnny Manziel into the game. That led to some good news and some bad news:

    Manziel threw a 54-yard TD pass to Travis Benjamin soon after he came into the game.

    Other than that completion, Manziel’s stat line was 12 for 23 with 1 INT for 128 yards.

The Browns lost the game by 3 TDs; that is the 11th year in a row that the Browns have lost their opening game of the season. Plus ça change, plus ça même chose…

The Chiefs beat the Texans handily last week. Nominally, the Texans’ strength is their defense and the Chiefs’ liability is their offense. Somehow, the Chiefs managed to throw 4 TD passes in the game.

The Raiders lost to the Bengals 33-13. It was 33-0 after 3 quarters and then the Raiders scored two meaningless TDs. But it might be even worse than that because Derek Carr had to leave the game with a “hand issue” and Charles Woodson had a shoulder injury. Carr’s backup is Matt McGloin who is not going to lead the team to the Promised Land and Woodson – who is not the All-Pro player he once was – is a mainstay in the Raiders’’ secondary. How bad was that performance last week?

    The first time the Raiders had an offensive play that started in Bengals’ territory was at the start of the 4th quarter.

After the game, Coach Jack Del Rio had this to say:

“That’s a very disappointing, embarrassing effort. I take full responsibility. We’ll get it turned around and corrected.”

His first sentence was spot on. His second sentence is generous. His third sentence might be wishful thinking if Carr and Woodson both have to miss significant time.

One more outcome from that debacle:

    That is the first time ever that the Cincinnati Bengals have ever won a game in Oakland.

The Saints’ loss to the Cards could well be an indication that the Saints’ defense this year may indeed be as bad as it was last year. I really did not think was possible let alone that it would be the case. The Cardinals had only 44 offensive plays in the game; normally, that means the Cardinals should have lost the game. Not here… In those 44 plays, the Cards:

    Gained a total of 427 yards – 9.7 yards per play

    Had 25 first downs – it took them less than 2 plays on average to get a first down.

    Scored 31 points.

The Panthers beat the Jaguars in the “cat-fight of the week”. Nonetheless, the Panthers’ fans ought not to be celebrating too much here. With Kelvin Benjamin missing for the game – and the rest of the season – the Panthers’ offense scared up a total of 263 yards on 53 offensive plays (less than 5 yards per play) and only 1 TD. Luke Kuechly had to leave the game with an injury and as I said in the pre-season analysis, Kuechly is irreplaceable on that Panthers’ defense.

With about 9 minutes to go in the 2nd quarter, the Lions led the Chargers 21-3. At that point, either the Chargers’ woke up or the Lions put the game on cruise-control. The Chargers proceeded to score 30 unanswered points until the Lions got a TD with about a minute left in the game. Philip Rivers & Co gained 483 yards on offense against the “new look” Lions’ defense.

I watched one of those condensed replays on NFL Network for the Bills/Colts game. I said in the pre-season predictions that the Colts OL was a problem last year and that it did not seem as if the team had done much to resolve that problem. Well, that weakness was in full display last week. The Bills had pressure on Andrew Luck on just about every dropback and they held the Colts to 304 yards total offense.

You have to have read enough about the blockheaded play of the Giants and/or their coaching staff in the final minute and a half of their game against the Cowboys; I shall not add anything here. The Cowboys were dumb lucky to get the win but they may be without Dez Bryant for the next 4-8 weeks since Bryant had a screw inserted into a broken bone in his foot on Monday.

The Eagles fell way behind the Falcons on Monday night after the team seemingly left its offense on the team bus and did not retrieve it until the beginning of the second half. However, the Eagle threw the ball 52 times and ran it only 16 times. Since when is that the “Chip Kelly offense”?

The Niners beat the Vikings in a game that just had no rhythm or flow to it. Juxtapose these two stats and tell me this is what you expected:

    Adrian Peterson ran the ball 10 times for 31 yards.
    Carlos Hyde ran the ball 26 times for 168 yards and a TD.

I saved comment on the Rams/Seahawks game for last because of the drama of the game. Not only was the game won in overtime but there was the great play by the Rams DL on 4th and 1 in OT stuffing Marshawn Lynch for a loss that ended the game. People immediately jumped on the play call because it was the one that folks thought should have been called at the 1 yard line at the end of last year’s Super Bowl.

I think the outcome of the play call in the Super Bowl and the one last Sunday demonstrate several things;

    There are no guarantees when it comes to play outcomes in the regular season or in the playoffs.

    Saying that Lynch would certainly have scored in the Super Bowl denigrates the Pats’ defensive line and defensive unit.

    Saying that Sunday’s failure to gain a yard on a clutch running play demonstrates a failure of the Seahawks’ play calling denigrates the great play made by the Rams’ DL.

The Games:

(Thurs Nite) Denver at KC – 3 (40): The spread opened the week at 1.5 points and jumped to this level right away. The Ravens’ defense harassed Peyton Manning last week because the Ravens’ front seven dominated the Broncos’ OL. The Chiefs’ front seven is no slouch unit and I think you can expect more of the same here. At the same time, the Denver defense is also a top shelf unit and it ought to keep Jamaal Charles from running wild meaning Alex Smith will have to have a good game to win here. As the Total Line implies, this shapes up to be a low scoring game. I like to take points in low scoring games so I’ll take the Broncos plus the points.

Houston at Carolina – 3 (40): I was not impressed by the Panthers’ win last week; they may be dealing with an anemic offense for the entire season. I was not impressed with the QB play from either Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett (in the 4th quarter) for Houston last week either. Here is another low-scoring game and I’ll take the Texans plus the points.

Tampa Bay at New Orleans – 10.5 (47): Hear those dogs barking…? This might be the dog-breath game of the week. Neither team was impressive last week; both defenses gave up way too many points and yards. The difference here is that the Saints also demonstrated the ability to move the ball last week and the Bucs struggled – to be polite. I expect the Bucs to be an erratic team this year – bad on most weeks but surprisingly good on some weeks. If their offense is to “shine”, this is the defense for them to do it against. This is purely a hunch, but I’ll take the Bucs plus that double-digit helping of points.

SF at Pittsburgh – 6 (46): The Niners had the late game on Monday night last week and now they fly 3 time zones to start a game at 1:00 PM. Thanks for nothing to the schedule mavens… I thought the Steelers played the Pats solidly last week. I like the Steelers at home to win and cover here.

Detroit at Minnesota – 3 (43): Both teams stunk last week; both figure to play better this week. I do not like the Lions on the road – that is where they stunk out the joint last week – and I do not like the Lions outdoors – which is where they are this week again. I’ll take the Vikes and lay the points.

New England “pick ‘em” at Buffalo (45): There are lots of spread lines on this game. The two extremes this morning had the Bills as a 1-point favorite and another had the Pats as 2.5-point favorites. The most common line I found was “pick ‘em”. This has to be the most interesting of the early games on Sunday simply because of bombast of Rex Ryan and how it seems to have infected the Bills. Tyrod Taylor was 14-19 last week against the Colts’ defense; I do not think he will complete 74% of his throws against the Pats’ defense. I cannot make this a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game because if the first flip says to play the spread, there is no favorite/underdog to take on the second flip. So, I’ll go with my gut and take the Pats even up.

Arizona – 2 at Chicago (46): The Bears gave up 402 yards last week to the Packers and face another offensive-minded team here. The Cards gained 427 yards last week against the Saints and I am not so sure that the Bears’ defense is that much better than the Saints’ defense. I like the Cards to win and cover on the road.

Tennessee – 1 at Cleveland (41): If you think more highly than I do about the Bucs/Saints game above, then this game is the dog-breath game of the week. Both of these teams are capable of playing poorly enough to lose to anyone on any given Sunday. I am unaware of any motivational reason to favor either team and I have no reason to pick the game because I think one coaching staff will have the team “readier to play” than the other. So this will be the first Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game of the week. The coin says to take the Titans and lay the point. I never argue with the coin…

San Diego at Cincy – 3 (47): I could go into various details here but let me boil this one down to one factor only. The Chargers are not all that good when they make a cross country trip. Yes, I know they have beaten the Bengals in Cincy but on average, the Chargers are better at home. I’ll take the Bengals and lay the points.

St Louis – 3.5 at Washington (41): The Skins ran the ball very well against the Dolphins last week; Rex Ryan likes to call his offense “ground and pound”; that is exactly what the Skins’ offense was last week the Skins had the ball for just over 38 minutes in that game. It will be interesting to see if the Skins can make that work against the Rams’ DL which is surely one of the best 3 DLs in the league. The Skins averaged 4.4 yards per rush last week; the Seahawks managed 4.2 yards per rush against the Rams last week. I think that will be the storyline for this game. I like this game to go OVER because I sense the arrival of one defensive TD and another special teams TD in the game.

Atlanta at Giants – 2.5 (51): If the Giants have a pass rush option in their defensive bag of tricks, they might want to reveal it this week. Matt Ryan had plenty of time last week and he was very successful throwing the ball against the Eagles; the Giants never laid a glove on Tony Romo last week; if they do that again this week, Ryan will eat that secondary alive. If this game were in the dome in Atlanta, I would take the Falcons without hesitation – but the game is outdoors in New Jersey. Nonetheless, I see points raining down here so I’ll take the game to go OVER and pass on the spread.

Baltimore – 6 at Oakland (43): The Ravens opened the season in Denver and now they go to Oakland. No, you did not miss the announcement that the Ravens had been shifted to the AFC West. The Broncos’ defense held the Ravens’ offense down very effectively last week; the Ravens’ only TD was a defensive one. Meanwhile the Ravens’ defense held the Broncos’ offense down very effectively last week; the Broncos’ only TD was a defensive one. Even without Terrell Suggs, I think the Ravens front seven is too much for the Raiders OL. Moreover, I am not convinced that the Raiders’ defense will be similarly successful in stopping the Ravens. I’ll take the Ravens to win and cover on the road.

Miami – 6 at Jax (41.5): The Dolphins won last week and looked abjectly mediocre in doing so. The thing is that they can look mediocre again in this matchup because the Jags may or may not be better than the Skins. The Dolphins have more at stake in this game than the Jags. The Dolphins aspire to the playoffs and only delusional figures in the Jags’ locker room think that way. After this game, the Dolphins have to take on the Bills in an early season game that could be very important down the road. I think the Dolphins will be up for this game – they were not up for the game last week at all – so I’ll take the Dolphins and lay the points.

Dallas at Philly – 5 (55): This is the best of the day games on Sunday. Even though the Eagles’ offense was a no-show for the first half, they rallied in the second half and were one score from taking the game OVER 55. Dallas will run the ball a lot to make the Eagles stop that attack and to control the clock. Without Dez Bryant, I do not think the Cowboys can afford to get into a shootout with the Eagles; by the same token, if the Eagles do not get a lot more pressure on Tony Romo than they got on Matt Ryan last week, this game could ring up points like a pinball machine. This will be the second Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game of the week and the coin says to take the Cowboys plus the points.

(Sun Nite) Seattle at Green Bay – 3.5 (49): This is the best game of the week. The last time these teams saw each other, the Packers blundered an on-side kick reception leading to the Seahawks winning the NFC Championship Game. Only a sadist would wish that on the cheesehead fans once again. The Seahawks may not have anything like revenge going for them, but they do have this:

    They would really prefer not to start the season 0-2 in what looks to be a tough NFC West division.

I like this game to go OVER and I like the Packers to win and cover at home.

(Mon Nite) Jets at Indy – 7 (47): I think Andrew Luck will have a big day against the Jets’ secondary. I think the Jets will score on the Colts’ defense. I think the venue provides the difference here so I’ll take the Colts and lay the points.

Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this to say about the new extra-point rule in the NFL:

“NFL extra-point attempts this season are 10 yards farther out. The extra point used to be the dullest play in football. Now it’s the dullest play in football, only longer.”

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 9/13/15

The 2015/2016 NFL season commences tonight. What I intend to do here on a weekly basis is to make a pick for “every NFL game” against the spread – or using the total line or the money line. I do this for my amusement – and hopefully yours too. This is not how I make a living; these picks represent no “inside information”; I do not make real wagers on all of these picks and neither should you.

Betting on “every NFL game” is a sure-fire way to make the bookmakers even wealthier than they are. When I go to Las Vegas for my annual pilgrimage, I try to limit bets to games where I think the line is off by 3 or 4 points and I do not subscribe to the idea that you have to have a bet on any game that you are going to watch on TV. If you think betting on all 256 NFL games is a good money management strategy, you probably also play the lottery.

I put “every NFL game” in quotes here because while that is my intent, I am not likely going to be able to make good on that if it were a promise. There will be weeks when I do not get to compose and post these predictions until Friday; obviously that will eliminate some Thursday night games from set of “every NFL game”. In addition, there could be some family travel plans later this season that could obviate some picks. Therefore, I will set “every NFL game” as a goal but not as a guarantee.

Just to be sure everyone understands that these are “Mythical Picks” and are not “20-Star Mortal Locks of the Decade”, no one should use anything here as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game this weekend should said wager involve real money. If you are stupid enough to that, you are also probably stupid enough to spend a half-hour pondering whether Beavis or Butthead was the smart one.

General Comments:

Since this feature has gambling on NFL games as its raison d’etre, it seems appropriate to acknowledge a recent report on the extent to which Americans bet on football. Gambling Compliance is a company that provides “independent business intelligence to the global gambling industry, specializing in legal, regulatory, political and market data.” Recognizing that such a company has a stake in the outcome of any studies or projections with regard to gambling, they recently said that a mature and legal gambling marketplace in the US would generate $12.4B in annual revenue. That is a lot of money; that is even more money than the NFL projects to take in in 2015.

The American Gaming Association – another organization with “skin in the game” – estimates that $95B will be wagered on college and pro football this year in America and the vast majority of that will be done illegally. Just for a moment, take that $95B estimate for the current year as correct. In Nevada – the only state with legal sports wagering on a large scale – the State of Nevada keeps close track on the money flows through the sportsbooks. According the State of Nevada data, the total amount of money bet on football in Nevada since 1982 is only $24.9B.

    The cumulative total wagering on football in Nevada over the past 33 years comes to only 26.2% of what is estimated to be wagered in 2015 alone.

If the estimate is even close to correct, this ought to demonstrate that all of the extant laws on the Federal books and in States and localities everywhere forbidding bookmaking fall into the category of “feckless”. And indeed, more money is bet on football than any other sport according to Nevada data. In 2014 here are the amounts bet on various sports in Nevada:

    Football $1.75B
    Basketball 1.11B
    Baseball 0.72B
    “Other” 0.27B
    Parlays 0.58B

Football provides a handle for the legal sportsbooks that is almost equivalent to baseball and basketball combined. When you consider how many more basketball and baseball games there are as compared to football, you can see that football games attract a disproportionate betting interest.

I am not trying to convince anyone here to go out to Nevada to bet on games or to contact your old high school buddy who now lives in Las Vegas to run bets for you. Even more, I am not suggesting that anyone go out and find a local bookie to deal with or to go to one of the offshore sportsbooks to bet on football games. My point is simply that football and wagering are inextricably linked.

The Games:

(Thurs Nite) Pittsburgh at New England – 7 (52): It will be an emotional might in Foxboro as the Pats raise their Super Bowl championship banner and welcome Tom Brady to the 2015 season that once looked as if his season would be 25% shorter than the actual season. Even the stoic presence of Bill Belichick – sometimes referred to as “Darth Hoodie” – will not put a lid on the adrenaline here. Sometimes, excessive adrenaline leads to lack of concentration which leads to mistakes; I think that is a real possibility here. Meanwhile, the Steelers’ running attack should be severely limited with LeVeon Bell sitting out a suspension and an injury to Maurkice Pouncey. However, Antonio Brown will indeed be there tonight. I think the line is fat. I’ll take the Steelers plus the points.

Green Bay – 6.5 at Chicago (49.5): The Packers have beaten the Bears in Soldier Field the last 5 times they played there; moreover, the Packers have covered the spread in each of those five games. I am not big on trend betting; but nominally, home teams are supposed to enjoy an advantage. Despite the lack of Jordy Nelson to seemingly get open at will against the Bears’ secondary, I do not think the Bears will be able to contain the Packers’ offense. When the Bears have the ball, I think the key will be the ability of the Bears’ OL to give Jay Cutler a little bit of time. If he is harassed and throwing off his back foot – as he was/did much of last year – this game will be over quickly. I like the Packers to win and cover even on the road.

KC at Houston – 1 (41): I see this game as a defensive struggle because neither team has an offense – or a QB – that screams “COMPETENCE”. Both teams have above average defenses. So this is the first example of something I will be doing now and in the future in these Mythical Picks; this is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game. Here is the deal:

    I use a standard US quarter as my flipping coin and I flip it twice.

    Flip #1: Heads means I play the spread; Tails means I play the Total Line

    Flip #2: Heads I play the favorite ATS; Heads I play the OVER.

    The result of the first Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip is to take the game to go OVER.

Cleveland at Jets – 3 (39.5): The dogs are barking over this game between two sub-par teams. Nonetheless, it is not the worst game of the week by a longshot. A major problem with predicting games between two sub-par teams is that one reason any team is sub-par is their tendency to make mistakes at critical times during games. When both can do that – and both of these teams will over the course of the season – you are trying to predict which one will make the last critical error so you can be on the other guys. Like the Chiefs/Texans game above, both defenses should dominate the other team’s offense and QB.

    Seriously, picking the better QB from Josh McCown and Ryan Fitzpatrick is sort of like picking the kinder/gentler Menendez brother.

In games I think will be low-scoring, I prefer to take points instead of laying them. Therefore, I will hold my nose here and take the Browns plus the points.

Indy – 2.5 at Buffalo (45): This is a match-up game and the line reflects that. If you compare the QBs here – the “most important position on any football team” – you would have to make the Colts a prohibitive favorite. Andrew Luck vs. Tyrod Taylor is not a fair fight. But the Bills are going to be stingy on pass defense this year and the Colts are not a good running team – even with the addition of Frank Gore from the Niners. That is not a knock on Gore; it is a recognition that the Colts’ OL is merely mediocre. The Bills’ fans will be raucous as they welcome the shy and retiring Rex Ryan to Bills’ football. I’ll take the Bills at home plus the points.

Miami – 3.5 at Washington (43): The Dolphins’ DL should dominate this game and look like the old Rams’ Fearsome Foursome or the old Steelers’ Steel Curtain. On any snap when the Skins double-team Ndamukong Suh, he is a 3-5 favorite to beat that double team. The “issue” in this game is the Dolphins’ offense which is going to be the cross the team will have to bear all season long. They will not face a fearsome defense this week so all they have to do is to get out of their own way. I like the Dolphins to win and cover on the road.

Carolina – 3.5 at Jax (41.5): I said in my pre-season predictions that the Jags were a team that was improving. Carolina was mediocre this year and they have injury problems to deal with. Purely a hunch, I like the Jags as a home dog here; I’ll take them with the points.

Seattle – 4 at St. Louis (41): This is the best game on Sunday this week if the Baltimore/Denver game isn’t. The Rams beat the Seahawks straight up by 2 points at home last year so the team knows that it can be done. As the Super Bowl “loser”, the Seahawks are supposed to suffer a “hangover” from that game; here is the trend on that:

    Super Bowl losers are 5-21 against the spread (ATS) in the first game of the season following the loss in the Super Bowl.

The Total Line opened at 44 and dropped to 41. I agree with the bettors there that this will be a low-scoring contest. Therefore, I will take the Rams plus the points as a solid home underdog.

New Orleans at Arizona – 2.5 (48): The return of Carson Palmer at QB has to improve the Cards’ offense but by the same token, the Saints’ defense has to be better than they showed last year too. I said in my pre-season predictions that I am not sold on the Cards and I really do not want to lay points with them against an opponent who can score. I’ll take the Saints plus the points here.

Detroit at San Diego – 3 (46): Historically, the Lions are not a good road team and they are certainly better indoors than outdoors. The problem here is that the Chargers have to play without Antonio Gates this week – and the next three weeks too – and Eddie Royal is now plying his trade in Chicago. That means the Chargers will have to find other targets in their passing game and/or get lots of production from rookie RB, Melvin Gordon. With four good defenders no longer in the Lions’ front-seven, I think Gordon will do just that. I’ll take the Chargers at home and lay the points.

Tennessee at Tampa – 3 (41): Those are not dogs you hear barking that is the world’s largest wolf pack all howling at one time. You can watch this game if you want just to see the two nominal QB phenoms from last year’s draft play their first “real game” in the NFL. You can even draw conclusions from watching that game if you want despite the fact that it is rare that one game will tell you much about a rookie’s long term value or burden. However do not bet on this game. Out comes the coin for another Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip game and the coin says to take the game to go OVER. Why not?

Cincy – 3 at Oakland (43): This is an interesting game. I think the Raiders are an improved team from last year – and the year before that. I think the Bengals are not going to be as good as they were last year. Nonetheless, I am not confident that the Raiders have ascended to heights that exceed the Bengals stature. However, the Raiders are at home and they are getting points… I am tempted by the spread but will resist the temptation. I think this will be a defensive game and I like the game to stay UNDER.

Baltimore at Denver – 4.5 (49): The Total Line here opened at 52; the current line represents a significant drop. I must confess that I have no idea why that should be the case. I understand why the Broncos are favored here; they went undefeated at home last year and this is a long trip for the visiting Ravens. Nevertheless, I do not think this is a defensive game; I think both teams will score a lot of points. I like the game to go OVER and I like the Ravens on the road plus the points.

(Sun Nite) Giants at Dallas – 6 (51): This is one of only 3 division games on the card for the weekend. Teams always seem to get themselves up for division games so I expect both teams to come out and play well here. If that is the case, the Cowboys should prevail handily because they are better on offense and they are at least as good if not better on defense. Oh, and they are at home too. I like the Cowboys to win and cover at home.

(Mon Nite Early) Philly – 2.5 at Atlanta (55): If you like tight defensive struggles where field position is an important strategic aspect of the game from start to finish, this is not the game for you. Both teams will go only as far as their offenses will take them because neither defense is going to be a top-shelf unit. This is the highest Total Line for the week reflecting the fact that the high octane Eagles offense is going up against a defense that was miserable last year and the Falcons’ pass-oriented offense (Julio Jones and Roddy White) will go up against an Eagles’ defense that gave up loads of big plays last year. I think the final score here will look like the halftime score for a WNBA game. I like the game to go OVER.

(Mon Nite Late) Minnesota – 2.5 at SF (41): The spread opened with the Niners favored by 3.5 points; the swing here represents a 6-point move and that is a HUGE line move. I had the Vikes winning 10 games in my pre-season predictions and this was one of them. Even though the Vikes’ defense is not one of the league’s best units, I think it will be able to contain a Niners’ offense that projects to be “average at best”. I think Adrian Peterson uses this MNF game to announce his return to the NFL very forcefully. I like the Vikings to win and cover here even on the road.

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