There are scapegoats in football (if you are Emmitt Smith, they’re called escapegoats); folks who unfairly get the blame when things go bad. Last week, however, there were some clearly blameworthy parties. No need for the scape- prefix on them. They were just plain old goats. Let’s review a few and assign them a goat coefficient form 1-10, where 10 is total culpability in a loss beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Sean Payton called a reverse when the Saints were trying to burn time off the clock. Why? Why add an extra fumble opportunity? It wasn’t even an extra handoff; Reggie Bush tried to flip the ball to the wide-out like he was flicking a booger off his finger. Even if you ran straight up the middle and got zero yards on second and third down, you still get to punt it from midfield so you should be able to bury the enemy below their own 20 with less than two minutes left. The Bucs last three drives had ended with two punts and a safety, so you can have confidence in your defense to make the stop. Just pound the ball. Why get cute? Of course, I’m not complaining because I had Tampa Bay. Thanks, Sean.
Sean Payton: 8
Reggie Bush: 6
There are very few people who could be feeling as low as Joe Gibbs this week. I’m thinking he must be in the Greg-Norman-losing-the-Masters zone. A legend already, he returns to the NFL to find himself a mediocre coach in a world not of his making. His team is equally mediocre and no one in the organization can manage to find the players needed to excel. How foreign it must feel to him, and how depressing. Then, in what is perhaps the most emotional game of the season, he makes a thoroughly dumb-ass mistake (even I knew that rule) that likely cost his team the game. On top of that, it appears he wasn’t informed on the plan to line up with only 10 men on defense for the opening play, in memory of Sean Taylor. I understand the whole missing man idea, but the result was giving up 20+ yards. I’m not so sure Sean Taylor would have wanted them to be so cavalier about giving up yardage in his memory. I doubt Gibbs would have been either. The Skins really bungled this. It wasn’t even a noble loss; it just a degrading kick in the pistachios. This game should have been a statement and a rallying point. Instead, I can’t see how they recover their enthusiasm for the season after this.
Joe Gibbs: 9
By now, I hope enough has been said about Cleveland getting robbed. That was a key game for the Browns. Combined with a win from the Hated Titans, the loss evens them up in the race for the last wild card in the AFC (although I think the Browns still have the tie-breaker). Not only that, if they had won they would have been 8-4, one game behind the Steelers. The Steelers have a loss scheduled to the Patriots next week where as the Browns have the lame-ass Jets. They could have been tied for the division lead at the end of week 15. (OK not really, given the Steelers have won both head-to-head games, but allow me the added drama.) While it is certainly true that the Browns made more than enough mistakes along the way to justify losing, the fact is they fought through it with grit and determination only to get buggered by a zebra in the final play.
Zebra: 11 (10 for total culpability and 1 bonus point for pushing my money line picks into the red. You bastards!)
As for the Ravens, you gotta wonder if Brian Billick isn’t at risk of getting shot by his own troops. And history suggests that may be a real problem if Ray Lewis is one of those troops. They stuff Brady on fourth down only to have it nullified by a last second time out on their sideline. Just wow. That had to be a microcosm of the career of so many of the Ravens. You play above and beyond expectations but between the offense going dead and the coaches screwing the pooch, you end up taking a beatdown. If you think Bart Scott’s temper tantrum was solely the result of the game, you are kidding yourself. There are a lot of storied players on that defense and they are getting old. Ray Lewis put together a performance like he hasn’t had in years. You just saw the last gasp of half of a great team wasted.
Rex Ryan: 8 (for calling the last fateful timeout)
Brian Billick: 8 (for letting him)
Bart Scott: 4 (honorable mention because if they had overturned the game winning TD, his temper tantrum would have given the Pats first and goal from the two)
As for the Giants, well, you are at the Chicago 17 with about 2 minutes left in the game and you are down by 2. The obvious mission is to run the clock down as far as you can. Kick the chip shot field goal and let the Bears have the ball back with only a couple of desperate opportunities left. Instead, you throw a risky pass to the 2 yard line. The Bears last three possessions have ended in punts, so you know you can stop them once they get the ball back. Why would you risk a pass to the 2 yard line? Makes no sense. Tom Coughlin arffed that one but got away with it. Had the ball been intercepted (and I am told Eli has thrown an interception or two in his life) or the pass incomplete and the extra time provided by the clock stoppage enabled Chicago to win, Coughlin would have been as big a goat as the others. But the pass was caught and the Giants scored a TD on the next play to win, which is good because I needed them to win by at least three. Of course, no one will say it was a bad call. Your garden-variety sports talking head has a loose understanding of cause and effect, but the probabilistic nature of the universe is simply beyond their grasp.
Tom Coughlin: 7i (Where i equals the square root of -1, a number that cannot be represented in the world of rational numbers. Coughlin’s gaff only makes him a goat in the imaginary world where all people understand probability.)
Last minute update on the Giants: Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame wonders whether the final sequence in the Giants victory was all about the point spread. Since that is essentially an accusation of gambling, I would be careful. It worked out for me because I laid the points but, hmmm…
4-3 versus in the spread brings us to 23-12-2, or $5030 returned from an outlay of $4070 for a $960 gain. The money line was down this week thanks to the inane officiating in Cleveland. Bear with me; I will be bitter about this for a while. A loss of $132.37 cuts our annual profit down to $886.08.
Spread Picks (spreadsheet)
The only thing remotely resembling a misidentified favorite is the Eagles giving 3 to the visiting Giants, but that’s only after we give Philly the benefit of the home field advantage. There’s no way I can see to call this one. I’m sure the money line formula will select the Giants. Pass.
Then next closest thing is San Diego even up with Tennessee. You know I hate attributing success to a single player, but there was a shocking change with the return of Albert Haynesworth (similar to Bob Sanders return to the Colts at the end of last year) to the Titans defense. DVOA says San Diego is a stronger team, but Tennessee’s numbers are still going be weighted towards the games when “Riverdance” was out, and the Chargers have a proven ability to throw up a stinker. Besides, the money line formula will almost certainly pick San Diego so I’ll have no choice when we get there. Pass.
Well, well, well. Doesn’t that team I’m not writing about look beatable these days? We all forget that that pro football is a game of adjustments and match-ups (and by we I mean me). Little by little, teams are staring to figure out how to get to them. A solid running game and heavily-varied zone blitz packages can keep you in the game. Sound like the Steelers to you? Things are getting interesting. Look, they needed to mount major comebacks to beat the Eagles and the Ravens. The Steelers are significantly better than each of those teams — even better than the Ravens on D. Pittsburgh can loaf from time to time, but if you can’t get it up to play Pats, when can you? Pick: Pittsburgh +11
Likewise, Indy is giving 10 to the Ravens. With the Ravens home and angry I gotta assume they can stay with the Colts just like they did the Pats. Pick: Baltimore +10
The Chiefs and the stinkin’ Broncos are roughly equivalent in DVOA. The Broncos will be at home in the thin air, but is that enough to justify 7 points? Home field is usually considered worth only 3-ish. Pick: Kansas City +7
I can’t really see any other spreads that are too high. Of the spreads that are too low, the one that really sticks out is the Rams getting 6.5 in Cincinnati. The Bengals seem lamer than they are at 4-8. Over at Football Outsiders they maintain a statistic called Estimated Wins which calculates the amount of wins a league-average team would have if it had performed in the same way in DVOA, consistency, and a few key stats such as red zone defense and performance when the score is close, etc. The Bengals estimated wins are at 7.1. So if the average team had put up the Bengals performance this year, you could expect them to be at 7-5 and in the playoff hunt. No wonder they are frustrated. Maybe this is payback for being such a pack of miscreants. Karma is a bitch, but the Rams are 31st in DVOA. Pick: Cincinnati -6.5
The Browns had a bad game last week, but they had a ref lose it for them. (OK, I’ll stop harping on that now.) They are only giving 3 at the Jets. The only thing that makes me hesitate is that the Browns front office personnel have all put “questionable – knee” into MS Word autotext for expediency. But Cleveland knows that the wild card race is tenuous, and games against teams like the Jets have to be won. Pick: Cleveland -3
Lastly, I am going to do something I loathe. I am going to lay double digits. Twice. The Raiders are visiting the frozen tundra and that reeks of disaster for Al Davis’ disembodied brain in a jar. The Pack can lock up the division with a win, then lock up 2nd seed next week against the Rams. You don’t think they would cherish the opportunity to cruise the last couple of games (assuming Dallas doesn’t disintegrate and give them a shot at first seed)? Their season closer against the Detroit may be the best chance the Lions have to win another game. Pick: Green Bay -10.5
Speaking of the Lions, they are going to get demolished. They are what we thought they were: really bad. Plus, the Cowboys have manufactured a revenge situation having something to do with John “10 wins” Kitna’s comments about the Dallas linebackers last time they played. Plus plus, having seen the Pats just squeaking by, don’t you think they want to just trounce a team by 40 to prove a point. Pick: Dallas -10
Money Picks (spreadsheet)
A rather anemic list this week. Only five games, including the expected selection of San Diego and the Giants. I’m sure there is meaning in that, but I don’t know what it is.
Point Spread Picks
Kansas City +7
Green Bay -10.5
Money Line Picks
Tampa Bay $66.67
New York Giants $130
San Diego $90.91
Kansas City $240
If these picks don’t work out, I’m sure to have someone to blame. The NFL is an endless herd.