College Football Bowl Games

A whole bunch of the college football bowl games have already happened. I have not been glued to my TV set for fear of missing some important event for most of the games. I did watch most of the Utah/BYU game because of the rivalry angle involved and what looked like a blowout early – 35-0 in the first half – turned out to be a 35-28 game with some excitement at the end. I do not want to harp on the fact that there are too many bowl games; you already know my position on that. Rather I want to talk about some of the economics of bowl games as they apply to the schools involved.

When schools accept bowl invitations, one of the strings attached to the invitation is that each bowl game will require the schools to sell an allotment of tickets to the game. If they do not meet the allotment, the school then owes the bowl committee the value of the unsold tickets. That is one of the reasons that I check in on many of the bowl games for enough time to get a couple of broad crowd shots on my TV. I want to see how full the stands are and – if possible – how big the cheering sections for both schools may be.

As you may expect, schools in the “prestigious bowl games” – and the ones played on “advantageous dates” – tend to sell out their ticket allotments entirely. For example, Michigan State announced that it has already sold out its allotment of 13,000 tickets for the Cotton Bowl game against Alabama on 31 December. In fact, Michigan State said that it had more than 16,000 requests for tickets and could easily have sold more. The Athletic Department at Michigan State has some sort of relationship with Stub Hub in the ticket reselling business and is directing alumni and other fans to Stub Hub to acquire tickets for the Cotton Bowl game.

Michigan State was in the Cotton Bowl last year playing Baylor but did not sell out its allotment for that game. This year, the Cotton Bowl is a stepping stone to the CFP Championship Game; last year it was merely a bowl game against Baylor. That should give you an indication that fan interest in bowl games – even ones with a long history – is marginal.

At the other end of the spectrum, consider the plight of Washington State as they prepare for the Sun Bowl game against Miami in El Paso, TX on 26 December. Washington State’s allotment is 6,000 tickets and based on a report late last week, they had only sold 1,900 of them. Let me try to figure out why:

    El Paso is a couple thousand miles from Pullman WA. Attending the game is going to cost a lot more than the cost of the tickets plus parking.

    The game is the day after Christmas. Fans will either spend Christmas away from home or will have to make a long journey with flight connections on game day.

    Miami is not a “big rivalry game”.

    El Paso is not exactly a tourist mecca or a “destination city”.

Washington State is probably going to eat the cost of at least half of their ticket allotment in addition to whatever costs it incurs in shipping the team and the coaching staff and the band and the cheerleaders to the venue; it is part of the cost of doing business in college football.

I am not picking on Washington State; their situation is mirrored at loads of other schools who are playing in games at inconvenient times against opponents with little meaning to their fans in inconvenient places at inconvenient times. So, why do teams accept bids to play in these minor bowl games in the first place? The reason is that coaches love them for the following reason:

    Teams not in bowl games had their last practices in late November or the first week of December. Teams in bowl games get to practice up until the time of the game. That gives “bowl teams” an extra 2 – 4 weeks of practice before the players show up for spring practices when the weather is nicer.

    Coaches love the extra practice time that non-bowl teams are not allowed to have.

That is correct; the college football system is set up to take the better teams this year – the ones nominally at or over .500 – and give them a greater advantage over the teams that were not-so-good this year. It is sort of the NFL Draft system with the logic inverted; it would be as if the team that won the Super Bowl would get the overall #1 pick…

The whole business of getting fans to travel long distances over the Holidays to go and see a meaningless football game is going on in the face of data saying that overall attendance at college football games is in decline. According to a report at, average attendance at a college football game this year was 43,288 fans. That is down from last year; it continues a slow 5-year decline and it is down 7% from the peak average attendance of 45,456 in 2008.

The “major conferences” were well above this average but the “minor conferences were not. To fill all of the minor bowl games, they need lots of schools from the “minor conferences” where fans do not show up when the games are conveniently on campus. In 2015, 29 schools had average attendance at home games below 20,000 fans.

    10 schools in the MAC were under 20,000; 5 averaged less than 15,000; 2 MAC schools averaged less than 8,000 fans per game.

    7 schools in the Sun Belt were under 20,000; 3 averaged less than 15,000 fans per game.

      [Aside: Idaho is in the Sun Belt Conference. Do they teach geography at Idaho?]

    6 schools in Conference USA were under 20,000; 2 averaged less than 15,000 fans per game.

    3 schools in the Mountain West were under 20,000 fans per game.

I understand that watching many of these teams play football is a lot more comfortable when done on TV. I also understand that football is not a big tradition at many of these schools. Nonetheless, it does point out that it is not going to be easy to get fans from those schools to undertake the expense and the inconvenience of Holiday travel just to see another football game that might well be ignored if it were played across the street.

Finally, there are these facts from one of the 2015 college bowl games that is already in the books:

    San José St (average attendance 15,312) beat Georgia St (average attendance 10,347) 27-16 in the Cure Bowl game held at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL.

    With that win, San José St. ended its season with a record of 6-7.

    With that loss, Georgia St. ended its season with a record of 6-7.

    The Citrus Bowl seats 70,000 fans; the announced attendance for the game was 18,000 souls. Even with that obviously inflated report of the attendance, the Citrus Bowl was 75% empty.

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

The Dark Side Of Money And Sports…

In the Super Bowl of corruption, the two favorites are always the IOC and FIFA. Because of recent headlines, FIFA is the current favorite in that despicable contest. This morning there are reports that “the adjudicatory chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee” – let the fact of the existence of such a body wash over you for just a moment here – had issued 8-year bans from any and all soccer related activities to Sepp Blatter and Michael Platini. Blatter was the guy who ran FIFA for the last umpty-squat years; Platini was the guy in charge of UEFA – the Union of European Football Associations. Adding just a pinch of irony here, Platini and Blatter were rivals in the soccer world; in the last FIFA election, Platini was one of the people who campaigned against Blatter citing the bad reputation FIFA had with Blatter in the driver’s seat. Now, both of them will be “off the pitch” so to speak. Platini was also one of the candidates angling to replace Blatter in the new FIFA election that will happen next year to replace Blatter after Blatter resigned several months ago.

This matter stems from an investigation that has roots in the Swiss Attorney General’s office and in the US Department of Justice. One of the matters at hand is an alleged “disloyal payment” involving millions of dollars made by FIFA to Platini for services nominally rendered by Platini about 15 years ago. The Swiss Attorney General alleges that Blatter knew of said “disloyal payment”. The FIFA Ethics Committee dusted off the FIFA Code of Ethics and discovered that there are sections within said Code dealing with Bribery and Corruption. To the surprise of many folks, those sections of the Code actually had negative things to say about bribery and corruption. Blatter and Platini were obviously surprised to learn of the negative aspects of the Code of Ethics with regard to bribery and corruption.

    Blatter is 87 years old. He has the right to appeal his banishment but let me assume for a moment that he chooses not to do that or that the ban is upheld. An 8-year ban for him is a lifetime ban for all practical purposes.

    Platini is 60 years old. He too can appeal this ruling. In any event, he will be able to return to the sport in whatever capacity he might carve out for himself at age 68. We may not have heard the last from or about him.

I mentioned above that the US Department of Justice was involved in an investigation of FIFA regarding an alleged bribe paid to FIFA of $100M by a now-defunct sports marketing organization called ISL. According to reports, a former FIFA official/employee/whistleblower/whatever told the FBI about the payment itself and that Blatter specifically knew of the payment/bribe.

We will rehash some if not much of this matter down the line when/if either Blatter or Platini appeals this banishment and/or when FIFA holds is new elections for a new major domo early in 2016. Until then, recall that the alleged bribes and payments involved in these investigations involve millions of dollars to Platini and $100M to FIFA and then consider that the Ethics Committee also fined these men the following amounts:

    Blatter was fined $50,000
    Platini was fined $80,000.

Those seem like an awfully small “cost of doing business” to me…

Dwight Perry had this comment in a recent column in the Seattle Times:

“Swiss government agents swept into a Zurich luxury hotel and hauled off 16 more FIFA officials on corruption charges.

“In lieu of arrest warrants, the feds stormed in holding up red cards.”

Let me switch gears here and talk about another sports-related situation involving money, a court proceeding and a former athlete. Clinton Portis was a running back for the Broncos and the Skins over a 9-year period. According to reports, he made over $40M in his career and he is now in bankruptcy court. Those proceedings reveal some details of his personal financial situation that would normally be hidden from sight and those details are strange indeed.

He owes creditors a tad over $4.8M; his income now consists of $3500 a month from the NFL in disability payments plus $1000 a month as a sideline reporter for Skins’ games on local broadcasts. That comes to $54K per year; even if every dime of that income went to pay the creditors, it would take almost 90 years to cover the debt – at 0% interest. That is not the strange aspect of this situation; bankruptcy always involves a huge imbalance of debts to assets. What is unusual in this case is the nature of the debts; this is a partial list:

    Portis owes a bit over $400K in domestic support payments to 4 different women.

    He owes about $400K in back taxes.

    He owes $1.2M in “mortgage deficiencies”.

    He owes $170K to the Borgata in Atlantic City

    He owes $287K to MGM Grand

    He owes $500K to a correspondent for Entertainment Tonight and CNN.

    He owes $500K to his mother.

The first five entries above are surprising in the sense that they are awfully large amounts of money in those “debt categories”; the last two entries above are simply unusual. As part of this filing there is another strange assertion for the court. Portis claims to have lost – and is trying to recover – $8M from a company that took his money and invested it in a casino venture that went belly-up. I know nothing about the details of that “investment” or anything about the company or the nature of the relationship between Portis and that company. Here is what I do know:

    It is really difficult to go broke running a casino.

Finally, sticking with matters involving sports and money, here is a comment from bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Loose change: Just in case Nick Saban’s $6.9 million yearly salary from Alabama isn’t enough to, you know, tide him over, he receives a $125,000 bonus for capturing the SEC title.”

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 12/20/15

Regarding last week’s Mythical Picks, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that the picks last week were better than the embarrassingly bad picks from two weeks ago (5-11-0). The bad news is that last week’s picks were not sufficiently better to enable them to reach the .500 level. Last week’s record was 7-9-0 bringing the overall season record to 103-109-5. The only Coin Flip Game last week was a loser; that drops the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game record to 14-17-1.

The “Best Picks” from last week involved the Broncos/Raiders’ game. I took the game to stay Under 43 and it did; I also took the Raiders plus 7 points and the Raiders won straight up.

The “Worst Picks” from last week were taking the Falcons plus 8 points against the Panthers and watching them lose 38-0. Also, I took the Chiefs/Chargers game to go OVER 45 and the total score was a meager 13 points.

Nevertheless, a new weekend and a fresh menu of games stands in front of me for picking this week. Naturally, no one should read anything here and take it to be sufficiently informative that one would use said information as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game involving real money. One would have to be pretty stupid to do such a thing; here is how stupid:

    You could be tripped up by the cord on a cell phone.

General Comments:

The Dallas Cowboys are not mathematically eliminated from the NFC playoffs despite their 4-9 record because they happen to reside in the NFC East were the other three teams are either miserable or inconsistent or both. The Cowboys actually have a path to become the division winner – and thereby claim a spot in the playoffs – should they win out and every other game involving the other three NFC East teams goes according to a Cowboy-friendly script.

The three upcoming opponents for the Cowboys are the Jets, the Bills (in Buffalo) and the Skins. That is not necessarily a “Trifecta of Doom” although every one of those opponents has a better record than do the Cowboys. Let me just say that while the Cowboys have a path to the playoffs, it is not a path without significant obstacles.

Perhaps one of the Cowboys’ positive assets as they aim to win their final three games is that owner/GM Jerry Jones seems to have begun to confront the reality that the Cowboys are not a very good team. No longer is it “Tony Romo’s injuries” that are to blame; perhaps, he is beginning to see that the roster has holes. In the aftermath of last week’s loss to the Packers by 3 TDs, someone asked Jones if Tony Romo’s availability over the course of the season was what stood between the Cowboys and the Panthers or the Cardinals as the elite teams of the NFC. Jones showed a smidgen of awareness and analysis with his answer:

“I don’t have the heart to put us in with those clubs right now, because I don’t want to — we’ve got more work to do than just get Romo healthy.”

With those words, it would seem as if this is one of those rare moments where Jerry Jones’ mind trumps Jerry Jones’ heart. The Cowboys are not an elite team and it would have taken more than a healthy Tony Romo to make them one in 2015. I will posit three areas where the Cowboys needed to be a whole lot better this year to aspire to top-shelf status:

    Run defense: The Cowboys give up 114 yards per game. The elite teams – Panthers and Cardinals – only give up 85 to 87 yards per game.

    Offense: The Cowboys are 28th in the NFL in total offense.

    Pass rush: The Cowboys have 25 sacks this season; just as a reference, the Lions have 34 sacks and the Titans have 35 sacks and no one is confusing either the Lions or the Titans with an elite defense.

One very specific weakness for the Cowboys this season would be painful for Jerry Jones to acknowledge after all that has gone before. Dez Bryant has been awful this year; last week he dropped 3 passes that hit him in both hands; his total production for the game was 1 reception for a grand total of 9 yards. Back in the summer after a holdout that kept Bryant away from all the offseason team activities, GM Jerry Jones signed Bryant to a 5-year contract worth up to $70M with $45M of that contract guaranteed. For that kind of money, it is reasonable to expect a receiver to catch any ball that hits both of his hands and to catch more than one ball in a game.

The other three teams in the NFC East all sport 6-7 records this morning; clearly, each of those teams has a more realistic shot at the division championship and the playoffs than do the Cowboys but none of the three are exactly “reliable”.

    Skins: They are in first place now based on tie-breakers. Upcoming opponents have a combined record of 16-23. However, 2 of the final 3 games are on the road and Skins are 1-5 on the road so far this year.

    Eagles: Upcoming opponents have a combined record of 23-16. However, 2 of the final 3 games are at home.

    Giants: Upcoming opponents have a combined record of 27-12. However, 2 of the final 3 games are at home.

Fans of all the NFC East teams will focus on the division race over the next several weeks but I would like to take a moment here to step back and look further down the road. The NFC East winner will almost certainly have to be the #4 seed in the NFC playoffs. That means the NFC East winner – whoever it is – will host the #5 seed and right now, that looks to be the Seattle Seahawks. Given the way the Seahawks have played in their past several games, that is not going to be a walk in the park.

I am not alone in that thinking. In Las Vegas, you can wager on what team will win the NFC Championship in late January. There is no spread involved; you just need to name the winner. The Seahawks are not in first place in their division and have only the slimmest of chances of winning the NFC West. Nonetheless, the odds on the Seahawks being the NFC Champions and playing in the Super Bowl in February are only 3-1 as of this morning. By comparison, here are the odds for all of the NFC East teams to win the NFC Championship:

    Giants: 25-1
    Eagles: 25-1
    Skins: 55-1
    Cowboys: 135-1

I like the Seahawks at 3-1 much better than any of those NFC East teams at those elevated odds.

The AFC South has a similar race going on. The Colts and Texans meet this week to break their tie on top of the division. Both teams bring 6-7 records to the game. Just one game back with 3 left to play are the Jags at 5-8. Here is how Las Vegas assesses the AFC South teams winning the AFC Championship:

    Colts: 20-1
    Texans: 50-1
    Jags: 100-1

Personally, I think the odds for the Colts and the Jags are way too low; those look like sucker bets to me. I do not think the Texans can win the AFC Championship but of the three odds above, I guess the Texans at 50-1 looks like the best one to me.

In last week’s action, the Packers beat the Cowboys 28-7; it was a beat-down. The Packers ran the ball for 231 yards. It would appear as if Aaron Rodgers had an “off game” with only 218 yards but in reality the passing total was low because there was no good reason for the Packers to throw the ball very often. The Cowboys’ pass offense continued to be anemic accounting for only 114 yards and a 455 completion rate.

In that game, it appeared as if the Cowboys were afraid even to try to throw the ball downfield to any of their receivers. I can only recall two “long passes” in the entire game; of the other 27 pass attempts, I would estimate that 22 of those were thrown to receivers less than 10 yards downfield. I understand that there is a backup QB in the game for the Cowboys, but if the offense NEVER takes a shot down the field, the defense can play tight and thwart the short passing game and the running game. The Cowboys had 5 “three-and-outs” in the game and were a miserable 1 for 11 on third down conversions.

The Eagles beat the Bills 23-20 to remain in contention for the NFC East title. The Bills had more total offense and won the “time of possession battle” but they lost the game. Here is why the Bills lost:

    The Bills committed 15 penalties in the game for 101 yards
    The Bills were only 6-16 in third down conversions (38%)
    The Eagles were 9-18 in third down conversions (50%)

The loss dropped the Bills below .500 for the season and dealt a significant blow to any playoff hopes they may have continued to harbor…

The Skins beat the Bears 23-20. For the second week in a row, Robbie Gould missed a field goal that was critical to the game. Two weeks ago, he had a shot at along field goal to win the game; last week he had a medium field goal to tie the game; he missed both of them. That is unusual because for his career, Gould is a very high percentage kicker; his career percentage for field goals made is 85.1%. The Skins were led by TE Jordan Reed who caught 9 passes in the game including one for a TD.

The Giants kept pace in the NFC East beating the Dolphins on Monday night in hot/humid Miami. A screen graphic during the game said it was 74 degrees with 90% humidity; interestingly, as the game wore on, it seemed as if the Dolphins who live and work in that climate were the ones to wilt; the Giants looked fresher and stronger at the end by a significant margin. So much for the Dan Campbell Tough Guy Mode… Eli Manning picked the Dolphins apart all night long. He completed 27 out of 31 pass attempts; that is hard to do in a practice session; on some pass plays, the Giants’ receivers were so wide open that you might have thought they had not showered in a month.

The Steelers beat the Bengals 33-20 last week but the Bengals losses were far more important than this single game. On the same drive, the Bengals lost TE Tyler Eifert and QB Andy Dalton. People have jumped all over backup QB AJ McCarron for saying that he wants to be the second coming of Tom Brady. Of course he hopes to be that; he is a low-round draft pick who has to step in for a successful starting QB who is out with an injury just like Tom Brady. Now, what Brady did with that opportunity was to win 4 Super Bowls and forge a Hall of Fame career; is it shocking to think that McCarron might not want the same thing to happen to him?

Having said that, the odds are against the Bengals right about now and it is possible if they lose all of their remaining games that they may not even make it to the playoffs. The Bengals had dodged the injury bug for the first part of the season but they were severely stung last week. Less visible than the loss of Eifert and Dalton is an injury to Adam Jones in the Bengals secondary. Once Jones got his life under control, he became a very good defensive back; with him out of action here is what Ben Roethlisberger did last week:

    30 for 39 for 282 yards.

Equally important, the Steelers were 8-14 on third down conversions. If the Seahawks are the team in the NFC that one should not aspire to meet in the playoffs, the Steelers are the analogous team in the AFC.

    [Aside: This was not a kinder and gentler year for starting QBs in the AFC North. Roethlisberger, Dalton, Joe Flacco and Josh McCown all spent time on the sidelines recovering from injuries.]

The Browns beat the Niners 24-10. Most folks have focused on the positive aspects of Johnny Manziel’s performance in the game and that is as it should be. The Browns need to see him play real football against NFL defenses in order to assess if he is going to be their “QB Going Forward”. Last week was a positive showing even considering that the opponent was a bottom-feeder; any time a QB leads an offense to 481 yards of total offense in an NFL game, it is a plus. The Niners’ defense ranks 30th in the league; only the Saints and Giants are worse; the Niners yield 402 yards per game.

As marginal as the Niners are on defense, there is a much more serious question that needs asking as a result of last week’s game:

    How on Earth did the Niners give up 9 sacks in a game against the Browns?

    The Browns recorded only 17 sacks in the first 12 games of this season and they got 9 sacks in this one game. Incredible…

Oh, just to complete the reporting on the Niners’ performance last week, they generated all of 48 yards on offense in the first half of the game.

The Seahawks manhandled the Ravens last week 35-6. I do not want to put too fine a point on it, but when a team has to have Jimmy Claussen throw the ball 40 times in a game, that team is not is a good position to win. That is what happened to the Ravens last week – and indeed they did not win. The Seahawks lost RB Thomas Rawls for the rest of the year with a broken bone in his ankle; that will not help the Seahawks but given the way Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockette are lighting it up in the passing game, the Seahawks look to have sufficient offense to stay hot. Also, there is reason to believe that Marshawn Lynch will be back for a playoff run…

The Jags beat the Colts 51-16 last week. In the past two weeks, the Jags have scored 90 points in their two games and their record is 1-1 in those two games. It appears that the offense has come to life in Jax but the defense has gone into hibernation. Actually, the Jags scored on offense and on defense (scoop-and-score on a fumble) and on special teams (punt return). The Colts had won 16 consecutive games over AFC South opponents going into this game; that streak came to a crashing halt here.

There were reports that Colts’ owner, Jim Irsay, was so irate at the team performance two weeks ago at Pittsburgh that he left the stadium early, went to his private jet and split; he was not around to see the final score of 45-10 I have not confirmed that with the pilot, but let me assume the reports are accurate. If he was pissed at the team for losing to the Steelers in Pittsburgh, imagine how he must have felt seeing the Colts dominated by the Jaguars by the same 35-point margin of victory. The Colts squeezed 4 wins out of backup QB, Matt Hasselbeck, in the wake of Andrew Luck suffering a lacerated kidney; it would appear that Hasselbeck’s good fortune has gone the way of Cinderella’s carriage.

Hasselbeck is still #1 on the depth chart despite appearing to injure his throwing shoulder in last week’s game; Charlie Whitehurst is listed as #2 with Andrew Luck at #3 and yet to be healed lacerated kidney. The only other QB on the roster is on the practice squad; Alex Tanney has been in the NFL since 2012 and has been on the practice squads for 6 other teams before signing on with the Colts. If Matt Hasselbeck is indeed injured, the Colts’ QB situation looks rather bleak…

The Texans could not capitalize on the Colt’s misfortunes last week because the Texans had to play the Patriots and the Texans lost 27-6. The focus here was on the return of Rob Gronkowski who had 4 catches and a TD in the game. However, the biggest deal in the game from my perspective was the Pats’ defense which recorded 6 sacks in the game and gave up no TDs. The Texans could only muster 189 yards of offense for the game.

The Pats took advantage of the fact that the Bengals and the Broncos both lost last weekend. The Pats had been the #3 seed in the AFC playoffs last Sunday morning; today they are the #1 overall seed …

The Panthers beat the Falcons 38-0. I saw a bit of the replay of this game and the parts that I saw were pure domination by the Panthers. Falcons’ fans and commentators have been highly critical of Matt Ryan over the past month or so. Ryan did not have anything near a good game here but you cannot pin this loss on his behind. Consider these stats and tell me how the loss could possibly be the fault of the Falcons’ QB:

    Falcons’ defense allowed 3 TDs and 260 yards of offense – – – in the first quarter of the game!

The Saints beat the Bucs 24-17 last week leaving the Bucs 2 games behind the Vikes and the Seahawks for the two wild card slots with only 3 games left to play. Drew Brees threw for 300+ yards and 2 TDs in the game and ended a 4-game losing streak for the Saints. Going into this game, the Saints had the worst defense in the league; the Bucs offense did not exploit that and this week the Saints’ defense ranks 31st in the league. The Giants have taken over the “worst defense” label…

The Chiefs beat the Chargers 10-3. Philip Rivers played the game with a case of the flu and got exactly no support from the Chargers’ running game; they ran the ball 18 times for 44 yards. Rivers also did not get much support from the Chargers’ OL; they allowed the Chiefs to sack Rivers 5 times in the game. Notwithstanding all of that, the Chargers had a chance to tie the game at the end; the final play was an incomplete pass with the ball at the Chiefs’ 1-yardline. The play selection says a lot about the Chargers’ confidence in the run game…

The Raiders beat the Broncos in Denver 15-12 in a strange game indeed. For the entire first half, the Raiders amasses a total of minus-12 yards on offense. They trailed 12-0 because every time the Broncos threatened the end zone, the Raiders’ defense made them kick a field goal. In fact, the Broncos were in the red zone 3 times last week and never crossed the goal line. It is not as if the Raiders’ offense became a force majeure in the second half because the Raiders’ total offense for the day was only 126 yards; teams do not win with that offensive output very often…

There was an incredibly strange call by the Raiders’ coaching staff in this game. Leading 15-12 in the fourth quarter as the result of a Raider’s TD, they decided to go for a 2-point conversion. At that point in the game, leading by 5 points is the same as leading by 4 points; the opposition has to score a TD to get ahead of you. The 2-point conversion try failed and the Raiders then had to defend against a Broncos’ field goal as well as a Broncos’ TD for the balance of the game. Not a good choice there…

Defense dominated in Denver; neither the Broncos nor the Raiders were able to run the ball at all in this game; consider these stats:

    Raiders ran 23 times for 27 yards (1.2 yards per carry)
    Broncos ran the ball 21 times for 34 yards (1.6 yards per carry)
    Raiders sacked Osweiler 5 times for 32 yards
    Broncos sacked Carr 3 times for 36 yards
    Raiders averaged 3.1 yards per pass attempt
    Broncos averaged 4.9 yards per pass attempt.

The Rams beat the Lions last week in a meaningless game. In the first half, the Lions were sleepwalking; here is the outcome of their first half possessions:

    Punt, punt, punt again, throw a Pick-Six, punt, time expires.

The Rams did not exactly exploit that largesse; the Rams led 7-0 at the half thanks to that Pick-Six in the middle of those possessions. The Rams did run the ball effectively in the game. Todd Gurley carried 16 times for 140 yards and 2 TDs and the Rams ran for a total of 203 yards in the game.

The Jets beat the Titans 30-8 last week to hold onto the second wild card position in the AFC. I have read this in 3 different places so I believe it to be correct even though I could not prove this to you if pressed:

    If the Jets, Chiefs and Steelers all win out and wind up in a 3-way tie for the 2 AFC wild card slots, the Jets will be the odd-team out.

Jets’ DT, Muhammad Wilkerson had 3 sacks in the game giving him 12 sacks for the year; that is an impressive performance for a defensive tackle – particularly a defensive tackle that will be a free agent in this offseason. Wilkerson and his defensive colleagues held the Titans to 24 yards rushing for the day; they recorded a total of 5 sacks; the Jets’ defense simply dominated the game. On offense, the Jets were in sync too; they racked up 439 yards of offense.

The Cards beat the Vikes 23-20 last week. [Aside: Three games finished with the same 23-20 score last week. That is not a common occurrence nor is that a common final score.] Teddy Bridgewater threw for 317 yards in the game and what became apparent as the game went on was that the Cards had more than a bit of difficulty getting any sort of pass rush on him without bringing at least one and often multiple blitzers.

The Games:

Last night the Rams beat the Bucs 31-23 in a game that was of marginal importance and was of marginal interest. The Rams scooted off to a 14-0 lead early and the game sort of coasted along after that. The loss eliminates the Bucs from the NFC playoffs but they do have 6 wins to this point in the season and considering that they only had 2 wins last year, the improvement has been significant

(Sat Nite) Jets – 3.5 at Dallas (41.5): The spread opened the week at 2.5 points and has been creeping up all week long. This game does not carry a lot of marquee value but there is something positive to day about the matchup. The Jets need a win to stay in the wild card race and the Cowboys need a win if you believe they still have a shot at the NFC East Championship (see above). Interestingly, both teams have a Top-10 defense in terms of yards allowed but no in points allowed. The Jets like to run the football; they average 29 rushes per game and 117 yards per game. The Cowboys give up 113 yards per game so I expect the Jets to be able to do what they like to do in this game. I’ll take the Jets to win and cover on the road.

Chicago at Minnesota – 6.5 (42.5): The spread opened at 5 points and has risen all week; this morning you can find it as high as 7 points at one of the Internet sportsbooks. The Vikes needs the game much more than the Bears do; the Vikes are solidly in the wild card race and are only 1 game behind the Packers in the NFC North. The Bears cannot croon Bing Crosby’s carol, I’ll Be Home for Christmas because the regular season goes until 3 January, but they will be home right after that. However, the Bears are not just going through the motions; they lost last week to the Skins but they played hard and played well. Just a hunch here; I like the Bears plus the points.

Atlanta at Jax – 3 (49): On Oct 11th, the Falcons were 5-0. If you had told owner Arthur Blank on Oct 12th that his team would be 3-point dogs to the Jags in this spot and/or that his team would be on a 6-game losing streak going into this game, he might have had you tested for recreational drug use. The Falcons’ defense has not been good for a good stretch of this season, but they still give up 5 points per game less than the Jags’ defense does. For whatever “momentum” means, it is heading in opposite directions for these teams. The Falcons have lost 6 in row and lost last week 38-0. The Jags are only a game behind in their division – somewhere no one would have predicted for this team even a month ago – and they won last week by 5 TDs. However, I cannot play “momentum” with teams that have losing records and inconsistent performances. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Falcons plus the points. Wow! Remember, these are Mythical Picks; in the real world I would not wager 11 cents to win a dime on this game…

Houston at Indy – 1 (41): The lines on this game did not go up until late on Thursday because there was uncertainty about who would play QB for both sides. Even though both teams show up here with losing records – and losses last week – this is as important a game as any on the card for the week. The winner will have a 1 game lead in the AFC South race; moreover, the winner here will be the only team in that division with only 1 loss within the division. I will not call this the Game of the Week because there are better ones below, but this is a game to watch. Think about these two facts in juxtaposition:

    Over the last two weeks, the Colts have lost by a combined score of 96-26.
    Since 2002, the Texans are 0-13 playing in Indy.

This is another Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the game to go OVER.

KC – 7 at Baltimore (41): The Chiefs need to keep winning; they have won 7 in a row and right now have the top wild card position in the AFC. This is their last road game; a win here and two good showings at home will put the Chiefs in the first wild card spot in the AFC playoffs. That did not look possible back in mid-October when the Chiefs were 1-5 and had lost 5 in a row. The Ravens have nothing to gain or to lose based on the outcome of this game. On defense, the Ravens give up 7 points per game more than the Chiefs do; look at that spread. On offense, the Chiefs score 4 points per game more than the Ravens do; look at that spread. Normally with two teams that play defense better than offense and a full TD as the spread, I would take the points. The problem I have here is that the Chiefs very good defense (4th in scoring defense and 8th in total defense) is going up against Jimmy Claussen at QB. I do not see the Chiefs lighting up the scoreboard in Baltimore, but I think the Ravens will be bottled up sufficiently for the Chiefs to cover here. I’ll take the Chiefs and lay the points.

Buffalo at Washington “pick ‘em” (44): This is a really even game; you can find the Bills as a 1-point favorite at a couple sportsbooks and you can find the skins as a 1-point favorite at a couple of other sportsbooks. Most places have it as a “pick ‘em” game. Neither team can afford to lose here but a loss for the Bills would be a disaster. The scoring defenses for these teams are the same; total defense differs by only 5 yards per game; the Bills about 20 yards per game better on offense; the Bills score 3 points per game more. As I said, this is a really even game. For folks who like the Bills, here is a cautionary note:

    The Bills have shown a tendency – no, make that a propensity – to self-destruct with penalties. They had 15 penalties last week and lost a game that they won on the stat sheets. The Bills have committed 124 penalties this year in 13 games – almost 10 per game. Those penalties have cost the Bills 1086 yards.

    The Bucs and Rams have played 14 games this year (including last night’s game). The Bucs have committed more penalties than the Bills given that extra game but even those added penalties have cost the Bucs fewer yards than the Bills’ penalties have cost the Bills.

I think this game boils down to a simple question. Will the Bills self-destruct again or will they exploit their stat advantage to take away a win from this game? I think they will self-destruct one more time; I like the Skins to win the game.

Tennessee at New England – 14 (46.5): On Thursday morning, I checked the money line for this game and the highest one I could find was +960; this morning I checked again and that line had dropped to +875. The only reason I can think of for that large a move is that someone put a significant wager down on the Titans to win this game straight up. For the record, I am not the person who did that… I could think about taking the Titans with 2 TDs worth of points in a late-season game against the Pats except that the Pats still need wins to secure home field advantage throughout the playoff. The spread is not interesting here so I’ll take this game to go OVER.

(Sun Nite) Arizona – 3 at Philly (51): This is the “flexed game” for Sunday Night Football; it is an important game for both teams and it should be a good game. The Eagles will know how the Giants and Skins fared in their 1:00 PM games by kickoff time; if both the Giants and Skins win those games, this becomes all the more critical for the Eagles. Statistically, the Cards score 8 points per game more than the Eagles and allow 5 points per game fewer than the Eagles. That would make the spread here look awfully cheap – except that the Cards have a long trip to the East Coast for the game and that often provides a large advantage for the home squad. Since this game is a night game, that advantage should be minimized; the Cards will not be playing at a time when their bodies think is “before lunchtime”. The Cards sport a 6-1 road record this year so travel is not so deleterious to them. I like the game to go OVER and I like the Cards to win and cover here.

Carolina – 5 at Giants (48): This is a game to watch for multiple reasons. The Panthers have a reason to play hard in this game over and above their undefeated status. They have not yet wrapped up home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Two team stats point to a big Panthers’ win here:

    Panthers lead the league in scoring at 31.6 points per game.
    Giants’ defense is worst in the league in yards per game at 418.6.

However, the Giants will be playing “desperately” because they have a road game at Minnesota next week which will not be a walk in the park. A loss for the Giants will be most debilitating for their playoff hopes. For the “game within a game” think about seeing Odell Beckham, Jr. being covered all day long by Josh Norman. That alone could be worth the price of admission. A lot of pundits say this is where the Panthers’ win streak ends; I have to admit that with Jonathan Stewart probably out and Greg Olsen probably out, the Giants look attractive. What I cannot get past is the total lack of a pass rush by the Giants and that means Cam Newton should still have a big day. I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Cleveland at Seattle – 15 (43): The Seahawks are rolling; the Browns are – well, they are the Browns. After starting the season at 4-5, the Seahawks can guaranteed themselves a playoff spot with a win here. Yesterday the money line for the Browns was between +950 and +975 depending on which sportsbook you were looking at. Today, those numbers are as high as +995. I think the Seahawks’ defense will throttle the Browns here. On the other hand, the Browns’ defense has not throttled anyone this year; the Browns give up 27.5 points per game; only the Saints give up more. I do not like to do this, but I will take the Seahawks and lay that huge basket of points.

Green Bay – 3 at Oakland (47): This should be a good game and it is certainly an important game. The Packers have a 1-game lead in the NFC North and will know the outcome of the Vikes/Bears game earlier in the day. The Raiders are in deep yogurt with regard to the playoffs; their record is 6-7 and they can see 3 teams ahead of them with 8-5 records and only 3 games left to play. I think this will be the end of the line for the Raiders. I like the Packers to win and cover – even on the road in The Black Hole.

Miami at San Diego – 1.5 (45.5): This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. The TV listings for this game should carry a notice that viewers are advised to avert their eyes. Both teams are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and they bring a combined record of 8-18 to the stadium. The temperature in San Diego at game time will only be in the low-60s so maybe some fans will actually show up to see this game and not go surfing. Bottom Line: I like Philip Rivers a lot better than I like Ryan Tannehill; I’ll take the Chargers and lay the points.

Denver at Pittsburgh – 6.5 (44.5): I think this is the Game of the Week because these are good teams playing well and the game is important. Here is the matchup that will be great to watch:

    Broncos have the best scoring defense in the NFL – 17.3 points per game.

    Steelers have not been held under 30 points in a game since Nov 1.

I think the Steelers can and will score here – maybe not the 36 points per game they have averaged since Nov 1, but they will score. I do think that the Steelers’ defense will be able to keep the Broncos offense under control simply because the Broncos offense is not that good no matter who plays QB for them. The Broncos score the same number of points per game as the Skins and no one thinks the Skins are an offensive juggernaut. The game means more to the Steelers than it does to the Broncos; I’ll take the Steelers at home to win and cover.

Cincy – 6 at SF (40.5): The spread for this game opened at 4 points and has been climbing slowly all week. If AJ McCarron is going to emulate Tom Brady’s career arc (see above), this is a great way for him to start his trek and gain some confidence. The Niners stink on offense and their defense is just as bad. The Niners give up 24.2 points per game and a whopping 401.7 yards per game. Even so, the Bengals under Marvin Lewis have tended to play very conservatively in big games and in games like this where they are not in their comfort zone. This is purely a hunch but I’ll take the Niners plus the points at home because I think this will be a low-scoring affair.

(Mon Nite) Detroit at New Orleans – 3 (50): This game was the clear runner-up in the minds of the Selection Committee for the Dog Breath Game of the Week. These teams bring a combined 9-17 record to the stadium and – quite frankly – outside of Detroit and New Orleans, no one gives a rat’s ass about either of these teams. ESPN pays a big price for MNF and you wonder why after you look at yet another “Monday Night Stinker”. I am one of those who do not care about either team here so let me turn this game over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol for the pick. The coin says to take the game to go OVER.

Finally, here is an NFL related item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Steelers Hall of Fame QB Terry Bradshaw has put his 12-acre Hawaiian estate on the market for $2.7 million.

“If you can just overlook the steel curtains on the home’s windows and the terrible towels in the bathroom, real-estate agents say, it’s the perfect site for an immaculate reception.”

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

Not Coachspeak – Coach-Misspeak…

Yesterday, I said that I did not know enough about what happened in the reported Aroldis Chapman domestic violence event and I would defer judgment/comment on it until I knew more. Washington Nationals’ manager, Dusty Baker, did not defer comment and many folks considered his defense of Chapman insensitive at best and atavistic at worst. The brouhaha over those comments seems to have allowed another of Baker’s recent utterings to slide gently off into the world ether with much less commentary than I think it deserves.

These words have been attributed to Dusty Baker. I did not hear him say them but I have also heard no denials from him or the Nats regarding them.

“I think the No. 1 thing that’s missing in the game is speed. You know, with the need for minorities, you can help yourself — you’ve got a better chance of getting some speed with Latin and African-Americans. I’m not being racist. That’s just how it is.”

If I take those words as presented here on the page, I agree that “speed” is not a dominant element of baseball in 2015 and adding speed to a team a plus. I also agree that – on average – a scout is more likely to identify a speedy player when he is scouting Latin or African-American players then when he scouting Asian or Caucasian players. Indeed, that is not racist; that is just how it is…

Having said that, if you read Baker’s remarks and recall the words of Jimmy (The Greek) Snyder, you may find a small parallel. What Snyder said was that Blacks “were bred” to be better athletes than Whites. Granted, Snyder’s use of “bred” reduces Blacks to the category of animals at worst or chattel property at best, but if you are talking about “speed” as an athletic attribute, what Snyder said was pretty much the same thing Baker said.

Now compare the reaction of the people in the media who reported both sets of remarks. Snyder was excoriated and even with an apology he was fired by CBS – or maybe it was NBC, I really do not recall. In the words of George Orwell’s 1984, Snyder was made into an unperson.

In no way am I defending what Snyder said. However, in no way can I accept what Dusty Baker just said as a mere slip of the tongue. Snyder was hired by one of the networks as a commentator, a person who was supposed to communicate with the public using words. His misuse of words was a firing offense. Baker is hired by a baseball team to help the team win games; he is not paid to be an orator or a communicator. Therefore, his words should not be even close to a firing offense. However, his words should bring him a healthy serving of public opprobrium and that has not yet been delivered.

While on the subject of managers/coaches whose public utterances may be just a tad off center, let me focus on recent comments by José Mourinho, the coach/manager of Chelsea in the English Premier League. Chelsea is not doing well at all this year; as of this morning, they stand 16th (out of 20 teams) in the EPL Table and they are exactly one point above the “relegation line”. Granted, the season is only near the halfway point, but this is indeed an unusual position for the Chelsea squad. Just last year, Chelsea finished 3rd in the EPL and only allowed 27 goals in 38 league games. This year, they have already allowed 26 goals in 16 games.

As you may imagine, the Chelsea fans and the football commentators are not pleased with Chelsea’s performance this year and as happens here too, much of the criticism is focused on Mourinho as the manager/coach. In the US, one might expect a coach under serious scrutiny and having this kind of a season to resort to coachspeak about working harder and correcting the “little things” that have been going wrong and etc. Not José Mourinho:

“One of my best qualities is to read the game for my players and I feel like my work was betrayed. I think [Leicester City] deserved to win because they were better than us during a long period of time. We conceded two goals that were unacceptable.”

And …

“All last season I did phenomenal work and brought [the Chelsea players] to a level that is not their level and more than they really are.”

The argot of the times would say that Mourinho just threw the entire Chelsea roster under the bus. Actually, if I look at what other coaches have said where those words were defined as “throwing someone under the bus”, I would characterize Mourinho’s remarks as “throwing the team under the bus, circling the bus around and running over their bodies a few more times and then pissing all over the huddled mass on the pavement”. This almost makes Stalin’s scorched earth policy seem humane.

I will not pretend to know how effective José Mourinho is/has been as a football manager/coach for his career. In US football terms, I am confident that he is somewhere on the spectrum between Vince Lombardi and Richie Kotite. In terms of being a coach who creates a warm and fuzzy environment in the locker room, I think I am on safe ground suggesting that he either has a lot to learn or that he just does not care about said warm and fuzzy environment.

For the next item, I need to set the stage for a moment. A maiden filly named Ruby Queen was supposed to run in a race at Mahoning Valley Race Course in Ohio; her form must have been awful because she went off in a race for fillies and mares at 110-1. Accidentally, the horse that entered the starting gate and ran in the race and blew away the field was a male horse named Leathers Slappin. Here are two paragraphs from the AP report on how this happened:

“An investigation found that a stable worker went into the wrong stall on Nov. 4 and brought out a male horse named Leathers Slappin instead of Ruby Queen, who was in a neighboring stall, said William Crawford, executive director of the Ohio State Racing Commission.

“A track employee, known as an identifier, then failed to properly check the horse before what was supposed to be an all-female race, he said. The identifier’s job is to verify each horse by looking at the numbers on its lip tattoo.”

I understand that “process” is important and that the identifier here may not have been nearly as alert as one might have expected. However, may I suggest ever so gently that there might have been yet another way to determine that the animal he was “identifying” was not a female of the species…?

Finally, here is another horse racing item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“American Pharoah will command a $200,000 stud fee and, according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, could easily do 200 bookings in five months.

“Pass the Neighagra.”

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

All Baseball Today…

There has been a lot of activity in the Hot Stove League already this year and I would like to comment on a small part of the player exchanges. I wonder what the Atlanta Braves are thinking/doing.

Last year, the Braves lost 95 games which is bad enough; moreover, their run differential for the season was minus-187 which was 4 runs worse than the Phillies’ run differential. That means they got blown out more than once in a while. There is no question the Braves need a rebuild. And that sets the stage…

First the Braves traded Andrelton Simmons who was the best defensive shortstop in the National League and who was not an embarrassment at the plate. In exchange, they got a replacement shortstop in Erick Aybar who hits a bit better but who is several notches below Simmons in the field. The Braves also acquired 2 minor league pitchers in that deal.

Then, the Braces sent Cameron Maybin off to the Tigers and acquired 2 more minor league pitchers. So, it would seem as if the idea is to shore up the pitching staff, right? After all, with that negative run differential, one has to look at the team pitching and say to oneself:

    We ought to be able to upgrade that…

However, the next trade was to ship out their single best starting pitcher – Shelby Miller – to acquire Ender Inciarte (a good young outfielder), Dansby Swanson (a shortstop who was the overall #1 pick in last year’s draft), and 2 more minor league pitchers. In this series of moves, the Braves subtracted three solid major league players to acquire one good young outfielder, a journeyman shortstop, a top draft pick and 6 minor league pitchers.

    If Dansby Swanson does not become a solid major league player and at least 2 if not 3 of those minor league pitchers make it to the majors, one has to wonder how long it might be for the Braves to recover.

What the Braves seem to be doing is to trade off their valuable assets to accumulate numbers of young prospects in the hope that they will all mature together and become the nucleus of a strong contending team. That is not a bad idea when it works. There are two potential problems here:

    1. It may not work. The players they acquired may not pan out.

    2. There should be some anxious times in store for Braves’ fans. If you think I am exaggerating, talk to some Philadelphia 76ers fans; they are in medias res as we speak.

Another Hot Stove League trade of interest is the one that is limbo at the moment between the Dodgers and the Reds involving Aroldis Chapman and allegations that he was involved in a domestic violence incident several months ago where shots were fired although no one was injured. I have no idea what actually happened there so I shall reserve all judgments regarding that matter except to wonder:

    Do you think that Jerry Jones might sign Chapman for the Cowboys? He can throw a baseball 100 mph; I wonder if he can throw a football…

In other baseball news, Commissioner Rob Manfred said that he will not lift Pete Rose’s lifetime ban from baseball. Given that Manfred is only 57 years old, it would seem as if he is going to be in that position for a while; that means Pete Rose’s lifetime ban could likely extend to the end of Rose’s lifetime. According to this report by Matt Snyder on, Rose told Manfred when the two met that he (Rose) continues “to bet on horse racing and professional sports including baseball.” Rose lives in Nevada where those activities are perfectly legal and millions (literally) of people go to Nevada every year to do just those sorts of things. Notwithstanding the legalities here, Pete Rose has to be dumber than a bag of hair. The thing that got him in the situation he is in now is “betting on baseball”. He is seeking clemency and redemption; so how can he still be betting on baseball and hope to obtain said clemency and redemption?

It would be even better if he stopped gambling on the horses and other sporting events and focused his gambling energies on things like poker or blackjack or roulette. It would be difficult for an objective observer to say that those activities might affect the “integrity of the game” when the person involved is not going to be a player or manager any time soon. So, Rose came to the Commish with a weak case for clemency/redemption to start with and then sealed his fate by doing something even more stupid. According to Snyder’s story, there is a footnote in Manfred’s report regarding his decision:

“Even more troubling, in our interview, Rose initially denied betting on baseball currently and only later in the interview did he ‘clarify’ his response to admit such betting.”

So, Rose is still betting on baseball and – after getting an interview with the Commish that he has been seeking for years to plead his case – what he did was to lie about his continued betting on baseball. Given those circumstances, I now pronounce Pete Rose as

    The Bull-Goose Looney.

In the Ken Kesey novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Randall Patrick McMurphy wanted to know which of the inmates in the asylum was “the bull-goose looney”. Well, now we know who it is…

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times regarding another baseball issue:

Joe Posnanski of, on MLB traditionalists’ aversion to bat-flipping: ‘If Neil Armstrong had played by baseball’s stupid unwritten rules of decorum, he would have whispered, ‘Yeah, I’m on the moon.’”

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

What Is A Catch/What Is Not A Catch…

Roger Goodell announced last week that the NFL would create a committee to think about possible revisions to the NFL rule governing what is a catch and what is not a catch. That committee would then make its recommendations to the Competition Committee – who has studied this matter in the past and is the group that came up with the head-spinning rule that exists today – and then, the Competition Committee might suggest rule changes to the NFL and the NFLPA that might go into effect… Calculating the value of pi to 1000 decimal places using only a pencil and a notepad might not take as long to reach a result.

However, I prefer to be a problem-solver as opposed to a problem; therefore, I present to this new Yet-To-Be-Named Committee a simple place to start as they seek to define what is a catch and what is not a catch:

    When a receiver controls the ball and gets two feet down – or his knee, elbow, butt or some other part of his anatomy – that is a catch.

    When he can only control the ball and only get one foot down, that is not a catch.

    When he controls the ball – two feet down – and then hits the ground and loses the ball, that is a fumble.

Yes, there are still elements of judgment in those suggestions meaning that there will be the need for replays/challenges and there will still be some elements of controversy in the calls. Nonetheless, I do think my suggested rule change will be less controversial – it is certainly briefer and simpler than the current rule(s) – and should be worth consideration.

Oh, and while I am at it, I have another suggestion for the Competition Committee’s consideration:

    Just as “what is a catch/what is not a catch” is a mystery, another mystery is “what is pass interference/who committed said pass interference”. Having watched hundreds upon hundreds of replays of pass receptions and pass interference calls/non-calls, it almost seems as if these calls can be made with a flip of the coin in 75% of the cases.


      1. Change the penalty for defensive pass interference to the same one that exists for offensive pass interference. Make it 10-yards and an automatic first down. Why should defensive pass interference result in a 50-yard penalty when offensive pass interference cannot be more than 10 yards? That seems a bit out of balance…

      2. Allow receivers and defenders to contact one another/hand fight/whatever until the moment the pass is thrown. Then, if there is any contact other than making a play on the ball as it arrives for reception/interception/incompletion, that is pass interference on the player who makes the first contact.

Now that my work is done with the NFL for today, let me turn my attention to college football for a moment. David Shaw is the head coach at Stanford and has shown himself to be highly competent in that position and a thoughtful man when it comes to what is good for the sport of college football. I took notice of the following remark in large measure because it was attributed to David Shaw; if it had come from a half dozen other college coaches who shall remain nameless here, I would likely have not paid it much mind:

“I do believe at some point it’s going to be an eight-team playoff. I think it’s going to be unavoidable. I’m not upset by any stretch of the imagination. I just know this year is a part of the process where you have these teams in Stanford and Iowa and Ohio State that you could make a case could be in a playoff, and it would be a phenomenal playoff. So I have no problems with where we are now. I just do believe eventually, it will become an eight-team playoff because it’s the only thing that makes sense.”

I agree completely with David Shaw that the CFP will eventually expand to 8 teams. I do not agree that the reason for that expansion will be to accommodate four more teams for which one “could make a case could be in a playoff”; rather, the expansion will be driven by the economics of the matter. Money talks…

I too like where we are now; the CFP as it is configured is a light-year better than the BCS was and the BCS was a light-year better than what existed when polls were taken after the big-time bowl games were played and a “national champion” was elected in an off-the-field process. I am happy with a four-team field and can continue to live with that for a long time. However, you will not hear me screech about the insanity of expanding the field to eight teams when that comes to pass maybe 5 years from now.

However, when the discussion of expansion/non-expansion heats up, let me put down a marker right now:

    It is ridiculous to say that expansion to 8 teams will eliminate the controversy about who is admitted to the playoffs and who is not. That sort of controversy/tempest-in-a-teapot will continue to happen until or unless the CFP includes each and every team playing Division 1-A football.

    If you doubt that statement, consider that there are now 68 teams in the March Madness field and there are discussions ever year about what team was unjustly denied a chance to be in the Big Dance.

Note that David Shaw named 3 teams he believes can and should be in a college football playoff this year. If you take his nominees and add them to the existing field that would give you 7 teams and the need to add an eighth. So, just for fun, let me posit that the second tier of 4 teams would be Iowa, Ohio State, Stanford and – – Notre Dame. Surely you do not believe that the folks in Tallahassee (Florida State), Chapel Hill (UNC) and/or Houston (Houston) would unanimously agree that was the only logical field of 8 teams. The tournament will expand because there is a ton of money to be made by expanding. However, the screeching and whining about who is in and who is not in the tournament will not go away.

Finally, Brad Dickson had these comments recently in the Omaha World-Herald about a college bowl game at the other end of the spectrum from the CFP games – the Foster Farms Bowl to be played in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara CA:

“Nebraska has been selected to play in the Foster Farms Bowl. That’ll teach the team to go 5-7.

“The Foster Farms Bowl features a 5-7 Nebraska team vs. UCLA, a team Nebraska has played multiple times in recent years. The best way to sell this game to Husker fans may be to publicize the typical high temperature here [in Nebraska] on Dec. 26.”

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

The NBA Goes Dormant Until March…

To begin today, I want to juxtapose two recent occurrences in the NBA. The first event is summarized by an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The Philadelphia 76ers finally snapped the longest losing streak in American pro-sports history — 28 losses in a row.

“That popping sound you hear is the Washington Generals hitting the champagne at Don Shula’s house.”

The other NBA event is at the other end of the success spectrum; the Golden State Warriors finally lost a game this year and as of this morning, their record stands at 24-1.

Those two streaks were very important to the NBA for a simple reason. Each of those streaks gave people a reason to give a fig about a few NBA regular season games in November and December. For the majority of such games in just about every NBA season, no one really pays attention at all. Without meaning any offense to the 5 games the NBA will stage on Christmas Day, few if any people really care about them either save for TV execs who have programming for the day other than the 6437th rerun of It’s A Wonderful Life. With these two polar opposite streaks in the past, serious fan attention to NBA games will be minimal until late February/early March when playoff positioning becomes interesting.

The NBA is somewhat fortunate in another way this season. Kobe Bryant’s announcement that he will retire at the end of the season has fueled

    The Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour Across America

That series of tributes – which in reality are not much more than a series of feelgood events – allows teams to promote the final visit of the Lakers and Kobe Bryant to their city/arena. It too brings attention to games that would normally be somewhere between “Meaningless” and “Blah” on the Spectrum of Interest. The Farewell Tour also masks something else:

    The Lakers are an awful basketball team.

    The Sixers are intentionally awful; the Lakers are awful even though they are trying not to be.

    You make the call which is the worse situation…

The Lakers have two young players taken high in the draft. DeAngelo Russell went #2 last year and he has had his fanny on the bench for all of or the majority of the fourth quarters of most Lakers’ games this year. Julius Randle was taken at #7 in the 2014 draft and he sat out last season with an injury. He had been a starter for much of this year but was recently demoted to coming off the bench. If the Lakers swung and missed on both of those guys – hard to believe after seeing them play in college – the franchise may be a while until it returns to an upper echelon NBA team. I will say one thing about Russell, he has a whole lot to learn about playing defense against NBA quality opponents and there are times that he does not look all that interested in said learning…

Another young player for the Lakers is Jordan Clarkson; I have only seen the Lakers play about 5 quarters of games this year but I think Clarkson might become a good player. Note I said “good player”; he is not the second coming of Jerry West or Elgin Baylor but he might be a “good player”. Here is an interesting strategic situation the Lakers find themselves in:

    The Lakers owe the Sixers their first round pick in the June 2016 draft – unless that pick is in the Top 3 of the draft. In that circumstance, they would then owe the Sixers their first round pick in 2017 draft no matter where it is.


      Do the Lakers tank to protect that pick this year as best they can in a lottery situation or do they “play it straight”?

      Keep an eye on the meaningful minutes played by Clarkson, Russell and Randle for your answer here.

To bring to mind another tidbit of news from last weekend, here is a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“They announced Alabama running back Derrick Henry as the Heisman Trophy winner Saturday. I thought I saw Nick Saban almost smile but it may have just been indigestion.”

Derrick Henry is a really good player; he averaged 6.2 yards per carry over his three year career at Alabama; this season, he fell only 14 yards short of gaining 2000 yards. Now let me pose a rhetorical question:

    Would Derrick Henry start at RB if he were at LSU?

    I do not have a definitive answer for that one. As I said, Henry is really good and he had a fantastic season; as I have said before, Leonard Fournette is the best RB that I saw this year.

You make the call…

Finally, let me close out today with one more item from Greg Cote last weekend:

“The week-long Orange Bowl International Junior tennis tournament ends Sunday in Plantation. It’ll seem so quiet without all those boorish parents yelling.”

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 12/13/15

Last week’s Mythical Picks were something between a tire fire and a sack of wet goat s[p]it. Last week’s record was a miserable 5-11-0 sinking the season record below .500 to 96-100-5. The Curmudgeon Coin Flip Protocol did even worse for the week; the coin picked four games and missed all four. That 0-4-0 performance leaves the coin at 14-16-1 for the year.

The “Best Pick” of the week was taking Seattle as a “pick ‘em” over Minnesota and seeing the Seahawks win in a walk.

The “Worst Pick” last week was taking New England and laying 10 points to the Eagles and seeing the Eagles win the game outright.

The “Most Frustrating Picks” last week were:

    Lions +3 against the Packers – that untimed Hail Mary completion on the final play made the Lions lose by 4

    Jags +2.5 against Titans – the Jags scored 39 points and failed to cover by half-a-point

Undaunted, I shall go on. In light of last week’s record, it should be apparent that one would need to be monumentally stupid to take anything written here and use it as the basis for a real wager on a real NFL game involving real money. By “monumentally stupid”, I mean that stupidity has to be genetically imprinted upon you by your family lineage because no single person in a single generation could be that stupid. In fact,

    Your family was dumb enough to fight for the East in the US Civil War.

General Comments:

Consider that after 13 weeks of this NFL season (12 games and a BYE Week for each team), Tom Brady has more yards receiving (35) than he does TD passes (31). Who saw that coming?

Even more outrageous, Tom Brady’s 35 yards as a pass receiver is more productive than Dwayne Bowe’s receiving stats with the Cleveland Browns. In this offseason, the Browns signed Bowe to a 2-year contract worth $12.5M with $9M of that money guaranteed. He has collected a signing bonus and his money for this year; that adds up to a bit over $6M and the rest is guaranteed to him next year. For all of that money here is what the Browns have gotten:

    Bowe has appeared in only 5 games this season.

    Bowe did not catch a single pass in 4 of those games.

    In the other game, he caught 3 passes for 31 yards.

His last TD reception was on Dec. 8 2013 against the Skins while he was still a member of the KC Chiefs.

As the NFL season heads into the final quarter, here is my short-hand assessment of the 8 divisions:

    AFC West:
    Denver in charge; KC has won 6 in a row.
    AFC North: Cincy in charge; Pittsburgh’s offense is on fire.
    AFC South: Houston/Indy on top at 6-6; Jax not out of it at 4-8.
    AFC East: New England in the lead; Jets and Buffalo still relevant

    NFC West: Arizona leads; Seattle surging; St. Louis folding
    NFC North: Minnesota/Green Bay on top at 8-4.
    NFC South: Carolina has clinched; Tampa surging; Atlanta collapsing
    NFC East: Who the Hell knows?

Last week, the Packers beat the Lions at the end of the game. First there was a facemask penalty called that was – by rule – a correct call because the most minor contact occurred between a defender’s hand and an offensive player’s face mask. The official saw it and called it and he was right in doing so. Having said that, the contact made was about as violent as if someone had drawn a feather-duster across the face mask grill VERY slowly. After that, there was the Hail Mary throw to the end zone that won the game for the Packers. That gift from the football gods puts the Packers back in a tie for the NFC North lead because …

The Seahawks crushed the Vikings last week 38-7. People have heaped lots of praise on Russell Wilson all week long for his 3 TD passes and another running TD; he deserves plenty of praise. I would like to highlight here the Seahawks’ defense from last week’s game. They too had a dominating day:

    Seahawks defense held Adrian Peterson to 18 yards rushing
    Seahawks defense held the Vikes to 125 yards total offense

Kudos to the Seahawks’ defense and defensive game plan.

Going into last week’s games, the Bears still had an outside shot at the playoffs and could have been in the mix in the NFC North because it seemed as if the Packers and the Vikes were determined to self-immolate this season. They had a clearly winnable game on the docket with the lowly Niners coming to Soldier field for a visit. The Bears got off to a lead and held a 20-13 lead in the final 2 minutes of the game. Then, Blaine Gabbert ran through the Bears’ defense for a 44-yard TD to tie the game. If you watch the replay there, the Bears secondary never seemed to go after Gabbert at more than half-speed; had they gone at three-quarter speed they would have run him down well short of the goal line because – to be polite – Blaine Gabbert is not swift afoot.

Not to worry though, the Bears got the ball back and moved it down the field to set up Robbie Gold for a game winning 40 yard field goal – which he missed. Whatever … the Bears were still the home team going into OT against a sorry-assed Niners’ squad that was 0-5 on the road up to that point. Then the Bears’ defense seemed to go into a trance for one more play and Gabbert hit Torrey Smith for a 71-yard TD pass to give the Niners the win. Folks, the Bears choked this one away every way you want to look at it. Absent a miracle – equivalent to the return of Lazarus from the dead –, the Bears’ season died last Sunday.

The Broncos beat the Chargers 17-3 last week looking like the Broncos’ teams that started out the 2015 season. The defense shut down the Chargers and scored a TD itself; the offense did just enough good things to keep the defense rested and the offense did not commit any costly turnovers. Neither team scored in the second half of the game; here is how the Chargers second half possessions ended:

    Two possessions ended with lost fumbles.
    Two possessions ended with punts.
    Two possessions ended with the ball going over on downs.

The other two AFC West teams – Chiefs and Raiders – played in Oakland last week; the Chiefs won their 6th game in a row with a 4th quarter surge. The Raiders led 20-14 as the 4th quarter began; then the Chiefs’ defense took over the game. The Chiefs’ intercepted Derek Carr three times in the fourth quarter – one of which was a Pick Six. Up to the start of the 4th quarter, the Raiders dominated the game and then they drowned in a barrel of mistakes. The final score was Chiefs 34 Raiders 20. From that score you would never guess that the Raiders had 128 more yards of offense than the Chiefs in the game.

The Panthers beat the Saints in another “Saints Shootout Game” 41-38. In so doing, the Panthers clinched the NFC South division title in the first week of December. Cam Newton threw 5 TD passes and the Panthers ran up 497 yards of offense in the game. Note that this is with the “new defensive coordinator” in charge of the Saint’s defense.

    Look, I am no “Rob Ryan Fanboy” but the “defensive problems” in New Orleans have more to do with who is on the field than it does with who is calling the defensive alignments.

NFL history was made in the game when the Saints blocked an extra point attempt, scooped up the ball and returned it all the way to the end zone. The new rule in the NFL this year credits the defense with two points for such a return and this is the first time it has happened. For trivia buffs, Saints’ linebacker Stephone Anthony made that bit of NFL history.

The other two NFC South teams – Bucs and Falcons – played in Tampa last week. The Falcons led at the half; as has become their wont recently, they then lost the game in the second half by a score of 23-19. Surely, you have seen the replay of Jameis Winston’s amazing run in a 3rd and 19 situation where he was all but stopped and tackled 10 yards short of the first down but he managed to break free and get the first down. It was an amazing play indeed. However, its “amazingness” overshadows the fact that it was merely part of an 80-yard game-winning drive. The Bucs and the Falcons are now both 6-6 on the season; in the NFC, that means both of them are in wild card contention. However, it sure looks as if these two teams are headed in very different directions at the moment.

The Jets/Giants game went to OT and the Jets came out with a win. As has happened to the Giants more than once this season, they led by 10 points with about 4 minutes to play in the game; then they found a way to lose. At one point late in the 3rd quarter, the Giants had the ball with a 4th down inside the Jets’ 5-yardline and a 10-point lead. The Giants went for it and Eli Manning threw an INT. If you look on paper at the receiving corps for the Giants vis-à-vis the Jets, you give the edge to the Giants. If you compere starting QBs, you give the edge to the Giants. Nevertheless in this game here is how it played out:

    Jets’ Brandon Marshall 131 yards receiving and a TD
    Jets’ Eric Decker 101 yards receiving
    Jets’ Bilal Powell 91 yards and a TD.

The games are played on the field and not on paper…

The Bills inserted themselves into the playoff discussion last week with a 30-21 win over the Texans. Tyrod Taylor threw 3 TD passes and ran for another one. That is a good day for a QB under any circumstances but recall that this is what the Texans’ defense has done recently:

    They gave up 35 points total in their last 4 games.
    Two of the last 4 opponents were the Saints and the Bengals – not chumps.

Moreover, the Bills’ OL kept JJ Watt from getting a sack and limited him to only 4 tackles in the game. This was a team-victory for the Bills; Sammy Watkins had 109 yards receiving; LeSean McCoy had 112 yards on the ground.

The Dolphins remained mathematically alive in the AFC wild card race beating the hapless Ravens 15-13. In the Ravens’ 12 games this season, they have won 4 of them by one score or less and they have lost 8 of them by one score or less. The Ravens had Javorious Allen rush for 63 yards and add another 107 yards plus a TD in the passing game. And they lost… A Pick Six in the middle of the 2nd quarter by the Dolphins gave them a 15-0 lead and they held on for the win. Dolphins’ QB, Ryan Tannehill, was 9-19 for 86 yards and 1 TD. That was enough for the Dolphins to come out with a win here…

The Steelers’ offense had another huge day last week against the Colts. The Steelers amassed 522 yards and 45 points for the game. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 364 yards; DeAngelo Williams ran for another 134 yards; at times it looked like a training camp session where the first string was going against a bunch of undrafted free agents that would make the team only if the only other choices at their positions were Pee Wee Herman and/or Urkel. Matt Hasselbeck played the way one ought to expect a 40-year old career backup QB to play against a real NFL team. He threw 2 INTs early in the game; the Steelers led 21-10 at the half and then shut out the Colts in the second half. It was a dominating performance…

The Bengals matched their AFC North rivals – the Steelers – last week in terms of routing their opponent. The Bengals beat the Browns 37-3; it could have been worse. In the last 3 games between the Browns and the Bengals, the Browns have lost by a cumulative score of 98-13. Ouch! AJ Green had 128 yards receiving putting him over the 1000-yard mark for receiving yards this year. That is big deal because it is the 5th time in his 5 year career he has done that. Here is the list of WRs in NFL history who have reached that mark in each of their first 5 years:

    AJ Green
    Randy Moss

That’s it; that’s the list…

The more interesting outcome from this game is that the Browns started Austin Davis at QB with Johnny Manziel as the backup and Davis struggled – to put it mildly. Let me be clear about this:

    If Austin Davis is the answer, the question was not “Who is the Browns’ franchise QB going forward from the 2015 season?”

Based on last week’s showing, Davis is going to be a career backup in the NFL and Josh McCown, who will be 37 by the time training camp starts next season, is not the QB-of-the-Future either. That leaves the following QBs – sort of – on the Browns’ roster:

    Johnny Manziel
    Connor Shaw (IR)
    Terrelle Pryor (used to be a QB but now a WR)

That’s it; that’s the list…

So, naturally, the Browns announced on Monday that Manziel will be the starting QB this weekend. I said “naturally” in the last sentence because when push comes to shove, the Browns have no real choice; they really need to find out if Manziel is an NFL-level QB or not on the field. I think they and everyone else knows already that he is not yet nearly mature enough to be a “football star” in modern society. Here is how Mike Pettine described his thought process in terms of naming Manziel the starter for this week:

“[Manziel] has been solid in the building over the last couple weeks.”

Think about that statement for just a moment. Now take yourself back to your sophomore year in college in a situation where some friends are setting you up with a blind date. They tell you that she,

“is a really good dancer and has a great personality”.

At that moment, you know for sure that your blind date looks like the loser in an axe fight. Nevertheless, that is where Mike Pettine finds himself as he prepares the Browns for Week 14 of the NFL season. He has no REAL choice; this has to be his guy. And even if Manziel leads the Browns to a win by a margin of 4 TDs, Pettine will be holding his breath until Manziel shows up for the next week of preparation without another entry on his rap sheet or a half-empty growler in his hand.

Mark Whicker of the LA Examiner assessed Johnny Manziel this way:

“If this idiot Manziel wanted to be an NFL QB half as much as everybody else wants him to be, he’d be in the Pro Bowl by now.”

I do not know if Manziel is an “idiot” or if he is merely “self-destructive” and “enamored with entitlement”, but other than that, I agree completely with Professor Whicker.

The Cards beat the Rams 27-3 last week. The Cards played two unknown RBs in place of the injured Chris Johnson and got a total of 158 yards from the pair; Carson Palmer added 356 yards and 2 TDs through the air and this game was a laugher. The Rams have a good defense but even a good defense has to get tired and/or discouraged after a while. The Cards exploited the Rams’ good defense for 524 yards of total offense. On offense, the Rams are a mess. Their QB situation is mediocre on good days; when defenses load up to stop the run, even Todd Gurley cannot save the day. To give you an idea of the Rams’ ineptitude last week, they were 1-12 on third down situations.

The Titans beat the Jags 42-39. Probably the most noteworthy item to come from this game is that the Jags missed 3 extra points in the game. The kicker missed two of them and the team biffed on an attempted 2-point conversion. Look at the score; the Jags lost by 3…

In the shocker of the weekend, the Eagles beat the Pats. The Eagles had scored 5 TDS and here are how those hit the board:

    5-yard TD pass
    Blocked punt – scoop and score
    99-yard Pick Six
    83-yard punt return
    10-yard TD pass

Not many teams score 35 points in a game in that fashion; I think I am on firm ground with that assertion. The Eagles’ offense was better than it had been in recent games but that is damning by faint praise. The Eagles’ offense is still not very good. Nevertheless, it participated in the scoring-fest here enough for the team to come out of Foxboro with a 35-28 win.

Two weeks ago, it would have been unthinkable to suggest that the Pats might not have a BYE Week in the playoffs. Well, as of this morning, they are the #3 seed in the AFC Playoff Standings and would not have said “BYE Week”.

On MNF, the Cowboys beat the Skins 19-16 in one of the ugliest and most inept football games of the year. At least the game was close so that it held some of your attention but the execution on the field by both teams was execrable.

    It was 3-3 at the half and neither offense showed that it was good enough to have earned that many points.

    Jordan Reid (Washington TE) was called for offensive pass interference in the first half. That was his 10th penalty of the year – more than any other player in the NFL who is not an offensive lineman.

    On one play, the Skins had TWO defensive linemen lined up in the neutral zone. Not one but TWO.

    The Cowboys were 1-9 on third downs – and they won the game.

    Cowboys’ total offense was 317 yards; Skins gained a total of 266.

If you like trends, the Skins are now 2-14 on MNF since 1997 and they are 2-9 on MNF since 2008. In spite of all that nonsense, here is why ESPN loved to carry that game:

    ESPN had the highest overall ratings of any network – cable or over-the-air – for Monday night.

    Moreover, it was the highest rated program in the “coveted demographics” for Monday night.

The fact is that the Cowboys deliver TV ratings and when they play their “rivalry game” against the Skins, the ratings spike.

The NFC East race has the Giants, Skins and Eagles tied for first with 5-7 records and the Cowboys only a game out of first place with a 4-8 record. This is a goat rodeo…

The Games:

The Cardinals put themselves in the NFC playoffs by beating the Vikes on Thursday Night Football last night. Despite the fact that the play that sealed the win for the Cards was a “Strip-Sack-Recover” play, the Cards’ pass rush is suspect. They harassed Vikes’ QB, Teddy Bridgewater most of last night but almost always the pressure came thanks to blitzes that came from different directions on about every play. Whatever … The Cardinals will be playing in January and the Vikes are now in second place in the NFC North pending the outcome of Sunday’s contests.

Pittsburgh at Cincy – 3 (49): The Total Line for this game opened at 47 and jumped to this level very quickly. In fact, you can find it at 50 points at one Internet sportsbook this morning. The Steelers’ offense has been on fire for the last month; in their last four games, they have scored 30 or more points every time out including 30 points on the Seahawks’ defense. Moreover, the Steelers have gone north of 450 yards of total offense in those 4 games. Both teams have something to play for here.

    Currently the Bengals have a BYE Week in the playoffs. They would like to keep that status and perhaps gain home field advantage in the playoffs.

    Currently, the Steelers are in the first tranche of teams fighting for the two wild card slots. However both the Chiefs and the Jets have identical records and there are three other teams only a game behind.

The last time these teams met, they only put 26 points on the scoreboard because Roethlisberger and Dalton threw a total of 5 INTs in the game. I do not see that happening again – just as I am happy to see that the Steelers will not be wearing their bumblebee uniforms again – and I like this game to go OVER.

Buffalo at Philly “pick ‘em” (47): The spread in this game is all over the place. You can find the Bills as a 1-point favorite in a few places; you can find the Eagles as a 1-point favorite in a few places; you can find the game as “pick ‘em” in a few places and you can find the Bills as a 1.5-point favorite at one place. The opening number was Eagles – 1 point but it has bounced around all week long. Raise your hand if you have heard more than you need to hear about this being “The Chip Kelly vs LeSean McCoy Game”. I sort of had that figured out as soon as the schedule came out and this game was on the menu. This game has playoff implications – more toward the negative side for the loser than the positive side for the winner but nevertheless… It is difficult enough to pick games where one of the teams is up one week and down the next; here you have that condition applied to both teams. Since I said I would make a pick in every game, I’ll take the Bills to win the game and here is why:

    The Bills’ defense is good enough to prevent the Eagles from “quick-strike scores” and the Bills’ offense is good enough at ball control to keep the Eagles’ defense on the field for much of the game. I think that will be to the Bills’ advantage late and they will win the game.

Atlanta at Carolina – 8 (47): The Falcons started the season with 5 straight wins; as of this morning, they are on a 5-game losing streak. Here is a stat for you:

    Since the NFL/AFL merger, 72 teams have started a season at 5-0. Of those 72 teams, 66 have made the playoffs.

    OK, Falcons; the pressure is on…

The Panthers are the division champs and hold a 1.5-game lead over the Cards going into this contest for the best record in the NFC. Technically, the Falcons are still in the wild card race, but I doubt many folks feel confident in their chances. There will be an interesting match-up in this game. Josh Norman has established himself as a dominant CB this year; Julio Jones continues to be an outstanding WR; those two should make acquaintance on Sunday. I do not think the Falcons are going to win this game but that line does look fat. I’ll take the Falcons plus the points.

SF at Cleveland – 2 (41): I just could not pick one game this week as the worst game of the week and so this game is the Co-Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Last week, the Browns/Bengals game was the early game in the part of the country where I found myself; I saw that debacle. Make no mistake; the Browns are a bad team. Yet, they are 2-point favorites in this game likely due to the fact that the Niners are also a bad team and they have a 3 time zone change to deal with. Neither team runs the ball well; the QBs will be Johnny Manziel and Blaine Gabbert; therefore I am not expecting an aerial explosion. Just a hunch here, I like this game to stay UNDER.

Washington at Chicago – 3 (44): The Skins are still in the midst of the race to see which NFC East team will stumble home with the best record. The Bears’ loss last week in a perfectly winnable game was shameful. The Skins are winless on the road this season – and they are 1-12 on the road since Jay Gruden took over the coaching duties in Washington. How bad is that? The Skins are the only team in the NFL not to win a road game this year. Even the awful teams – Browns, Niners, Saints, and Rams etc. – have won a road game. Meanwhile, the Bears’ home-field advantage has not materialized this year; the Bears’ are 1-5 at home; that puts them in the company of the Cowboys, the Titans and the Browns with only 1 home win. I mentioned above that the Bears’ defense could not catch Blaine Gabbert last week in a 44-yard TD scamper; imagine what DeSean Jackson will do to that defense… Here is the bottom line:

    Both QBs in this game can turn in sterling performances and both QBs in this game have a history of throwing a critical Pick Six to lose a game.

This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game if ever there was one. The coin says to take the Bears and lay the points.

Detroit at St. Louis “pick ‘em” (41): Here is the other Co-Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Let’s see here… The Rams have lost their last two games 58-10; the Lions just gave up a Hail Mary pass to come from ahead and lose a game. The Lions are not a good road team but at least this road game is still in a dome. The Rams’ have gotten miserable QB play so far this year and there is no relief in sight. I cannot make this a Coin Flip Game because the protocol does not allow for the coin to judge in a “pick ‘em situation”. Therefore, I will make this purely a venue call and take the Rams to win the game.

San Diego at KC – 11 (45): The first time these teams played this year, the score was 33-3 in favor of the Chiefs and that game was in San Diego. Neither team has shown a drastic reversal of form since that meeting; the Chargers have injury issues that exposed a lack of depth and they have an anemic running game. Philip Rivers is actually playing very well, but playing “one-on-eleven” is not a winning formula. I do not think the Chargers can win this game but I am not laying 11 points in a division game. I’ll take the game to go OVER – only because I need to make a pick in every game.

New Orleans at Tampa – 4 (51): The Bucs are in the playoff hunt; the Saints are under-whelming. Here are the pivotal questions about this game:

    1. Has Jameis Winston matured sufficiently that his “bad games” are no longer going to be “disastrously bad”?

    2. How big a clunker will the Saints’ defensive unit put out on the field this week?

      The Saints have allowed 380 points so far this year – worst in the NFL by 33 points.

      The Saints have allowed 35 TD passes in 12 games this year. The NFL record for TD passes allowed is 40 and that record was set by the Denver Broncos in 1963. Yowza !!

I like the Bucs to win and cover at home.

Indy at Jax “pick ‘em” (46): There were no lines on this game until Wednesday night this week because Matt Hasselbeck is not fully healthy, Andrew Luck is not ready to play and the default option is Charlie Whitehurst. On the other sideline, there is a team that normally scores points sparingly but found a way to put 39 of them on the board last week – – and still lost the damned game to the Titans no less. Here is a totally irrelevant – yet interesting stat:

    Colts have won their last 3 games in Jax by a combined score of 108-30.

Next week, the Colts will host the Texans; those two teams have identical records this week and that game could well decide the AFC South. The Colts must avoid looking past the mediocre Jags this week. If Chuck Pagano and staff cannot get the team to focus on the task at hand this week, the howls for his head on a stick will be heard as far away as Tahiti. I’ll take the Colts to win here – with little if any conviction.

Tennessee at Jets – 7.5 (43): The Jets’ record of 7-5 puts them in a tie with the Chiefs and the Steelers for the two wild card playoff slots. In three-way tie situations, the tiebreaker often comes down to “Conference Record” and here is where those three teams stand today:

    Chiefs 6-2
    Jets 5-4
    Steelers 4-4

This is a conference game for the Jets and they really cannot afford to lose it – especially since the opponent is a bottom-feeder. The Titans scored 42 points last week against the Jags; they will not score 42 points against the Jets this week. However, I can see them scoring 17 points and if they do, I think that will be sufficient for this to be a correct pick. I like this game to go OVER.

(Sun Nite) New England – 3.5 at Houston (44.5): Both teams need a win; the Texans are tied with the Colts atop the AFC South; the Pats have lost 2 in a row and stand 3rd in the AFC playoff seedings as of this morning. Not to minimize the vast array of injuries to the Pats’ WRs and RBs, but the Pats’ OL has played poorly in their last two games. Tom Brady is not going to be at his best if he has to scramble around to avoid sacks and big hits. JJ Watt should make life miserable for the Pats’ OL this week – even though he broke his hand in practice and will probably look like Jason Pierre-Paul with a club on his hand for the game. I like this game to go OVER.

Oakland at Denver – 7 (43): The Raiders have lost 4 of their last 5; the Broncos have won their last 3 games with Brock Osweiler in the drivers’ seat. It appeared for a while that the Raiders might have been contenders for a wild card slot in the playoffs; that did not end with last week’s loss to the Chiefs but a loss here will pretty much assure that the Raiders’ season will end on 3 January. The Raiders had problems with a good/opportunistic Chiefs’ defense last week; this week they face a defense that is better and even more opportunistic. I like this game to stay UNDER and I like the Raiders plus the points.

Dallas at Green Bay – 7 (43): The Cowboys are 4-8; they are also only 1 game behind the other three NFC East pretenders. Maybe their best chance to win this game lies in the fact that they are on the road; this year the Cowboys are 3-3 on the road while only 1-5 at home. The Packers lead the NFC North today because the Vikes lost last night; in normal years, playing the game in Lambeau Field would be a big plus for them, but the Packers have already lost twice at home in 2015 and two in a row to boot. I do not think either defense is going to be able to hold down the opposing offense well – even with Matt Cassel at QB for the Cowboys. I like this game to go OVER.

Seattle – 10 at Baltimore (42): Straight to the bottom line here… The Seahawks seem to be getting it together for a playoff run; both offense and defense seem to be surging. The Ravens have stayed close in all their games this year but not here. Even in Baltimore and even with my aversion to laying double-digit spreads, I like the Seahawks to win and cover.

(Mon Nite) Giants – 1 at Miami (46): This is an epic collision of two 5-7 teams… The only thing that makes it interesting is that the Giants’ 5-7 record has them tied for first place in the NFC East and they will know just how all of their rivals in that division fared on Sunday as they tee it up for this game. The fact that both teams have the same 5-7 record might obscure a significant difference here:

    Giants have outscored opponents 307 – 296
    Dolphins have been outscored by opponents 300 – 240.

The Giants defense is a mess; their pass defense is brutal because they have no pass rush to speak of. I think both offenses can score on these defenses so I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Finally, here is an over-arching comment on this year’s NFL season from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“I saw an article about a presidential candidate referring to unskilled labor. He was talking about NFL referees.”

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

Dipping Into Inventory…

My writing rhythm for football season changes this week. With only NFL flavored Mythical Picks left to do, I have to find material for an additional daily rant each week. That is why I keep a document called “Clipboard” in my computer memory; I need to dig a bit deeper into the inventory starting right about now.

Not that football is off-limits for commentary here… The Linfield College Wildcats needed a second-half comeback last week to beat Mary Hardin-Baylor 38-35 advancing Linfield to the quarterfinals of the Division III NCAA football tournament. On Saturday, the Wildcats venture east to play the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. The Tommies have a 13-0 record so far this season and every victory has been by 19 points or more. It should be a good game… Go Wildcats!

In the continuing saga of the NFL’s glacial pace to put a team in the LA market, there was a report late last week that Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke was open to the idea of having a second team occupy the stadium he wants to build in downtown LA. That seemingly changes the dynamic of the league decision because until that news broke, the choices seemed to be Kroenke putting the Rams in a downtown stadium or the Chargers/Raiders jointly building and occupying a stadium in Carson, CA.

When I read that report, what came to mind was that Kroenke had counted up the votes he was likely to get for his original proposal and knew that he was short of the 24 votes he would need for approval. Therefore, he wanted to float another idea to:

    a. Give his fellow owners another option to consider
    b. Keep the heat on the folks in St. Louis who want to try to keep him there.

However, this new proposal is such a departure from his original plan – he would go it alone and wanted to develop the area around his new stadium by himself – that it felt to me as if there was more to it than slight feint for a minor advantage in the process. I just had a sense that there was more to this…

Then, someone dug up some more information and it would appear that Mr. Kroenke is still playing hardball on his proposal. Yes, he would accept a “partner team” who would occupy the stadium but his terms for the “partnership” are just a tad skewed:

    The Partner Team would pay half the costs to build the stadium. OK…
    Partner would not have control over design or construction of the stadium. Uh…
    Partner would not have control over development of surrounding area. Uh…
    Partner gets none of the non-football revenue from the stadium. Wait, what…?
    Partner gets no revenue from the development of surrounding area. WTF?

Obviously, I do not have nearly the resources to pretend that I might be a “partner” in a deal of this magnitude. Nonetheless, this seems more like a “Master/Apprentice” relationship than it does a “partnership”. So, I doubt I would be interested in such a deal for very long. However, it might be sufficiently intriguing to either the Raiders or the Chargers to drive a wedge between them and their Carson, CA joint venture.

The “NFL-to-LA saga” is not over; the fat lady may not even be loosening up her vocal chords just yet. I do believe, however, that the NFL as an entity has to start to move toward a decision in the next couple of months if not make their decision then. Here is why:

    There are 3 cities (San Diego, Oakland and St. Louis) where the league risks losing some of the fanbase because the team is threatening to move.

    That drives down revenue; that will ultimately drive down TV ratings.

I think the NFL needs to stop the music and find out which teams are left standing without a seat so that the teams NOT moving to LA can figure out what to do in their home cities to “mend fences with the fans” or to find some other place to move (San Antonio, London, Ulan Bator…)

In NBA news, there have been several videos played and replayed hundreds of times on ESPN and FS1 showing James Harden “loafing” on defense and not exerting himself in rebounding situations. Confronted with the idea that he might not be playing hard at both ends of the court, here is how Harden responded to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“Forty [minutes] a night is pretty tough, especially if you want to get efficient on both ends of the floor. We got to figure it out. We have to figure out how to give guys more minutes and be more effective on the court so as a team we can get better.”

The bit about having to figure it out and get better as a team is standard pabulum; I would have been shocked not to hear that roll off his lips. However, the part about 40 minutes a night being tough if you have to play both ends of the court may get by some millennials who are not aware of anything that did not happen during the span of time when they were sentient. However, we old-timers recall an NBA player named Wilt Chamberlain. Here are some of his numbers that James Harden – and some of the millennials who bought into his excuses – need to consider:

    On offense, Wilt once scored 100 points in a single game and for one entire season (1961/62) he averaged more than 50 points per game. He played a bit on offense.

    On defense, Wilt averaged 22.9 rebounds per game over his 15-year career. In one game he took down 55 rebounds; that record has stood for 55 years. He played a bit on the defensive end of the court too.

    In terms of minutes played, over his 15-year career in 1045 games, Wilt averaged 45.8 minutes per game. For the entire season in 1961/62, he averaged 48.5 minutes per game. Remember, there are only 48 minutes in an NBA game so he played just about all the time in every game and then some OT minutes too.

Perhaps James Harden finds “forty a night” tough. However, we should acknowledge that it is not beyond the limits of human endurance.

Finally, here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald from earlier this week:

“Curry, Warriors reach 22-0: NBA scoring leader Steph Curry and Golden State made it 22-0 Sunday at Brooklyn. I think we finally discovered a team that could beat the Carolina Panthers.”

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

Bowl Game Reviews…

Back in the 1960s, there was a genre of movies that enjoyed widespread – though brief – popularity. These were the “Spaghetti Westerns” produced in Italy and featuring gratuitous violence at every turn. It seems that the film that was the apogee of that art form was The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. In a sort of homage to that cult classic, I want to present to you some of the 40 college bowl games for this year grouped under those headings. By default, you may consider any bowl game not mentioned here as “The Irrelevant”.

The Good:

Las Vegas Bowl: 12/19 BYU 9-3 vs Utah 9-3 [Big rivalry game here]
Camelia Bowl: 12/19 Appalachian St. 10-2 vs Ohio 8-4
Sun Bowl: 12/26 Washington St. 8-4 vs Miami 8-4 [About halfway between the campuses]
Russell Athletic Bowl: 12/29 UNC 11-2 vs Baylor 9-3 [Bet the OVER]
Orange Bowl: 12/31 Oklahoma 11-1 vs Clemson 13-0
Cotton Bowl: 12/31 Alabama 12-1 vs Michigan St. 12-1
Citrus Bowl: 1/1 Florida 10-3 vs Michigan 9-3
Rose Bowl: 1/1 Stanford 11-2 vs Iowa 12-1

The Bad:

Idaho Potato Bowl: 12/22 Akron 7-5 vs Utah St 6-6 [Starting to snore already]
Pinstripe Bowl: 12/26 Duke 7-5 vs Indiana 6-6 [Cannot give tix away for this one]
Independence Bowl: 12/26 Tulsa 6-6 vs Va Tech 6-6 [Guaranteed losing season here]
Arizona Bowl: 12/29 Nevada 6-6 vs Colo St. 7-5 [Two MWC teams in one bowl game?]

The Ugly:

New Mexico Bowl: 12/19 Arizona 6-6 vs New Mexico 7-5 [A border war; who cares?]
Cure Bowl: 12/19 San Jose St. 5-7 vs Georgia St 6-6 [Somniferous or soporific?]
Quick Lane Bowl: 12/28 Minnesota vs C. Michigan 7-5 [Bad Big 10 vs MAC…]
Cactus Bowl:
1/2 W Va 7-5 vs Ariz St 6-6 [Game starts 10:15 EST; ends ~ 2:00AM]

All 40 of these bowl games are sanctioned by the NCAA and generate revenue for the member institutions and conferences that make up the NCAA. Since the games here are only about money, consider a potentially negative aspect of money that could befall the NCAA as a result of a courtroom action. Recently a California Appeals Court ruled that a defamation of character lawsuit brought against the NCAA by Todd McNair, a former assistant coach at USC, can proceed. The assistant in question was at USC during the “Reggie Bush Investigation” and the NCAA announced that it was issuing sanctions against USC because this assistant knew of the improper benefits that Reggie Bush received. This may all sound pretty vanilla at this point but it seems to me that the three judges on the Appeals Court Panel made it pretty clear that they think the NCAA played “fast and loose” with the facts here:

“This evidence clearly indicates that the ensuing [infractions committee] report was worded in disregard of the truth to enable the [committee] to arrive at a predetermined conclusion that USC employee McNair was aware of the NCAA violations … To summarize, McNair established a probability that he could show actual malice by clear and convincing evidence based on the [committee’s] doubts about McNair’s knowledge, along with its reckless disregard for the truth about his knowledge, and by allowing itself to be influenced by nonmembers to reach a needed conclusion.”

I think that translates roughly into something like this:

    It is pretty damned clear that you folks figured out what the answer was supposed to be and then contorted whatever process you sort of established to make sure that the “right answer” came out over the signature of the investigators. Good luck with that…

I do not think this is nearly the first time the NCAA has pulled a stunt like this. In the Nevin Shapiro fiasco at Miami, there was the aroma of at least a smidgen of pre-ordained outcome. Moreover, in the Duke Lacrosse Mess, the NCAA stood by allowed one of its member institutions to fire a coach and defame more than a few of its student-athletes on false accusations and then on actions by the prosecutor that were so atrocious that the prosecutor was disbarred and sent to jail.

I have wondered for some time now just why it has taken the NCAA so long to finish whatever it is doing with regard to the academic fraud situation that was ongoing at UNC for about a decade. Perhaps the problem is that so much of the evidence in that matter is in the public domain already that it has been very difficult to sculpt the outcome that is in the best interests of the NCAA. Would love to be a fly on the wall…

In another legal proceeding not having anything to do with the NCAA but one that might be fun to watch, Jonathan Papelbon has filed a grievance against the Washington Nationals who docked him 4 games pay for the time the team suspended him after his “dugout choking incident” with Bryce Harper. Given that the confrontation was replayed on national TV at least a bazillion times, one might wonder what the grievance is all about.

According to reports, there is no precedent under the history of MLB CBAs for a team-initiated suspension to carry with it a loss of pay. That seems counter-intuitive to me; but if that is the case then Papelbon ought to fight to get back the money the Nats took from his pocket. My rough calculation is that it comes to about $275K which may seem like a whole lot of nothing considering MLB salaries these days. But there are two things to consider here:

    1. If indeed there is no precedent for any of this, then the MLBPA surely does not want to set such a precedent outside the umbrella of a collective bargaining scenario.

    2. Papelbon has a reputation for being “difficult to get along with” and this is the sort of thing a person who actually is “difficult to get along with” might do over a long and boring offseason.

Seriously, if Papelbon is still on the Nats’ roster when Spring Training starts, it will be fun and games for the reporters assigned to that beat for about 6 weeks.

Finally, Scott Ostler had this comment in the SF Chronicle a while back. Maybe the folks at the NCAA who do investigations and write disciplinary reports could take note:

“Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko says of the massive doping allegations against his country, ‘We admit some things, we argue with some things, some are already fixed, it’s a variety.’ You fellas out there, memorize that speech and try it on your wife or boss next time you get caught doing something really stupid.”

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