Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend of 11/29/14

First, let us see what happened to last week’s Mythical Picks:

    I liked Baylor/Ok. St. OVER 67.5. Total score was 71. Yea!

    I liked Virginia +6 against Miami. Virginia won outright. Yea!

    I liked Tennessee -3.5 over Mizzou. Tennessee lost the game. Boo!

    I liked Mich. St. -22 over Rutgers. State won by 42. Yea!

    I liked Minn/Nebraska UNDER 56.5. Total was 52. Yea!

    I liked Minn +10.5 against Nebraska. Minn won the game. Double Yea!

    I liked Maryland/Michigan UNDER 42.5. Total was 39. Yea!

    I liked Fla St. -17 over BC. Fla St won by only 3. Boo!

    I liked Tex Tech/Iowa St OVER 69.5. Total was 65. Boo!

    I liked Ole Miss/Arkansas UNDER 45. Total was 30. Yea!

    I liked Arkansas +3.5 against Ole Miss. Arkansas won. Double Yea!

    I liked Arizona/Utah UNDER 54. Total was 52. Yea!

    I liked USC +4 against UCLA. Not nearly enough points. Boo!

So last week was a strong showing and a mythically profitable week at 9-4-0. That brings the season cumulative record to 100-95-1, which is still not in the mythically profitable zone.

Notwithstanding last week’s success, no one should use any information here as the basis for making a real wager involving real money on a real NCAA football game this weekend or any other weekend. Here is how dumb you would have to be to do something like that:

    You would rely on your old dog to teach you new tricks.

General Comments:

This will be an abbreviated form of NCAA Mythical Picks. We have out of town guests arriving on Tuesday for Thanksgiving; we have a family event on Saturday; we have another out of town guest arriving on Sunday and staying through Wednesday of next week. The writing schedule will be sporadic and any Mythical Picks for this week and next week will have to be short.

The Linfield College Wildcats advanced to the “Sweet 16” in the Division III football playoff tournament last week beating Chapman University 55-24. Next week, Linfield will travel about 1700 miles to Belton, TX to take on Mary Hardin-Baylor in the next round. Go Wildcats!

By the way, MIT also advanced to the “Sweet 16” of the Division III football playoff tournament last week…

In terms of a review of last week’s games, I would like to quote a passage from last week’s Mythical Picks:

Va Tech – 15 at Wake Forest (39): The only thing that would make this game less watchable than it already is would be a driving rainstorm. This is a game of interest for SHOE Tournament consideration only. Do not watch it; do not bet on it.”

At the end of regulation time, the score was 0-0. In double OT, Wake Forest won 6-3. Here are some stats from the game:

    There were 18 punts in the game;.
    Tech had 254 yards offense; Wake had 234 yards offense.
    Wake ran the ball 42 times for a total of 74 yards (1.8 yards per carry)
    That is higher than Wake’s season average rushing yards per carry.
    Tech averaged 2.8 yards per pass attempt.

Aren’t you glad you missed that game…?

SMU was never in danger of ruining its perfect season last week losing to UCF 53-7.

    SMU recorded 4 first downs in the game
    SMU’s total offense was 116 yards on 42 plays (2.8 yards per play)
    SMU fumbled 3 times and lost the ball each time

Nebraska led Minnesota 21-7 at the half but the Gophers rallied in the second half to win 28-24. Nebraska may get a “more prestigious” bowl bid than Minnesota because Nebraska fans have the reputation of “traveling well”.

Army beat Fordham 42-31. The interesting thing about this game is that each team scored 21 points in the fourth quarter.

Oklahoma demolished Kansas 44-7 on a soggy field. The story of this game has nothing to do with the score; the story is that freshman RB, Samaje Perrine, rushed for 427 yards in the game. That broke the record set by Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin all of one week ago. OU has had some pretty decent running backs in its history; until last Saturday, the school record was 294 yards set by Greg Pruitt 43 years ago. Perrine broke that school record by 133 yards.

Maryland beat Michigan 23-16. Michigan led 16-9 at the end of the 3rd quarter and then came from ahead to lose the game.

It took a field goal at the very end of the game for Florida State to beat BC by 3 points.

Arkansas beat Ole Miss 30-0. That makes two shut outs in a row for the Razorbacks. That completely eliminates Ole Miss from the college football playoff brackets.

Wisconsin beat Iowa 26-24 last week. In response to a comment by a reader last week who pointed out that this game should have been a “Game of Interest”, I said that Wisconsin was favored by 10 points and that line looked fat to me. Nevertheless, I am not counting that as a “successful Mythical Pick.”

UVa beat Miami 30-13. Virginia needs to beat Va Tech in the last game of the year to achieve bowl-eligibility. I wonder if this upset win will be enough to save Coach Mike London’s job…

Missouri stayed in control of its situation beating Tennessee by a score of 29-21. They face the suddenly tough defensive Arkansas team this week. A win there and Mizzou will be in the SEC Championship Game; a loss would send Georgia to that game.

Kansas State beat West Virginia in Morgantown – where it is difficult to win – keeping the Wildcats in a tie with Baylor and TCU for the top spot in the Big 12. All three teams have conference records of 6-1.

    Baylor hosts K-State on 6 December meaning one of them will lose.
    K-State hosts Kansas this week before traveling to Baylor.
    TCU is at Texas this week and hosts Iowa St. on 6 December.

Speaking of TCU – sort of – they have a junior OT on the roster who is a copy editor’s nightmare:

    Halapoulivaati Vaitai (pronounced HAL-uh-POO-lih-VAH-tee VIE-tie)

The Ponderosa Spread Games:

Last week, there were 8 Ponderosa Spread Games. The favorites covered in 5 of those 8 games.

Mississippi St., Oklahoma, Oregon, S. Carolina and UCF covered.

Baylor, Clemson and Ohio St. did not cover.

That brings the season record for favorites covering Ponderosa Spreads to 38-33-1.

This week we have only 2 Ponderosa Spread Games:

Baylor – 25 at Texas Tech (79): Baylor can score points by the bushel; Texas Tech allows points by the bushel…

Kansas at K-State – 28.5 (51.5): K-State can still win the Big-12; Kansas might win the Kansas High School Football Championship.

The SHOE Tournament Teams

Here are the eight teams I would have in the SHOE Tournament if I had to make my picks today:

    SMU: Just a bad football team
    E. Michigan: Lost to Ball St. by 2 TDs last week
    Ga State: Another bad football team
    Idaho: Not good at all
    Kent St. A second MAC team for the SHOE Tournament
    N. Mex St.: The adjective you are looking for is “bad”
    Tulsa: Golden Hurricane is merely a gentle breeze
    Wake Forest: See the stats above for last week’s game…

Still with a chance to stink their way into the SHOE Tournament field are:

    Miami (Oh): A third MAC team for the SHOE Tournament?
    UNLV
    UConn

Games of Interest:

There are tons of huge rivalry games this week. If you are a fan of college football in general, this is the week you have been looking for…

Note that these lines are from very early in the week and there are no lines available for several games at this point. Nevertheless, I shall soldier on…

(Thurs) TCU – 6 at Texas (56.5): TCU is on the fringe of the football playoffs; if that does not motivate them for this game, I have no idea what might. Both teams play good defense. TCU’s offense is more reliable. I like TCU on the road to win and cover here.

(Thurs) LSU – 3 at Texas A&M (49.5): LSU lost at home to Alabama in OT and then got shut out by Arkansas. Question:

    Is this team angry and ready to destroy an Aggies’ team that is good but not great – or has LSU come apart at the seams?

I think it is the former. I’ll take LSU to win and cover on the road.

(Fri) Virginia at Va Tech “pick ‘em” (40.5): Virginia can still be bowl-eligible with a win here. Need I say more about how there are too many bowl games and too many mediocre-at-best teams playing in bowl games? Va Tech is about as efficient on offense as your run of the mill West African government. I think that the Virginia players will play to save Mike London’s job so I’ll take Virginia to win the game.

(Fri) Nebraska at Iowa “pick ‘em” (57): I have had enough picking road teams here; I like Iowa at home to win this game.

(Fri) E. Carolina – 16.5 at Tulsa (66): This game is interesting only because the spread opened the week at 22 points and dropped to this level like an anvil in a swimming pool. No, I do not know why…

(Fri) Navy – 9.5 at S. Alabama (54.5): A Navy win makes them bowl-eligible. South Alabama looks like easy pickings for a Navy team that can score points. I like Navy – on the road – to win and cover.

(Fri) Arkansas at Missouri (no lines): A win by Missouri sets them up to play the SEC West Champion. I do not think Missouri is that good. The Arkansas defense has come to life recently with two consecutive shutouts. I foresee a low scoring game and an Arkansas win here – but I cannot make a pick when the game is off-the-board.

(Fri) Stanford at UCLA – 5.5 (50): UCLA is the PAC-12 South champion if they win this game. I see a defensive battle here. I like the game to stay UNDER.

(Fri) Arizona St. at Arizona (no lines): If UCLA loses, these teams are still alive in the PAC-12 South Division. I cannot pick without lines but I do think Arizona State is the better team here.

(Fri) Colorado State – 7 at Air Force (61): Colorado State is 10-1 this year and looking for a bid to a bowl game you have actually heard of before. Air Force is a good team but I do not think they can keep up with Colorado State. I like CSU to win and cover – on the road.

Michigan at Ohio St. – 20.5 (52.5): A win here saves Brady Hoke’s job. I think Michigan’s chance at winning this game in Columbus is about as likely as seeing a herd of yetis sitting up in Section 525 at kickoff time. I’ll take Ohio State to win and cover at home.

Old Dominion at Florida Atlantic – 3.5 (67): If Old Dominion wins here, it will be their 6th win for the season and they could play in a bowl game for the first time. I like that as an incentive here so I’ll take Old Dominion on the road plus the points.

Minnesota at Wisconsin – 13.5 (51.5): I do believe the winner here is the Big 10 West Champ. It has been a while since Minnesota has had a sniff of anything nearly that prestigious when it comes to football. Both teams like to run the ball meaning the clock will run and keep the score down. I like the game to stay UNDER.

Illinois at Northwestern – 8.5 (52): Both teams are 5-6 so this is a play-in game for bowl-eligibility. Wow, maybe one of these teams can play Virginia in a bowl game. Wouldn’t that be special? [/Church Lady]. Do not watch this game; do not wager on this game.

Washington – 3 at Washington St. (65): This is the Apple Bowl game; it is a huge rivalry out in the Northwest. Washington is the better team so I’ll take them to win and cover on the road.

Ga Tech at Georgia – 13 (66): The only thing on the line here is the rivalry. The Missouri/Arkansas game on Friday lets Georgia know if they play in the SEC Championship Game or if they just prep for a bowl game. Tech knows it will play in the ACC Championship Game despite the outcome here. Georgia is the better team and they are at home. I’ll take the Dawgs to win and cover.

Oregon – 20 at Oregon St. (67): They call this game the “Civil War”. A win for Oregon State makes them bowl-eligible. Oregon needs to win if they want to hang onto a slot in the football playoff bracket. Make this a venue call; I like Oregon State plus the points.

Auburn at Alabama – 9.5 (53.5): Remember last year’s game? Remember that look on Nick Saban’s face? Do you think he remembers? There is no way I want to take Auburn on the road here when Alabama has revenge on its mind AND would love to be the #1 seed in the College Football Playoff bracket. I like Alabama to win and cover here.

Florida at Florida State – 7 (52.5): How cool would it be for Wil Muschamp to beat undefeated Florida State in Tallahassee in his last game at Florida? I like Florida plus the points here even on the road. I will resist the temptation to take Florida on the money line at +250, however.

S. Carolina at Clemson – 4.5 (no Total Line): I seem to like the vast majority of the road teams this week and this game is no exception. I like S. Carolina plus the points here.

Mississippi State – 1.5 at Ole Miss (49.5): State needs a win in the Egg Bowl in order to hold onto that #4 slot in the Selection Committee rankings. Ole Miss has no real shot at getting back into the discussion with regard to the seeding there. Once again, I like the road team in a big rivalry game; I like Mississippi State to win and cover.

Notre Dame at USC – 7 (62.5): Here is another rivalry game but I really do not trust either team enough to play the spread here. On the other hand, I do trust that both defenses will give up points. I like this game to go OVER.

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

Tiger Woods Is Not A Happy Camper

The latest tempest in a spittoon involves Tiger Woods getting his knickers in a knot because Dan Jenkins wrote a satirical piece in Golf Digest about Woods. It purports to be an interview with Tiger Woods but readers may have gotten a clue from the headline that this was not a transcript of a real interview. Here is the headline:

    My (Fake) Interview With Tiger*

    *Or how it plays out in my mind

You can read the whole thing here; trust me, it is not a flattering portrayal of Tiger Woods. Of course, no one who pays attention would have expected it to be flattering. Dan Jenkins has told the story that early in Woods’ career, Jenkins asked for an interview but Woods’ handlers told him they had nothing to gain from doing such an interview so Jenkins could take a hike. Later, when the handlers were trying to rehabilitate Woods’ image after his unfortunate interaction with a fire hydrant and his former wife taking a nine-iron to the window of his vehicle, the handlers contacted Jenkins and asked if he wanted an interview to do a “rehab piece” for Woods. Jenkins no only declined but stated publicly that if Woods thought he had nothing to gain years ago, Woods was not going to use Jenkins now to Woods’ advantage.

With that as the backstory, Tiger Woods took to Derek Jeter’s new website, The Players Tribune, to respond. If you ever witnessed Woods giving a post-round interview with all of his seriousness and dour demeanor, you can recall those times reading what he said. Here is the whole piece; here are a couple of samples:

‘Jenkins faked an interview, which fails as parody, and is really more like a grudge-fueled piece of character assassination.

“Journalistically and ethically, can you sink any lower?”

    Point #1: Since when would Tiger Woods be my go to guy on what consists of proper journalistic behavior?

    Point #2: Should Tiger Woods be the guy wondering if anyone could sink any lower on an ethical scale?

“My representatives and I asked Golf Digest for an explanation, some reason for what I think is journalistically wrong and a pretty cheap shot. Digest responded by saying it was Dan’s humor, and they didn’t think it was unfair or they wouldn’t have run it. Those aren’t great answers.”

    Point #3: Those may or may not be great answers; what Woods is saying here is that those are not the answers he wanted to hear.

    Point #4: Why do Woods and his representatives think they deserve an explanation for a satirical piece? Entitlement much…?

Memo to Tiger Woods: If you are even thinking about carrying on some kind of feud with Dan Jenkins and/or Golf Digest, you might want to heed the advice of Mark Twain:

“Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.”

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel had a very interesting take on this nascent squabble:

“Did you see where Tiger Woods got angry about quotes attributed to him in a satirical, parody interview written by sportswriting legend Dan Jenkins? That’s right, Tiger claims he was misquoted in a FAKE interview: This is even worse than Charles Barkley saying he was misquoted in his own autobiography.”

The NFL has 7 new head coaches this season; four of them had been coordinators; three are getting a second shot at being a head coach. If I had to grade their level of success so far, here is how I would do it:

    Coordinators moving up a notch:

      Mike Pettine: Browns are competitive this year to a level that they have not been for a long time. Grade A

      Bill O’Brien: Texans are 5-5 (one game behind the Colts) and they have done it with merely adequate quarterbacking. Grade B+

      Mike Zimmer: Vikes – without Adrian Peterson and with a rookie QB – have won 4 games; last year they only won 5. Grade: B-

      Jay Gruden: Skins are only marginally better now than they were as a totally dysfunctional squad last year. Grade D

    Second-time head coaches:

      Jim Caldwell: Lions are playing better – and smarter – than in the past. Grade A

      Ken Whisenhunt: Titans lack sufficient on-field talent; no one could get that squad to a .500 record. Grade C –

      Lovie Smith: Bucs lack sufficient on-field talent. Grade C -.

Finally, here is another observation from Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel regarding the Bills/Jets game that had to be moved due to the “Snowmageddon” in Western NY:

“Because the City of Buffalo has been incapacitated by a blizzard, the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets will have to play their game in Detroit on Monday night. Question: How do you know when the city you live in is too cold? Answer: When you have to go to Detroit to thaw out.”

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

A Soccer Match For The Ages?

A little more than a year ago, the San Marino international soccer team scored its first goal in international competition in more than a 5-year span. Notwithstanding that feat, San Marino failed to win the game; in fact, San Marino has never won an international soccer game. The international team has been in business since 1990 and its record stands at 0-61-1. That tie game happened about a week ago when San Marino and Estonia met in something called “European qualifying” and the game ended at “Nil-Nil”.

Question:

    Given the performance of San Marino over the last quarter of a century, what might they be qualifying for?

For the record, there are 208 international teams recognized by FIFA. San Marino and Bhutan are tied for last place in the FIFA World Rankings. Can you imagine how low on the pecking order at FIFA one would have to be such that one were assigned to go and watch San Marino play Estonia to see if – possibly – there might be a way to put San Marino ahead of or behind Bhutan in the rankings? How much coffee would one need to stay awake during that struggle?

On many occasions, I have demonstrated here my less-than-glowing competence in the field of advertising/promotion/marketing. Nevertheless, I understand the concept that a “promotion” is intended to associate a product with an event (e.g. a movie or a sporting event) in a way that gets patrons of the event to try the product/buy the product. In that sense, the product has to be relatively accessible to the patrons. It is that “accessibility” that was a problem in Philly…

Papa John’s pizza had a promotional deal with the Philadelphia 76ers such that when the Sixers won a game, people could enter some kind of promo code online and get discounted pizzas. It will not take any basketball fan more than about 10 minutes watching the Sixers to realize that they are just not going to win very many games this year; that made the product inaccessible to the patrons. So, Papa John modified the terms of the deal in mid-stream. Now, Sixers fans can get the discounted pizza whenever the Sixers score 90 points in a game. [Aside: If you watch the Sixers for even a single game, you will quickly realize that if they score only 90 points, they are not going to win many games because they play bad defense.]

Frankly, I think Papa John’s should have left the promotional terms alone and just let the whole thing go quietly into the night. Now, people can make the following association in their minds:

    BAD Sixers team – – – Bad pizza

Even I know that kind of association is not what Papa John was aiming for…

The Marlins’ new contract with Giancarlo Stanton (13 years for $325M) was shocking. Marlins’ owner, Jeffrey Loria, normally throws money around the same way he throws grand pianos around. [Recall that the Marlins were rebuked by MLB for pocketing their revenue-sharing dollars and not “reinvesting them” to improve the on-field product.] The Marlins also have a history of letting young players go to other teams as soon as their free agent eligibility kicks in. After getting over the original shock, I started to think about this contract and it raises a few questions in my mind. Let me preface those questions by saying that Giancarlo Stanton is a young player who has the potential to be a superstar for the next decade or so. This is not a guy in his early 30s who is close to the point in his career when the vector heading is turning south. Nonetheless:

    The Marlins drew an average of 21,386 fans per game last year. That put them 27th in MLB. In 2013, the Marlins were 28th in MLB in attendance. I neither year did they come close to drawing 2 million fans. Question:

      Miami fans found ways to do something other than go out to see the team with Giancarlo Stanton playing for the past two years; what is going to convince lots more of them to go to games this year and next year to see the Marlins with Giancarlo Stanton?

    According to reports, the Marlins’ local TV/radio revenue is about 6% of what the top teams – such as the Dodgers and the Yankees – get from that source. Question:

      Is it likely that local radio and TV companies are going to fork over 10 times more money in the next couple of years to show the Marlins? Remember, they did not add players; they are merely paying one of their current players a whole lot more money.

    Now, those two revenue related issues leads me to wonder about this very fundamental question:

      Absent significantly increased revenues, how will the Marlins field a team around Stanton?

I am not saying that the situation in Miami cannot work; I do think that there are other things that have to happen to make it work smoothly and it is not obvious how the team is going to change the “revenue situation” in Miami.

Finally, the college basketball season has begun and we are in the phase of the season where horrible mismatches dominate the scene. Here is an observation from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald to that point:

“Creighton opens its regular season Friday night vs. Central Arkansas, a team that was 8-21 last year and has only one player back and a new coach. In college basketball, this is what’s known as ‘the perfect opening opponent.’”

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

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend Of 11/22/14

Let me begin by revisiting last week’s Mythical Picks:

    I liked Pitt/UNC UNDER 67.5. Total score was 75. Boo!

    I liked Wake Forest +17 against NC State. Not enough points. Boo!

    I liked Ohio St. -14 over Minnesota. State won by only 7. Boo!

    I liked Nebraska/Wisconsin UNDER 57. Total was 83. Boo!

    I liked Clemson/Ga Tech UNDER 61. Total was 34. Yea!

    I liked Duke -4.5 over Va Tech. Duke lost the game. Boo!

    I liked Utah +8 against Stanford. Utah won in Double OT. Yea!

    I liked LSU +1.5 against Arkansas. LSU lost by 17. Boo!

    I liked LSU/Arkansas UNDER 48.5. Total was 17. Yea!

    I liked Georgia -2 over Auburn. Georgia won by 27. Yea!

    I liked S. Carolina/Florida OVER 57.5. Total was 43. Boo!

    I liked Fla St/Miami OVER 61.5. Total was 56. Boo!

    I liked Missouri +4.5 against Texas A&M. Mizou won the game. Yea!

    I liked Arizona St. -9 over Oregon St. ASU lost the game by 8. Boo!

    I liked Miss St./Alabama UNDER 52. Total was 45. Yea!

    I liked Miss St. +9 against Alabama. Bama won by only 5. Double Yea!

    I liked Texas -2.5 over Ok St. Texas won by 21. Yea!

    I liked Mich. St. -11 over Maryland. State won by 22. Yea!

Last week was a bland week in a plain vanilla season of NCAA Mythical Picking. Last week the picks were 9-9-0. The cumulative record for the year stands at 91-91-1. About the only thing to say about those numbers is

    Whoop-dee-damned-doo!

Noting that the season record would be mythically in the red due to the vig on each wager, no one should be tempted to read further and take any wagering advice here seriously. For those who might find it hard to resist temptation, let me spell it out.

    Anyone dumb enough to take wagering advice from anything written here is also dumb enough to think that holding an ice cream cone in either hand gives you a balanced diet.

General comments:

Last week, the Linfield College Wildcats won the Northwest Conference championship with a 59-0 win over Pacific University. As conference champions, Linfield will participate in the Division III football championship tournament starting this weekend. The Wildcats will host Chapman University – winners of the Southern California Collegiate Athletic Conference. Chapman brings the same 8-1 season record to the field that Linfield brings. Go Wildcats!

Earlier this week, there was a report of a shooting on the Florida State University campus. It is unlikely that any football players were involved in any way with the incident given that it occurred at the university library.

Brady Hoke has had some difficult times as the head coach at Michigan and more than a few folks believe the school will wish him well in all of his future endeavors rather soon. Nevertheless, I have to give Hoke major props for the way he handled an incident this week.

    Frank Clark was a starting defensive end for Michigan and one of its more productive defensive linemen. Hoke dismissed Clark from the team after Clark was arrested on domestic violence charges. Hoke did not wait for the judicial processes to meander to a solution; he looked at the arrest and the statements of eye witnesses and issued the dismissal. Here is his statement:

    “Frank Clark has been dismissed for violating team rules from the Michigan football program. This is a tragic situation. Our student-athletes will be held accountable when their actions fail to meet the standard we have at Michigan. There is a legal process that will occur and we respect that process.”

    Good on Brady Hoke. Clark has his right to his day in court; Clark does not have the right to be involved in college football up until the time of his day in court. That participation is a privilege and said privilege is granted by the school – and by extension the coach.

Michigan is 5-5 with 2 games still to play. The best they can hope for is a minor bowl game and that may be insufficient for the folks in Ann Arbor to keep Hoke in his job. However, if he does lose the job, he still gets “character points” from me for this action.

Florida dropped the first shoe in the Major College Coaching Game of Musical Chairs for the winter. Florida announced that Will Muschamp will not be back in Gainesville next year. Here are some of the major schools that may be looking for new football leadership at the end of the year.

    Florida – definitely
    Michigan – probably
    Illinois – almost assuredly
    Kansas – probably
    Virginia – 50/50
    SMU – definitely but is this a major program any more?

Last week, things got interesting in the ACC Coastal Division. Georgia Tech dominated Clemson 28-6. It ended its conference season with 2 losses; Tech’s only remaining game is against Georgia the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, Duke lost to Va Tech last week 17-16. That was Duke’s second ACC loss but that did not end their conference schedule and it added interest to last night’s Duke/UNC game, which Duke lost 45-20. I believe that cements Georgia Tech as the Coastal Division Champion and the team that will take on Florida State in the ACC Championship Game in December.

NC State beat Wake Forest last week 42-13 making the Wolfpack eligible for a minor bowl game. Last week, I had Wake Forest on my “watch list” for the SHOE Tournament. I received two e-mails from folks who thought that was too harsh. Let me present some stats here because – here is something called foreshadowing – Wake is on the list again this week…

    Wake Forest as a team has amassed a total of 341 yards rushing in 10 games this year. [Aside: More than 200 individual players have rushed for more yards than that.]
    .
    Wake’s passing offense is 112th in the country.

    Wake ranks 126th (out of 128 teams) in total points scored. They only beat out E. Michigan and SMU both of whom are shoo-ins for the SHOE Tournament.

Combine those numbers with the fact that one of their two wins this year came at the expense of Gardner-Webb and you have a team that clearly is in contention for seeding in the SHOE Tournament.

Florida State remained undefeated coming from behind to beat Miami 30-26. As has been the case more than occasionally this year, Florida State played lethargically at first and then rallied late to win the game. Miami led at halftime 23-10.

The only other undefeated team in the country, Marshall, ran its record to 10-0 last week with a comfortable 41-14 win over Rice.

Ohio State beat Minnesota 31-24. The game was not that close; Ohio State was clearly the better team on the field. The game was played in the snow and Ohio State turned the ball over 3 times leading to all the Minnesota TDs. The fact that it was snowing in Minneapolis in November is not a shock. What is shocking is that the Minnesota Vikings actually considered for a while building a new stadium without a roof. Do those folks ever look out the window…?

Wisconsin pummeled Nebraska 59-24. Wisconsin is always tough at home but that does not explain a 5 TD margin here. Wisconsin RB, Melvin Gordon had a record-setting day; he rushed for 408 yards on 25 carries (16.3 yards per attempt) and broke the NCAA record for most rushing yards in a game previously held by LaDanian Tomlinson. Gordon sat out the entire 4th quarter; Wisconsin amassed a total of 581 yards rushing for the day.

They say that timing is everything. Western Kentucky RB, Leon Allen, had a pretty good day last week running the ball too. He gained 345 yards in a win over Army. Given Melvin Gordon’s performance, Leon Allen’s day hardly got a mention…

Penn State beat Temple 30-13 but only led 6-3 at the half. That win makes Penn State bowl eligible. Temple needs to find one more win to “go bowling”. The Owls have this week off and then play Cincy and Tulane after Thanksgiving.

Northwestern beat Notre dame 43-40 in OT. Obviously, there was not a lot of tackling in that game but it was also not an artistic game either. Both teams turned the ball over 4 times in the game.

Cincy beat E. Carolina last week 54-46. Obvioulsy not a lot of tackling in this game either…

Arkansas shut out LSU 17-0 last week. That was the first SEC win for Bret Bielema in 13 tries as head coach there. Arkansas’ last SEC win was back in October 2012 when John L. Smith was the coach. This was a dominating win for the Razorbacks; they held LSU to 124 yards total offense.

Missouri beat Texas A&M 34-27. Mizzou has the SEC East title – and a ticket to the SEC Championship Game – on its racket. All it has to do is beat Tennessee on the road this week and then beat Arkansas at home the day after Thanksgiving.

Georgia hopes Mizzou loses one of those remaining games because Georgia is a game behind Missouri in the SEC East race but holds the tiebreaker over the Tigers. Georgia’s conference schedule is completed. They finished up SEC play last week with a 34-7 win over Auburn. Question:

    Where has that version of the Georgia defense been all season?

Alabama beat Mississippi State 25-20 in a great defensive game by both teams. It was a great game to watch having nothing to do with the fact that the outcome gave me two wins in the Mythical Picks for last week. This game marked the fifth time that a Nick Saban coached team beat the team that was ranked #1 in the country at the kickoff. Mississippi State had the #1 ranked offense in the SEC coming into the game; they are indeed a good football team. Nevertheless, here is how six consecutive possessions for the Bulldogs went:

    Safety, Interception, Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt

    Alabama can play some “D”…

TCU beat Kansas 34-30 after trailing at halftime. A win is a win … but there are zero style points for the College Football Playoff Selection Committee to consider here.

Elsewhere in the Big 12, Texas achieved bowl eligibility with a handy win over Oklahoma State by a score of 28-7. The Texas defense continues to show well; they recorded 7 sacks in that game.

Navy beat Georgia Southern 52-19; Ga Southern was 8-2 coming into that game. Navy needs one more win for bowl eligibility. They have two more chances to get that 6th win against S. Alabama the day after Thanksgiving or against Army on 13 December.

Fact: Colorado State is 9-1 as of today with a game this week against New Mexico.

Fact: Air Force is 8-2 as of today with a game this week at San Diego State.

Fact: Colorado State and Air Force play each other on the day after Thanksgiving.

Fact: Air Force and Colorado State are both in Colorado Springs.

Question:

    Who knew back in August that Colorado Springs was to become an epicenter of college football for 2014?

In Ivy League action last week, Cornell beat Columbia 30-27. Neither team had won a game prior to this one; Cornell managed to get off the schneid. 5,734 hardy souls witnessed this struggle in NYC.

Out west, Utah beat Stanford 20-17. Utah is 7-3 against a difficult schedule. They have had 3 OT games this year and 6 of their games have been decided by 6 points or less. Utah deserves a nice bowl game for this season.

Oregon St. beat Arizona St 35-27. Arizona State had been ranked highly after beating Notre Dame a couple of weeks ago but with the Irish’s loss to Northwestern this week and the ASU loss here, their chances for a berth in the playoff bracket are about as good as slipping a pork chop past a hungry dog. But there may be some good news in this loss for Arizona state from a larger perspective:

    PAC-12 South just got very interesting. Four teams – USC, UCL A, Arizona and Arizona St. – are all bunched together at the top of that division.

    USC and UCLA play each other; Arizona and Arizona St. play each other.

    Big rivalry games with stakes bigger than just the rivalry should make for interesting football.

And in some bottom-of-the-barrel acton:

    W. Michigan 51 E. Michigan 7: It was 48-0 at the half.

    Troy 34 Idaho 17: Idaho was at home for this; they are now 1-9.

    USF 14 SMU 13: SMU is now 0-9 and almost ruined their perfect season here. SMU led 13-0 in the 4th quarter but found a way to give up two 4th quarter TDs – the last one with less than a minute to play – to come from ahead and lose the game.

The Ponderosa Spread Games:

Last week we had 3 Ponderosa Spread Games. The favorites covered in only 1 of the 3 games.

W. Michigan covered.

BYU and TCU did not cover.

That brings the season cumulative record for favorites covering Ponderosa Spreads to 33-30-1.

This week, we have 8 Ponderosa Spread Games:

S. Alabama at S. Carolina – 24.5 (56): Tuning up for Clemson…

Vandy at Mississippi St – 30.5 (53): Hey, it is a conference game not a scheduling abomination.

Indiana at Ohio St. – 34.5 (65.5): Another conference game…

Kansas at Oklahoma – 25 (53): Another conference game…

Oklahoma St. at Baylor – 28.5 (67.5): I do not usually make Mythical Picks in Ponderosa Spread Games. However, Baylor needs “style points” for the Selection Committee and Ok. St.’s defense is not geared to stop Baylor. Ok State is 117th in the country in pass defense; Baylor is 3rd in the country in passing offense. I like this game to go OVER.

Colorado at Oregon – 32.5 (72.5): Yet another conference game…

Georgia State at Clemson – 41 (57): Why bother? Who scheduled this one? Tuning up for S. Carolina… If you think Ga State can win, you can get +32,500 on the money line.

SMU at UCF – 28.5 (47): This too is a conference game…

The SHOE Tournament Teams:

This week I will focus on 10 teams for the 8 slots in the final SHOE Tournament to determine the single worst team in Division 1-A college football for the year. I will once again list them alphabetically – but I will mark the two teams that would not make the field if this were my final vote.

    E. Michigan 2-8
    Georgia State 1-9
    Kent St. 1-9
    Idaho 1-9
    Miami (Oh) 2-9
    SMU 0-9
    Troy 3-8 * not in the SHOE Tournament for now
    Tulsa 2-8
    UNLV 2-9 * not in the SHOE Tournament for now
    Wake Forest 2-8

In putrid game action this weekend:

    E. Michigan is a 17-point underdog at Ball State and to be clear, Ball State is not a good team.

    Wake Forest is a 15-point underdog to Va Tech.

    Tulsa is a 21-point underdog at Houston.

    Georgia State is a 41-point underdog at Clemson (see above).

    SMU is a 28.5-point underdog to UCF (see above).

Games of Interest:

Va Tech – 15 at Wake Forest (39): The only thing that would make this game less watchable than it already is would be a driving rainstorm. This is a game of interest for SHOE Tournament consideration only. Do not watch it; do not bet on it.

Miami – 6 at Virginia (48): I smell a let-down for Miami after Florida State came from way back to beat them last week. I’ll take Virginia at home plus the points.

Missouri at Tennessee – 3.5 (49): Missouri is 8-2 while Tennessee is 5-5. However, statistically, these teams are not that far apart. Tennessee is the better passing team; Missouri is the better running team. Make this a venue call; I’ll take Tennessee to win and cover. Lots of folks in Athens, GA hope I am right on this one…

Rutgers at Michigan St. – 22 (57): When Rutgers plays against the upper echelon of the Big 10, they get hammered. Michigan St. is an upper echelon team. Hence… Moreover, the game is in East Lansing. I’ll take Michigan St. and lay the points.

Minnesota at Nebraska – 10.5 (56.5): Will Nebraska simply roll over and play dead after what Wisconsin did to them last week (see above) or will Nebraska come out breathing fire? Frankly, I think it will be somewhere in the middle of that range and I think that Minnesota will do what it always tries to do and that is run the ball straight at the Nebraska defense. The clock will run; this will be a quick game. I like the game to stay UNDER and I like Minnesota plus the points.

Maryland at Michigan – 5 (42.5): If Michigan wants to go to a bowl game, they need this win. If it does not come here, the only other chance is against Ohio State and that looks mighty unlikely. I know the bet I want and so I went looking for justification and found these trends:

    Michigan is 4-1 to go UNDER in its last 5 home games
    Maryland is 4-1 to go UNDER in its last 5 road games.

I like the game to stay UNDER.

BC at Florida State – 17 (56.5): Interesting statistical matchups here:

    BC rushes for 264 yards per game (12th best in the country)
    Fla St. allows 139.7 yards per game (36th best in the country.

    Fla St. throws for 318 yards per game (11th best in the country)
    BC allows 226.9 yards per game (66th best in the country.

I think Florida State is the better team by far and it seems as if Florida State is better equipped to stop what BC does best as compared to BC stopping what Florida State does best. I like Florida State at home to win and cover.

Texas Tech at Iowa St. – 1.5 (69.5): These are Big 12 bottom-feeders and neither one plays much defense at all. Iowa St. ranks 117th in the country in points allowed giving up 37.8 points per game. However, Texas Tech can “top” that ranking 126th in the country in points allowed giving up 41.6 points per game. I like the game to go OVER.

Ole Miss – 3.5 at Arkansas (45): Short and simple… This will be a low-scoring game. I like the game to stay UNDER and I like Arkansas at home plus the points.

Arizona at Utah – 4 (54.5): Another one that is short and simple… This will be a low-scoring game. I like the game to stay UNDER. I am tempted by Arizona plus the points but will not pull the trigger there.

USC at UCLA – 4 (61): This is an important PAC-12 South Division game in addition to being a long-standing intense rivalry. I do not know why UCLA is the better team here so I’ll take USC plus the points in what I would have expected to be a “pick ‘em” game.

Finally, here is a closing thought courtesy of Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald regarding a “side wager” on last week’s Nebraska/Wisconsin game:

“If Nebraska beats Wisconsin, Rep. Paul Ryan owes Senator-elect Ben Sasse some smoked Gouda cheese. If Wisconsin wins, Sasse has to give Ryan some Lucky Brand beef jerky. There’s a group opposed to this wager; I believe they’re called ‘nutritionists.’ “

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 11/23/14

First, let me check out how last week’s Mythical Picks turned out:

    I liked Dolphins -5.5 over Bills. Dolphins won by 13. Yes!

    I liked Browns -3 over Texans. Browns lost the game. No!

    I liked Vikes +3 against Bears. Not enough points. No!

    I liked Packers -6 over Eagles. Packers won by 33. Yes!

    I liked Chiefs -1 over Seahawks. Chiefs won by 4. Yes!

    I liked Falcons/Panthers UNDER 46.5. Total score was 36. Yes!

    I liked Bengals +7.5 against Saints. Bengals won straight up. Yes!

    I liked Bengals/Saints OVER 50.5. Total was 37. No!

    I liked Skins -7 over Bucs. Bucs won the game. No!

    I liked Rams +9.5 against Broncos. Rams won the game. Yes!

    I liked the Rams/Broncos OVER 51. Total was 29. No!

    I liked Niners -4 over giants. Niners won by 6. Yes!

    I liked Niners/Giants OVER 44. Total was 26. No!

    I liked Raiders +11 against Chargers. Chargers won by only 7. Yes!

    I liked Cards -1.5 over Lions. Cards won by 8. Yes!

    I liked Colts -3 over Pats. Colts lost by 22. No!

    I liked Colts/Pats OVER 57.5. Total was 62. Yes!

    I liked Steelers -5.5 over Titans. Steelers won by 3. No!

So, last week was a mythically profitable week of selections with a record of 10-8-0. That winning week, however, only begins to eat into the monstrously large deficit that has accumulated since the beginning of September. The season record now stands at 76-98-2.

There were 2 Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games last week and the coin had a good week also. The coin was 2-0-0 bringing the coin’s season record to 9-15-0.

I hope all readers here are smart enough to realize that nothing here is authoritative when it comes to making selections on NFL games. No one should use even a syllable of information here as the basis for making a real wager involving real money on a real NFL game this weekend or any other weekend. Here is how dumb you are if you ignore that warning:

    If someone told you that you suffered from kleptomania, you would probably just take something for it.

General Comments:

Last week was a bad week to be a quarterback named “Manning”. Both the Giants and the Broncos lost and here is what the brothers did combined:

    Total of 17 points scored
    Total of 7 INTs thrown

    That is more like what you would expect from Geno Smith and his brother – on any given Sunday…

Rex Ryan’s bank account is significantly lighter than it was a couple of weeks ago. The NFL fined Ryan $100K for “foul language”. There is a video of Ryan saying “F**K you!” to someone off the screen. There is no audio, but there is also no doubt about what he said. Allegedly, the person off-screen who was the recipient of this sentiment was a game official and the league did not take kindly to that. Interestingly, the comment came after a Jets’ win – the one over the Steelers. Maybe that occurrence is so rare that Ryan forgot he was supposed to be happy at that point of history…

I read somewhere that since taking the Jets’ job, the league has fined Ryan to the tune of $225K – proving that some speech is not exactly “free”.

How bad is the NFC South? When teams in that division have to play teams outside that division, the combined record is 6-20-1. Moreover, one of those victories came over the Skins who are bad enough to be also-rans in that sorry-assed division. Now you know how bad the division is…

What odds would you need to make these wagers?

    NFC South division winner will have a record over .500. Would you take that bet for 5-1? How about 6-1? I might take it for 10-1.

    NFC South division winner will have a record of .500. Would you take that bet for 5-2? How about 3-1? I would take it at 4-1.

    Notwithstanding the records, one of those teams is going to be the host for a first round playoff game in January…

A couple of years ago when the NFC West was similarly sorry-assed, I made this suggestion and I still think it is the way to go:

    Put the four division winners plus two wild card teams into the playoffs as the NFL does now.

    However, seed the teams 1 through 6 in each conference based on their season records.

    A division winner with a 7-9 record should not host a wildcard game against an opponent with a 10-6 record.

The Bills lost to the Dolphins last Thursday night and Buffalo fans were complaining very loudly about bad calls that cost the Bills a chance to win that game. When the complaining stops, those Bills’ fans need to deal with some numerical realities from that game:

    Leading rusher for the Bills had 35 yards.
    Passing attack did not gain 200 yards.

Those numerical realities lead to some interesting questions for Bills’ coach Doug Marrone:

    Do you think at age 32 that Kyle Orton is the QB of the future for your team?
    If so, why?
    If not, why continue to play him now?

The Bears beat the Vikes 21-13. “Good Jay” Cutler and “Bad Jay” Cutler both made appearances in this game. “Good Jay” threw for 330 yards and 3 TDs; “Bad Jay” threw 2 INTs and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for excessive jawing at the officials. What really won the game for the Bears was that the Bears’ defense finally played a decent game from start to finish. They held Teddy Bridgewater to 18 – 28 for 158 yards in the game.

The Falcons beat the Panthers 19-17 taking the lead in the sorry-assed NFC South with a 4-6 record; they lead the Saints with the same record on the basis of tiebreakers. I think I did all of the projections correctly to come to this possible end state for the division:

    The Carolina Panthers could win the division and end up with a record of 5-10-1.

    After you let that travesty soak into your consciousness, go back to my suggestion above about seeding/reseeding playoff teams according to record…

The Bengals beat the Saints 27-10. The Saints’ offense was uncharacteristically inefficient in this game. With the game still in doubt, the Saints had the ball first-and-goal at the 2-yardline. Four plays later – with no penalties involved – the ball was still at the 2-yardline. Bengals’ WR, AJ Green, had 6 catches for 127 yards; it looked to me as if he could have had an even dozen if he had been targeted more often. Meanwhile, Bengals’ RB, Jeremy Hill, ran the ball for 152 yards in the game. That is ominous for the Saints considering that the Ravens are coming to town this week and the Ravens also like the power running game.

The dregs of the NFC South, the Tampa Bay Bucs, went to Washington and beat the Skins handily. RG3 threw 2 INTs – one of which was a Pick Six. The Bucs sacked him 6 times for the game mainly because the Skins’ OL was a no-show for the game. Josh McCown threw for 288 yards on the day, which is not outlandish; however, rookie WR, Mike Evans, accounted for 209 of those yards. Wait a minute, I think he just caught another pass… The Skins’ defensive backfield cannot cover a corpse with a king-sized bed sheet.

The Texans beat the Browns 23-7. The Browns seem not to know how to handle prosperity. Earlier this year, they came off a big win over the Steelers and lost to the Jags – the only win for the Jags all year long. Two weeks ago, the Browns beat the Bengals in Cincy and took the division lead. Last week, they lost to the Texans. What is up with that…? Brian Hoyer threw for 330 yards in this game and it only produced 7 points! Ryan Mallett started his first NFL game ever and his stat line was 20-30 for 211 yards; that is acceptable but not much more. However, the Texans ran for 213 yards in the game and Arian Foster did not play; Alfred Blue ran the ball 36 times for 156 yards. Does Alfred have a dog named Blue?

The Texans’ win here puts their record at 5-5 and they are on the periphery of the AFC wildcard race. A lot of things have to fall right for them to make it, but they are not out of the race either. JJ Watt had another “decent game”. He caught a TD pass; he recovered a fumble; he had 4 tackles for losses.

The Niners beat the Giants 16-10. Eli Manning threw 5 INTs in the game. There was not much else to say about this stinker.

In another lackluster game, the Chargers beat the Raiders 13-6. The Chargers scored a TD in the first minute of the game off a short field as a result of a turnover. After that, it was nothing but punting and field goals. Ho-hum… Two points bear mention:

    The Raiders have now gone more than a calendar year without winning a game. Their last win was 17 Nov 2013 in Houston beating the Texans 28-23. The Texans’ record last year was 2-14.

    Chargers’ QB, Philip Rivers suffered a “very severe rib injury” in this game.

The Chiefs beat the Seahawks 24-20. Even facing “Beast Mode”, the Chiefs still have not yielded a rushing TD all season. On one possession, the Seahawks had the ball first-and-goal inside the 5-yardline and could not pound it in. In the 4th quarter of the game, the Seahawks went for it on 4th down 3 different times. They failed each time. The Seahawks’ center, Max Unger, had to leave the game with a foot injury and he left the stadium on crutches. That is very bad news for the Seahawks; Unger is an excellent player.

Jamaal Charles is fun to watch. Sunday against the Seahawks, he carried the ball 20 times for 159 yards and accounted for a total of 178 yards of offense. The Chiefs’ total offense for the day was only 298 yards so Charles produced 59.7% of the total.

Back in August, I thought that the Chiefs would not be able to repeat their 11-5 record from last year; I was not alone in that assessment; the Las Vegas OVER/UNDER number for Chiefs’ wins this year was 7.5. As of today, the Chiefs are 7-3; here is their schedule for the rest of this year:

    At Raiders
    Vs Broncos
    At Cardinals
    Vs Raiders
    At Steelers
    Vs Chargers

Looking at that schedule from the perspective of a current record of 7-3, a final record of 11-5 is not impossible at all.

The Rams beat the Broncos 22-7. I mentioned Brian Hoyer above only getting 7 points out of 330 yards passing; well, Peyton Manning also got only 7 points and he threw for 389 yards. That is the lowest scoring game for the Broncos in the “Peyton Manning Era”. The Broncos lost 3 important offensive players to injury last week:

    RB, Montee Ball, left with a groin injury
    WR, Emmanuel Sanders left with a concussion
    TE, Julius Thomas left with an ankle injury.

No indication as of this morning if any or all of them might play this week…

Shaun Hill took over at QB for the Rams last week in place of Austin Davis and was 20-29 for 220 yards, which is pretty much the same stat line that Ryan Mallett had for the Texans in their win last week. Rams, WR, Kenny Britt had a big day with 4 catches for 128 yards and a TD.

The Packers stomped the Eagles 53-20 and it might not have been that close. Adding to the misfortune, the Eagles turned the ball over 4 times in the game; they cannot beat the Packers doing that. I have to say that Packers WR, Jordy Nelson, has inserted himself into the conversation with regard to the top WRs in the NFL for now. He came to the Packers in the 2008 draft in the second round – no WRs were taken in the first round that year. Here are the WRs taken in the second round in 2008:

    Donnie Avery (Rams)
    Devin Thomas (Skins)
    Jordy Nelson (Packers)
    James Hardy (Bills)
    Eddie Royal (Broncos)
    Jerome Simpson (Bengals)
    DeSean Jackson (Eagles)
    Malcom Kelly (Skins)
    Limas Sweed (Steelers)
    Dexter Jackson (Bucs)

Jordy Nelson and DeSean Jackson are clearly the class of that list…

The Cards beat the Lions 14-6. As has been their custom this year, the Lions fell behind early. However, the Cards’ defense just never let them back in the game; there was no miracle finish for the Lions last week. Drew Stanton took over for the injured Carson Palmer here and threw for 306 yards and 2 TDs. He outplayed Matthew Stafford who totaled only 183 yards for the day. Oh, by the way, neither team scored in the second half.

On Sunday night, the score was Pats 42 and Colts 20. That score is an accurate reflection of the domination in the game. The Pats OL had their way; Tom Brady always had plenty of time and space to throw; Jonas Gray carried the ball 38 times for 199 yards. I had no idea who Jonas Gray was until last Sunday night; in fact, my first thought was that he was one of the Jonas Brothers who decided to leave the band… The Pats’ defense turned the Colts’ offense into a one-trick pony. [See what I just did there…?] Total rushing offense for the Colts for the night was 19 yards!!

More bad news for the Colts:

    RB Ahmad Bradshaw has a broken ankle and is out for the year. That puts Trent Richardson front and center for the Colts in terms of RB. Up to this point, Richardson has been less than impressive; and in terms of having been the 3rd overall pick in the draft he has been a huge underachiever.

On Monday night, the Steelers beat the Titans 27-24. Frankly, the Steelers were sleepwalking through the game until about mid-way into the 3rd quarter. At that point, they were losing by 11 points and did not appear to give a rat’s patootie about the game one way or the other. Then they woke up, took charge of the game, and won it. To some extent, that worked because the Titans are not a particularly good team…

The Lions and the Packers are tied atop the NFC North with 7-3 records. Circle Sunday December 28 on your calendar. That is the final Sunday of the NFL regular season and the Lions will pay a visit to “the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field”. [Hat Tip to John Facenda]

    Both the Lions and the Packers have to play the Patriots between now and then.

    Nonetheless, that game should be for the NFC North championship and it ought to be a good one.

The Games:

Here are the teams with Bye Weeks. Oh by the by, this is the end of the Bye Weeks. Are you buying that? Goodbye…

    The Panthers will ready themselves for a cold-weather trip to Minny
    The Steelers will prep to host the Saints next week.

(Thurs Nite) KC – 7 at Oakland (42.5): The Chiefs are the better team; even the ghost of Al Davis knows that. We have not made it to Thanksgiving yet, but I do believe the Raiders are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention already. They can give thanks that they will be available for any and all New Year’s Eve party opportunities this year. However, there are two cautionary notes for the Chiefs here:

    1. This is a “short-week game” and the Chiefs have to travel 1500 miles to take the field. As a combination, those are not advantageous circumstances for the Chiefs.

    2. This is a “sandwich game” for the Chiefs. They had to play a tough Seahawks team last week and look ahead to a tough Broncos squad next week. And here in the middle are the lowly Raiders. Many a team has overlooked its opponent in such “sandwich situations”.

Frankly, I think both of those cautions are reflected in the spread; I would not have been surprised to see this in double-digits. The Chiefs have the better running game; an anemic passing game that is the equal of the Raiders’ passing game, a better run defense and the #1 pass defense in the NFL. Assuming that Andy Reid has the team focused on winning this game before hosting the Broncos next week, I like the Chiefs to win and cover.

Cleveland at Atlanta – 3 (47): At 6-4, the Browns are in last place in the AFC North; at 4-6, the Falcons are in first place in the sorry-assed NFC South. Will Josh Gordon return to the Browns’ lineup this week after serving his 10-game suspension? Can he be an impact player right out of the gate? Let me say this clearly:

    If Gordon plays at 90% of his capability, I think the Browns will have the significantly better team on the field here.

Since I do not know Gordon’s conditioning or his familiarity with the Browns’ offense, I will not take the Browns on the money line. However, I do like the Browns plus the points here.

Tennessee at Philly – 11 (48.5): The Eagles have a date with the Cowboys next Thursday afternoon on national TV and it ought to be for the NFC East lead. Is this a trap game for the Eagles? It sure looks that way. I’ll take the Titans plus the double-digit helping of points.

Detroit at New England – 7 (47.5): This is the best game of the weekend; the Pats lead the AFC East; the Lions are tied for the lead in the NFC North; combined, the two teams are 15-5. This game is the second in a tough four-game schedule stretch for the Pats that began last week in Indy. Here are the other three games in that stretch:

    Host the Lions (this week)
    Visit the Packers
    Visit the Chargers

The Pats have won 6 in a row and are undefeated at home; the Lions are not nearly as good on the road as they are at home in their dome. I see a plethora of points here. I like the game to go OVER and I like the Pats to win and cover.

Green Bay – 9 at Minnesota (48.5): The Vikes in their outdoor venue have an advantage in terms of cold weather against visitors from sunny/warm climates at this time of the year. Green Bay, WI is neither sunny nor warm; the Packers have played in that kind of weather before. Aaron Rodgers has thrown 28 TDs this year and only 3 INTs. Terry Bridgewater’s stats are not anywhere near that level. I like the Packers to win and cover here.

Jax at Indy – 14.5 (50.5): Often, I tell you to shop a line because of the variance from sportsbook to sportsbook. The spread here needs shopping… It opened the week at 13.5 points; you can still find it at that number at one sportsbook that I check. You can also find it as high as 15 points at one sportsbook and you can find it at every stop between those two numbers. The spread I used here is the one at more sportsbooks than any other spread. Interestingly, with all the variability in the spread, you have no variability in the Total Line; it started the week at 50 and moved up to the current number and that is the same at every sportsbook. Having filled you in on the numbers here, I think Colts are the significantly better team. The Colts’ offense is 123 yards per game better than the Jags’ offense; the Colts’ defense is 13 yards per game better than the Jags’ defense; the Colts are 136 yards per game better – and that is a lot. However, it is also important to note that in the last three games, the Colts’ defense has surrendered 100 points; that is a lot too. The spread here is “three scores” and two of the “three scores” have to be TDs. The Jags are +800 on the money line to win the game; that is twice as high as the next highest number on the money lines for the week. I have no sense that the Jags can go to Indy and win the game but that spread is awfully big. I’ll take the Jags plus the points.

Cincy at Houston – 1.5 (43.5): The Bengals are half a game out of the AFC North lead; the Texans are a game out of the AFC South lead. This should be a really good game but without the cachet of the Lions/Pats game. Is Ryan Mallett the real deal at QB for the Texans? Is Arian Foster going to be able to play this week? The Bengals were in New Orleans last week; so, why didn’t they just stay in the area for this game in Houston? It is “just down the road”. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Bengals plus the points.

Jets at Buffalo – 4 (39): Here is what weather.com is saying at the moment when you enter “Orchard Park, NY, USA”:

    “Two day snow now over 50 inches”

OK, but the game is not until Sunday – and there seems not to be any buzz that the game might be postponed or moved to some other venue. So what is the deal in the interim:

    Thurs Nov 20: Heavy wind and more snow 12+ inches. High 27 degrees
    Fri Nov 21: Morning snow, another 1-3 inches. High 26 degrees
    Sat Nov 22: Afternoon rain. High 39 degrees
    Sun Nov 23: Sunny. High 46 degrees.

Of course, some Bills’ fans might be hampered in their attempts to get to the game due to the fact that some of the areas surrounding Buffalo are expected to get 5 FEET of snow this week. And while the officials in Western NY figure what to do with 5 feet of snow in mid-November, how can this be a positive factor in the Bills’ training/preparation for the game this weekend?

So, the field conditions at Ralph Wilson Stadium will probably be the best Earth surface conditions in Erie County, NY on Sunday. That does not mean it will be conducive to great football. I think this will be a low scoring game – as is expected by the oddsmakers with a Total Line of 39. In a low scoring game where weather might be a factor, I much prefer taking the points. I like the Jets plus the points here.

Tampa at Chicago – 5.5 (46): The Total Line opened the week at 48 and dropped almost immediately to this level where it has stayed. The Bears won their first home game of the year last week; the Bucs went on the road and beat the Skins last week meaning that both of their wins this year have come on the road. [Aside: How does it feel to pay for season tix to the Bucs in Tampa and watch them stink out the joint in their first 5 home games? No wonder they are having “sell-out problems…] There will be a lot of whoop-dee-doo about Lovie Smith returning to the scene of the crime in Chicago. I suspect that will be a lot more about sound and not heat. This is the “Dog-Breath Game of the Week”; neither team is any good. This is another Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Bucs plus the points. Why not?

Arizona at Seattle – 6.5 (41.5): Even though the Seahawks are 3 games behind the Cards in the NFC West, this game rivals the Lions/Pats game as the best game of the week because it is critical to the Seahawks. A loss here puts them 4 games back with only 5 to play and that is a steep mountain to climb. The question here is the Seahawks’ defense. Last week, a really good Lions’ defense held the Cards to 14 points in Arizona; can the Seahawks’ defense play as it did for much of last year and do something similar this week in Seattle. I know that the Seahawks’ offense had been quiescent this year – and I think it continues to be hampered by the lack of top shelf WRs on the roster. Nevertheless, I think this is a combination of a wake-up call for the Seahawks and a venue call for the Seattle 12th man. I’ll take the Seahawks to win and cover.

St. Louis at San Diego – 4.5 (43.5): How many unknowns do you like in your equations? If you like a ton of them, then this is the game for you. Philip Rivers will start if he can walk to the sidelines; how well can/will he play with is “severe rib injury”? Who will play QB and who will run the ball for the Rams? Taking a guess at how the game will unfold, I think it will be low scoring and so I’ll take the Rams plus the points.

Miami at Denver – 7 (49): According to the Weather Channel, it will be in the low-40s or the high-30s at kick off time in Denver. Meanwhile, in Miami, the Weather Channel says it will be 82 degrees on Sunday with scattered thunderstorms. This is Broncos’ weather and this is Broncos’ altitude. Denver is a mile above sea level; Miami is very much at sea level. The elements favor the Broncos but the injury bug does not. As of this morning, Montee Ball is out for the game; Emmanuel Sanders is listed as questionable but he has to get over the hurdle of the NFL concussion protocol to play; Ryan Clady is questionable and Julius Thomas is questionable. Reports say that neither Thomas nor Sanders practiced on Wednesday. The Dolphins defense is very good and does not get the attention it deserves; it ranks 1st in total defense in the AFC. Interestingly, the Broncos’ defense ranks 2nd in total defense in the AFC. I’ll take the Dolphins plus the points because I think this game will be low scoring and I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Washington at SF – 9 (44): Because the Niners are still active in the playoff mix this is not a contender for the “Dog Breath Game of the Week”. Nonetheless, be glad if you are in any part of the country where this is not the game the NFL will cram down your maw in the late Sunday afternoon time slot. Trust me; you DO have better options. Two years ago, RG3 and Colin Kaepernick were media darlings who were in the process of redefining how folks would play QB in the NFL in the future. I am not hearing much of that nonsense these days. The Niners are getting healthy and Aldon Smith returned last week from his latest run-in with the NFL personal conduct policy. The Niners could be a sleeper team about now because of the folks they are getting back from injury to play with the guys who have kept the Niners relevant to this point in the season. The Skins are totally irrelevant – except as fodder for NFL gossip columns. I think the Niners need a statement win about now to convince themselves – and to announce to the rest of the league – that they are where they are and they are going to be players in whatever happens from this point forward. I think this is the time for them to beat down a team that is significantly below them in the NFL pecking order. I like the Niners to win and cover at home. I will not be surprised to see the Niners win by 21+ points.

(Sun Nite) Dallas – 3 at Giants (47.5): I promise you that when the suits at NBC learned that they had this game for Sunday Night Football back when the schedule came out, there was a lot of high-fiving and back-slapping on Mahogany Row. Now, the Giants just stink and the Cowboys’ record may or may not indicate how good the team really is.

    Giants’ DB, Antrel Rolle, says that there is no doubt in his mind that the Giants can “win out” and finish the season at 9-7.

    I think there is no doubt in my mind that he may have had some high-quality hallucinogens coursing through his veins at the moment of that pronouncement.

I think the key to this game is the Giants’ miserable defense (15th in the NFC) – and particularly their meek rushing defense. I see the Cowboys controlling the game from the outset. I like the Cowboys to win and cover even on the road. By the way, the Cowboys have won 3 of the last 4 games against the Giants in New Jersey.

(Mon Nite) Baltimore at New Orleans – 3 (50): Talk about a game that means a lot to both teams… By Monday night, the Ravens will know the landscape of the AFC North; no matter what happens, they need a win to be in a good place in the division. By Monday night, the Saints will know if the Falcons – and even the Bucs – will have won on Sunday and therefore what a win will mean for them. It is not the best game of the weekend, but it is indeed an important game where there are no mysteries. The Ravens are not a dominating road team; the Saints are traditionally a dominating home team but this year that “domination” means a 3-2 record where 2 of the 3 wins have come at the expense of the Vikes and the Bucs; no one will confuse either of those opponents with “quality”.

    Question: Will the Ravens’ defensive game play involve double-teaming Jimmy Graham or triple-teaming him?

I worry about the Saints’ ability to stop the Ravens from running the ball down the Saints’ throat. Maybe Rob Ryan will blitz only 30% of the time and focus on run defense a bit more this week? This is a Curmudgeon Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the game to stay UNDER. Why not?

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

Adrian Peterson/Ray Rice/How Will It All End

The NFL has suspended Adrian Peterson for the rest of this season. The NFLPA will appeal that decision. Claims and counterclaims are flying around from unnamed sources about this matter. I do not pretend to know all of what happened at the time that Adrian Peterson disciplined his young son but I want to go on record with this statement:

    If the pictures I saw on the Internet are indeed of Peterson’s son after his “disciplinary event” and if they have not been “photoshopped”, I think what Adrian Peterson did is reprehensible.

The appeal by the NFLPA and attorneys for Ray Rice to reinstate Rice to the NFL continues. I do not pretend to know the antecedents to what happened in that elevator in Atlantic City or actions subsequent to those events; but on the assumption that the videos from inside the elevator and outside the elevator are not computer generated in any way, I want to go on record with this statement:

    What Ray Rice did in that elevator is reprehensible.

The US judicial system has decided that neither man will pay much of a price for what they did. I think I understand the concept of “prosecutorial discretion” to some degree but I also think that I am free to say that I disagree with the discretion those folks chose to exhibit. Having said that, these men are both at a point where they are free to get on with their lives.

Now comes the sticky part of the mess from my point of view. Should the NFL – or any team in the NFL – be compelled to have any continued association with either man? There is a spectrum of what should be expected here:

    At one end of the spectrum, neither Rice nor Peterson can be denied any of their “inalienable rights”. They have the right to vote, to freedom of assembly, free expression and all of those rights. No one – nor any organization – should tamper with any of them.

    At the other end of the spectrum – exaggerating for effect here – I am not compelled as a person to invite either Rice or Peterson to my birthday party even if I hold it in a public place.

Playing in the NFL is not an “inalienable right” nor is it something that infringes on the personal privacy of others. Where it falls on that spectrum is germane with regard to the importance one places on the reinstatement of either player. I would hope that the resolution of these matters would address that kind of question and that the resulting action(s) would turn on those kinds of considerations. I certainly hope that the resolution does not revolve around some minor procedural glitch such as timely filing of a notice or anything of that sort. We shall see…

While those storm clouds rise overhead in the football cosmos, the NFL season is getting down to the critical parts. Lots of folks are looking at playoff scenarios and which team might be in a position to [fill in the blank here] if they can win [fill in the critical game here]. That kind of analysis and thinking can get one to focus attention on about half the teams in the league.

Here in Curmudgeon Central, I like to take this juncture of the NFL season to look at teams who have no relevance to playoff scenarios – the teams that have demonstrated unusual ineptitude to this point in the season. For example, any team with two or fewer wins at this point in the season is irrelevant – even the Bucs who are only 2 games out of the NFC South lead because every team in that division stinks. So, let me dismiss the Raiders, Jags, Bucs, Titans and Jets. Thank you for playing; pick up your season’s parting gifts on the way out…

With 3 wins on the record we have the Panthers, Giants and Skins. None of these teams are playoff relevant but they are in that state for different reasons.

    The Panthers were 12-4 last year outscoring opponents by 125 points; only the Seahawks allowed fewer points in the NFL last year. This year, in only 11 games, the Panthers have allowed 59 more points than they gave up in 16 games last year. Cam Newton has not played particularly well this year; nevertheless, that is not the reason the Panthers have cratered. However, they are in the NFC South so you never know what might happen there…

    The Giants were 7-9 last year; their opponents outscored them by 89 points. This year in 11 games, the Giants are already at “minus-58” points in scoring differential and it is not the fault of the offense. Even though Eli Manning has had some brutally bad games, the Giants are scoring 20.5 points per game this year; last year they averaged only 18.4 points per game. It is the Giants’ defense that bears the larger share of the blame.

    The Skins stunk last year and they stink again this year. Fans in Washington have become experts in conjugating the verb “to stink” and can recite the principal parts – stink, stank, stunk – without effort. Close your eyes and point a finger anywhere at the roster or the team organization and you will find yourself pointing to a sub-standard aspect of an NFL team. The Skins lead their opponents this year in first downs rushing, first downs passing and first downs via penalty. Leading in all three of those categories and also having a 3-7 record is not easy – but the “Stink Stank Stunk Skins” have found a way to do just that. This team has too little talent and too many prima donnas in its locker room. The team and the organization is far closer to the Oakland Raiders level in the league than it is to the above average teams.

Those eight teams – 25% of the NFL for those of you scoring at home – have entered the zone where they are:

    Playing for pride
    Playing for a contract
    Playing to avoid injury
    Playing to continue to collect a paycheck.

You are not likely to hear any of the talking heads on ESPN or FOXSports 1 or NFL Network talk about this quartile of the league in candid terms. But that is what we do here…

Finally, Herman Edwards, former NFL defensive back and coach of the Chiefs and the Jets who is now one of the more candid voices on ESPN offered this Q&A:

“If a head coach doesn’t have a good quarterback, you know what he becomes?

An analyst.”

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

The DEA Meets The NFL…

Last Sunday, agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency conducted some “surprise inspections” of NFL visiting teams looking for any irregularities with regard to the dispensing of controlled substances particularly painkillers. Several reports said that the inspections had their origins in allegations made in the “concussion lawsuit” regarding improprieties with these substances under the Controlled Substances Act. The Niners, Seahawks and Bucs confirmed that they underwent some kind of inspection; this report in the Washington Post indicates that the focus is not merely on those teams.

I think this is a very complicated issue. Obviously, there is an important social need for certain substances to be controlled and dispensed only by people certified as knowledgeable enough to do so properly. Highly addictive painkillers fall into that category and no one – not football fans, law enforcement officials or legislators – ought to be surprised to learn that professional football players suffer painful injuries in the course of their professional activities. The potential problem here is that a law and the regulations that flow from that law which was written with hospitals and pharmacies in mind will almost certainly have areas of recordkeeping and physical storage that are treated loosely by the physicians traveling with NFL teams.

A little cynical voice in the back of my head says that this is merely a grandstanding play by the Feds so that as the concussion lawsuits proceed their activities can be seen in a positive light. I want to be wrong about that but I cannot quiet that little voice completely.

With regard to the entire issue of players taking potent painkillers in order to “get back in the game” situations, I think an important distinction needs to be made with regard to three kinds of scenarios:

    Scenario 1: Player is injured; he does not know the extent of the injury but it does hurt a lot. Team physician – or other doctor involved somehow – says he does not think it is a debilitating injury and a painkiller will alleviate the suffering. He and the player agree that is a course of action; the player takes the pill(s) and can return to action.

    Scenario 2: Player is injured; extent of injury is not known; doctor suspects it is not debilitating and just gives the player a pill to take without the player knowing what the pill is or what the injury is all about.

    Scenario 3: Player is injured; he does not know the extent of the injury but the doctor does. There is a chance that continued play can make it worse but the doctor does not tell the player of those potential consequences as he gives the witting or unwitting player a painkiller to get him back in the game.

Would I be surprised to learn that at some time in the past and the present, each of these three scenarios has played itself out? Absolutely not… Importantly, I believe the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act have very different intersection with these kinds of scenarios. This is a complex issue; I hope this is not a grandstand play by the Feds; I hope the teams, the doctors and the players are all acting responsibly here…

Earlier this week, the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals threw some kerosene into the hot stove league. The Braves sent Jason Heyward and a pitcher to the Cards for Shelby Miller and another pitcher. Heyward and Miller are young players who have significant accomplishments already in their major league careers and still plenty of “upside”. The ideal trade is one that can help both teams; this one might fit into that category.

    The Cards need an outfielder to replace Oscar Taveras who was killed in a car accident recently. Heyward gives them that outfielder.

    The Braves need pitching. Miller is someone who could become a “top of the rotation” guy.

Two things surprised me just a bit about the trade. The Cards starting rotation has question marks. Adam Wainright has an elbow “issue”; Michael Wacha has a shoulder “issue”. The Cardinals traditionally rely on solid starting pitching as a foundation of team; so, trading a 24-year old starter with a career ERA of 3.33 is not something I thought they would be willing to do. Also, the Braves had “offensive problems” last year. I do not want to make Jason Heyward out to be a nascent Ted Williams or anything like that, but he was one of their better offensive players. I am surprised the Braves were willing to deal him.

When we bought our new car, we got a free 3-month subscription to SiriusXM Radio. At first, I liked the idea of all the different sports channels but soon came to realize that all of them struggled to fill 168 hours per week with any kind of programming let alone quality programming. I found myself turning off the radio far too often to make any consideration of extending that subscription for even a day. I mention this only to set the stage for the next “announcement” I ran across:

    John Daly – the sometimes golfer and full-time celebrity/personality – has signed on with SiriusXM Radio to do a show starting in December.

This event will be on the SiriusXM channel dedicated to PGATOUR Radio and the initial run for the program will be 6 shows. The program will be called Hit It Hard with John Daly and here is the brief description of what it will be about that supposedly would make me want to tune in:

“Daly will take calls from listeners around the country, talk about his experiences in and out of the sport, offer his thoughts on today’s game and players, share his love of music, and more.”

Maybe – I said MAYBE – I would listen to that at gunpoint…

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times summed up the situation regarding FIFA’s investigation into alleged shenanigans related to awarding the 2022 World Cup Tournament to Qatar:

“FIFA (wink, wink) found no irregularities in the way World Cups were awarded to Russia and Qatar, but bid-committee members weren’t available for comment.

“They’d just left on their surprise vacation junkets to Barbados.”

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

A Record For Futility…

Last week in a game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Kobe Bryant set an all-time NBA record. Until last week, John Havlicek held the record for the most missed field goal attempts in a career at 13,417. In that game last week, Kobe missed attempt 13,418 and he continues to add to the record.

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had a perfect perspective on that record as it relates to Kobe and the Lakers:

“Kobe Bryant broke an unwelcome NBA career record with his 13,418th missed shot.

“Or as he prefers to call them, rebounding opportunities for teammates.”

The Lakers’ roster as of today is not a good one. Kobe Bryant is a bona fide star and a Hall of Fame player; beyond him the roster consists of role players and guys “with potential” which means they have not yet definitively shown if they are competent or incompetent. On that squad, Kobe Bryant is the guy who is going to have to take the most shots; and indeed, over the first ten games of the season, Bryant leads the NBA in field goal attempts with 244 shots fired up. Other teams in the league know already that Bryant is the only dangerous scorer on the Lakers and he draws sufficient defensive attention that his shooting percentage so far this year is .377, which is significantly down from previous years. In fact, for a full season the lowest field goal percentage in Bryant’s career since coming into the league in 1996 has been .417 in that rookie season.

At the current pace, Bryant will attempt 2000 shots this year and at the current rate of misfiring, he will miss a total of 1246 of them. I think this record is safe for a while just as John Havlicek’s record stood from 1978 until this year.

One player who hoped to join Kobe Bryant on the floor in a Lakers’ uniform this year is Steve Nash but a bad back has him out for the year – and has likely ended Nash’s career. Bob Molinaro had this item in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot a while back:

“Next chapter: It was reported as news that Steve Nash is injured. When did that become news? Now that the 40-year-old former two-time MVP has been ruled out for the season with a bad back, it’s time to find him a chair at ESPN or TNT. Preferably, one with excellent lumbar support.”

Whenever I have heard Steve Nash interviewed, I have come away from the experience thinking that this is a guy who has a future in broadcasting. He comes across as intelligent, articulate and analytical about the game of basketball. ESPN and/or TNT should indeed work with him to get him on the air. Lord knows, both networks have former basketball players under contract who are “less than wonderful” on the air.

Frank Fitzpatrick of the Philadelphia Inquirer had this comment several months ago:

Baseball’s instant replay is the worst baseball idea since John Felske.

I mention that not because I want to complain about baseball’s instant replay. John Felske is an example of a manager/coach who helped his teams underachieve; he was part of the problem. All too often, coaches/managers are fired after poor on-field results when they are no more to blame for those poor results than they are to blame for world hunger. A case in point right now would be the Oakland Raiders.

I was never one who thought Dennis Allen was a great hire in Oakland or that he was a nascent Hall of Fame coach about to burst onto the football landscape. Having said that, he was not responsible for the Raiders’ unmitigated suckitude over the past couple of years; no coach ever could have made that compilation of players into anything other than a losing team.

Back in late September when the Raiders were 0-4 and looking at their Bye Week, they fired Dennis Allen and replaced him with Tony Sparano whose first coaching act seems to have been the ceremonial burying of an NFL football to symbolize the death of that first quarter of the season and the start of something new. And what has changed…? Here we are in the middle of November and the Raiders’ record stands at 0-10 meaning they have continued to lose games since changing coaches.

I would like to see some kind of empirical evidence that changing the identity of the head coach in Oakland had any material on-field effect. By the way, that does not mean that the Raiders win a game that the oddsmakers thought they would lose; I mean that the team on the field actually shows that they are better than someone else more than “on any given Sunday…” Not only are the Raiders losing, they are always behind; the team has not been leading at halftime in any game this year.

Here are some reality checks for Mark Davis and Reggie McKenzie who are the folks responsible for assembling this cast of characters that a head coach is supposed to lead to victory.

    1. Your offensive line is awful. Some people cannot get out of their own way; in the case of the Raiders’ OL, what they need to figure out how to do is how to get in the way of opposing defenders as those defenders are making their way to the guy with the ball. Until you find 5 guys capable of that; you are doomed. In only 3 games this year have the Raiders had more than 200 yards passing; they have yet to have any RB go for more than 80 yards in a game.

    2. The 2014 Raiders are worse than the 2013 Raiders and/or the 2012 Raiders. That is important because both of those earlier iterations of the team stunk. Your job has been to make it work out there in Oakland and over the last three seasons, a bad team has been made into something significantly worse. This is on one or both of the two of you and not on any head coach, coordinator, assistant coach or trainer.

I will not be surprised in the least if the Raiders Tony Sparano at the end of this season. Raiders’ fans can look at the rest of the schedule and see the possibility of two wins in that mix. Somehow, I doubt that a 2-14 record will get Tony Sparano a contract extension. Moreover, just as it was futile and impotent for the Raiders to fire Dennis Allen, the same will be true when they fire Tony Sparano. He is not the problem; there are probably 30 players on the 53-man roster who do not belong there and that is the fault of either Mark Davis or Reggie McKenzie – or both.

Finally, one more item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times. He suggested this as a prop bet; I am not sure which way one should play it:

“The first to win a game will be the:

    a) 0-9 Oakland Raiders
    b) 0-7 Philadelphia 76ers
    c) 2015 Arizona Diamondbacks”

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

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend of 11/15/14

Here is how last week’s Mythical Picks turned out:

    I liked Clemson -21 over Wake Forest. Clemson won by only 14. Boo!

    I liked Georgia/Kentucky OVER 57. Total score was 94. Yea!

    I liked Michigan -1 over N’western. The game was a “PUSH”

    I liked Ga Tech -3.5 over NC State. Tech won by 33. Yea!

    I liked Purdue +17 against Wisconsin. Purdue lost by 18. Boo!

    I liked Duke/Syracuse OVER 51. Total score was 37. Boo!

    I liked Texas +3 against W. Virginia. Texas won by 17. Yea!

    I liked Washington +5 against UCLA. Wash lost by 14. Boo!

    I liked Auburn -21 over Texas A&M. Auburn lost outright. Boo!

    I liked Alabama -6.5 over LSU. Bama won by 7 in OT. Yea!

    I liked Baylor +6 against Oklahoma. Baylor won by 34. Yea!

    I liked Mich St. -3.5 over Ohio St. Ohio St won by 12. Boo!

    I liked Notre Dame/Ariz St. UNDER 60. Total score was 86. Boo!

    I liked Notre Dame +2.5 against Ariz St. The Irish lost by 24. Double Boo!

    I liked Oregon/Utah UNDER 60. Total score was 78. Boo!

    I liked Utah +8 against Oregon. Utah lost by 24. Double Boo!

    I liked K-State/TCU OVER 58. Total score was 61. Yea!

    I liked K-state +6.5 against TCU. K-State lost by 21. Boo!

That was a mighty miserable week of Mythical Picking. The record for the week was 6-11-1 bringing the season total to 82-82-1. In making 163 selections for the year, this week produced the only “PUSH” so far. That losing slate of games brings to a grinding halt my streak of 3 consecutive “winning weeks” for NCAA Mythical Picks.

Obviously, my intention is to do better this week than last week. Nevertheless, no one should consider using any information here as part of any decision to wager real money on any NCAA football game this week. If you are stupid enough even to consider doing that, here is something else you might consider:

    You may think that holy water has had the Hell boiled out of it.

General Comments:

The Linfield College Wildcats bounced back from their loss to Willamette two weeks ago to demolish Puget Sound by a score of 73-10. The score was 52-0 at the half and Linfield led 66-0 with 5 minutes to play in the 3rd quarter. Linfield held Puget Sound to minus16 yards rushing for the game. This week is the final regular season game for Linfield and it is an important game. The Wildcats host Pacific University and here is the deal:

    Pacific is 6-0 in Northwest Conference games and 6-2 overall.
    Linfield is 5-1 in Northwest Conference games and 7-1 overall.

The winner is the conference champion and gets a slot in the Division III football playoffs. The loser may or may not participate in the tournament. Go Wildcats!

One other Division III football note of interest… MIT (yes, THAT MIT) plays Division III football. They resuscitated the football program there in 1988 and since then MIT has never been in the Division III playoffs – until this year. MIT has an 8-0 record this year; it is the New England Conference champion and will therefore have a slot in the Division III playoff tournament.

Last week was not a good weekend to be a college football coach named “Stoops”. Oklahoma head coach, Bob Stoops, saw his minions lose at home to Baylor 48-14. Meanwhile, Kentucky head coach, Mark Stoops, saw his minions lose at home to Georgia 63-31. By the way, the third Stoops brother, Mike Stoops is the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma so all three brothers had a bad weekend.

Down in SEC country there are dozens of intertwined rivalries. Georgia and Auburn have what they call the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry; this week will be the 118th time these two schools have lined up opposite one another. For this game, another venerable institution of the Deep South, Waffle House, is involved in the game. Here is the promotion:

    A Waffle House restaurant in either Auburn AL or Athens GA – obviously depending on the winner of the football game this weekend – will offer free waffles, hashbrowns and coffee for one entire day.

    The winning school will also get $15K for its General Scholarship Fund.

Last year, Waffle House had a similar promotion tied to the Alabama/Texas A&M game. Since Bama won, the restaurant in Tuscaloosa served up more than 2000 free waffles then.

I mentioned that Georgia beat Kentucky handily last week. That lets Georgia stay within range of the SEC East title; they trail Missouri by a game but they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Mizzou. Here is the rest of the schedule for Missouri:

    Kentucky
    @ Texas A&M
    @ Tennessee
    Arkansas

Meanwhile here is the remaining schedule for Georgia:

    Auburn
    Charleston Southern (non-conference)
    Georgia Tech (non-conference)

With Auburn coming to visit this week, Georgia has its work cut out even at home. Auburn lost last week; Auburn had been in the Top 4 of the playoff rankings the week before the loss and the only hope they have of getting back there is to “win out”. This ought to be a good game – and not just because some team is going to win free waffles for fans in their city.

Texas A&M is the team that beat Auburn last week by a score of 41-38. Auburn was a 3 TD favorite in the game and Auburn ran up 363 yards rushing and 582 yards of offense – and they still lost the game. Losing 3 fumbles will do that for you … or to you depending on your point of view.

Alabama beat LSU 20-13 in OT. In terms of watching two very good teams play a highly competitive game where a lead-change was always just a play away, this was an excellent game. Alabama WR, Amari Cooper set a school record for yards receiving in a season at 1215 yards – and he has three more games to play this year. Cooper broke the school record held by Julio Jones who was no slouch…

By the way, just to make sure you are paying attention, Marshall is now 9-0 for the season after beating So. Mississippi 63-17 last week.

In Big 10 action, Minnesota beat Iowa 51-14. [Aside: With less than 8 minutes to play in the game and the score at 51-14, Iowa decided to challenge a call by the officials. Talk about a meaningless gesture…] Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin all have 1 loss in conference games and are tied for the lead in the Big 10 West. They all play each other in the final three weeks of the season. Minnesota has the toughest schedule in this sense:

    Other than the games against each other, both Wisconsin and Nebraska play Iowa.

    Minnesota’s “other game” is this week against Ohio State.

Speaking of Ohio State, the Buckeyes steamrollered Michigan State last week 49-37. Ohio State has now won 21 consecutive Big 10 games and 12 of those wins have been road wins. Going into last week’s game, the Michigan State defense had allowed only 279 yards per game; Ohio State rolled up 568 yards of offense – more than double Michigan State’s average.

You may recall that in the first iteration of NCAA Mythical Picks for this year I “wished for something”. Here is my two-part wish from back in August:

1. I would want Ohio State to have a 12-1 record having won the Big 10 Championship Game.

2. Then I would want the Playoff Selection Committee to leave them out of the playoff tournament to play in a meaningless bowl game AND for the Committee to say directly that it was “strength of schedule” that left the Buckeyes on the outside looking in.

As of this week, my “dream” is still alive…

Michigan beat Northwestern 10-9 on a dreary day in the midwest last week. The score was 0-0 at halftime and the deciding play of the game was when Northwestern scored a TD that would have tied the game with a single PAT. However, the Northwestern coaching staff must have seen all it needed to see in that game; so they went for a 2-point conversion and failed. Hence the 10-9 final score and the first “PUSH” of the year for Mythical Picks.

Duke beat Syracuse 27-10 running the Blue Devils’ record to 8-1 for the season. That kind of record is common for Duke basketball; not so much for Duke football…

Georgia Tech pummeled NC State last week 56-23. Here is a flavor of the dominance in the game:

    Tech converted 8 of 10 third down situations.
    Tech gained 479 yards rushing (average 7.5 yards per carry)

Notwithstanding that meek performance last week – and a couple of other clunkers earlier this year against Clemson and BC – North Carolina State is favored to become bowl eligible this week in their game against Wake Forest. What a meaningless bowl game it will be if NC State is participating…

Army beat UConn last week 35-21. This game has no significance on college football in general but it did end a streak. The game was in Yankee Stadium and it is the first time Army has won a game in Yankee Stadium – the current one or the older one – in the last 55 years.

TCU jumped up into the 4th position in the college football playoff rankings last week with a handy 41-20 win over K-State. That is the first time TCU has won in Manhattan, KS in 28 years and that victory leaves the Big 12 title up for grabs. Baylor, K-State and TCU all have only 1 conference loss.

Baylor beat Oklahoma in Norman OK 48-14. This is the first time Baylor has beaten a ranked team on the road since 1991. Baylor’s win creates an interesting situation:

    Baylor is 8-1; TCU is 8-1
    Baylor beat TCU by a field goal on October 11
    Baylor is ranked 8th by the Selection Committee
    TCU is ranked 4th by the Selection Committee.

No, I do not have an explanation for that either…

Texas beat West Virginia 33-16. West Virginia is a different team on the road…

Down in the muck and mire of the Big 12, Kansas beat Iowa State34-14. That takes Kansas out of SHOE Tournament consideration but there is something really grotesque about this win. After the game, the Kansas student body stormed the field and tore down the goalposts. After beating Iowa State…?

The Goalpost Manufacturing Association has to hope that this becomes a tradition and that every time Iowa State loses a football game the winning student body tears down the goalposts. Increased demand for goalposts means more jobs for people making new goalposts…

Boise St. beat New Mexico 60-49 last week. New Mexico led 42-35 at the half. Did the buses transporting the two defensive units to the stadium get lost and neither arrived until halftime?

Arizona State beat Notre Dame 55-31 despite the fact that Notre dame outgained ASU 487 yards to 412 yards. Notre Dame QB, Everett Golson, turned the ball over 3 times in a 4-minute span of the first half and ASU had a huge halftime lead.

In other PAC-12 action, Oregon beat Utah 51-27 and jumped up to the #2 slot in the college football playoff rankings.

Oklahoma has some interesting player names on its roster:

    Erik Striker is a Jr LB. I should hope that is what he does…

    Michiah Quick is a Fr WR. I should hope he is…

    Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is a Fr LB. That is a tongue-tangler…

    Brandon Kitchens is a So S. Offenses have to worry about him cooking something up back there…

The Ponderosa Spread Games:

Last week, there were no Ponderosa Spread Games. The season record for favorites covering in these games remains at 32-28-1.

This week we have 3 Ponderosa Spread Games:

E. Michigan at W. Michigan – 27 (56.5): The set of people outside the State of Michigan who care about this game approaches the null set.

TCU – 29 at Kansas (58): TCU is a good team and Kansas is a bad team. This game should be over before halftime.

UNLV at BYU – 26 (62): BYU is merely a slightly better than average team. That should tell you something about UNLV.

The Shoe Tournament:

Once again, I will present alphabetically a dozen teams that I am strongly considering for the end-of-season imaginary SHOE Tournament.

    E. Michigan: 2-7; losing by 24 points per game (ppg)
    Ga. State: 1-9; the win is over Abilene Christian; losing by 19 ppg
    Idaho: 1-8 only win is over New Mex. St.; losing by 11 ppg
    Kent St: 1-8; losing by 15 ppg
    Miami (Oh): 2-8; the 2 wins were over UMass and Kent St.
    New Mex. St.: 2-8; the 2 wins are over Ga. State and Cal Poly SLO.
    SMU: 0-9 losing by 37 ppg
    Troy: 2-8; the 2 wins are over New Mex. St and Ga. State
    Tulsa: 2-8; the 2 wins are over Tulane and SMU
    UNLV: 2-7; losing by 17 ppg
    Vandy: 3-7; wins over UMass, Old Dominion and Charleston Southern
    Wake Forest: 2-7; wins over Army and Gardner-Webb.

This week there is a bottom of the barrel game on tap:

Troy at Idaho – 6.5 (66.5): The high for the day is forecast at 28 degrees with a 10 mph winds. Nice to know that Idaho plays indoors. There is nothing else that is “nice” about this game.

Games of Interest:

Pitt at UNC – 2.5 (67.5): The UNC defense is as mythical as these picks are mythical; it ranks 126th in the country (out of 128 teams in Division 1-A) in points allowed. However, Pitt is a plodding offense that will take time to score. I do not see that many points hitting the board here. I like the game to stay UNDER.

Wake Forest at NC State – 17 (46.5): The spread opened this week at 12.5 points and zoomed to this level pretty quickly. Both of these teams are bad although State did pad its record before conference play started. Wake Forest ranks dead last (128th) in the country in rushing yards per game; they average 31.4 yards per game. However, Wake only allows 25 points per game so I think that line is fat. I’ll take Wake plus the points – – with trepidation.

Ohio State – 14 at Minnesota (56.5): If Ohio State wants to move up in the college football playoff rankings, it is going to have to do things to catch the attention of the Selection Committee. Beating up on one of the co-leaders in the Big 10 West Division by a sizeable margin would be one way to catch their attention. I like Ohio State to win and cover here.

Nebraska at Wisconsin – 6.5 (57): This is a top-shelf game this week. The winner here stays atop the Big 10 West. The game features two of the best RBs in the country (IMHO) in Melvyn Gordon and Ameer Abdullah. Afternoon snow showers are in the forecast here. The Wisconsin defense ranks 3rd in the country in points allowed per game (only 14.3 ppg). Nebraska is no slouch in the defensive department ranking 16th in the country (only 19.7 ppg). I have a hunch this will be a defensive game and not an offensive shootout so I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Clemson – 3 at Georgia Tech (61): Both teams are in second place in their division of the ACC. Tech is a full game behind Duke; Clemson is half a game behind Florida State. The game means something to both teams. I do not see Tech running wild again this week as they did last week because Clemson’s defense is a significant step up from NC State’s defense. I like this game to stay UNDER.

Va Tech at Duke – 4.5 (48): Duke has the ACC Coastal Division title in its hands. If Duke wins out, they will play in the ACC Championship game – probably facing Florida State. Va Tech looked as if it might be an important player in the ACC back in September when they beat Ohio State in Columbus; however, they enter this game with a 4-5 record overall and a 1-4 record in ACC games. I like Duke to win and cover at home.

Utah at Stanford – 8 (43): Both teams are 3-3 in conference play; neither is going to be in the PAC-12 Championship Game. Stanford’s record is 5-4; all 4 losses have come against teams ranked in the Top 25 when they played Stanford. Meanwhile Utah is 2-2 against top 25 teams… However, Utah came apart at the seams last week against Oregon. This will be a defensive game; points will be at a premium. Therefore, I’ll take Utah with that generous helping of points.

LSU at Arkansas – 1.5 (48.5): Arkansas did not win an SEC game last year and they are 0-5 in conference play so far this year. They had last week off. This is not the best LSU team that Les Miles has put on the field and last week they went full out to OT against Alabama and lost at home. Question:

    Will LSU come out flat – or will they come out breathing fire?

I think it will be the latter and I think this will be a defensive game. I like LSU plus the points and I like the game to stay UNDER.

Auburn at Georgia – 2 (68.5): Here is another top-shelf game this weekend. Auburn is not mathematically eliminated in the SEC West, but their chances are on life support. A loss here is a cyanide pill to those chances. With a win here, Georgia completes SEC play and merely needs Mizzou to lose a game somewhere down the line to be the SEC East winner. Both teams have motivation. I’ll make this a venue call and take Georgia to win and cover.

So. Carolina at Florida – 7 (57.5): The Ol’ Ball Coach returns to The Swamp – a place where he was rarely a 7-point dog. The Florida offense is an enigma:

    Scored 9 points against Tennessee
    Scored 38 points against Georgia

The South Carolina defense is not such a puzzle; it basically allows lots of points:

    Gave up 34 to Vandy
    Gave up 45 to Kentucky
    Gave up 45 to Tennessee

I like this game to go OVER.

Florida State – 2.5 at Miami (61.5): Here is yet another top-shelf game for this weekend. The fashionable pick here is Miami; more than a couple of writers/pundits/prognosticators think that Miami has pointed to this game for a while now and that Florida State is ripe for the picking. I think these teams will light each other up. I like the game to go OVER.

Missouri at Texas A&M – 4.5 (57.5): Missouri can play in the SEC Championship Game if it wins out; it is that simple. That should be sufficient motivation here. I think this will be a low scoring game, so I’ll take Mizzou plus the points.

Arizona St. – 9 at Oregon St. (61): After beating Notre Dame last week, Arizona St. moved within striking distance of the Top 4 in the college football playoff ranking. Of more imminent importance to Arizona St. is the fact that they have 1 conference loss on their record (to UCLA) and three other teams in the PAC-12 South Division have only 2 conference losses (including UCLA). Oregon St. has lost 4 games in a row including the last two at home to mediocre-at-best teams (Cal and Washington St.). I think Arizona St. will keep its eye on the conference standings so I’ll take them to win and cover here.

Mississippi St. at Alabama – 9 (52): This is the premier game of the week amongst the many top-shelf games. The spread opened the week at 7 points but it has been at this level for the past couple of days. Alabama sits at #5 – just outside the 4-team bracket for the college football playoff right now; undefeated Mississippi St. has the #1 ranking. Both of these teams will play tough defense here and it should be what Keith Jackson used to call a “slobber-knocker”. I think it will be a low scoring game so I’ll take the game to stay UNDER and I’ll take Mississippi State plus the points.

Texas – 2.5 at Oklahoma St. (47.5): The winner of this game becomes bowl eligible. Both would appear to need this win to grab that prize because Ok. St finishes the season with games against Baylor and Oklahoma while Texas has one game after this one against TCU. Oklahoma St. has had the bowl eligibility prize dangled in front of them for a while; the Cowboys have lost their last 3 games. Overall OK St. has lost 4 games but three of those losses came at the hands of Florida State, TCU and K-State. Texas has not beaten any team of that caliber either. I think Texas is the better of these two mediocre teams so I’ll take Texas to win and cover on the road.

Michigan St – 11 at Maryland (58.5): Here is another game where the key factor is whether one team (Michigan St.) comes out flat or breathing fire. After an embarrassing loss to Ohio State last week where the State defense was sliced and diced into teeny pieces, I think those folks will play extra hard this week. If so, Maryland is doomed. I’ll take Michigan State to win and cover here.

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend of 11/16/14

Here is a look back at last week’s Mythical Picks:

    I liked Bengals -6 over Browns. Browns won handily. No!

    I liked Dolphins/Lions OVER 43.5. Total score was 36. No!

    I liked Chiefs -1.5 over Bills. Chiefs won by 4. Yes!

    I liked Saints -5 over Niners. Niners won the game. No!

    I liked Saints/Niners OVER 49. Total was 51. Yes!

    I liked Ravens -9.5 over Titans. Ravens won by 14. Yes!

    I liked Steelers -5 over Jets. Jets won outright. No!

    I liked Bucs +2.5 against Falcons. Bucs lost by 10. No!

    I liked Broncos -11 over Raiders. Broncos won by 24. Yes!

    I liked Rams +7.5 against Cards. Rams lost by 17. No!

    I liked Rams/Cards UNDER 43.5. Total was 45. Double No!

    I liked Giants +10 against Seahawks. Not even close. No!

    I liked Packers -7 over Bears. Packers won by 41. Yes!

    I liked Packers/Bears OVER 53. Packers scored 55. Double Yes!

    I liked Eagles -6 over Panthers. Eagles won by 24. Yes!

The picks last week were sub-.500 at 7-8-0. That compounds the felony of the picks for this year making the season record an atrocious 66-90-2.

Even the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games are defying the laws of probability on the negative side this week. There were two such games last week and the coin’s record was 0-2-0. That makes the coin a stunningly unlucky 7-15-0 for the year.

Anyone intelligent enough to tell lightening from thunder would look at these results and realize that using information here as the basis for making a real wager involving real money on an actual NFL game at any time this season is near the acme of human stupidity. In short, do not do that! To anyone approaching that level of stupidity, here is all I have to say to you:

    Your greatest achievement on this planet will be as an anus donor.

General Comments:

#1 son and his family spent about 7 years living in Chicago whilst he got a PhD from the University of Chicago and then returned there for a post-doctoral fellowship. He is an avid NFL fan and back in 2009 soon after Jay Cutler came to the Bears in a trade with the Broncos, here is the text of an e-mail he sent to me:

“Chicago – where quarterbacks go to die.”

Today Jay Cutler is in the first year of a 7-year contract extension he signed with the Bears over the summer that could be worth $127M if it ran through the life of the deal – which it will not. The Bears are playing very poorly so it would be silly to say that it is Cutler that is dragging the team down. In fact, the Bears’ defense as a whole is playing even worse than Cutler is playing to date. Nonetheless, quarterbacks get in inordinate amount of credit for team success and so it is symmetrical that they also get an inordinate amount of shame for team failures. And now, Cutler is taking a ton of blame.

The Bears are in last place in the NFC North a full game behind the Vikes. Interestingly, the Vikes come to Chicago for a “Cellar Showdown Game” this weekend. The Bears have 3 wins this year and all of them have come on the road; the Bears are 0-3 at home. If the Bears put forth a listless performance this week and lose at home to the less-than-outstanding Vikings, it could be nasty time in Chicago…

How bad was last week’s debacle in Green Bay? The Bears lost 55-14 and it was 45-0 in the midst of the 3rd quarter. In addition:

    Bears’ defense allowed 50+ points for the second week in a row. Here is perspective on that courtesy of Dan Daly at profootballdaly.com:

    “Any day’s a good day when the Rochester Jeffersons get resurrected. The Bears did that Sunday when they lost to the Packers, 55-14 — after getting pasted in their previous outing by the Patriots, 51-23. This made them the first team since the 1923 Jeffersons to give up 50 points in consecutive games. How’s that for an accomplishment?”

    One of the Bears; running plays ended with all 5 of the offensive lineman standing and looking at the pile.

The Bears appeared to me as if they just did not care about the game or the outcome.

Back to Jay Cutler for one more point. The Packers are the Bears’ most intense rival – and the oldest one too. Cutler has played against the Packers 12 times and here are some numbers from those games:

    Bears record is 1-11 in those 12 games.
    Cutler has thrown 14 TD passes in those 12 games. (Mediocre)
    Cutler has thrown 22 INTs in those 12 games. (Not so good)
    Cutler has been sacked 34 times in those 12 games. (Not good at all)

I said that the Bears’ defense needs to share some of the blame for the way the team is playing. Here is what Mike Ditka said to the Chicago Sun-Times on that subject:

“But you if you have any talent at all on the defensive side of the ball, you don’t put on an exhibition like you did in the first half against Green Bay. You don’t do that. Now, if you have no pride at all, then maybe that can happen.

“I don’t see a lot of leadership; I don’t see a lot of pride in what’s going on. I see a lot of guys going through the motions.”

Looking at the other end of the happiness spectrum for a moment, the Cleveland Browns are alone in first place in the AFC North. The last time the Browns led their division 10 weeks into a season was quite a while ago; in fact, it was in 1994 before the Browns morphed into the Ravens and the new Browns’ emerged as an expansion team. Here are some of the atmospherics of that time in 1994:

    There was no AFC North. The Browns led the AFC Central at the time.
    The head coach was Bill Belichick.
    The defensive coordinator was Nick Saban.
    Browns made the playoffs as a wildcard team.
    Browns won a playoff game beating the Pats that year.
    That was the last time the Browns won a playoff game.

The Browns got to the top of the AFC North beating the Bengals handily last Thursday night by a score of 24-3. Andy Dalton was 8 for 24 for 67 yards and 3 INTs. Even a White House Communications Director cannot spin those numbers into anything good. The Browns record stands at 6-3 atop the tightly-bunched division and they are winning without having their QB, Brian Hoyer, posting “legendary numbers”. What Hoyer does is win games with efficiency; against the Bengals, he was 15 for 23 for 198 yards. Everyone is talking up Bruce Arians as the Coach of the Year – and I have no quarrel with Arians and the job he is doing in Arizona. Nonetheless, I do think that someone needs to mention Mike Pettine and the job he is doing in Cleveland when those conversations happen.

Meanwhile, the Bengals are in second place in the AFC North a half game behind the Browns but the schedule ahead is not very kind to the Bengals. Their next three games are all on the road at New Orleans, at Houston and at Tampa. Then the last 4 games of the season in December are:

    Vs Pittsburgh
    At Cleveland
    Vs Denver
    At Pittsburgh

The Bengals need to root for Denver to have the #1 seed in the playoffs locked up by the time the Broncos get on the plane to go to Cincy…

The Baltimore Ravens are in last place in the AFC North with a 6-4 record; they took care of business against the Titans last week winning 21-7. The Titans started Zach Mettenberger at QB and he looked good on the first couple of drives in the game. However, there was a stretch in the middle of the game where the Titans had 8 possessions ending in 8 punts. That is bad but here is what is worse:

    On those 8 drives that ended in punts, the Titans’ total yardage on the drives was 5 yards.

The Steelers are also 6-4 in the AFC North – with all the teams over .500 maybe it should be the Lake Woebegone Division where everyone is slightly above average. Last week, the Steelers looked anything but “above average”; they tossed in a real clunker losing to the Jets 20-13. The Steelers gave the impression that all they needed to do to win this game was to show up for the coin toss. That did not happen. The Steelers get the Titans this week on MNF and the Titans are not a good team either. The Steelers have to stop their habit of playing down to the competition. After all, the Steelers have lost to the Jets and to the Bucs this year and the combined record for those teams is 3-16. Two of those three wins have come at the expense of the Steelers!

Here in the DC area, we got to see the Cowboys beat the Jags in London 31-17. To my eyes, this game was not nearly this close. There is an old joke about the difference between an optimistic child and a pessimistic child. Put both kids in a room 4 feet deep in horses[p]it. The pessimistic kid will just sit there and bemoan his fate while the optimistic kid will start digging in the mess because he figures there has to be a pony in there somewhere.

Here is “the pony” for the Jax Jags from that game:

    The Jags have been to London to play more than a couple of times. In this game, they led the Cowboys 7-3 midway through the first quarter.

    That is the first time the Jags have had the lead in any of their London Games.

Progress comes in small steps…

I would much rather have had the DC station choose to air the Lions/Dolphins game. Those are two good teams and they played a game that went down to the wire with the Lions winning 20-16. In the last 3 weeks, the Lions have won 3 games by a total of 6 points. The Dolphins’ loss of LT Brandon Albert is significant. The Buffalo/Miami game tonight could be an important one.

The Bills lost to the Chiefs last week leaving them in a tie with the Dolphins for second place in the AFC East with both teams in the race for a wildcard slot. The Bills won the first game between these two teams back in Week 2 so a win for the Bills tonight would give them the head-to-head advantage in terms of tiebreakers. However, a loss for the Bills tonight would give them an extra loss in the division and would give them their 5th loss in the conference. That does not give them a good tiebreaker position relative to a team other than the Dolphins.

Looking at the Bills’ loss to the Chiefs last week, they sacked Alex Smith 6 times in that game. Usually, a team recording 6 sacks wins the game…

The Chiefs have yet to allow a rushing TD this year; if I have added correctly, the Chiefs’ opponents have run the ball 224 times without crossing the goal line. That statistic will be under duress this weekend when the Chiefs play the Seahawks.

The Seahawks ran the ball for 350 yards against the Giants last week. Watching the game, I would not have flinched if they had flashed a screen graphic saying it was 450 yards. This game was tied 17-17 in the fourth quarter and the final score was Seahawks 38 Giants 17. The Giants gave up 157 yards on the ground in the 4th quarter alone; it was simply a mismatch. I remain unconvinced that the Seahawks have a WR corps that is anything but ordinary, but they sure did run the ball well last week…

The Falcons got their third win of the season last week beating the Bucs 27-17. Two of those three wins have come over the hapless Bucs. Oy vey! In the sorry-assed NFC South, the three-win Falcons are exactly 1 game out of first place. Oy vey! The Bucs’ running attack was stymied by the ultra-porous Falcons’ defense; the Bucs’ leading rusher was QB, Josh McCown with 39 yards. Yowza!

The Niners beat the Saints in OT after Jimmy Graham was flagged for offensive interference on a Hail Mary pass at the end of regulation time. Let me just say the call was controversial. What the result did was to keep the Niners in the playoff picture and it left the Saints atop the sorry-assed NFC South with a 4-5 record.

The Saints’ defense had better get itself ready to face some power running attacks. The next three weeks will pit the Saints against the Bengals, the Ravens and the Steelers. After that however, the Saints have a pillow-soft schedule in December with this quartet of games:

    Vs Carolina
    At Chicago
    Vs Atlanta
    At Tampa

As of this morning, the combined record for those 4 teams is 10-26-1.

In case anyone thinks I am being too harsh on the teams in the NFC South, I believe I have done the addition correctly here.

    The NFC South record against teams outside the NFC South is 5-19-1.

I think that is the definition of “sorry-assed”.

The Cards beat the Rams last week but they also lost QB Carson Palmer for the season with a torn ACL in the same knee he had ligament surgery on a couple of years ago. Bruce Arians says he is confident the Cards can win the Super Bowl with Drew Stanton as their QB; what else is he supposed to say? I do think that the Cards have a good chance of missing Carson Palmer somewhere down the road this season. The Cards lead the NFC West by 2 full games with an 8-1 record. The last time the Cards were 8-1:

    It was 1948.
    They were the Chicago Cardinals – before St. Louis and Arizona.
    They went to the NFL championship game that year.
    They lost to the Eagles in a blizzard.

The Cards have a game with the Lions this week, a game against the Chiefs, a game against the Niners and two games against the Seahawks upcoming. Unlike the Saints, the Cards are not going to coast into the playoffs.

The Eagles ran their record to 7-2 demolishing the Panthers on MNF 45-21. The game was not that close; the Panthers scored two meaningless late TDs against a lot of defenders who typically play one or two snaps a game. The Panthers’ pass protection was more of a rumor than a fact; the Eagles had 9 sacks in this game.

The Raiders had the lead over the Broncos early in the game. Then the Broncos got 5 TDs on 5 consecutive possessions and the final score was 41-17. That outcome could not have been a surprise to anyone other than the gentle folk who dress up in Skeletor costumes to sit in the Black Hole. In terms of offensive novelty, Raiders QB, Derek Carr completed a pass to offensive lineman, Khalif Barnes. Of course, that is an illegal forward pass and there was a flag on the play – but the penalty was declined. The reason is that Barnes fumbled the ball and the Broncos recovered his fumble after his illegal reception. Only in Oakland…

By the way, the Raiders ran the ball 15 times last week for all of 30 yards against the Broncos. Just to be clear, that stinks!

The Games:

Teams with a Bye Week:

    Ravens gearing up for a playoff run.
    Cowboys gearing up for a playoff run.
    Jags hoping to win a second game.
    Jets hoping for a moment’s peace from the NY tabloids.

(Thurs Nite) Buffalo at Miami – 5.5 (42): This is one of several important games this week (see above) and it could to be a good one. Statistically, these teams are pretty much the same thing with a thin edge to the Dolphins. The Bills’ RB, Fred Jackson, is still listed as questionable for this game; he will be welcomed back by Bills’ fans. The Dolphins had better have a ready sub for Brandon Albert because the Bills can rush the QB. The Dolphins have to like the fact they are at home for this game; as of this morning, there was light snow in Buffalo and the temperature there tonight is supposed to be below freezing. Purely a venue call, I’ll take the Dolphins and lay the points.

Houston at Cleveland – 3 (41.5): The Texans had a week off and they have chosen to change from Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB to Ryan Mallett. The Texans record is 4-5; while that does not put them at the head of the class in terms of wildcard playoff slots, it is also not disqualifying. [Aside: I know that the Texans’ coaching staff has to look back at the loss to Jax and realize how much better their playoff position would be if that were a win.] I am not a Ryan Fitzpatrick fan, but the QB change here seems strange. Mallett spent time watching Tom Brady play in New England as did Brian Hoyer – and as did Matt Cassell by the way. Maybe being a New England benchwarmer is a stepping-stone to being an NFL QB? The Browns are at home, are on top of their division needing a win to stay there and are riding a 3-game win streak. I’ll take the Browns and lay the points.

Minnesota at Chicago – 3 (46): The Bears are last in the NFC North; the Vikes are 1 game ahead of the Bears in the standings. This game contends for the ignominy of “Weak Game of the Week”; but as it is a division game, it gets nudged out by one lower on the card. The Bears are winless at home this year and they have given up 50+ points in consecutive games. I know this will shock you, but both of those games were losses. Even though the Vikes had last week off to prep for this division game, there is no way to cook the books and make them seem like some kind of juggernaut. The Vikes rely on a strong defense to keep them in games and on their offense not to “screw the pooch”. I cannot bring myself to lay points with the Bears given the state of their defense and their lackadaisical play. I’ll take the Vikes plus the points here. I was tempted to take the Vikes on the money line here but there is no value there this morning with the Vikes at only +135.

Philly at Green Bay – 6 (54.5): The Packers opened as only 3.5 point favorites but I think the fact that everyone saw them disembowel the Bears on Sunday Night Football drove the line up. This is one of four really good games this week. The Eagles need win to stay on top of the NFC East; the Packers need a win because they trail the Lions by a game in the NFC North. You may be surprised to know that the Eagles’ offense averages 33 yards per game more than the Packers’ offense. I would not have guessed that. The two defenses are statistically the same; the Eagles are 10th in the NFC and the Packers are 11th in the NFC. The Eagles have a short week plus traveling to navigate here. I think that gives the Packers the edge. I’ll take the Pack at home to win and cover.

Seattle at KC – 1 (42): The lines for this game are all over the place. The Seahawks opened the week as a 1-point favorite. That did not last long at all. As of this morning, you can find the Chiefs as much as a 2.5-point favorite down to the game as “pick ‘em”. The line here represents the spread offered at more sportsbooks than any other. This is a second really good game on the card this weekend. Both teams are in second place in their division; often, cross conference games are of lower priority for teams – but not this time. The Seahawks have won 3 in a row; the Chiefs have won 4 in a row. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Chiefs and lay the point.

Atlanta at Carolina – 1.5 (46.5): Here is another contender for “Weak Game of the Week”; the fact that it is a division game keeps it from achieving that label. Neither team is any good; let me be clear about that. Nevertheless, in the sorry-assed NFC South, the winner here could wind up in first place – or tied for first place – as of Sunday night. Yes, the Falcons won last week but it was a win over the Bucs for Heaven’s sake; it should only count as half a win. The Panthers looked downright awful against the Eagles on Monday night. Do not bet on this game; if you have the option, do not watch this game. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the game to stay UNDER.

Cincy at New Orleans – 7.5 (50.5): The spread opened the week at 5.5 points and has climbed steadily during the week for reasons I do not understand. You can find the spread as high as 8 points at a couple of Internet sportsbooks this morning. The Saints with their 4-5 record lead the NFC South. If they lose here, the best they can be is tied for first in that sorry-assed division. The Bengals are half a game behind the Browns in the AFC North and half a game ahead of the Ravens and Steelers. The Bengals were flat-out awful against the Browns last week; the Saints took the Niners to OT. I think the Bengals are the more “desperate” team here because the tightness of the AFC wildcard race means that tie game on their record against the Panthers could come back to haunt them in December. The Saints can look forward to their cupcake schedule in December (see above) as a path to the playoffs. I like the Bengals plus the points here and I like this game to go OVER.

Tampa at Washington – 7 (45): Here is the “Weak Game of the Week”. Both teams are in last place in their division; each one has demonstrated a sound capability to invent ways to lose games. The difference in this game is the comparison of the two defenses. The Skins allow about 60 yards per game less than the Bucs and the Skins allow about 5 points per game less than the Bucs. In a “Hold Your Nose Special”, I’ll take the Skins to win and cover at home.

Denver – 9.5 at St. Louis (51): This line opened the week at 8 points. This morning you can find it at 10 points at a couple of sportsbooks. There are reports that the Rams will change QBs and start Shaun Hill this week over Austin Davis; considering that the Denver QB will be Peyton Manning, it makes little difference if one is trying to make a QB comparison. The Rams’ defense is improving as the season goes on; recall that they sacked Colin Kaepernick 8 times a couple of weeks ago. I do not think the Rams will win here, but that line looks fat. I’ll take the Rams plus the points and I’ll take the game to go OVER.

SF – 4 at Giants (44): The Giants have lost 4 games in a row and have not looked particularly good in doing so. The Niners are a full 3 games behind the division leading Cardinals and trail the Cowboys, Packers and Seahawks in the wildcard race. The Niners clearly need this game more than the Giants do – unless you put a lot of weight on “needing a game to enhance one’s self-esteem”. The Niners do have to travel across three time zones and have a 1:00 PM kickoff to contend with here. That is about all the Giants have going for them in this game. I like the Niners to win and cover and I like the game to go OVER.

Oakland at San Diego – 11 (44.5): This spread opened up at 9 points and has moved steadily upward as the week went on. One Internet sportsbook has it at 11.5 this morning. The Raiders are 16th in the AFC in total offense and 13th in the AFC in total offense; that ought to suggest to you why the Raiders’ record stands at 0-9 and why they have been outscored by 106 points this year. The Chargers may have Ryan Matthews back at RB this week; as of this morning, he is listed as “questionable” but that is better than anything in the past month or so. Look, the Raiders stink; there is no denying that. However, this is a division game and that is a double-digit spread. For mythical purposes only, I’ll take the Raiders plus the points.

Detroit at Arizona – 1.5 (41): Here is the third of four really good games on the card this weekend. Both teams lead their division; both teams have survived injuries to key offensive players (Calvin Johnson for the Lions and Carson Palmer for the Cards); both teams can legitimately think about a bye week in the playoffs or even home field advantage through the playoffs. In fact, the winner of this game will have the head-to-head advantage for things of that nature. Arizona is undefeated at home; the Lions are playing much better on the road this year than they normally do with a 3-1 record. Make this a venue call; I like the Cards to win and cover.

(Sun Nite) New England at Indy – 3 (57.5): Here is the fourth of four really good games for the week – and I think this is the “Game of the Week”. Both teams lead their division by 2 full games. The Pats hold a head-to-head advantage over the Broncos for playoff seeding purposes; they would like to cement their positioning with a win here. The Pats have won 5 in a row after starting out the season at 2-2 and hearing cries that they were on the downswing because Tom Brady was washed up. I believe the correct utterance today in response to all of that would be:

    Yeah! Right…!

Look at that Total Line. You are not going to see many games with a higher number than that in the NFL. The Colts are very tough at home. A win here would give them the same record as the Pats plus give the Colts the tiebreaker for venue in the playoffs. This is a game you do not want to miss. Here are two opposing trends for the game:

    Colts are 8-2 in their last 10 games ATS when they are the favorite.
    Pats are 8-2 in their last 10 games ATS when they are the underdog.

    Something’s got to give…

I like the Colts at home to win and cover and – despite the high Total Line – I like the game to go OVER.

(Mon Nite) Pittsburgh – 5.5 at Tennessee (46.5): The Steelers are inconsistent to say the least. The Titans are not very good to say the least. The Steelers are not nearly as good on the road as they are at home. The Titans are only 1-3 at home so they are not so good despite the venue. Given the tight NFC North standings, the Steelers cannot afford a loss here but you never know which Steelers’ team will show up to take the field. However, you can count on the Titans showing up and being less than wonderful. I’ll take the Steelers to win and cover – even on the road.

Finally, I had a comment from Mike Ditka in the Chicago Sun-Times above with regard to the Bears’ performance. In the same report, Ditka was commenting on the fact that Bears’ coach Marc Trestman’s daughters were harassed on various social media after the debacle against the Packers on national TV. Mike Ditka minced no words with his assessment of that situation:

“First of all, the people that do this are gutless. That’s why they do it in social media—so they can hide. They’re cowards; they hide behind things. They don’t come out in public. They’re not going to knock on your door and say, ‘Hey, this is what I think.’ They have to do it by innuendo and through [social] media. These people are all cowards. That’s what social media allows you to do—you don’t have to meet the person face to face, all you have to do is say what you want to say. That’s why I say it’s a cowardly thing.

“In my time, did I see it? No. Now, we had writers who weren’t favorable toward me or the team at times, but they had a right to say what they wanted to. But that was different. This is malicious. These people ought to be rounded up and kicked right in their ass.”

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