Looking Back – Looking Ahead

Until the controversy engendered by the Eagles/WTFs game on Sunday Night Football changed my plans, today’s rant was supposed to have been yesterday’s.  Over the weekend, I thought I would look back at 2020 – – clearly a year that will live in infamy – – to find a few positive sporting events to take the edge off the image of 2020.  Then I wanted to look ahead to 2021 and identify what I hoped might happen in 2021 to return to “sports normalcy”.  Here is what I came up with for 2020 in hindsight:

  1. In 2020, the CFP produced a great championship game.  Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence went head-to-head and put on a show.
  2. Andy Reid and the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, and that victory removed the one stain on Reid’s coaching career.  I believe he is a great football coach and now he should be a Hall of Fame football coach.
  3. The LA Dodgers broke a longstanding World Series drought.  Dodgers’ fans have had many World series disappointments; the team was 6-17 in world Series appearances until the Dodgers beat the Rays in 6 games in October.
  4. David Ayres was an employee of the Toronto Maple Leafs.  He was a goalie for the team in practices; he drove the Zamboni; he maintained lots of the team infrastructure.  He also served as the team’s “house goalie” and he had to suit up for the Carolina Hurricanes when they needed an emergency goalie.  Ayres played for the Hurricanes and beat the Maple Leafs – – his employer – – in the game.  That is screenplay material.
  5. Alex Smith made it back to the field as an NFL QB after almost losing his life and/or his leg during myriad surgeries to repair his broken leg.
  6. In baseball, Daniel Bard made it back to MLB after being out of the game since 2013.  Bard suffered a loss of control and that usually means a pitcher is finished with baseball.  Bard somehow found a way to regain his control and record 6 saves for the Colorado Rockies.

If things go well in 2021, sports may return to a semblance of  its regular self and rhythm.  Here is what I hope to see in 2021:

  1. I hope to see sports events with a full complement of fans in the stands or in the arenas.  Crowd noise is a whole lot better than “piped-in crowd noise”.
  2. I hope to see March Madness – – even if it needs to be played in April or even May.
  3. I hope the Olympics happen in Tokyo this summer.  I have no particular affection for the Olympic Games themselves, but the athletes who will participate have been training for most of their lives to participate.  Organizers have said that if the Games do not happen in 2021, they will be canceled and not postponed for another year, so I hope they take place as scheduled for the sake of the athletes.
  4. I hope to be able to go and see a minor league baseball game on a warm summer evening later this year.
  5. I hope the NFL learns from the 2020 season that its future seasons can be considered complete without staging any more Pro Bowl Games.

Bob Molinaro had this comment recently in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Futurewatch: Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence may be relieved that the Jags jumped the line on the Jets for the No. 1 draft pick, but how is the sport helped when the top quarterback prospect plays in an NFL backwater?”

My response to that is to say that the only way to avoid having “top prospects” at any position play in an NFL backwater is to avoid putting teams in backwaters.  If the NFL were to decide tomorrow to expand from 32 teams to 36 teams and to put all 4 of the expansion franchises in the US of A, they should pay heed to the “desirability” of the locale for the new teams as much as to the willingness of a prospective owner of the new team to pay the exorbitant franchise fee.

What makes for an NFL “backwater”?  Too often folks equate market size with the desirability of a franchise venue.  That measure is true at the extremely high end of the scale; franchises in NY, LA, Chicago etc. are generally desirable based on the sheer number of fans in the area.  However, Green Bay and Pittsburgh are desirable based on their history of professional football.  Cincy is a successful franchise based on history too; it was Paul Brown who left Cleveland and started his own team in Cincy.

There is more to having a successful/desirable NFL franchise than market size.  One of the hidden factors, I believe, is the fundamental sports interest of the region where the franchise is to be located.  Take the northeast US plus the “snow belt” of the upper mid-west.  I count 11 or 12 NFL teams in that region and the only ones that may or may not be thought of as “backwaters” would be Detroit and Buffalo.  [Aside: I think Detroit is one; I do not think Buffalo is, but others might.]  Here is my theory as to why that is the case:

  • In that region, MLB is a dominant sport and has been for a long time.  NFL football grew up there as “something to do when there is no more MLB”.  Families could still attend pro sports events when MLB had shut down for the year.  Having been in that situation for 50-80 years, the NFL franchises there are now also important local foundation pieces.

Now look at the region of the southeastern US – – whare Jax is located.  There are 8 NFL teams located there.  Washington and New Orleans are successful and desirable franchises – – if one ignores the ownership of the WTFs.  The other franchises are successful, but none are the pillar of their city.  My reason:

  • College football is the king in the southeastern US and not NFL football.  And, unlike the situation in the northeast where MLB is dominant, college football and NFL football overlap in their seasons.  Jax hosts the Georgia/Florida game every year; it is a bigger event by a mile than any Jags’ game has been.  Jax is a city in a college football dominated region with merely an NFL franchise.

The problem is not that Trevor Lawrence will be toiling for a while in a backwater; the problem is that the NFL put a team in a backwater and has failed to recognize that and make it right.

Finally, I said above that I looked forward to attending a minor league baseball game this summer; and of course, I would partake of a hot dog while in attendance.  So, let me offer this definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Hot Dog:  The toenails, lips and eyebrows of various animals served on a bun.”

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

 

 

What Happened Last Night?

I had a totally different rant planned for today; then, Sunday Night Football happened.  Resetting the stage, the WTFs make the playoffs with a win; the Giants make the playoffs if the Eagles win.  It is the final game of the year and it means nothing to the Eagles so giving some of their starters the day off and playing some “prospects” is to be expected.  And then, Sunday Night Football happened.

Let me make two things clear:

  1. I have no inside information here – – and I have no intention to do any investigative work to uncover any.
  2. I cannot read minds.

Having said all that, I am not certain that the Eagles played that game to win the game.  Moreover, given the commentary from Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, I suspect that they too wonder why various decisions/ploys took place in that game.  I am not suggesting that the Eagles “took a dive” in the game but I would not like to have to defend what happened in that game from the point of view of logic and reason.

The Giants’ fans are understandably disappointed in the results from last night; many of them have Twitter accounts; the fallout from those two premises is pretty easy to imagine.  So, let me say that some of the gall and ire expressed on Twitter might be directed at the Giants’ themselves because all they would have had to do to get into the playoffs in 2020 is to win more than 6 regular season games.  Fans can and should be disappointed in the season’s outcome.

There were 3 “strategic” decisions by the Eagles that still have me shaking my head this morning:

  1. Leading 14-10 with 1:52 left to play in the first half, the Eagles got the ball at their own 26 yardline.  The Eagles run offense had been solid – if not eye-popping – and the WTFs had all 3 timeouts left.  Logic calls for a running play on first down; that would require the WTFs to spend a timeout if they anticipate getting the ball back in a reasonable field position.  The Eagles threw the ball 3 times; they gained 0 yards and punted the ball back to the WTFs having consumed 15 seconds off the clock and causing the WTFs to spend none of their timeouts.
  2. With about 2 minutes left in the third quarter, the Eagles trailed 17-14 and had the ball at the WTFs’ 4-yardline; it was 4th and goal.  Eschewing a field goal to tie the game, the Eagles tried a pass play that failed, and they turned the ball over on downs.
  3. Starting with the Eagles’ first possession in the 4th quarter – it is still a one-score game – the Eagles insert Nate Sudfeld into the game at QB.  Granted the Eagles braintrust could never have foreseen that he would throw an INT and lose a fumble on his first two possessions, but what was he doing in that game under those circumstances in the first place.

[Aside:  Nate Sudfeld’s stats were 5 of 12 for 32 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT plus a lost fumble.  Oh, by the way, he took two sacks too.  He has been a clipboard holder since being drafted in 2016, but last night in the 4th quarter of a meaningful game, it was imperative that he get some “evaluation time”?]

After the game, Pedersen asserted that he had been coaching to win and that Sudfeld deserved to play that 4th quarter of the game because he had “been here 4 years”.  Excuse me, but the fact that he has been with the Eagles for 4 years and had seen the field in all of 3 games and had thrown 2 passes in his career tells me that when you were coaching to win in those previous years, you felt it was best for him to be somewhere other than on the field.

The folks at NBC were mystified too.  Michaels and Collinsworth almost asked aloud what the Hell was Doug Pedersen thinking/doing in the second half of that game.  The NBC stat mavens came up with – – and displayed on screen – – the Eagles’ outcome with a win or a loss in the game.  If the Eagles had won, they would have the 9th overall draft pick next April; now that they have lost, they will have the 6th overall pick in that draft.  I do not ever recall that sort of information being presented to the audience in a game unless it involved the overall #1 pick.  To me, it seems as if the people doing the game were sufficiently gobsmacked by what they saw unfolding that they felt the need to come up with some sort of explanation.

Cris Collinsworth is noted for his candor on the air.  His candor is probably the reason why almost every NFL fanbase thinks that he absolutely hates their team.  Without ever using the word “tanking”, he said several times that he did not understand what the Eagles were doing and/or why they were doing it until finally he said – – this is probably a paraphrase because I do not have the game recorded and cannot go back and listen to get his exact wording:

“I could not do what the Eagles did tonight.”

From a logical standpoint, I have no answers for what happened in last night’s game.  Doug Pedersen says he was “coaching to win”; I cannot refute that with facts just as I cannot find a lot of facts that support that assertion.  My impression is that the Eagles played out the string which would have been understandable and unremarkable had the WTFs been leading the game by 2 TDs in the second half.  But once it became a winnable game late in the third quarter, the Eagles owed it to their fans – – and to NFL football fans of every stripe – – to make strategic decisions that more obviously align with trying to win the game.

Cue Herm Edwards here…

Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment on the New Year celebration in NYC and how it related to the NFL:

“Thanks to COVID-19, this Dec. 31 in Times Square will mark the first time in 113 years that there won’t be any New Yorkers on hand to witness a ball getting dropped.

“In other words, no different than a Jets home game in 2020.”

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

 

 

Football Friday On A Thursday Again 12/31/20

Sports Curmudgeon  12/31/20

 

In another calendar anomaly, Football Friday will take place on a Thursday this week.  Never let it be said that flexibility is absent here in Curmudgeon Central.  As is customary, I shall begin with a review of last week’s Six-Pack:

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

In addition, the 4-team Money Line parlay went astray when the Browns lost to the Jets.

That brings the embarrassing season totals to:

  • College:  17-22-1
  • NFL:  26-32-2
  • Combined:  43-54-3
  • Money Line parlays:  0-1

A bit of foreshadowing – – this week’s Six-Pack will be the most crowded one of all.  I have a lot of selections for you here.

 

College Football Commentary:

 

I know that the Heisman Trophy used to be a “running backs’ award” and that it has morphed into a “quarterbacks’ award” over the last couple of decades.  Nevertheless, I want to suggest here that the best college football player in the country in 2020 – – at least of the ones I saw with my own two eyes – – was Alabama WR, DeVonta Smith.  Opposing defenses sought to double cover him and he beat the double coverage by running past both defenders trying to contain him.

Going into the season, Smith was considered to be Alabama’s #2 WR; Jaylen Waddle was the consensus pick as their #1 guy on the outside.  Waddle suffered a season ending injury and Smith merely took over to the point where the Bama faithful  never had any regrets.  I do not have a Heisman vote, but DeVonta Smith would get mine if I did.

Four Heisman finalists have been named.  Smith will be the only non-quarterback under consideration.  The other finalists are:

  • Mac Jones  QB  Alabama
  • Trevor Lawrence  QB  Clemson
  • Kyle Trask  QB  Florida

For anyone who follows these rants, it will come as no surprise that I routinely downplay half of the major football conferences in the US and at least 25% of all the Division 1-A teams in the country in any given year.  The gap in talent and coaching from the top-shelf of college football even only down to the middle levels of the good conferences is chasm-like.  That observation got me to thinking about Power 5 teams perennially at the top of their conferences and teams perennially at the bottom.

  1. Atlantic Coast Conference:  Clemson has been dominant in the ACC for quite a while now; most years, the teams from Miami and UNC are contenders.  The doormats of the ACC are probably Duke and Syracuse.
  2. Big-10:  Ohio State has been the dominant team here for quite a while.  Occasionally Penn State or Michigan State or Michigan can give them a moment’s pause, but the Buckeyes rule this conference.  The doormat here has been Rutgers – – but that may be changing.  Another doormat used to be Minnesota – – and that appears to be changing.  Another doormat used to be Indiana – – but that appears to be changing.  So, I guess for now, the Big-10 doormat is Illinois.
  3. Big-12:  Oklahoma is the boss of this conference.  Once in a while they get a tussle from Oklahoma State or Texas; this year Iowa State was a good opponent; but the sooners are in charge in the heartland.  The doormat for the league is easy; it must be Kansas.  Over the last 11 seasons, Kansas has never won more than 3 games in a single year and the Jayhawks’ cumulative record for those 11 seasons is 21-108.
  4. PAC-12:  Washington, Oregon and USC are probably the most consistently good teams in the conference.  It is a toss-up for me whether Cal or Arizona is the most over-matched team in the conference.  Cal – like Vanderbilt in the SEC – has academic constraints that make consistent competition impossible so I guess I would say that Arizona is the real doormat here.
  5. Southeastern Conference:  Most years you can pretty much pencil in Alabama, Georgia, Florida and LSU as contenders.  Vanderbilt is probably the league’s most reliable doormat, but Arkansas has been less than formidable in recent years.

 

College Games of Interest:

 

(12/31/20)  Ball State vs. San Jose State – 10 (65.5):  Ball State was a surprise winner in the MAC tournament.  San Jose State wins on defense allowing only 17.9 points per game.  I like this game to stay UNDER; put it in the Six-Pack.

(12/31/20)  West Virginia – 7 vs Army (41):  Army lives and dies running the football.  In 11 games this year, the team has only attempted 70 passes and completed on 31 of those pass attempts.  Cumulatively, the team has thrown 4 TD passes and 5 INTs.  The reason I am harpoon on this is that West Virginia’s rushing defense is more than just “pretty good”; it ranks 24th in the country (out of 127 teams playing Division 1-A football this year).  I like the Mountaineers to win and cover here in a low-scoring game; put it in the Six-Pack.

(1/1/21)  Cincy vs. Georgia – 6.5 (51.5):  I have touted Cincy – and particularly its defense – all season long.  They are the best team that I saw from the so-called Group of Five conferences and I do not doubt that they are significantly better than a couple dozen teams from the Power Five conferences.  However, Georgia is not one of those teams.  Georgia was offensively challenged until they made a QB switch late in the season; since putting sophomore QB, JT Daniels under center, the Bulldogs have averaged 42 points per game.  Add to that the fact that the Georgia defense is clearly the best defense that Cincy has faced all season long.  Cincy will play with a chip on its shoulder, but I do not think that will be enough; give me Georgia to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.

(1/1/21)  Notre Dame vs. Alabama – 20 (65.5): That 20-point spread is the largest spread in the history of the CFP – – not that the CFP goes back for half a century of anything like that.  The game has a couple of interesting matchups:

  1. The Irish offensive line has 4 starters that many folks have tabbed for NFL careers.  If Notre Dame  QB, Ian Book, gets time to throw comfortably, the Alabama pass defense can be exploited (see Florida game and Ole Miss game as examples).
  2. Alabama sets up its explosive passing attack by forcing teams to defend the run particularly by Najee Harris.  However, the Irish run defense ranks 15th in the country.

Notre Dame is tempting as an underdog getting almost 3 full TDs – – but I shall resist that temptation and watch the game purely for its enjoyment value.

(1/1/21)  Ohio State vs. Clemson – 7.5 (66.5):  Ohio State won all 6 of its games this year; they had some COVID-cancellations.  The “problem” is that they did not beat any top-shelf teams this year.  In the Big-10 the teams that are normally the “Big Dogs” – – Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin – – played like puppies.  So, is Ohio State a powerhouse in 2020?  I have no idea.  I do know that Clemson is beatable this season – – because they lost a game.  This is a game to watch and enjoy.  I will not make a selection here.

(1/2/21)  Texas A&M – 7 vs. UNC (65):  I think the Aggies are the better team here even if the Tar Heels were going to be a full offensive strength.  However, UNC will be without their leading rusher and their leading receiver for the game.  I would take UNC plus the points if those players had not “opted-out” for the game.  Under the circumstances, I think UNC is taking on a better opponent with one arm tied behind its back; give me the Aggies to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.

 

NFL Commentary:

 

When the NFL expanded the playoffs to include a 7th team from each conference this year – – largely to take in some more revenue as a COVID-19 offset – – there were worries that a .500 team or even worse might make the playoffs as a wildcard team.  Little did we know that the NFC East champion would be 7-9 at best.  At the same time, I thought every 10-6 team would be a shoo-in let along a team that finished at 11-5.  I was wrong on that one too.

In the AFC, there are 3 wildcard slots.  Going into the final week of play, five teams in the AFC bring 10-5 records to the kickoff

  • Miami
  • Baltimore
  • Cleveland
  • Tennessee
  • Indy

The Tennessee/Indy pairing will resolve itself as one of the two will be the AFC South champions.  That leaves 4 other AFC teams at 10-5 this morning and only 3 wild card slots for them to occupy.  It is possible if all 5 of these teams win this weekend – none of them play any of the others – a team with an 11-5 record will be sitting at home watching the playoffs on TV.

In the NFC, the East will be decided over there in a side show; there is no possibility for any wild card relevance.  For the three NFC wildcard slots, one is guaranteed to be taken by the Bucs who have a 10-5 record.  The other two spots will be divvied up among

  • Chicago at 8-7
  • LA Rams at 9-6
  • Arizona at 8-7

All 16 NFL games happen on Sunday this week and the early games tend to be ones that are either irrelevant or only marginally relevant.  However, before any of the pre-game shows begin and before any of the color analysts offer up their “Keys to the Game”, let me get something off my chest.  There is a new buzz-phrase in NFL-speak and it is annoying because it is inaccurate.

  • Football pundits like to sound “in the know” when they tell fans that it is important for a team’s defense to “get off the field on third down”.
  • What is wrong with plain English?  What the team’s defense needs to do is to “hold the opponent short of the first down marker” or to “prevent a first down” or to “force a punt”.
  • Here is what is wrong with “get off the field on third down”  A defense can do that every time simply by allowing the offense to score a touchdown; it gets them off the field without question.

In last week’s action, on Friday (Christmas Day), the Saints beat the Vikes 52-33.  Alvin Kamara ran for 6 TDs in the game; the two teams combined for 947 yards of offense; the Saints had the ball for almost 37 minutes and the Saints were never forced to punt.  The loss eliminated the Vikes from playoff contention and the 52 points allowed by the Vikes was the most any Vikes’ team had allowed since 1963.  By the way, the 1963 Vikes were still “an expansion team” having come into the NFL only 2 years before that.

On Saturday, there was a triple-header of NFL games.  The Bucs beat the Lions 47-7.  Here is all you need to know about that game:

  • With the score 40-0 in the 3rd quarter, the Lions returned a punt for a TD “narrowing the score”.  The returner was flagged for taunting on the play forcing the Lions to kick off from the 20 yardline on the next play.
  • Cue Bugs Bunny:  “What a maroon! “

The Niners beat the Cards 20-12.  The loss does not eliminate the Cards from the playoffs, but it does mean that they need some help; if the Bears win their final game this week, they will be in the playoffs ahead of the Cards based on tiebreakers even if the Cards beat the Rams this weekend.  The Niners had to go to their #3 QB for the game; CJ Beathard responded by throwing 3 TD passes and RB, Jeff Wilson, ran for 183 yards on 22 carries.  Wilson was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018 having played college football for North Texas.

The Dolphins beat the Raiders 26-25.  The Raiders took the lead at 25-23 on a field goal with19 seconds left in the game; the Dolphins won the game on a field goal with 1 second left in the game.  Ryan Fitzpatrick came off the bench in the 4th quarter to lead the Dolphins to the win.  Tua Tagovailoa had a dreary performance here.  He completed 17 passes for all of 94 yards.  This loss – the fifth in the last six games – eliminated the Raiders from the playoffs in 2020.

The Chiefs beat the Falcons 17-14.  The Falcons led late in the game – – not by two or more scores but they did have the lead on the scoreboard.  And then they lost.  What’s new?  The Chiefs hardly looked dominant here – – but teams have not needed to be dominant to beat the Falcons so far in 2020.  Here is what Dwight Perry had to say in the Seattle Times about this game:

“Speaking of Christmas, the big man in red looks poised to deliver yet another belated holiday gift for Chiefs fans.

“But enough about Andy Reid.”

The Jets beat the Browns 23-16.  Break up the Jets; that makes it two wins in a row for the Guys in Green.  The Jets’ defense somehow held the Browns’ running game to 45 yards on 18 carries.  The loss leaves the Browns with a record of 10-5 but without a guaranteed slot in the AFC playoffs.  Are the Jets’ players trying to save Adam Gase’s job?

The Bengals beat the Texans 37-31.  Brandon Allen started at QB for the Bengals and played the best game of his short NFL career.  He threw for 371 yards and 2 TDs; the Bengals added to that performance with a running game that contributed 169 yards to the winning effort.  This was a shootout, and you might have expected the Texans and Deshaun Watson to have been more successful in that sort of game – – but it was the Bengals won the day.

The Ravens beat the Giants 27-13.  This game was not nearly as close as the scoreboard might indicate.  The Giants trailed 14-0 at the end of the first quarter based largely on the fact that the Giants ran a total of 3 offensive plays in the first quarter.  For the day, the Ravens recorded 6 sacks.  The Ravens look like a team that is peaking around playoff time – – but they need to win next week to assure that they are part of those playoffs.

The Steelers beat the Colts 28-24.  The Colts led 24-7 with about 3 minutes left in the 3rd quarter; then they had a meltdown.  From that point on, the Colts did almost nothing right on either offense or defense.  Meanwhile, the Steelers’ offense that had been in hibernation for about a month regained consciousness and scored the final 21 points in the game.

The Cowboys beat the Eagles 37-17.  This was a must-win game for both teams and the Eagles ran out to a 14-3 lead in the first half; then reality struck.

The Panthers beat the WTFs 20-13.  Dwayne Haskins – playing QB for the WTFs despite the drama he brought to the team over the previous week – was awful in this game.  He lost a fumble, threw 2 INTs and averaged only 5.5 yards per pass attempt.  Taylor Heinicke replaced Haskins in the second half and rallied the team to a late 4th quarter TD – – but it was not enough.  The WTFs defense held the Panthers to 280 yards of offense but could not overcome 4 turnovers 3 by the offense and 1 by the punt return team.

On Monday, the WTFs released Dwayne Haskins; he has a fully guaranteed $4.3M coming to him over the next several years so do not feel too sorry for him.  That money is addition to the approximately $10M he got as a signing bonus.   Maybe he will use some of that money to hire a life coach who can instill in him something called “deferred gratification” or perhaps “work ethic”.  If not, his NFL career is about over.

Haskins is – by my count – the 4th QB that Danny Boy Snyder has imposed on coaches for his team since buying it in 1999.  They would be – chronologically –

  1. Jeff George – – 2000
  2. Patrick Ramsey – – 2002
  3. RG3 – – 2012
  4. Dwayne Haskins – – 2019

Ladies and gentlemen, that would be the superfecta of futility.

The Seahawks beat the Rams 20-9.  The win gives the Seahawks the NFC West title and a guaranteed home game in the playoffs.  The injury to the thumb of Rams’ QB, Jared Goff may be the most important thing to come out of this game; without him, the Rams are not nearly the same level of threat in the playoffs as they would be with him at QB.

John Wolford is the backup QB on the Rams’ depth chart.  Wolford has never thrown an NFL pass before. In fact, his only professional football experience was back in 2019 when he was the starting quarterback for the Arizona Hotshots of the AAF. When the AAF went belly-up, he signed with the Rams. Prior to his time in the AAF, he signed with the Jets as an undrafted free agent out of Wake Forest; the Jets cut him out of training camp.  So, the bottom line for this weekend is that the Rams’ playoff hopes are going to ride on the shoulders of a guy who was unable to make it to the Jets’ practice squad.  But wait, there are reports that the Rams may be signing – – wait for it – – Blake Bortles this week.  If that signing happens, Dwayne Haskins’ agent will need to sit Mr. Haskins down for what in diplomatic circles is known as a “frank and candid exchange” about Mr. Haskins’ perception around the league.

Here is the Rams’ playoff picture as I understand it:

  • Rams are IN the playoffs with a win over the Cards this weekend
  • Rams are IN the playoffs with a loss to the Cards AND a loss by the Bears.
  • Rams are OUT of the playoffs with a loss to the Cards AND a win by the Bears.

Speaking of the Bears, they beat the Jags 41-17 last weekend.  That makes it 4 weeks in a row that the Bears have scored 30 or more points in a game.  The Bears are guaranteed a playoff slot if they beat the Packers in Chicago this week – – not an easy task.  Mitchell Trubisky was 24 of 35 for 265 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT for the game.  He also ran for another TD.  With this loss – – and the Jets’ surprising win, – – the Jags have locked up the overall #1 pick in next year’s draft; the Jags are “on the clock” for the 2021 NFL Draft and it is not yet 2021.  The Jags have lost 14 games in a row since beating the Colts in Week 1; they will close out the season with a rematch against those Colts this week.

The Packers beat the Titans 40-14 in a snow bowl game in Green Bay.  You would have thought that the weather elements would favor the Titans and their power running game – – but that advantage went to the Packers from the start.  The Titans’ defense has been a weak spot all year long and was again in this game.  The Packers rolled up 234 yards on the ground and another 214 yards in the air. The Titans closed the score to 19-14 early in the third quarter and then surrendered 21 unanswered points to turn the game into a rout.

The Bills beat the Pats 38-9.  This game was as big a domination as the score indicates.  Yes, the Pats were missing two of their best defensive backs for the game; nonetheless, Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs sliced and diced the Pats’ defense all night long.  The Pats simply cannot throw the football effectively.  Cam Newton was 5 of 10 for 34 yards and got himself placed on the bench; Jarrett Stidham “came to the rescue” and was 4 of 11 for 44 yards – – if you can call that a “rescue”.  The Bills recorded 31 first downs; the Pats managed only 11.

The Pats’ offensive situation is dire.  The Pats rank 29th overall in the NFL in total offense; to give you an idea of what that means, the only teams with less offensive output this year are the WTFs, the Giants and the Jets.  The problem is not the running game; the Pats are 5th in the NFL in rushing; they gain over 145 yards per game on the ground – – and that is in spite of the fact that defenses load up to stop the run against them.  The Pats’ problem is the absence of a competent passing game and the failure of their passing game is not nearly a single-point failure.

  • Using pass receptions by a tight end, the Pats have zero tight ends in the Top 50
  • Using pass yardage by a tight end, the Pats have 1 tight end ranked 48th in the NFL and he has been on IR for six weeks this season.
  • Using pass receptions by a WR, the Pats have zero WRs in the Top 50
  • Using pass yardage by a WR, the Pats have 1 WR ranked 46th in the NFL.
  • Conclusion #1:  The Pats have a paucity of talent at the position that catches passes in the NFL in 2020.

Ranking QBs is an inexact science to be sure.  I am not a fan of QBR, but it does give you relative groupings of quarterbacks in the league.  For example, using QBR as the yardstick, the top 5 QBs for this year are Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, Ryan Tannehill and Josh Allen.  The range of QBRs for this group of five QBs goes from 117.8 to 105.1.  Most observers would agree that for the 2020 season, all five of those QBs were playing very well.  So, using that measure, where do the Pats’ QBs rank?

  • Cam Newton’s rating is 71.1 and he ranks 24th in the league.
  • Jarrett Stidham’s rating is 23.6 and he ranks 44th in the league
  • Neither Brian Hoyer nor Jake Dolegala (practice squad) have enough stats to be rated.
  • Conclusion #2:  The Pats are suffering from a lack of skill at the QB position for the first time in about 2 decades.

Yes, the QBs would be more proficient if they had Pro bowl caliber pass catchers to throw to; and yes, the pass catchers would have more catches and yardage gained if they had someone akin to Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball to them.  Notwithstanding that interesting but irrelevant bit of imagination the problem facing the Pats is they need to fix a sizeable portion of the team all at one time.  That is not an easy task.

Cam Newton has never been a pin-point passer even when he was the NFL MVP.  With the trivial amount of separation achieved by this receiving corps, his lack of precision becomes a ticket to failure.  Even with his dismal performances in the past several games, Bill Belichick has stuck with him as the starter; conventional wisdom would have it that Jarrett Stidham should be getting a baptism of fire so that the team can recognize what – if any – contribution he can make to the team in the coming years.  His meager playing time suggests to me:

  • Bill Belichick has already decided that Jarrett Stidham is not the “QB of the Future” for the Patriots so long as he is the coach.

[Aside:  Yes, I know; I am engaging in mind-reading here and I have no skills in that discipline.  But that is my conclusion…]

For years, the Pats had clearly the best QB in their division and had the luxury of tinkering with exotic frills regarding their roster and their game planning.  Not anymore.  Right now, the Pats’ QB crew is the worst assemblage of talent in the AFC East – and that includes the downtrodden NY Jets who are not going to acquire Trevor Lawrence in this year’s draft.  Coaching is important, but players win games – – and it may be a while until the Pats can assemble the mix of players to win games consistently again.

 

NFL Games:

 

Take a deep breath for a moment.  Barring a cataclysmic event between now and Sunday night, the NFL will have gotten in all 256 of its regular season games within the time span of the schedule they produced back in the summer.  Yes, they had to juggle a few things around, and we got to see NFL action on Tuesday night and on Friday night this year and on Saturday.  Only Wednesdays never saw a pair of NFL teams tee it up.

I wonder what the Las Vegas odds were on the NFL schedule starting on time and finishing on time back in August 2020… 

Jax at Indy – 14 (50):  The Jags are 1-0 against the Colts in 2020 and they are 0-14 against the rest of the NFL.  Does that give them confidence in their ability to win this game?  Or does that circumstance piss off the Colts and make it such that they go out with the intention of humiliating a bad Jags’ team?  The Colts are one of the 10-5 AFC teams looking for a playoff spot, so the game is important to them.  Their only avenue to the playoffs is for a win here and then some help in other games involving AFC teams with 10-5 records.  I will avoid a 2-TD spread here but the UNDER is tempting.

Green Bay – 5.5 at Chicago (51.5):  If the Packers win, they get the BYE Week in the NFC playoffs.  If the Bears win, they will remain alive for the playoffs.  The oldest rivalry in the NFL comes down to the final game of the season and the game means something in the standings as well as to the players.  Cannot ask for much more…  The weather is forecast to be cold and windy – – no surprise for Chicago in January – – but dry.  This is the Game of the Week.

Dallas – 2 at Giants (44.5):  The spread opened as a “pick ‘em” game and moved quickly to this level.  The Cowboys have won 3 games in a row and the winner here will be the NFC East winner if the Eagles beat the WTFs on Sunday Nite.  So, forget that the combined records of these two teams is a measly 11-20; this game means something; one of these teams and its fans will be glued to the TV on Sunday Nite and rooting for the Eagles to beat the WTFs.  I think that team will be the Cowboys; Andy Dalton has been playing well since returning from injury and the Eagles’ defense has been a mess for the ;last month or so.  I like the Cowboys to win and cover on the road here; put it in the Six-Pack.

Pittsburgh at Cleveland – 10.5 (42.5):  The spread opened the week at 6 points; then Mike Tomlin said he was resting some of the Steelers’ starters – – including Ben Roethlisberger and TJ Watt because the Steelers never really got a BYE Week this season as part of the schedule jockeying the NFL had to orchestrate to get the season in on time.  Surely, the Browns will not take the game lightly; it was only last week that they lost to the Jets; they cannot want to lose again here to the Steelers’ JVs, right?  And just as things seemed to be coming together in favor of the Browns came news that they had to close down their team facilities in mid-week due to COVID-19 protocols.  In addition to the playoff meaning for the Browns and the playoff seeding for the Steelers, this game has one other interesting angle; it is almost as if a Hollywood screenwriter set up the angle.

  • Mason Rudolph will play QB for the Steelers and Myles Garrett will play DE for the Browns.
  • The only thing missing from the script here is that the two players will not be mic-ed up so that their verbal stylings will not be recorded for posterity.

Just spitballing here but suppose Mason Rudolph stinks out the joint here; I mean plays embarrassingly bad.  Then given that the Steelers have a very good defense in place and given that Ben Roethlisberger’s career arc is trending downward, would the Steelers seriously go shopping for a QB in the offseason?

Tennessee – 7.5 at Houston (57):  The Titans win the division with a victory here.  The Texans seem to have checked out on the year and some of them at least are contemplating a week or so on a sunny beach somewhere in the Caribbean very soon.  Last week the Texans gave up 37 points to the Bengals and 371 yards passing to Brandon Allen.  The Texans’ defense is a mess and the Titans’ offense should do well here.  [Aside:  Derrick Henry needs 223 yards rushing in the game to reach 2000 yards for the season.]  The problem for the Titans is that their defense is also a mess; that is why you see such a high Total Line on the game.

New Orleans – 7 at Carolina (48):  The Saints are clearly the better team; the Panthers, however, are playing hard and with purpose under rookie coach Matt Ruhle.  They may be outmanned here but they will not be outhustled or outhit.  The Saints can still get the BYE Week in the NFC playoffs if both Seattle and Green Bay lose; so, they do have “something to play for”.

Jets at New England – 3 (40): Both teams have been eliminated from playoff consideration here.  The Jets cannot improve or hurt their draft position; they will have the 2nd overall pick next April.  The Patriots have a lot of players who have never been in the situation where there is nothing they can do to be part of the playoffs this season; it might be interesting to see how they react.  The Jets arrive in Foxboro with a 2-game winning streak and a defense that has held the Rams and the Browns (two playoff aspirants as of this week) to 20 points or less in those two games.  As noted above, the Pats’ offense is virtually non-existent.  I think the Jets win this game, so I’ll be happy to take them plus some points; put it in the Six-Pack.

Minnesota – 7 at Detroit (54.5):  Both teams are eliminated from playoff consideration here too.  As an added bit of spice, the status of Lions’ QB Matthew Stafford is “up in the air” and we saw last week that his backups, Chase Daniel and David Blough, are not “emerging stars”.  Neither defense has played well for most of the season but the Vikes’ offense has shown some cohesion from time to time – – except that for Sunday’s game, Dalvin Cook will be with his family due to the sudden death of his father.  This game has no social redeeming qualities; this is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.

Atlanta at Tampa Bay – 6.5 (50.5):  The perfect punctuation mark for the entirety of this goofy NFL season can be had in this game if it follows this script:

  1. Falcons lead 21-0 at the half.
  2. Falcons lead 28-10 at the end of the 3rd quarter
  3. Bucs – with Tom Brady at QB – win in OT 37-31

The Falcons came close to following that script just 2 weeks ago.  The Falcons have played significantly better in December than they did earlier in the year, but it just has not showed in the standings.  The key to this game comes down to motivation or lack thereof.  The Bucs are in the playoffs no matter what; the Falcons are out of the playoffs no matter what; which team cares the most?

Baltimore – 13 at Cincy (44):  The Ravens are one of the 10-5 AFC teams seeking playoff entry; the situation here is simple; the Ravens are ”in” if they win.  Obviously, the Bengals can only be spoilers here; they have been playoff-irrelevant for quite a while.  However, the Bengals have won 2 in a row, and the Ravens have won 4 in a row.  Boy, that line looks fat to me; I must resist the temptation to make a pick in a game with that big a spread…

Miami at Buffalo – 2.5 (46):  This line is all over the place; you can find it at 3.5 points at one sports book and at “pick ‘em” at one other sportsbook.  The reason is that bettors do not yet have a sense of who will play and for how long for the Bills.  The Bills have the #2 seed locked up with a win here; as noted above, this game is very important to the Dolphins and their playoff chances.  Here is what I do know with certainty.

  • The game is in Buffalo; the calendar says it is January; even Al Gore knows it is not going to be “balmy weather”.  The lookahead forecast on Weather.com calls for temperatures in the mid-30s with snow showers and 8 mph winds.

The Dolphins’ defense has gotten the team to this point – notwithstanding the miraculous comeback win last week against the Raiders (see above).  That defense will need to be at the top of its game here because Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense is on a roll over the last month.  This game got strong consideration as the Game of the Week; if you can watch it, do so.

Chargers at KC (no lines):  I have no idea who will play for the Chiefs and if the starters do play, for how long will they play.  The game means nothing to the either team.  I also expect the Chiefs to employ a lot of formations and a lot of plays that they have no intention of using once the playoffs begin just to give defensive coordinators something extra to worry about.

Seattle – 6 at SF (46.5):  The Seahawks are the division winners, and they could be the #1 seed in the NFC if they win here and both the Saints and the Packers lose on Sunday.  The Niners stepped things up last week and beat the playoff contending Cards with a solid performance from CJ Beathard.  Problem is that the Seahawks defense is playing very well now and is better than the Cards’ defense.

Las Vegas – 2.5 at Denver (51):  This is the third game on the card for this week where neither team has any part in playoff determination nor seeding.  The Raiders are the better team – – but they have been the better team several times over the course of their 1-5 stretch since mid-November.  The porous Raiders’ defense might be just the thing that Drew Lock needs to make the Broncos’ braintrust think he just might be “The Guy” going forward.  Here is an interesting circumstance for this game:

  • Raiders are 2-5-0 on the road for the season
  • Broncos are 2-5-0 at home for the season.
  • Is anyone up for a tie game?

I think the players and coaches here will play the game “loosie-goosey” and neither defense gives me confidence that they can stop “the other guys”.  I like this game to turn into a shoot-out; I think the game will go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Arizona at Rams “pick ‘em” (39):  Anyone who bets this game before the active lists are announced is someone just looking for action.  Jared Goff will not play for the Rams (see above); in addition, the Rams put Cooper Kupp on the COVID list, and he may not be eligible by Sunday.  For the Cards, Kyler Murray has a “lower leg injury” and may have to be scratched; his backup on the roster is Chris Streveler who was the QB for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers who went to the CFL Grey Cup last year.  If the Cards win, they are in the playoffs; if the Rams win, they are in the playoffs; if the Rams lose, they might still get in the playoffs.  Lots of possibilities here and none will mean much until you know who can play and who cannot.

(Sun Nite)  Washington – 1 at Philly (43):  The WTFs situation is simple; win here and they are in the playoffs; lose here and they go home.  The Eagles situation is equally simple; they go home win or lose.  The fact that Dwayne Haskins was cut so abruptly last Monday tells me that Ron Rivera is confident that Alex Smith will be a go for this game.  Taylor Heinicke played OK in relief last week but if Smith were a no-go, Haskins would still be on the team for emergencies as opposed to Steven Montez a rookie from Colorado.  I think the Washington defense wins this one; I like the WTFs to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.

Before reviewing this week’s Six-Pack, here is how the NFL Playoffs ought to look as of late Sunday night:

  • AFC:  The BYE WEEK belongs to the Chiefs no matter what.  Then:
  • #7 Colts at #2 Bills
  • #6 Browns at #3 Steelers – – for the third time this year.
  • #5 Ravens at #4 Titans – – Darrel Royal, Woody Hayes and Vince Lombardi will love this one; it is a rematch, and the prior game went to OT.
  • NFC:  The BYE Week will belong to the Packers.  Then:
  • #7 Cards at #2 Saints
  • #6 Rams at #3 Seahawks – – for the third time this year.
  • #5 Bucs at #4 WTFs

Here is the Six Pack for this week – – with 8 selections again:

  • Georgia – 6.5 over Cincy
  • Texas A&M – 7 over UNC
  • West Virginia – 7 over Army
  • Ball State/San Jose State UNDER 65.5
  • Cowboys – 2 over Giants
  • Jets +3 versus Patriots
  • Raiders/Broncos OVER 51
  • WTFs – 1 over Eagles.

Last week, I threw in a Money Line Parlay and hit 3 of the 4 games – – which means it was a loser.  But it was fun, so here is another 4 team Money Line Parlay for this week:

  • Clemson at minus-300
  • Georgia at minus-260
  • Jets at +140
  • Bucs at minus-300.
  • My calculation says this will pay out at +490.

Finally, here is another NFL-related observation from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“Ex-QB Peyton Manning is unveiling a Tennessee-based whiskey called Sweetens Cove Bourbon.

“To no one’s surprise, restaurateurs say it also goes well with Omaha steaks.”

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

 

 

Bad Ads 2020

When you watch sports on TV as I most certainly do, you are exposed to advertising.  It is a necessary evil; without the ads there would be no sports on TV to watch; if you doubt that, check out your local cable access channels and/or PBS for their sports listings.  The fact that the ads are “necessary” does not excuse the sub-set of ads that are either bad or stupid – – or both.  I keep a listing of such ads as the year goes along and I compile them late in December as a means to leave them in the past – – knowing full well that next year will bring a new crop of Bad Ads.

Nobel Prize winning author, Sinclair Lewis accurately described the advertising genre:

“Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods, particularly if the goods are worthless.”

In a sense, I feel disadvantaged this year because there was not nearly as much sports on TV to watch thanks to the guy who ate the bat in Wuhan whenever.  [Aside:  If I came into possession of a bat or three and someone asked me to prepare them for dinner, I would have to confess that I have never seen a cookbook devoted to “Bat Cuisine”.  I would not have a clue as to where to start to cook the things.  Whatever…]  When I sat down to compile this year’s list, I was afraid there would not be a critical mass of items to make it worth doing.  Not the case…  The advertising folks may not have had the quantity of bad ads compared to previous years, but there were plenty of ads worthy of note here.

Remember, 2020 was a Presidential election year; that means the entire year was littered with political ads; that means the TV viewing public was exposed to toxic levels of mendacity from January (during “primary season”) through November.  If the bulls[p]it contained in all the political ads were converted to coronavirus, the pandemic would have wiped out everyone on the planet by now.  To get an idea what I mean about political ads, politicians and mendacity, please take 4 minutes and 45 seconds to follow this link and watch a Johnny Carson sketch from The Tonight Show in 1982.  It will bring a smile to your face and it will convince you that politicians and the political ads supporting them are as credible now as “this politician” was in 1982.

Here is what I think about all political advertising:

  • All political ads contain lies and intentional distortions of facts.  All the people involved in making those ads are nothing better than lying weasels.
  • I am The Sports Curmudgeon, and I approved this message…

Added to the quadrennial burden we face with political ads, we also had to tolerate two other classes of ads that happen every year.  They are annoying and they are stupid; moreover, they have the survival abilities of a cockroach.  I am referring here to:

  1. The perfume/cologne ads that appear between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  You know the ones I mean.  The one where they guy drives out in a desert and buries a necklace under a rock in the hot sun and that somehow relates to motivating me to buy a certain brand of cologne.  Don’t forget the one where a man and woman seek one another and finally meet in an embrace underwater in a pool making me wonder what the Hell that stuff must smell like out in the air.
  2. The Medicare Advantage Plan ads which serve to convince you that the Congress in setting up Medicare was intentionally penurious with you because for no added cost you can get a half dozen other FREE benefits.  And even  if I were predisposed to think that I needed to review my health insurance status with someone, would that someone be whatever hominid happens to answer a phone at a number hawked by Joe Namath?

There must be something about the Holiday Season that causes whatever remnants of common sense exist in ad creators to vaporize.  This year the folks who create ads for Target announced that Target had sale prices on last minute Christmas gifts and that those prices were good “for this week only”.  What’s that you say?  That is there to inform the consumer about the limits on the offering?  Fine; now consider that ad ran on December 20th.  No one would have any need for a special price on a Christmas gift more than a week in the future so the special prices would be irrelevant.

And speaking of annoying ads that materialized out of the world ether at Holiday Season time, is there an ad currently running on TV that is dumber than the chorus of carolers led by The Burger King as they sing Christmas carols to people in their cars at the Drive-thru ordering Burger King Whoppers?  If that group of masked Burger King folks approached my car, the last thing I would do is cheer them on; I would be closing the windows, locking the doors and gunning the engine.

Fast food purveyors always get a mention in these annual retrospectives, and this year is no exception.  Two ads went beyond the norm:

  1. Papa John’s:  With the societal emphasis on social distancing, just about every purveyor of victuals declared their commitment to contactless delivery of some sort.  The dumbest of these assertions was Papa John’s announcement that they take their pizzas out of a 450-degree oven and put it directly in a box, no touching.  Really?  How is that different from what you did before the shutdown or different from every other pizza maker?
  2. Pizza Hut:  The folks in the test kitchens came up with “plant meat” for their pizzas and the company just had to tell everyone that it was available.  Look, pizza is not a health food; it is never going to be a health food; stop trying to pretend it is a health food.  Just make good pizza; sell it at a reasonable price; do not allow your “chefs” to add any bodily fluids to the orders; deliver it hot.  If you do that, you will be just fine…

There is another food-based ad from this year that is outrageously stupid.  The ad is for a company called Freshly and they deliver meals to you that you can take out of the fridge and put in the microwave for about 3 minutes and then eat.  It is a full meal.  In the ad, the young woman takes a first bite, smiles and announces to her partner that, “We don’t have to cook anymore.”  Folks, taking a dinner in a plastic tray out of refrigeration and putting it in a microwave is how they prepare food on an airplane.  When was the last time you had a meal on an airplane that made you think that if you could only get that food delivered to your home, you would never have to cook again?  If I assume this woman is telling the truth with her declaration, then I must also assume that she has several shots of Novocain in her tongue as she is tasting that wonderful meal.

While on the subject of ads for companies that deliver food to your house, there is one for Uber Eats that goes beyond creepy.  I am referring to the ones involving Olympic gymnast, Simone Biles and an overly effeminate bearded man who do tumbling routines on a gym mat while wearing the same outfit.  In one, Ms. Biles asks if he is wearing her leotard and he says, “Yes”.  I said above that Joe Namath would not entice me to call some stranger to review my health insurance coverage; well, Joe Namath is a pillar of expertise on that subject when compared to the credibility of the  effeminate, cross-dressing dude in this ad…

Old Navy did not disappoint in 2020.  As soon as Black Friday happened, Old Navy was on the air with flashing colors and gyrating people wearing some of the ugliest and low-class clothing imaginable.  When I eventually stop doing these retrospectives, I need to remember to give Old Navy a Lifetime Achievement Award.

In the world of insurance advertising:

  • Liberty Mutual has yet to move on from Limu Emu – – and Doug.  Given Doug’s encounters with other members of humanity, I wonder which of the two recurring characters featured in the ad is the more intelligent one.
  • Progressive has been annoying us with Flo and her “colleagues” for years.  Now they have introduced us to Mark and Marcus a pair of blithering idiots who apparently are football sideline officials who man the first down chains.  Surely you have seen the variants on how the chain interferes with their lives because they will not let go of the first down sticks.  And on what planet is that supposed to entice me to consider Progressive as my insurance company?
  • The Nick Saban ad for AFLAC makes me feel sorry for Nick.  He needs the money awfully badly to allow himself to look as stupid as he does in that ad with the duck…

The three major wireless carriers – AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon – are wearing everyone out with their 5G ads.  This one is the fastest; that one has the broadest coverage; one of them was “built right”.  What is missing is any sort of convincing evidence from the carriers that I need 5G service at all – – let alone from the one that is sponsoring the ad in question.  One ad said that with 5 G you could download an entire movie in less than a minute.

  • Question:  Why would I want to watch a movie – – made for the big screen at a movie theater – – on my phone which has a screen only slightly more than half the area of a square of toilet paper?  Oh, and do not get me started on the difference in audio quality between my phone and movie theater acoustics…

Cricket is not one of the major wireless carriers, but it ran a dumb set of ads of its own for several months this year. There are “monsters” in the Cricket ads that make annoying squeaky noises for no discernable reason.  Then there is also the ad featuring one of the monsters who says he cannot join some sort of social event because it’s “too far to go”.  Turns out it is on the couch 10 feet away and still would prefer to chat on the phone instead of joining its “friends”.  Somehow, someone thought that vignette would make me want to join in that happy social circle using Cricket.

In case you did not know, Senekot is a laxative. Evidently, it now comes in a chewy/gummy form.  A current ad shows one of the animated “gummies” telling you to chew one or two at bedtime – –  “and then in the morning , it’s show time!”  If you go to Thesaurus.com, you will find 48 suggested synonyms for “disgusting” ranging from “abominable” to “yucky”.  Let me suggest that all of them apply to this advertisement.

Speaking about ads for things you take to provide a cure or a therapy for a malady, there is a generic comment that must be made here.  Every drug ad tells you not to take the medicine if you are allergic to it or to its components.  Think for a moment about the intellectual prowess of someone who needs to be reminded not to take something intentionally that he/she is allergic to.  Ponder that for just a moment.  Here is an analogous circumstance:

  • In the Boy Scout manual under the heading of wilderness survival, the author(s) would feel a need to tell the young scout – – if you are lost in the woods and have to take a dump, do not wipe your butt with poison ivy leaves if you know you are allergic to poison ivy.

As the audience, you need to consider how stupid the ad folks think you are.  Every time I hear an ad with that admonition, I think to myself that they are treating me as if I am not nearly as smart as bait.

The Toyota Venza has an ad where it is raining heavily, and a distraught couple is out searching for their lost dog by driving along highways.  Eventually they find the dog – such a feelgood moment – and they dry him off and put him in the car and presumably head on home.

  • Question:  What is the message here?  When you lose your dog and it is raining, Toyota Venza is the best vehicle to use to go and find your dog?
  • Question:  If you lost a child and it is raining, would the Toyota Venza be the car to use in that circumstance too?

There is a new service that is making its debut entry on Bad Ads; it only goes to prove that as new services become worthy of advertising, some creative genius somewhere will find a way to make an annoying or stupid ad.  The new service area is computer cloud services.

I need to apologize for the first entry on the list; I saw it and made a note of the context of the ad but did not note who the advertiser was.  And if I ever saw it a second time, I did not amend my first time note.  So, this ad is from a Mystery Advertiser who is in the business of cloud computing.  The ad goes like this:

  • You see scenes of people in laboratories and at computer terminals and in business meetings and on job sites and all of them are amazing all their colleagues with whatever they have been working on – – of course using the Mystery Advertiser’s cloud computing services.
  • The voice-over is sonorous as it tells you that the Mystery Advertiser’s services allow your company and your people “to come up with new innovations” for problems they face.
  • Question:  When was the last time  you or anyone else came up with an old innovation?

The second Bad Ad from the world of IT comes from Amazon and its IT arm.  The ad features a woman who asserts that she became a teacher to change the way education is delivered to students.  She says that she is an impatient person and that Amazon allows her to change the world at the pace she wants.

  • Memo to Teacher Lady:  Get over yourself.  Looking at the status of public education these days, your pace for change is a lot slower than it needs to be.  There are people out there who must be reminded not to take drugs they are allergic to.  Pick up the pace, please…

Let me close this review of 2020’s advertising blunders with two observations about advertising that supplement the comment from Sinclair Lewis cited above:

“Advertising is legalized lying.”  H.G. Wells

And …

 “Advertising is the modern substitute for argument; its function is to make the worse appear the better.”  George Santayana

[Aside:  Please apply Santayana’s observation here with every political ad you heard or saw this year or any other year.  I think he was spot-on there…]

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

 

 

Just “Stuff” Today …

Last week, I mentioned that UAB football coach, Bill Clark had turned down an offer from Auburn to take over the program there.  I suggested that this was an example of someone making a decision where finances were not the dominant factor because, surely, the Auburn job would pay a lot more than the UAB job.  I guessed that he was probably making $1 – 1.5M per year at UAB.  Today I can fill you in on some more detail there thanks to the reader in Houston and his data mining skills; he found an old USA Today article (November 2017) on Clark’s contract.  Here is the meat from that article he sent along:

“UAB has agreed to a new five-year contract with football coach Bill Clark that will top $1 million by the final season.

“Athletic director Mark Ingram announced the agreement in principle Friday night. Clark’s $900,000 first-year pay will increase to $1.15 million in 2022.

“Clark took over in 2014 and had the Blazers bowl eligible for the first time in a decade. Then UAB shut down the program for financial reasons and re-started it in June 2015.”

The reader in Houston summarized Clark’s status and decision making like this:

“So right now, he’s “The Man” in Birmingham. At Auburn, he probably would end up as another rich Auburn has-been coach …”

Thank you yet one more time to the reader in Houston for the amplification here…

While on the subject – sort of – of college football coaches on the move, several schools in the market for a new football coach have hired a “search firm” to come up with a list of candidates for the school to consider.  Excuse me, but what does the Athletic Director at that school do for a living?  Think about it; the AD was insightful enough to get rid of the existing coach and create a vacancy, but he is not insightful enough to scare up an interview list?

Frankly, I would be more understanding of a school hiring a marketing firm in such a situation rather than a search firm.  After all, most programs looking for a new coach are ones that were not hugely competitive for the past couple of years and that means they may not be at the top of the list for coaches looking to move up the coaching food chain.  Marketing the school “assets” would seem to me to be something the school could use pertinent to consulting advice; creating a wish-list of candidates involves phone calls between the AD and coaches’ agents; does the AD need a search firm to provide him with those agents’ phone numbers?

Last week, I wondered aloud why it was taking so long for the investigation into the “toxic culture” that is alleged to have existed in the Washington Football Team’s Front Office.  Almost as if on cue, the Washington Post reported that the team paid a woman $1.6M to settle a sexual misconduct claim about ten years ago and the allegation is that the misconduct involved team owner, Daniel Snyder.  I believe this situation changes the tone of the current investigation.  Please take a moment to read Barry Sverluga’s column from the Washington Post here.

I believe the tone of the ongoing investigation just changed.  While one may be scornful of a leader who allows a “toxic culture” to exist and perhaps to flourish, it is a totally different situation if and when that leader is a participant in the creation/perpetuation of that “toxic culture”.  Now I understand how and why the ongoing investigation remains a work in process and I believe that this matter just became a PR burden for the NFL as a whole and not just the Washington Football team.

Switching gears, the NBA season is less than a week old and already we have two incidents that you would not expect to happen in any organized basketball league above the level of “Men Over 35 Rec League”.

  1. The Houston Rockets had to cancel a game because they did not have the NBA’s specified minimum number of players available to start the game.  That number – by the way – is eight.  James Harden was one of the players who was ineligible for the game because he was photographed maskless at a strip club.  [Aside: Just curious, but is James Harden the spirit animal for Dwayne Haskins?]
  2. The NY Knicks had two players wearing the same number in a game against the Sixers.  As you might expect, that is a no-no.  As you may also expect, this situation is not difficult to avoid with even a smidgen of attention to detail.  Most teams can go for years on end without having this happen.

Here is what Dwight Perry had to say in the Seattle Times about the cancellation of the Houston Rockets’ game:

“Houston’s NBA opener had to be postponed because James Harden paid a maskless visit to a strip club and got himself DQ’d for violating COVID protocols, dropping the Rockets’ roster below the minimum eight players.

“It’s believed to be the first time a game was called on account of make-it-rain.”

Bob Molinaro had this item in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently:

Still the man: Despite a knee injury limiting him to a single 2020 tournament appearance, Roger Federer has been voted the fans’ favorite for the 18th year in a row. Tennis should retire the trophy with Federer or count on his fans to keep voting for their fave long after he hangs up his racket.”

Professor Molinaro makes a good point, but I believe he neglects the role of sports media and reporters in this area.  Change the sport to golf and consider the possibility that golf fans might vote Tiger Woods as the fans’ favorite golfer in 2020.  Why wouldn’t they?  Every golf writer and golf talker on TV devotes more time and words to Tiger Woods than to any other half-dozen golfers on the planet.

Finally, since I mentioned golf, here is a view of the sport from H. L. Mencken:

“If I had my way, any man guilty of golf would be ineligible for any office of trust in the United States.”

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

 

 

Football Friday – On Thursday – 12/24/20

Anyone who has been reading these rants for even a short period of time has surely come to the realization that Football Friday is an important calendar entry here in Curmudgeon Central.  Nevertheless, Football Friday is being moved to a different calendar entry this week to make way for Christmas this Friday.  Even though my long-suffering wife and I will be spending Christmas Day using Zoom and WhatsApp to connect with family, those virtual celebrations take precedence over banging out Football Friday on its normal schedule.

Call this “Touchdown Thursday” if you want.  I shall begin as usual with a review of last week’s Six-Pack which had 8 selections crammed into it:

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

Those results bring the cumulative results for the 2020 season to this less than laudatory status:

  • College :  17-22-1
  • NFL:  24-30-1
  • Combined:  41-52-2

 

College Football Commentary

 

College football is poised to step aside in its pursuit of the spotlight within the US sports world; its regular season is over; its playoffs will not happen for another week or two.  College football will seek to fill some of that time with bowl games that are generally meaningless and uninteresting.  From this afternoon through Saturday evening, there will be eight bowl games; only two of those eight games caught my attention for more than a microsecond:

  1. Liberty vs. Coastal Carolina:  The teams will meet in something called “The Cure Bowl” in Orlando, FL on Saturday at 7:30 PM EST.  This is an interesting game because Liberty is 9-1 on the season and Coastal Carolina is 11-0.  Even though these are second tier teams from second tier conferences, it might be an interesting game.
  2. Marshall vs. Buffalo:  The teams will meet in something called “The Camelia Bowl” in Montgomery, AL on Christmas Day at 2:30 PM EST.  This is an interesting game because Buffalo has a running back named Jarrett Patterson who has averaged 178.7 yards per game and 3.2 TDs per game this season.

The CFP pairings are set.  Frankly, I am a bit surprised that there was only a murmur of controversy regarding the naming of the 4 entrants this year; I would have expected the lackluster showings of both Ohio State and Notre Dame in their final games to have created a more vocal advocacy for other teams such as Texas A&M, but that never materialized.  The CFP semifinals will occupy the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl this year; that leaves the so-called New Year’s Six with the following matchups:

  • Cotton Bowl Dec 30th 8:00 PM EST:  Oklahoma vs. Florida.  These are two good teams with plenty of offensive firepower.  I will not be surprised if the losing team scores 30+ points in the game.
  • Peach Bowl Jan 1st 12:30 PM EST:  Cincy vs. Georgia.  Cincy is undefeated; Georgia has lost twice – – to Alabama and to Florida.  Both teams are strong on defense.
  • Fiesta Bowl Jan 2nd 4:00 PM EST:  Oregon vs. Iowa State.  I am afraid I will miss this game; my calendar calls for me to rearrange my sock drawer at that time.
  • Orange Bowl Jan 2nd 8:00 PM EST:  Texas A&M vs. UNC:  The Tar Heels average 43.0 points per game; The Aggies allow 21.1 points per game.  This should be interesting.

Other than games mentioned here, I count 11 other college football games that will happen between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.  I find precisely none of those games to be interesting let alone compelling.  If you are an alum of any of the 22 schools that will be participating in those 11 games or if you have a blood relative who is attending any of them, tune in to see what happens.  I plan to be busy trying to reach the unreachable star.  (Hat Tip to The Man of La Mancha.)

Two games from last weekend produced strange happenings on the field that bear passing mention even though the season is over.

Penn State beat Illinois 56-21.  The score at the end of the first quarter was 21-21.  Here are the scoring drives for that first quarter:

  1. Penn State 1 play 75 yards
  2. Illinois 4 plays 16 yards
  3. Penn State 100-yard kickoff return  (BTW there is 10:51 still to go in the 1st quarter at this point.)
  4. Illinois  3 plays 75 yards
  5. Illinois 4 plays 63 yards
  6. Penn State  10 plays 75 yards

And then, the Illinois offense went into hibernation for the rest of the game…

Army beat Air Force 10-7 to retain the Commander in Chief trophy for 2020.  The Army passing attack produced this highly unusual stat line:

  • 1 of 2 for 0 yards with 0 TDS and 0 INTs

Meanwhile, the Air Force passing attack was marginal at best:

  • 6 of 14 for 107 yards with 1 TD and 3 INTs

With the regular season ended, I can now announce that the winner of the inaugural Brothel Defense Award – the defense that is most easily scored on – is Kansas for giving up 46.0 points per game.  Let’s hear it for the Jayhawks…

There are no college football games that merit placement in this week’s Six-Pack so I shall move on to the next standard section for Football Friday.

 

NFL Commentary

 

I am fast coming to the conclusion that Dwayne Haskins is a meathead.  Last season there were hints that he had difficulty remembering how to call various plays in the huddle after he got the signal from the sideline.  When he lost his starting job this year, there were stories that coaches had to teach him how to take notes during film study to make that film study productive.  And now – – after he regained his starting QB job due to injuries to Kyle Allen and Alex Smith – – Dwayne Haskins finds himself front and center in the mind of Roger Goodell.  Here is the deal:

  • After losing to the Seahawks last weekend, Haskins went out to a ”local exotic club”; losing the game must have put him in need of solace so that he might arrive at club HQs next week alert and ready to absorb the game plan being devised by the coaches.  No big deal, right?
  • Did I mention that he was photographed in the “exotic club” without a mask on his face?  That is a violation of the NFL’s COVID-19 protocol.
  • Oh, by the way, this is the second time Haskins has been in violation of the NFL’s health and safety protocols.  That means he could suffer a 4-game suspension if The Commish so decides.

[Aside:  Kyle Allen is out for the year; Alex Smith’s availability for this week’s game is uncertain; the other QB on the active roster is Taylor Heinicke.  If the WTFs win out, they are in the playoffs; they need their QB suspended like a moose needs a hat rack.]

Naturally, Dwayne Haskins issued a public apology for this meatheadedness.  Here is what he said; tell me if you think you have heard this sort of thing somewhere before.

“I want to publicly apologize for my actions this past Sunday.  I spoke with Coach Rivera yesterday and took full accountability for putting the team at risk. It was irresponsible and immature of me and I accept responsibility for my action. I also want to apologize for creating a distraction for my team during our playoff push.

“I will learn and grow from this and do what’s best for the team moving forward.”

Amazingly, his previous transgression regarding the COVID-19 protocols did not enable him to learn and grow from that incident not did it get him to realize what constitutes irresponsible and/or immature behavior.  But now, things will be different…

Lest you think I am being too harsh on someone who is only 23 years old, take a moment and follow this link to read what Sally Jenkins has to say on the subject in Wednesday’s Washington Post.

Last week, the Seahawks beat the WTFs 20-15.  Dwayne Haskins played the best game of his career here in a loss.  Here is his stat line:

  • 38 of 55 for 295 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs plus 3 carries for 28 yards.

That is not a great stat line for an  Aaron Rodgers or a Patrick Mahomes; but importantly, Haskins was poised for much of the game and did not stare down his receivers.  It may not be good enough to convince the WTFs’ coaches to put up with Haskins’ immaturity and meatheadedness as noted above, but it was his best showing to date.  As usual, the WTFs dug themselves a hole trailing at the half 13-3 and then trailing at the end of the 3rd quarter 20-3.

The Cards beat the Eagles 33-26.  The Eagles could not have asked for much more than they got from Jalen Hurts in this game.  Here is his stat line:

  • 24 of 44 for 338 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs plus 11 carries for 63 yards and 1 TD.

The Eagles’ problem here was the defense that gave up 526 yards total offense.  Even though the Eagles “won the takeover battle” 3-0, it was not enough.

The Cowboys beat the Niners 41-33.    You should not conclude from the Cowboys’ total of 41 points that they marched up and down the field at will against the Niners.  The Cowboys got 24 points because of short fields set up by recovering 2 fumbles and intercepting 2 passes; then with the score 34-27, the Cowboys returned an onside kick for a TD.  In fact, the Cowboys were outgained 458 yards to 291 yards.

The Bills beat the Broncos 48-19.  The Bills clinched the AFC East title with this win; that is the first time the Bills have won the division since 1995.  The star of the game had to be Josh Allen; the Bills’ QB threw for 359 yards and 2 TDs plus he ran for 33 yards and 2 more TDs.  Stefon Diggs was on the receiving end of 11 passes from Allen gaining 147 yards in the process.  The Broncos made a game of it in the first half trailing only 21-13 at the intermission but the second half got ugly pretty quickly for Broncos’ fans.

The Packers beat the Panthers 24-16.  The Panthers defense showed up ready to play.  They sacked Aaron Rodgers 4 times and held him to 143 yards through the air.  Packers’ RB, Aaron Jones, gained more yards rushing than Aaron Rodgers gained passing; that does not happen often.  The Panthers’ offense was not efficient here; they got to the Red Zone 4 times and only came away with 1 TD.

The Bucs beat the Falcons 31-27.  When I saw that the Falcons led 17-0 at halftime, I made a note on my pad saying:

“The Bucs have them right where they want them.”

Early in the third quarter, the Falcons led 24-7.  And then, as if on cue, the Falcons squandered a three-score lead once again.  In the fourth quarter of the game, the total offense for the Falcons was 35 yards.

The Titans beat the Lions 46-25.  Just to point out the dominance of the Titans in this game, consider only these two stats:

  1. Titans were in the Red Zone 5 times and came away with 5 TDs
  2. Titans converted 9 of 11 third-down situations.

Maybe the folks in Detroit looking for a new coach and GM should consider the possibility that the team could use an influx of talent on the field as much as it needs better leadership on the sidelines and in the front office?

The Ravens beat the Jags 40-14.  The Jags started Gardner Minshew at QB in this game but that did not provide much of a spark; the Jags failed to score a point in the first half of the game.  As an indicator of how much the Ravens had this game under control, they did not punt at any time in the game.

The Colts beat the Texans 27-20.  The Texans had a good chance to tie this game and send it to OT but lost a fumble at the Colts’ 1 yardline with 19 seconds left on the clock.  Deshaun Watson played well here throwing for 373 yards and 2 TDs in a losing effort.

The Bears beat the Vikes 33-27.  Mitchell Trubisky was efficient if not spectacular here.  His stat line was:

  • 15 of 21 for 202 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT plus 8 carries for 34 yards

Dalvin Cook had a good day for the Vikes gaining 132 yards rushing and scoring 1 TD.  The Vikes sputtered when it mattered; they were 4 of 11 on third down conversions and 0 for 2 on fourth down conversions.

The Dolphins beat the Pats 22-12.  When I took this game to stay UNDER 41.5 in last week’s Six-Pack, I said that the first team to 20 points would be the winner.  Voila!  For the first time since Tom Brady missed an entire season with a knee injury more than 10 years ago, the Pats are not going to be in the playoffs.  The Dolphins ran for 250 yards in this game and controlled the ball for just over 37 minutes.  The Dolphins converted 7 of 12 third down situations while the Pats were only 2 of 9 in the same circumstances.

The Jets beat the Rams 23-20.  The Jets are off the schneid; they have a win on their record; they also now do not possess the overall #1 pick in next year’s draft; that pick now belongs to the Jags based on tiebreakers.  The Rams were 17-point favorites in the game and the Jets were +675 on the Money Line; so how did this happen?  Sam Darnold was efficient and effective at QB; the Jets’ defense limited the Rams to 303 yards and held the Rams to 2 of 11 on third down conversions; the Jets’ special teams blocked a punt.  I suspect a whole lot of survival pools shrank significantly when the final whistle sounded here…

The Chiefs beat the Saints 32-29.  The Chiefs looked awfully good against a very good Saints’ defense here; the only issue for the Chiefs is that two of their RBs, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and LeVeon Bell, suffered injuries in the second half of the game.  The Saints had Drew Brees back from the injured list and he looked rusty for most of the first half of the game.

The Browns beat the Giants 20-6.  After trailing at the end of the first quarter 3-0, the Browns dominated the game.  The next time the Giants scored was with 4 minutes left in the game to make the score 20-6.  The Browns held the ball for 34 minutes in the game and converted 9 of 13 third-down situations.  The Browns’ receiving corps of Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones may not be household names, but they are very good.  And maybe just as importantly, they are not divas who demand attention at all times.

The Bengals beat the Steelers 27-17.  The Bengals were energized for this game; they outhustled the Steelers from start to finish.  This is the third loss in a row for the Steelers; they are in the playoffs but have not yet secured the AFC North title.  Ben Roethlisberger is going to the Hall of Fame one of these days but his performance in this game was abjectly awful.  Twice he threw into triple coverage which had to mean that he missed an open receiver somewhere unless the Bengals had 13 men on the field; the reason neither of those passes were intercepted is that he was so far off target that no one could get to the ball.  The Steelers’ defense played well; the Bengals only gained 230 yards in the game, but the Steelers’ offense was almost non-existent.

Just to summarize, here is the playoff picture going into this week’s games:

  • In the NFC, Packers have clinched the NFC North.  The Seahawks and Saints have clinched a spot in the playoffs.  That’s it; the five other slots are up for grabs.
  • In the AFC, the Bills and the Chiefs have clinched their divisions and the Steelers have clinched a spot in the playoffs.  That’s it, the five other slots are up for grabs.

 

NFL Games:

 

By making these picks a day earlier than usual, some of the lines for Sunday’s games could move significantly relative to where they are now.  C’est la guerre…

 

(Fri 4:30 PM EST) Minnesota at New Orleans – 7.5  (51):  Drew Brees started out last week’s game miserably but played much more like himself in the second half of the game.  The Vikings do not have much of a pass rush, so Brees ought to be able to pick the Vikes’ secondary apart.  I do not like that hook on top of a full TD in the spread so I will pass on this as a selection for the Six-Pack.

(Sat 1:00 PM EST) Tampa Bay – 10 at Detroit (54):  The line opened at 8 points and suddenly expanded to 10 points at those sportsbooks where the game was not taken down entirely.  Here is the deal:

  • The Lions had a positive COVID-19 test.  Not good but not a disaster either…
  • Problem is that interim head coach, Darrell Bevell and the entire defensive coaching staff are marked as “close contacts” with the infected person.
  • It is not as if the Lions’ coaching staff is made up of top-level strategists and tacticians, but it probably behooves the team to have someone there to do some decision making.  Right now, it is not clear who will be there to do  that.

(Sat 4:30 PM EST)  SF at Arizona – 5 (48.5):  The analysis for this game is simple and direct.  The Niners are eliminated from the NFC playoffs; the Cards are in the playoff picture but need this game to stay afloat.

(Sat 8:15 PM EST):  Miami – 3 at Las Vegas (48):  In last week’s so-called “look-ahead line” the Raiders were favored by 1.5 points but the injury to Derek Carr made the Dolphins the favorite when this week’s betting began, and they have remained the favorite all week long.  Dolphins rookie QB, Tua Tagovailoa may not be lighting up the NFL stat sheets, but he has started 7 games and is 6-1 against the spread.  That would make him a strong contender for Rookie of the Year by folks who have been backing him and the Dolphins this season.  The Raiders have lost four of their last five games and it is the Raiders’ defense that is on the spot.  In those last 5 games, the Raiders have allowed 36 points per game; a change in defensive coordinator did not result in significant change on the field.  I like the Dolphins to win and cover in this important game in their playoff run; put it in the Six-Pack.

Denver at Chargers – 3 (49):  The Total Line opened the week at 51 points and dropped rather quickly to this level.  Often, late season games involving the Broncos have a dropping Total Line when the game is outdoors in the elements of Denver in December.  Such is not the case here.  The Chargers offense is hitting on all cylinders; Denver has been in-and-out for most of the season.  The Chargers have won their last two games; the Broncos have lost 5 of their last 7 games including last week’s shellacking at the hands of the Bills.  I like the Chargers to stay hot and to win and cover at home; put it in the Six-Pack.  I also like this game to go OVER; put that in the Six-Pack too.

Cleveland – 9.5 at Jets (47.5):  The Browns can all but lock up a playoff spot with a win here; the Jets will hit the field as winners of their last game; that will be a new sensation for these guys.  Did the Jets wake up last week?  Were the Rams over-confident?

Cincy at Houston – 9 (46):  After the way the Texans played last week, I am shocked to see that they are 9-point favorites over anyone let alone a team that played as well as the Bengals did last week.  Yes, the Bengals must go on the road on a short week; yes, this is a home game for the Texans after three straight games on the road;  yes, the Bengals were jacked up for a division game last week and are not likely to play at the same intensity level this week.  But 9 points…?  That line is fat; I’ll take the Bengals on the road plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack.

Indy – 2 at Pittsburgh (44.5):  If the Steelers’ offense does not come back to life here, the Steelers are going to lose their 4th game in a row.  The Steelers have not scored more than 17 points in any of their last 4 games; the Colts have a good defense, one that is better than the Bengals’ defense that held the Steelers down last week.  Three questions relative to the Steelers are in the air here:

  1. Can RB, James Connor make it back from injury for this game?
  2. Would that be enough impetus if he can play?
  3. Is Ben Roethlisberger’s career over – – or has it just looked that way for the past 3 games?

Chicago – 7.5 at Jax (47.5):  You can find this line at 9 points at one sportsbook this morning; almost all the others have it at 7.5 points.  Take a deep breath here while I remind you that the Chicago Bears have scored 30 or more points in each of their last 3 games.  The Jets gifted the Jags with the overall #1 pick in the draft last week by beating the Rams; will the Jags return the favor here?  The Bears are still alive in the playoff chase; if they blow their chances against the 1-13 Jags, there will be a major outbreak of dolore di stomaco in the Windy City…

Carolina at Washington – 2.5 (43.5):  The fact that this line is where it is tells me that the bettors are convinced that the NFL is not going to suspend Dwayne Haskins for this game (see above).  I suspect they are correct; even Roger Goodell who likes to polish his “tough-guy image” periodically may be reluctant to put that sort of barrier in front of the WTFs who lead the NFC East for now.

Giants at Baltimore – 11 (44):  Both teams are still playoff contenders – – but a loss for either team could be fatal.  Did the Ravens figure out what had been bothering them last week?  If so, they will win this game in a walk.  If not…

Atlanta  at KC – 11  (54):  The spread opened the week at 13 points; this morning you can find it as low as 10 points at one sportsbook.  Here is a fun Fact about the Falcons in 2020:

  • The team is eliminated from the playoffs with a 4-10 record.  Nonetheless, the point differential for the Falcons is +2 for the season.
  • Other 4-10 teams (plus the Eagles at 4-9-1) have point differentials from minus-33 points to minus-71 points.

The Chiefs are 13-1 and could secure the playoff BYE Week in the AFC with a win here.

Rams at Seattle – 1 (47.5):  The spread for this game opened at 3 points; this morning you can find it anywhere from 2 points to “pick ‘em”.  Maybe you can explain the Rams; loss to the Jets last week as it being a “look-ahead game”.  If so, the Rams need to come out smoking in this one because a loss to the Seahawks will guarantee that the Rams will not win the AFC West.  A win for the Rams will put them atop the AFC West based on the head-to-head tiebreaker for the season.

Philly – 2 at Dallas (49.5):  The game opened the week with the Cowboys as 2-point favorites and then it flipped.  I have no explanation for that change.  I also have no explanation for why anyone would want to bet on either of these teams this weekend.

(Sun Nite) Tennessee at Green Bay – 3 (56):  The spread for this game opened at 5 points and has been eroding to this level during the week.  Darrick Henry should have a big day against the Packers’ defense; Aaron Rodgers should have a big day against the Titans’ defense.

(Mon Nite)  Buffalo – 7 at New England (46):  The Pats have looked miserable on offense for a while now.  The Pats scored more than 20 points only once in the last 5 games; their defense is good but not that good.  Defenses are loading up to stop the run and daring either Cam Newton or Jarret Stidham to do damage with the cadre of pass catchers on the Pats’ roster.  It is just not working.  The last time the Bills were a road favorite over the Patriots was back in 1999.  I think the Bills will dominate here; I like them to win and cover on the road; put it in the Six-Pack.

Let me review this week’s Six-Pack – – with only 5 entries this week:

  1. Dolphins – 3 over Raiders
  2. Chargers – 3 over Broncos
  3. Chargers/Broncos OVER 48.5
  4. Bengals +9 vs. Texans
  5. Bills – 7 over Pats

Lest anyone feel cheated by the lack of a sixth selection above let me throw in a Money Line Parlay just for fun:

  • Bears at minus-360 plus Bucs at minus-440 plus Browns at minus-440 plus Bills at minus-320
  • This is a Money Line Parlay from Sesame Street; it is brought to you by the letter “B”.
  • By my calculation, if it hits, the parlay will pay out at +149.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in the Seattle Times last weekend:

“Ex-Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville — the newly elected U.S. senator from Alabama — hinted he’ll join a potential challenge to the electoral-vote count when Congress reconvenes in January.

“Ever see a red challenge flag thrown across the senate floor before?”

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

 

 

Boise State Football In The News

Just in case the US sports world would like to get me a present to celebrate this Holiday Season, let me offer a few hints as to what I would like to get.  There are a half-dozen things on this list; I will be happy with any one or two of them:

  1. I would love to see coaches and managers dial back the reliance on “analytics” just a bit.  “Analytics” has its place – – but “analytics” should not replace “common sense” and the “eyeball test”.
  2. I would love to see MLB roll back the inclusion of the DH in the National League and to announce a timetable to get rid of it in the American League as well.
  3. I would love for athletes who get caught exhibiting some anti-social behavior to realize that reading a prepared statement that “takes responsibility” for the obviously “poor decisions” is not sufficient.  There needs to be atonement and there needs to be abstinence from repeated behaviors of that type.
  4. I would love for basketball officials – – both in college and the NBA – – to relearn the rules in the book about traveling and palming the ball; and then, to call those newly relearned rules consistently throughout the season.
  5. I would love for CBS to advance James Lofton to a higher perch on their football announcing teams.  His analysis is cogent; but most of all, he does not belabor the obvious; often, he will stay quiet and let the images on the screen reveal to the viewer what just happened.
  6. I would love for virtue signaling sports writers and commentators to give “offensive team names” a rest for a while.  I am waiting for one of these extremely sensitive folks to call for UMass to drop “Minutemen” or for Oklahoma to drop “Sooners” because both names might bring discomfort to men who suffer from premature ejaculation.

There was a report floating about earlier this week that Bill Clark – – head football coach at UAB – – had been offered the head coaching job at Auburn but that he had turned it down.  Assuming that the report was correct, that is a choice that might surprise a lot of folks.

  • Auburn is an SEC school; the SEC is an elite conference and the pay for a head coach in the SEC is outstanding.
  • UAB is a C-USA school; C-USA is a middling-to-inconsequential conference and the pay for a head coach in C-USA is probably a third of what it is for a coach in the SEC.

In a way, I think I can understand Coach Clark’s thinking here.  UAB dropped football after the 2014 season and only bright it back as a varsity sport starting in 2017.  Clark was the coach when the program was terminated, and he was the coach that was there when they brought it back.  I do not know Coach Clark, but that tells me that he must be happy where he is in his life and his career.

Moreover, I am not sure that I would like the Auburn job.  The attitude there is that Auburn should be a perennial contender for the SEC Championship at a minimum.  The problem is the SEC Division in which they are placed and the fact that they must go head-to-head for lots of recruits with Alabama.  Folks at Auburn will not like to hear this, but Alabama is a more prestigious football program now and for the past decade or so.  In 12 of the past 13 seasons, Alabama has been ranked in the Top 5 when they took on Auburn in the annual Iron Bowl.

Bill Clark would certainly have made a lot more money at Auburn than he is making or will make at UAB – – but shed no tears for Coach Clark because even at a football outpost like UAB, he is probably making somewhere in the range of $1M – 1.5M per year.  He and his family are not in need of food stamps…

So, assuming that Auburn was indeed turned down by Coach Clark, the school rebounded quickly and offered the job to Boise State coach Bryan Harsin and Harsin took the job. Boise State is in the Mountain West Conference (MWC) and like C-USA the MWC is a middling-to-inconsequential conference in the football cosmos.

Harsin has been the head coach at Boise State for 7 seasons and has amassed an overall record of 69-19 there.  The Auburn job is a big step up for him and for his career, but he has a sufficiently sound résumé to make it worth following his progress at Auburn.

Speaking of Boise State, there was a report over the weekend that the Broncos might be interested in leaving the MWC  to join the AAC.  That would be a small step up on the college football pertinence ladder for Boise State and we have seen that football has dominated decision making in more than a few athletic departments because football is where the big revenue streams are.  However, although I am only somewhat fluent in US geography, it seems to me that Boise State is not even close to any other school in the AAC.

  • I believe the closest school would be Tulsa and it is 1200 miles away.
  • There are much more remote schools such as UCF (2200 miles), USF (2150 miles) and Temple (2100 miles).

Maybe that kind of travel – – and the expenses associated with that travel – – might make sense for the football team and the men’s basketball team, but the AAC also competes in 15 sports in addition to those two.  I simply do not understand any of the economic fundamentals that would get the folks at Boise State even to consider such a move.

Finally, my lack of understanding of the economics associated with  a Boise State move to the AAC reminds me of a quotation from George Bernard Shaw:

“If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.”

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

 

 

Patience Is A Virtue…

The NFL season ebbs and flows; teams’ fortunes and performances ebb and flow.  For example:

  • The NFL record for worst point differential in a 16-game season is held by the 1981 Baltimore Colts; that team lost by a total of 274 points or 17.1 points per game.  Earlier this season the Jets projected to break that record.  I do not want to imply that the Jets’ defense has become a force majeure or anything of the sort over the past few weeks, but the Jets would need to lose their last 2 games by a combined 67 points to tie that ignominious mark.  The Jets’ defense significantly improved as the season went on.
  • The Steelers ran off 11 consecutive wins as their start to the season.  More than a few folks thought they were the best team in the AFC and/or the NFL as they won game after game.  Now, the Steelers have lost 3 games in a row; two of those three losses have come at the hands of teams with a losing record in 2020; moreover, the Steelers have looked less than fearsome in any of the three losses.
  • The WTFs lost 5 of their first 6 games and 7 of their first 9 games.  Since that point in the season, the WTFs won 4 of 5 games and now lead the NFC East by a game and have two games left on the schedule and both are against teams with a combined record of 8-19-1.  The WTFs are odds-on to make the playoffs.

The point here that we need to avoid overreacting to individual games or to early season trends; most games produce singular outcomes not always portents of the future and many early season trends turn out to be not much more than erroneous extrapolations.  Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot observed another of the early season extrapolations that might not seem so certain now:

Not so fast: Seems like just a few minutes ago that football’s wise mavens were engraving Russell Wilson’s name on the MVP trophy. But since Week 7, he’s committed a league-high 12 turnovers and fallen out of the race. For future reference, here’s a thought: Let the season play out.”

Patience may be a virtue, but it is also something that runs counter to much of human nature.  People are wired to react to things and to react in such a way as to make a perceived positive change in things.  In the case of making observations about an unfolding NFL season, perhaps the application of a smidgen of patience would being about a lesser need to make a secondary – or tertiary – observation/extrapolation on the same subject.

Speaking of patience, there is an issue simmering in the world of the NFL that has noting to do with on-field performance that is being addressed with outstanding patience.  I believe it has been 5 months now since the Washington Post broke the story about the “toxic culture” in the front office of the Washington Football Team then knows as the Skins.  At first, Danny Boy Snyder hired an outside lawyer, Beth Wilkinson, to do a full investigation of the matter; at least three senior people from the business side and the communications side of the organization were separated from the organization.

About a month or so later, the Post added to the story with more allegations of sexual harassment and generally sleazy behavior that took place in the team front office.  One of those allegations may be taken to involve Danny Boy himself; but if one wanted to make such a connection, the allegation provided only a tenuous and possible linkage.  The NFL used that information to step in and to make the NFL itself as the overseer of the investigation by Ms. Wilkinson.  So far, so good…

I have never claimed to be virtuous; while I can exhibit patience at times, there are also times when I wonder how and why some things take so long to accomplish.  I have gotten to that point with this investigation.  When Sherlock Holmes was dealing with the immensely complex problem of eliminating the criminal genius embodied by Professor James Moriarty, that was sufficiently complicated to have taken a long period of investigative time – – even though it was all fictional time.  In real terms and recent times, I also understand why Robert Muller’s investigation into 2016 election interference took a long time.  While I accept that some of the details involved in this “toxic culture” investigation might be difficult to tease out and while I am certain that Ms. Wilkinson has other clients and time commitments to juggle, I wonder what is taking so long?

The good folks at The Onion always have a unique perspective on issues and events going on in the world.  Sometimes they focus on sports and come up with “scoops” that call for our attention.  Here is one from a couple of weeks ago I found entertaining:

  • Jacksonville Couple Successfully Mates To Help Save Endangered Jaguars Fan Base

And here is another “Onion exclusive” from last week:

  • Baker Mayfield’s Commercial Agent Furious He Continues to Risk Everything By Playing Football

Finally, as we are squarely amid the Holiday Season – – after all, tomorrow is Festivus – – let me close with the definition of “Holiday” from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Holiday:  Any of a series of joyous commemorative dates on which everyone is expected to feel wonderful, making a lot of people who do not happen to feel that way very anxious and ready to haul off and belt the next person who tells them to have a happy one.”

But don‘t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Hockey In 2021…

According to reports, the NHL and the NHLPA have a tentative agreement to start the next hockey season on January 13th and for the teams to play a regular season of 56 games.  The challenge(s) facing the NHL in these times of coronavirus pandemic are more complex than they are for other US sports.  The NHL has 7 teams based in Canada; as of this morning, there are travel restrictions in place for people to quarantine after crossing the border between the US and Canada.  Those travel restrictions make perfect sense in terms of public health; those travel restrictions make normal scheduling procedures for the NHL impossible.

From what I have read, there is one part of the tentative agreement – – it still needs to be ratified formally by all the owners and by the players themselves – – that must have a purpose behind it; but that purpose escapes me.

  • Teams that missed the playoffs last year will open their training camps on December 31st and teams that made the playoffs last year will open their training camps on January 3rd.

Here are some of the nuts and bolts contained in this tentative agreement that control how the upcoming season will take place:

  • There will be no exhibition games.  After a couple weeks in training camp the season will start on January 13th.
  • The teams have been realigned for 2020 and the plan is to return to the old alignment once the pandemic is in the past.
  • There is an all-Canadian division for those 7 teams based in Canada from Montreal in the east to Vancouver in the west.
  • The 24 teams based in the US have been geographically clustered to reduce travel times and allow for some schedule compression.
  • Teams will only play regular season games against the other teams in their division.
  • The regular season will end on May 8th; the Stanley Cup Finals will end on or before July 15th.
  • The top 4 teams in each division will comprise the field for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There are plenty of details and wrinkles contained in this tentative agreement that are important but do not register that importance to me simply because hockey is not in my wheelhouse.  One way that I keep up with “hockey stuff” is to follow Gregg Drinnan’s blog, Taking Note which you can find here or on the website listed under “Columnists I Read”.

Recently, the NY Post reported that Vontaze Burfict was arrested in Las Vegas “on a misdemeanor battery charge”.  As I scanned that report, two things ran through my mind:

  1. If I had to make a list of the 10 NFL players most likely to be involved in a “battery incident”, Vontaze Burfict would be an early entry on that list.
  2. I am surprised it was only a misdemeanor battery incident.

TMZ Sports reported on what allegedly happened; according to that report, Burfict and some others were looking for a place called “Secret Pizza” in Las Vegas and the schtick for “Secret Pizza” is that it is intentionally difficult to find.  If you are interested, you can find the TMZ Sports report here.

For those of  you old enough to have read the Uncle Remus Tales before they were deemed to be ever so politically incorrect, you may remember the story where Br’er Rabbit was caught and captured by Br’er Fox.  The fox was going to eat the rabbit, but the rabbit said that would be just fine so long as the fox did not throw the rabbit into the briar patch.  After a series of exchanges where the fox made it appear to be worse and worse for the rabbit, Br’er Rabbit kept saying whatever the fox wanted to do was OK – – just so he did not throw the rabbit into the briar patch.

Naturally, the fox falls for the line; throws the rabbit into the briar patch and the rabbit escapes unharmed.  I mention that because the NY Knicks and owner James Dolan remind me of that story this morning.  The Knicks are banning the media from Madison Square Garden and preventing them from covering the Knicks’ exhibition games played there; the reason given is the pandemic.  Let’s just say that there are a few folks who are not buying that story; some folks think that this is the team’s way of trying to make life more difficult for media folks who are not always nice to the team or its owner.

I think more than a few of those media folks see this as having been thrown into the briar patch.  Covering Knicks’ games has probably not been fun for the last 5 years or so; covering exhibition basketball games is more of a chore than normal because everyone knows from the beginning that the games themselves are irrelevant.  And so, the team will forbid the scribes from being in the building to do something they would naturally prefer not to have to do.

  • Memo to NY Knicks:  Thank you for throwing me in that briar patch.

Finally, since I began this morning writing about the NHL, let me close with an entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Hockey:  Attempted murder on ice.”

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

 

 

Football Friday 12/18/20

Notwithstanding the complete lack of clamor for another rendition of Football Friday, here comes this week’s edition – – ready or not.  The French author, André Gide once offered this advice to others:

“If a young writer can refrain from writing, he shouldn’t hesitate to do so.”

I feel no need to follow that advice since I am not young…

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

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

Those results bring the season totals to:

  • College:  15-20-1
  • NFL:  22-28-1
  • Combined:  37-48-2

 

College Football Commentary:

 

The Rose Bowl Game – the Granddaddy of them all – may have to be played at a different venue this year because of potential restrictions in Pasadena, CA.  If that is the case, they are going to call the game something else and leave the name “Rose Bowl Game” behind for this year.

[Aside:  That may be a tad persnickety; the Granddaddy of them all was moved to the East Coast – – to the campus of Duke University – – during World War II because of concerns that the stadium with a large crowd might be a target of the Japanese Air Force or of sabotage elements operating on the West Coast.  That game is remembered as a “Rose Bowl Game”. ]

As of this morning, the Rose Bowl Game is still slated to happen in Pasadena on January 1st, 2021 at 5:45 PM EST and it will be one of the semi-final games in the CFP for this season.  There is still time to move the game if need be but there is no word at the moment as to where it might go.  The other semi-final CFP game on New Year’s Day will be at the Sugar Bowl so that is one venue that is unavailable for a relocated Rose Bowl Game.

This is the time of the year when college football coaches with less than fully successful results find themselves at loose ends.  Here are some coaches at major schools who are out of work for now and the school that fired them:

  • Gus Malzahn – – Auburn
  • Derek Mason – – Vandy
  • Lovie Smith – – Illinois
  • Kevin Sumlin – – Arizona

Last week, Rutgers beat Maryland 27-24 in OT.   The annual “Big-10 Irrelevancy Game” went to overtime.  How appropriate is that for 2020?  Nonetheless, there is an interesting angle arising from that result.

  • Rutgers goes into the last week of the season with a 3-5 record and a chance to get four wins for the first time since 2017.  That will not get Greg Schiano any recognition as Coach of the Year – – but it should get a lot of folks to tip their hat to him.

Last year, Rutgers was shut out 4 times; on a national level, they were a laughingstock; they belonged in the MAC not the Big-10.  Yes, they lost 5 times this year, but one loss was on a last second field goal (Illinois) and another was a triple OT loss (Michigan).  Rutgers transformed itself from doormat to competitive in a season; can Greg Schiano sustain that status?

Penn State beat Michigan State 39-24.  The Spartans led 21-10 at the half and then everything turned against them in the second half.  Michigan State could not run the ball gaining only 64 yards on 31 carries for the day.  It is difficult to maintain a lead when you cannot run the football…

Northwestern beat Illinois 28-10.  The Wildcats will take on Ohio State in the Big-10 Championship Game this week.

Minnesota beat Nebraska 24-17.  Fans and alums of Nebraska want everyone to think that they are uniquely responsible for creating the pressure that led to the shortened college football season in 2020.  I do not know if that was the case, but if so, those folks got everyone up in a lather to play football this year just so the Cornhuskers could go 2-6 to this point in the season.  Hi ho!

Iowa beat Wisconsin 28-7.  The Hawkeyes ended the season with 6 straight wins after losing the first two games of the year.  Wisconsin lost its last 3 games and only scored a total of 20 points in those 3 games.

In the SEC, Georgia beat Missouri 49-14.  If Georgia has a competent offense building, they could be seriously difficult to beat in a bowl game or next season because their defense is top-shelf.

Alabama beat Arkansas 52-3.  The Razorbacks only gained 188 yards of offense for the day; this was simply a beat-down game.  Halfway through the first quarter the score was 3-3; that was the high point of the day for Arkansas…

Tennessee beat Vandy 42-17.  The Commodores were on track for an 0-10 season in 2020 (their game this week against Georgia has been cancelled) and maybe – just maybe – this win as big enough to allow Tennessee coach, Jeremy Pruitt, to keep his job.  Sarah Fuller kicked again for Vandy in this game; she made two PAT attempts.  Vandy also made a 39-yard field goal but it was not Fuller doing the kicking in that situation.  Fuller will be transferring next year to continue her soccer career at another school as a graduate transfer so the kicking circus at Vandy will not be a carryover.

LSU beat Florida 37-34.  Maybe the Gators were looking ahead to their meeting with Alabama this week?  Or, maybe the Gators are not quite as good as Gator Nation would have had us believe?  LSU is a mediocre team in 2020; this loss is a black eye for Florida, and it means that Alabama is probably the only SEC team that will be part of the CFP.

By now, you must have seen the bizarre play late in the 4th quarter of the game that gave the game to LSU.  After stopping LSU on third down and forcing a punt with less than two minutes to play, a Florida DB celebrated that achievement by picking up a shoe that the LSU ball carrier had lost and tossing it about 20 yards downfield.  That was his “look at me moment”.  The problem is that the referees were looking at him and flagged him – properly – for unsportsmanlike conduct giving LSU a first down.  The score was tied at 34 when that happened, and LSU proceeded to get into field goal range and won the game by that field goal.

Auburn beat Mississippi State 24-10.  Auburn RB, Tank Bigsby, had 192 yards rushing on 26 carries.  Mississippi State ran the ball as a team 16 times for a net gain of 19 yards.  Ouch!   This win was not sufficient for the Auburn boosters and alums; they were sufficiently fed up with Malzahn that they came up with $21M to buy him out of his contract.  I had his name on the “departed coaches list” above; you need not feel so sorry for him and his family…

The $21M buyout involved in Malzahn’s firing is money being paid for the purpose of having him not render his services.  It is sort of like paying alimony when a relationship breaks up; the money is paid to have the parties stay apart.  Here is what Groucho Marx had to say about alimony

“Paying alimony is like feeding hay to a dead horse.”

In the ACC, UNC beat Miami 62-26.  The Hurricanes arrived at the kickoff with only a loss to Clemson (no shame there) on their record.  Now they have a significant blot on their record.  The score was 34-10 at the half and then things got worse…  The stat sheet is an embarrassment for the Miami team.

  • UNC total offense = 778 yards
  • UNC rushing offense = 554 yards  (10.1 yards per carry)
  • UNC 3rd down conversions  =  6 of 11
  • UNC 4th down conversions  =  2 of 2.

Those are the sorts of numbers you expect to see when a good – or very good – college football team schedules a Homecoming Game against Division III “Disco Tech”.

Out west in the PAC-12, USC beat UCLA 43-38.  The game is not particularly consequential but at one point early in in the 2nd quarter, UCLA led by a score of 28-10 AND the Bruins led 38-36 with less than a minute to play in the game.  The winning drive for USC took 2 plays and 36 seconds…

Arizona State beat Arizona 70-7.  Rivalry games are not supposed to be that lopsided.  The stat sheet certainly favors Arizona State, but not to the degree you would expect from the score.  Here is the “problem” for Arizona:

  • 7 turnovers (4 lost fumbles and 3 INTs)

Arizona fans probably knew early on that this was not their day:

  • Arizona State returned the opening kickoff 100 yards for a TD
  • Arizona lost a fumble 2 plays later after holding the ball for 18 seconds
  • Arizona State scored a TD on the next play to lead 14-0 after 56 seconds had elapsed.
  • Arizona State intercepted a pass on the next Arizona possession.
  • You get the idea…

Army beat Navy 15-0.  If you watched the game, you know that you have seen better football played by better talent levels in other college games.  If you watched the game, you also know that every player gave everything they had on every play here.  There were no show ponies on the field.

 

College Games of Interest:

 

(Fri Nite) Nebraska – 7 at Rutgers (54):  I think Rutgers is an interesting story this year (see above).

(Fri Nite) Oregon vs. USC – 3 (64):  This is the PAC-12 Championship Game.  Oregon has 2 losses this year and is in the game only because Washington had a COVID-19 outbreak and had to scratch out of the game.  Oregon was supposed to play Colorado this week but got “promoted” to the Championship Game; Colorado will sit out the weekend.

Air Force – 3 at Army (37):  This game does not have the history of Army/Navy, but this game is always interesting too.

Minnesota at Wisconsin – 13 (47):  As noted above, Wisconsin has lost 3 games in a row and scored a total of 20 points in those 3 games.  And, here they are as a 13-point favorite?

Illinois at Penn State – 15 (52):  At least Lovie Smith will not have to freeze his butt off on the sidelines for this one…

Northwestern vs. Ohio State – 19 (56.5):  This is almost a 3 TD spread on a Championship Game.  This morning, you can find Northwestern at +800 on the Money Line.  A win by the Wildcats would be more than shocking.  Northwestern has been 6-1 against the spread so far this year and they covered both times they were underdogs this year.  Ohio State needs a win here to be part of the CFP – and the Big-10 mavens are pulling for them to make it to that playoff for financial reasons.  I am tempted to take the UNDER in this game but will resist that temptation.

Oklahoma – 6 vs. Iowa State (57.5):  This is the Big-12 Championship Game.  The Cyclones beat the Sooners 37-30 back in early October and they meet again here.  The last time Iowa State was a conference Champion was in 1912; that was the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association.  Oh, by the way, they tied for first place in that conference way back then.

Clemson – 10.5 vs. Notre Dame (59.5):  This is the ACC Championship Game.  Notre Dame beat Clemson earlier this year in South Bend; Trevor Lawrence did not play in that game due to COVID-19, but he will be on tap here.

Tulsa vs. Cincy – 14.5 (44.5):  This is the AAC Championship Game and Cincy arrives here with an undefeated record.  I know that Cincy has an exceptionally good defense, but I still think the Total Line here is awfully low because both teams have shown they can put the ball in the end zone.  I like this game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Alabama – 17 vs. Florida (74.5):  This is the SEC Championship Game.  Both teams can and will score – – but the Bama defense is better than the Florida defense…

Texas A&M – 14 at Tennessee (51):  There are some scenarios wherein the Aggies can insert themselves into the CFP.  This game is not nearly as meaningless as some others on the card this weekend.

Ole Miss – 2.5 at LSU (75.5):  Here is an example of a “less-than-meaningful game” this weekend.  Expect plenty of offensive fireworks here.  Ole Miss has not beaten LSU in Baton Rouge since 2008; this is a down year for the Tigers, so maybe this is an opportunity for the Rebels to break that road losing streak.  I like Ole Miss to win and cover here; put it in the Six-Pack.

Missouri – 1.5 at Mississippi State (49):  One more example of a “less-than-meaningful game on the card for this weekend.  After a big win over LSU in Week 1, Mississippi State has won only once – and that win came over Vandy which should not count for much.  Missouri has quietly won 5 games so far this year.  I like the Tigers on the road to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.

Boise State – 7 vs San Jose State (55):  This is the Mountain West Championship Game.  San Jose State gets here on the strength of a defense allowing only 17.5 points per game.  I’ll go with the adage that defense wins championships and take San Jose State plus the points here; put it in the Six-Pack

 

NFL Commentary:

 

The Houston Texans have a 4-9 record this year and have been eliminated from the AFC Playoffs.  Someone asked Romeo Crennel if he was thinking of shutting down Deshaun Watson for the rest of the season.  Here is the meaningful part of his response:

“That question has been asked. My deal is, we’re in this game, we play this game to win and there’s a season to be played.  If you shut down Watson, then should you shut down the rest of the team and everybody pack up and go home for three games left?”

I am not surprised by the substance of his answer but there may have been a better way to phrase it given that the Texans have two QBs on the depth chart behind Watson – – AJ McCarron and Josh McCown.  You can take Crennel’s statement and make it seem as if he considers both of those guys as chopped liver.  What the hey; Romeo Crennel is 73 years old; get off his lawn…

Chris Spielman has left his job as a color analyst for FOX to become one of the senior advisors to the Lions’ CEO, Rod Wood.  Spielman will be part of the search for a new coach and a new GM.  Spielman had a long and successful career in Detroit as a linebacker; the team hopes that success will carry forward in this role.  There is a cautionary note to be sounded here.

  • About 20 years ago, the Lions hired a linebacker turned TV color analyst to be their GM.  That would be Matt Millen and – there is no delicate way to say this – Millen was abjectly horrible when it came to assembling a competitive team.

I know; this is different; Spielman is not going to be the GM; he is just going to help choose the GM.  Nevertheless…

Here is what Lions’ CEO, Rod Wood had to say about why they wanted Spielman now instead of waiting until his broadcast season was finished with FOX:

“That was why it was so critical to get him involved early because I wouldn’t want to bring him in after we’ve hired a general manager or after we’ve hired a coach and have them wonder what his role is.  That will be very clear to them while we’re interviewing the candidates, and he’s part of the process of hiring them, so he’s going to be invested in their success.”

Bonne chance, Chris Spielman…

Last week, the Bills beat the Steelers 26-15.  That makes it two losses in a row for the Steelers.  Their offense is really one-dimensional; they do not run the ball and they do not throw the ball down the field; it is dink-and-dunk with hope for yards after the catch.  The Bills are far more diverse on offense than the Steelers are; the Bills are fun to watch – – much more fun than the Steelers.

The Packers beat the Lions 31-24.  Aaron Rodgers had a “normal day at the office”.  He threw for 3 TDs and ran for another one.  Do the math, that means he was involved in every Packers’ TD for the day.  The Packers held the ball for 35 minutes in the game; normally, that  means they dominated the game but here it was the Lions who made more first downs in the game (27 for the Lions and 26 for the Packers).  The Lions never got a running game going amassing only 51 yards for the day on 15 carries.

The Eagles beat the Saints 24-21.  Two backup QBs played this game and Jalen Hurts came out on top.  The Eagles RB, Miles Sanders, eclipsed Alvin Kamara for the day.

  • Sanders had 115 yards (on 14 carries) and 2 TDs.
  • Kamara had 50 yards (on 11 attempts) and 1 TD.

In addition to Sanders gaining more than 100 yards on the ground, so did Jalen Hurts.  That is interesting because the Saints had gone 56 consecutive games without allowing an opponent to gain 100 yards on the ground; last week, they allowed two opponents to do that in a single game.

The WTFs beat the Niners 23-15.  The Niners dominated the stat sheet gaining 344 yards for the day to 193 for the WTFs.  The Niners gave up a scoop and score TD in the first half and a Pick Six TD in the second half.  The Washington offense created only 3 FGs for the day.  This win put the WTFs in first place in the NFC East; it is their fourth win in a row.

The Seahawks beat the Jets 40-3.  The offensive numbers describe a non-competitive game; the Seahawks had 410 yards of offense and the Jets only 185.  This was an old-fashioned beat-down; the Seahawks pulled Russel Wilson at the end of the third quarter because the game was in the bag.  Adding insult to injury, the Jets managed to miss 3 field goal tries in the game – – not that it would have changed the outcome.

The Chargers beat the Falcons 20-17.  The margin of victory was a last second field goal meaning the Chargers actually won a one-score game this time.  Naturally, it came at the expense of the Falcons.  [Aside:  Given the propensity each team here has had for blowing big leads, maybe they should be given an award for those failures.  Maybe we should name the award for Hillary Clinton as the master of blowing a big lead?]  Austin Eckler had himself  quite a day for the Chargers.

  • He was the leading rusher with 79 yards on 15 carries – – and – –
  • He was the leading receiver with 67 yards on 9 receptions.

Matt Ryan had himself a rather bad day.  He threw 3 INTs in the second half that led to 10 of the Chargers’ 20 points for the day.

The Colts beat the Raiders 44-27.  The Raiders winning formula for 2020 has been to run the ball down their opponents throats to the point that the opponent just cannot take it any longer.  Not last week, the tables were turned.  The Colts ran the ball 31 times and gained 212 yards on those carries.  Welcome to the spotlight, Jonathan Taylor; he carried the ball 20 times for 150 yards and 2 TDs.

The Bucs beat the Vikes 26-14.  Kirk Cousins was never able to master the normally porous Bucs’ pass defense.  That was the basic storyline from this game.  The Bucs are in a good position relative to the NFC playoffs; the Vikes are still mathematically alive for the playoffs.  Vikes’ kicker, Dan Bailey missed 3 field goals and a PAT.

The Bears beat the Texans 36-7.  That is not a typo; the Bears scored 36 points in a single game.  Mitchell Trubisky threw for 267 yards and 3 TDs with 0 INTs.  The Bears totaled 410 yards of offense – – in a single game not two games or 3 games.  The Bears defense took advantage of the Texans’ lack of a run game to pressure Deshaun Watson all day and sacked him 6 times.

The Cowboys beat the Bengals 30-7.  The Cowboys were outgained on offense 314 yards to 272 yards.  Brandon Allen’s stat line was just as good as Andy Dalton’s:

  • Allen was 24 of 36 for 217 yards with 1 TD and 0 INTs.
  • Dalton was 16 of 23 for 185 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs

The Cowboys sprinted off to a 17-0 lead and the Bengals never really threatened to overcome that disadvantage.  The Cowboys recovered 3 fumbles in the first quarter of the game, and one was a scoop and score.

The Chiefs beat the Dolphins 33-27.  This result came after the Dolphins ran out to a 10-0 lead in the middle of the 2nd quarter.  However, Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce were too much for the Dolphins’ defense to contain forever.

The Cards beat the Giants 26-7.  This game was dominated by the Cards’ defensive front seven; they sacked Daniel Jones and Colt McCoy seemingly at will; Hassan Reddick recorded 5 sacks all by himself.  All in all, this game could have been much more lopsided.

The Broncos beat the Panthers 32-27.  Drew Lock threw 4 TD passes in the game.  The Panthers scored twice in the 4th quarter to make the score respectable, but this game was decided early on.

The Titans beat the Jags 31-10.  Darrick Henry ran the ball for 215 yards and the Titans as a team rushed for 249 yards.  This game was never seriously in doubt.  The Jags benched Mike Glennon in the middle of the game and went back to Gardner Minshew as the QB.  Big deal; the scoreboard only saw 10 points from the Jags all day.

The Ravens beat the Browns 47-42.  The 4th quarter of the game unfolded as it were scripted for a Hollywood movie.  The fundamental takeaway from this game was that the Browns played well except for one thing; they could not contain Lamar Jackson when it came to crunch time.  The Browns came back from a 14-point deficit in the second half to take the lead – – until Jackson went into super-hero mode.

Last night, the Chargers beat the Raiders 30-27 in OT.  Derek Carr suffered a groin injury in the first half, but Marcus Mariota was more than efficient in his relief role.  The Raiders’ defense did not have an answer for Justin Herbert, however.  He threw for 314 yards and 2 TDs and then he scored the winning TD in OT on a QB sneak that everyone on the planet knew was coming.  The Raiders at 7-7 are still alive for the playoffs but there are 4 teams aiming for the wildcard slots with better records in the AFC.  The Raiders’ playoff chances need a Dolphins’ loss this week and then for the Raiders to beat the Dolphins next week.  We shall see…

 

NFL Games:

 

(Sat. Afternoon) Buffalo – 6 at Denver (49):  The Bills played Sunday night last week and now have a long trip to play this game on Saturday afternoon.  Nevertheless, they are the better team with the better QB – – although Drew Lock is highly motivated to play well in order to convince the Denver decision makers that he can be their franchise QB going forward.

(Sat. Evening)  Carolina at Green Bay – 8 (52):  The Panthers record is 4-9; they have lost 7 of their last 8 games; here they go and visit a team that has already clinched its division title and is currently the team that would have the single playoff BYE in the NFC.  The panthers rank 21 in the league in total defense and 20th in the league in points allowed.  That is not a good omen having to face the Packers who lead the NFL in scoring with 31.5 points per game.

Houston at Indy – 7.5 (51):  The Colts have been on the road for the last two weeks and they won both games.  The Colts are 9-4 and trail the Titans in the AFC South based on record against division opponents.  The Texans are simply a mess; their run defense ranks 31st in the NFL and the Colts can run the ball effectively.

Detroit at Tennessee – 11 (51.5):   As of this morning, we do not know if Matthew Stafford can play this week; if not, it will be Chase Daniel at QB for the Lions.  A healthy Matthew Stafford could make things interesting here given the Titans’ less than fearsome defense; Chase Daniel is not likely to do anything like that.  Everyone knows that the Titans will run the ball with Derrick Henry; the question is to what extent can the Lions shut him down.  Here are stats that might be interesting:

  • Lions rank 29th in the NFL in rushing defense
  • Lions give up 132.8 yards per game on the ground
  • Titans rank 2nd in the NFL in rushing offense
  • Titans gain 157.8 yards per game on the ground.

Jets at Rams – 17.5 (44):  This will be ugly-squared.  Clearly this is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week notwithstanding the Rams positive record and playoff contention.  You cannot bet on the Jets; they are a talent-deficient team that is going through the motions for a not-so-good coaching staff.  And you cannot bet an NFL game by giving away 17.5 points.  Just say, “No!” …

Tampa Bay – 6 at Atlanta (49):  The spread opened at 3.5 points and has been expanding slowly all week long.  The Falcons only hope here is for Matt Ryan and company to exploit the Bucs’ porous pass defense.  They have the weapons to do that – – but the Falcons have been off key for most of the season.  In fact, the Falcons have not scored more than 20 points in three of their last four games.  The Falcons’ pass defense is lame; it ranks 30th in the NFL giving up 281.8 yards per game.

New England at Miami – 1.5 (41.5):  The Dolphins are the better team here but the reason the spread is as low as it is comes down to two things:

  • A loss for the Pats would put their playoff appearance streak in the ICU.
  • Bill Belichick feasts on rookie QBs

Moreover, the Pats usually play one of their poorest games of the year in Miami.  However, you do not have to dig too deeply into NFL history to find the last time a rookie QB went up against the Pats.  It happened a few weeks ago when Justin Herbert and Chargers took on the Pats and the Pats prevailed in that game 45-0.  I think this game will be a defense dominated game and the winner will be the first team to 20 points; I’ll take the game to stay UNDER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Seattle – 6 at Washington (44):  The WTFs have won 4 in a row by leaning on their defense; the Seahawks win games by outscoring opponents; this game will be an interesting contrast in styles.  Alex Smith suffered a calf injury last week and may not be able to play here; if he cannot go it will be Dwayne Haskins at QB for the WTFs.  If Russell Wilson gets time to throw, DK Metcalf should have a big day against the Washington secondary.  I think the Total Line here is off base; I see both teams being able to score on the other guys; I’ll take the game to go OVER – – even if the WTFs have to play Dwayne Haskins for the whole game; put it in the Six-Pack.

Chicago at Minnesota – 3 (46):  Both teams are hanging on to faint playoff hopes with their fingernails; it is perfectly possible that neither will make it to the playoffs; the loser here will be up to their eyebrows in yogurt.  Mitchell Trubisky played well last week; can he do that two weeks in a row?  I think the Vikes are in a state of confusion; their QB play is inconsistent; their defense is middling at best; their kicker has missed 5 field goals in the last two games (plus a PAT last week).  I like the Bears to pull an upset here with that defense keeping Dalvin Cook from running amok; give me the Bears plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack.

Jax at Baltimore – 13 (47):  The Ravens need this game badly for playoff contention.  The Ravens like to run the football.  The Jags do not stop the run well at all; they yield 145.5 yards per game and rank 30th in the NFL in that department.

(Sun Nite) Cleveland – 6 at Giants (44):  This is a gut-check game for both teams.  The Browns lost last week in a dispiriting fashion; so did the Giants (see above).  Which team can rebound and win this one?  A Giants’ win  along with a loss by the WTFs would put the Giants back on top of the NFC East.  A Browns’ win will not guarantee them a playoff slot – – but it would make them prohibitive favorites to make it there.

Philly at Arizona – 6.5 (49.5):  Jalen Hurts will start at QB again for the Eagles.  The Cards defensive braintrust will have one game’s worth of film to analyze in order to come up with their game plan; that is 1 more game than the Saints had last week.

KC – 3 at New Orleans (52):  Here we have the Game of the Week.  The combined record for the two teams is a gaudy 22-4.  The Saints have been coy about Drew Brees’ availability for this game; they would not rule it out, but they said they would only allow him to play if he were 100%

SF – 3 at Dallas (45):  The spread opened the week with the Cowboys as a 1-point favorite.  Both teams are still mathematically alive for the playoffs; in reality, both teams are toast.

(Mon Nite) Pittsburgh – 13 at Cincy (40):  The Steelers have lost two games in a row and have not looked good in either outing.  The NFL schedule maker has provided them with the Bengals this week – – the perfect antidote for whatever is ailing them.

  • The Steelers defense is very good; the Bengals rank 29th in the NFL on offense.
  • The Steelers allow 18.2 points per game (best in the NFL); the Bengals score 18.8 points per game (30th in the NFL).

Are you confident that the Bengals can score more than 10 points here?  I am not.  Even though I hate double-digit spreads in NFL games, this one looks like a monster blowout to me with a good team that needs the game dumping it all on a bad team that is not well coached.  I’ll take the Steelers and lay the points; put it in the Six-Pack.

So, let me review the Six-Pack which once again contains 8 selections:

  1. San Jose State + 7 vs Voise State
  2. Ole Miss – 2.5 over LSU
  3. Missouri – 1.5 over Mississippi State
  4. Tulsa/Cincy OVER 44.5
  5. Seahawks/WTFs OVER 44
  6. Bears + 3 versus Vikes
  7. Pats/Dolphins UNDER 41.5
  8. Steelers – 13 over Bengals

Finally, it always leaves me happy to finish a Football Friday.  I mention that because it contradicts to some degree this observation by H. L. Mencken:

“Every man is thoroughly happy twice in his life; just after he has met his first love, and just after he has left his last one.”

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