The inaugural Friday of the new decade needs to be celebrated with a Football Friday. In this season of introducing new coaches at the collegiate and pro levels, that would be akin to “setting the tone” for things to come.
Also, I need to begin on a sad note. Sam Wyche died yesterday. He was a former QB in the AFL in the ‘60s and in the NFL in the ‘70s; then he became a successful coach with the Cincinnati Bengals in the ‘80s. He led the Bengals to the Super Bowl but lost to Bill Walsh and the Niners in Super Bowl XXIII. He was the innovator if the no-huddle offense in the late ‘80s; that has become what we call today the up-tempo offense. Another of his “innovations” led to a rule change; Wyche would often put 12 or even 14 people into the offensive huddle and then run the appropriate number off the field before the snap of the ball putting the defense at a disadvantage. Today, that gets the offensive team a 5-yard penalty.
Rest in peace, Sam Wyche…
Last week’s Six-Pack had only 4 entries – – but it was El Perfecto. The record was 4-0-0 bringing the season results to:
- Overall: 42-27-3
- College: 20-7-1
- NFL: 22-20-2
College Football Commentary:
Wherever Lane Kiffin goes, controversy follows. I don’t mean to imply that Kiffin is a “bad guy” because I don’t think he is one. However, when he is on the scene, something that is “open to discussion” always seems to happen. If you want to get a summary of past controversies, Google and Wikipedia are your friends. The latest controversy is Kiffin’s hiring of DJ Durkin to an unspecified assistant coach position at Ole Miss. If that name rings a bell for you – but you just cannot place it – Durkin was the head coach at Maryland when Jordan McNair collapsed from heat exhaustion at a practice and then died from that situation. Investigations at Maryland concluded that the football program was “abusive”, and the entire situation resulted in Durkin’s dismissal along with other folks in the Athletic Department and in the university administration.
I am NOT suggesting that DJ Durkin should be prevented from working as a collegiate football coach; the investigations into the death of Jordan McNair did not result in any sort of criminal charges. I am saying that any “Power 5” school that hired Durkin after the “Maryland situation” would be the focal point of controversy. And once again, that controversy focuses on the program involving Lane Kiffin.
The only thing that bothers me about this matter is the seeming smugness of the Ole Miss Athletic Department folks. Knowing that some folks would look askance at this hiring decision, they issued an ever so carefully worded statement patting themselves on the back for doing extraordinary due diligence for this hiring decision. They said they reached out to “several highly respected coaches, administrators and school officials about their experiences working with [Durkin]”. From those contacts, the vetting process yielded “consistently strong feedback about Coach Durkin’s strong character and work ethic and his positive impact on the communities and institutions where he was previously employed.”
If that PR nonsense were even close to true, the only conclusions I can draw are these:
- Ole Miss did not talk to anyone who was at Maryland at the time of Jordan McNair’s death. There was no “positive impact” on that institution or community.
- Ole Miss certainly did not check with the McNair family.
- Ole Miss did not read the report of an independent commission set up by Maryland in the wake of that fatal incident which concluded that the football program at Maryland fostered “a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out.”
I don’t have a problem with Ole Miss hiring Durkin and giving him a chance to demonstrate that he learned from that horrible situation at Maryland. I do have a problem with the “suits” in the Athletic Department pretending that they did an investigation that led them to conclude that whatever happened at Maryland was just an accident and that they had hired a choir boy.
College Football Games This Weekend:
There are 3 bowl games between today and Monday evening. Exactly none of them are important. Unless you are an alum of one of the six schools involved or know a player involved, none even rise to the level of “interesting”.
Back in August when we were all anticipating the 2019 NFL regular season, we thought about possible outcomes under a set of conditions we thought might be “stable”:
- Ben Roethlisberger was the Steelers’ QB. He might have an injury that would make him miss a game or two, but he would be the guy leading the team on the field for at least 75% of the games. Didn’t happen…
- Cam Newton had a shoulder problem last year that required surgery and was limited in the Exhibition Games, but Newton was “indestructible” and would be under center for the Panthers for most if not all of the 2019 season. Didn’t happen…
- Matthew Stafford was the Lions’ QB and an iron-man. He had not missed a start since the season opener in 2011. He would be the Lions QB for all of 2019. Didn’t happen…
- Drew Brees was not quite the iron-man that Stafford was, but Brees was surely going to be the starting QB for the Saints – – until they wrapped up their division and he sat out a game or two for a rest. Didn’t happen…
- Andrew Luck was the Colts’ QB. He had come back from his major shoulder problems and was ready to reclaim his stature as an elite QB in the league. Didn’t happen…
Those five teams lost top-shelf QBs for significant parts of the season. The Steelers managed to stay “playoff relevant” despite truly mediocre QB play based on a strong defense. The Panthers had some good times with Kyle Allen – but that did not last. The Lions were the Lions but with Stafford in the game, the Lions had the potential to make some of their games interesting. The Colts tried to make the playoffs with Jacoby Brisset at the helm – – but it did not work out for them.
Only the Saints shrugged off the month or so that Drew Brees was on the shelf. Terry Bridgewater demonstrated the importance of having a quality backup at the QB position. In fact, he played so well that some folks mused that maybe – just maybe – the Saints should leave him in the starting role even when Brees was ready to come back because he had the “hot hand”. Obviously, that was a bad idea; but it does speak to the level at which Bridgewater had played.
The Panthers fired Ron Rivera with 4 games left in the season. [Aside: Rivera’s last game in Carolina was a loss to the Skins at home; that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the new owner of the Panthers. Today, Rivera is the head coach of the Skins. Wheels within wheels …] The Panthers lost all 4 of those remaining games after Rivera’s departure in such ignominy that you have to wonder how much of the “losing” was due to coaching and how much was due to playing:
- Panthers gave up 30 or more points in all 4 losses
- Panthers gave up a total of 150 points in those 4 losses.
- Panthers were outscored 150 – 60 in those 4 losses.
The Cleveland Browns used the 2019 regular season to re-establish themselves as a bottom-feeding franchise in the NFL. The team had finished the 2018 season with a bang and there was some optimism – – too much optimism – – about the team’s potential for 2019. When that optimism – – whether appropriate or overstated – – did not materialize, the Browns cleaned house once again.
You can make a case for the housecleaning if you wish. With the playoffs still a dim possibility, the Browns finished the season:
- Losing to the Cards (5-10-1) by 2 TDs
- Losing to the Ravens by 16 points. [No shame there]
- Losing to the Bengals (2-14) by 10 points.
The whole situation in Cleveland is a mess to the point that I find it difficult to pinpoint one aspect of the situation that is messier than the rest of the mess. What happened in 2019?
- Maybe it was the coaching. Maybe Freddie Kitchens was way over his head in that job. If that was “the problem” then you must fire him AND the Gm that put him in that position where he was over his head.
- Maybe it was the roster construction. There are an awful lot of “personalities” in that locker room. Perhaps there was too much baggage for the physical talent to carry…
- Maybe it was the management structure. After all, the strategic planner for the franchise who has the ear of the owner is – – a baseball guy and not a football guy.
There are lots of questions and “maybes” there, but I think there are three certainties regarding the Browns:
- Baker Mayfield needs to focus more of his time and attention on developing as a QB and developing “chemistry” with the rest of his teammates as opposed to doing another set of TV ads.
- Odell Beckham, Jr. needs to stop being a passive-aggressive diva and start using his talents to focus attention on himself. Beckham craves attention but he is seeking it in a less than constructive fashion.
- Owner Jimmy Haslam needs to examine who his role model(s) among NFL owners is. At the moment he is part of the “hands-on” clique of owners – which is fine if he has the knowledge to be “hands on”. Evidence to date says he should be modeling himself after a different group of owners – – the ones who hire people to run the football show and the ones who sit back and count the profits.
The Cowboys finished the 2019 season with an 8-8 record and yet they outscored their opponents by 113 points. Just for comparison, here are the teams that finished between 9-7 and 7-9 this year with their point differentials:
- Eagles 9-7 +31
- Rams 9-7 +30
- Titans 9-7 +71
- Bears 8-8 minus-18
- Cowboys 8-8 +113
- Bucs 7-9 +9
- Colts 7-9 minus-12
- Broncos 7-9 minus-34
- Falcons 7-9 minus-18
- Jets 7-9 minus-83
- Raiders 7-9 minus 106
There were a couple of Highlights from last week’s action:
- The Niners got the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs as a result of last week’s win over the Seahawks. In 2019, the Niners have beaten the Seahawks, Packers and Saints. Fair to say, they earned that top billing in the NFC.
- Derrick Henry carried 32 times for 211 yards in Titans win over Texans to put the Titans in the playoffs.
There were some Lowlights from last week’s action:
- The Patriots were listless for most of the first 20 minutes of their game against the Dolphins and the eventual loss in that game cost the Pats a BYE Week.
- The Raiders gained 477 yards of offense and lost a game last week by the score of 16-15. That much offense simply must generate more than 15 points in a game.
- The Chargers lost to the Chiefs last week finishing at 5-11 for 2019; that is a huge drop from their 12-4 record in 2018. [Aside: Philip Rivers will be a free agent so the Chargers’ QB situation is not settled.]
(Sat. 4:30 PM EST) Buffalo at Houston – 3 (43.5): These lines have been steady all week. The Bills’ defense is for real. They rank second in the NFL (to the Patriots) in points allowed this season. Opponents only score 14 points per game on average. The old saying is that defense travels well; the Bills must hope that is the case this week. The issue with the Bills is that their offense is sporadic and not overly productive. The Bills’ defense is stingy, but the Bills’ offense is not very productive scoring fewer than 20 points per game; in fact, over the last month, the Bills have failed to score more than 17 points in any single game. The Texans’ defense has not been fearsome in 2019 allowing opponents to score 24 points per game. Reports this morning say that JJ Watt will play tomorrow. Even if he is not at 100% or in “top football shape), his play has to help the Texans’ defense. I am not big on some of the “advanced stats” that are floating around these days but two of them seems to make sense to me. Those are:
- Points per drive produced
- Points per drive allowed
Interestingly, these teams mirror one another:
- Points per drive produced: Bills are 24th in the league and the Texans are 7th
- Points per drive allowed: Bills are 2nd in the league and the Texans are 24th
If the Texans are to win and cover here, I think Deshaun Watson will have to have a big game. The Bills’ pass defense is stout; he will need to overcome that. I agree with the oddsmakers here that the game will be low scoring. I think the Bills have a real shot to win the game outright, so I’ll put the Bills plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack.
(Sat. 8:15 PM EST) Tennessee at New England – 5 (44.5): With six games in the books, the Titans were 2-4 and were struggling – to be polite about it. From that point, the Titans have gone 7-3. Ryan Tannehill has gotten most of the attention regarding that turnaround and he deserves all that praise for his part in “saving the season” in Tennessee. Personally, I think Derrick Henry is the unsung hero here. In the last 7 games – where the titans have gone 5-2 – Henry is averaging 5.9 yards per carry. [For the season, he is averaging 5.1 yards per carry.] The Titans defense is solid if not spectacular. Normally, the Pats enter the playoffs with a strong showing in December. Not so in 2019. The Pats played 5 times in December and their record was a very un-Patriot-like 2-3. That deviation from the norm was on display last week when the pats needed a win to secure a BYE Week this week against the Dolphins. They led late in the game and proceeded to surrender – at home no less – and 85-yard TD drive in the final minutes that cost them the game and the week’s rest. On a positive note, the pats’ running game seems to have come to life over the past several weeks; that would be a big plus for them in this game.
Traditionally, Bill Belichick tries to set a defense to take away from the opponent one of its strengths forcing the opponent to rely on whatever else it has in its bag of tricks. I think he will try to take Darrick Henry away this week and dare Ryan Tannehill to beat the Pats in Foxboro. If history is any guide, that would be a great strategy because Tannehill has started 6 times in Foxboro against the Pats and his record is 0-6.
This is purely a hunch. The Titans are +198 on the Money Line. I think those odds are good enough to put that wager in this week’s Six-Pack.
(Sun. 1:00 PM EST) Minnesota at New Orleans – 7.5 (50): You can find this spread at 8 points in a couple of places this morning. Let’s be clear about one thing from the start here:
- Kirk Cousins has had a very good year in 2019. His QB Rating is 107.5 and the NFL average for QBs this year is 91.
I am on record saying that QB Rating is an imperfect statistical measure; nonetheless, Cousins’ performance this year is sufficiently above average that you must acknowledge that it was a very good performance this season. If Vikes’ RB, Dalvin Cook cannot play up to his standard level of performance, the Vikes will need to rely on Cousins to carry that offense.
That may be a tall order against the Saints’ defense in the Superdome. The Saints’ offense has been hitting on all cylinders. Since Drew Brees returned to action on Nov 10:
- Saints record is 6-2
- Saints have scored an average of 32.9 points per game
- In one of the 2 losses, the Saints offense produced 46 points. Hang that loss around the necks of the defense…
There will be no “Minnesota Miracle” this time – – simply because the game is being played in New Orleans. I don’t think the Vikes – despite a good defense – can keep up with the Saints here. I wish the line here was 7 points as opposed to 7.5 points, but I can talk myself into the Saints winning by double digits. I’ll put the Saints in this week’s Six-Pack to win and cover.
(Sun 4:40 PM EST) Seattle – 1.5 at Philly (45): The spread opened the week with the Eagles as a 1.5-point favorite. This morning you can find the spread at 2.5 points in one Internet sportsbook – – but nowhere at 2 points. Very strange… Both teams have injury problems galore. The Seahawks had to sign Marshawn Lynch off the playgrounds to finish the regular season; they have multiple starters out of action on defense. The metaphor of the Eagles as a M*A*S*H unit is totally appropriate; they had to sign Evander Holyfield’s son to play RB – possibly – this week. Somehow these Eagles made the playoffs without having a 1000-yard rusher OR a 1000-yard receiver on the roster AND they had a negative turnover differential for the season. Who is their Fairy Godmother? The question here is simple:
- Can the Eagles pull another rabbit out of the hat?
As you ponder the answer to that question, let me point out something that may not be totally obvious:
- One cannot pull a rabbit out of a hat unless one has previously put a rabbit in that hat to be retrieved at a later time.
I have no idea what will happen here. I can envision the Seahawks winning by 2 TDs; I can see the Eagles prevailing in a close game. I doubt that the spread will make any difference to the bettors here. So, I will not put this game in this week’s Six-Pack but instead leave you with an observation by Bob Molinaro in today’s Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:
“The line: I wonder how many times an NFL team that’s lost three of its last four games has gone on the road as even a slight playoff favorite. But, then, the 11-5 Seahawks emerge from the tough NFC West to play a 9-7 Eagles team being held together by paper clips and chewing gum.”
Finally, here is an observation by Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:
“Dolphins cut RB Mark Walton after he allegedly punched a pregnant girlfriend. Not a good sign when your run-ins with the law begin to outnumber your career touchdowns.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………