NFL power poll
Final weekend of the regular season. Where did the season go? Seriously.
OK, yes, our NFL picks are mired in a 2-2 haze. Seriously, we have done that at least eight consecutive weeks, going from 15-16-1 to 31-32-1. Man we are more regular than a toddler after an Ex-Lax cookie.
So, with the playoff picture in pretty clear focus, and with whispers of this team sitting some dudes, well, the NFL picks are for a later day this week.
Today is the power poll, and we've included the odds form the Westgate SuperBook on winning the Super Bowl in parenthesis.
1. New England (9/5). Yes, the Patriots are less than a 2-to-1 pick and that's with not having secured home-field advantage in the AFC yet. And in a classic Belichick-is-better-than-the-rest move, the Patriots likely only have to be worried about one team in the AFC, right? (C'mon, you think Blake Bortles or Alex Smith is going into Foxboro and winning? Yeah, right.) That team of course is Pittsburgh, and Belichick and the Pats just signed recently released James Harrison from the Steelers. Who better to offer insight into everything Steelers than Harrison.
2. Pittsburgh (9/2). The first-round bye was critical for the these Steelers, who could still snatch homefield with a win Sunday and a Pats loss. As for the extra time, the simple truth is the need for Antonio Brown on that offense is huge. And the more time off he gets to heal that calf injury, the better.
3. Los Angeles (9/1). Yes, the Eagles have homefield in the NFC, but Rams are playing balanced and with power. As for the teams that are the biggest surprise in the eyes of the bookmakers, the Rams are clearly that. There were five teams listed at 100-to-1 to win the Super Bowl before the season. The Rams were in that group; the other four were winless Cleveland, a San Francisco team that was winless before Jimmy G arrived, the overachieving Jets and the Chicago Bears.
4. New Orleans (7/1). Yes, a team that could very well be a wildcard qualifier and would have to win three road games just to get there is this high. And we almost put them over the Rams, but L.A. has Aaron Donald and no defensive player in the league individually affects offenses more than Donald does. That said, if the Rams were in terrible preseason company in Vegas' views, the Saints were among the four teams at 80-to-1 to win the Super Bowl, which was the second worst odds on the board. Amazingly, all four of those longshots are still alive in the playoff chase going into Sunday as Buffalo, L.A. Chargers and Jacksonville, which has already clinched the AFC South, were also 80-to-1 picks.
5. Minnesota (4/1). This is the NFC team the Vegas pros like the most, which is kind of scary considering they are without their starting quarterback and what could have been a short-list contender for offensive rookie of the year in Dalvin Cook. That's a credit to an impressive roster that despite having only three Pro Bowl picks, has been excellent all year. (Side note: How safety Harrison Smith is not a Pro Bowler is beyond us.)
Powerless (with preseason odds to win the Super Bowl in parenthesis)
28. Denver (20/1). Yes, we think this team is amazingly flawed, and man doesn't it really look like the Broncos are bound and determined to pick Josh Allen (aka a huge risk of being Paxton Lynch 2.0) with the 8th pick in next spring's draft? Is there a bigger question about this season in terms of results than how in the world did this bunch decimate the Cowboys 42-17 in week 2 as part of a 3-1 start? Since that start, the Broncos have two wins — over the Colts and the Jets, who are a combined 7-23.
29. Tampa Bay (40/1). Man, we have asked on the radio about what should we make of Marcus Mariota. When do those questions fall on Jameis Winston, and his 'W-eating' traits? Winston's numbers are not terrible — he's completing 65 percent of his throws this year, but he has turned it over 15 times (eight picks, seven lost fumbles, including three last Sunday in a loss against Carolina) — in his 12 games this season. But also know this, the Bucs are 4-11 overall, and Winston missed three games. Two of those wins came in games Winston missed. How those 'Ws' tasting now.
30. Indianapolis (25/1). This will be an interesting offseason and draft for the Colts. If we are to assume that Andrew Luck is going to return, does that potentially save coach Chuck Pagano? Hard to know. But if Luck is healthy and you have to expect the Browns and the Giants to look long and hard at a QB, that means the Colts could have the blessing of having the top pick of non-QB players in all of college football. Here's what we know about draft order: Cleveland has clinched the No. 1 pick. The Giants are 2-13; Indy is 3-12, so depending on how Sunday plays out, that could come down to tie-breakers. For the Colts, though, this is the best example in recent NFL history, that Indy simply has to lose. Has to. The Colts are 3-12 with two teams at 4-11. One of those teams is the Bucs, which likely will lose to the Saints on Sunday. The other is division rival Houston, which plays the Colts on Sunday. An Indy loss would make both Houston and the Colts 4-12, and two of the Colts wins would be over the Texans. A win Sunday, and the Colts could drop two spots in every round of next springs draft. That's significant.
31. New York Giants (25/1). The football version of the wheels coming off, and they did so at head-turning speed. Know this: There were some folks who thought these Giants were a playoff team and a title contender. Now, the coach has been fired, the GM has been fired, the starting quarterback who is headed to Canton is likely on his way out with a first-round replacement on the way, the team's best player — safety Landon Collins — is calling teammates cancers, and their pets' heads are falling off. (OK, that lost happened to Lloyd and Harry but you get the idea.) At least the New York media has a way of making tough times easier with subtly and discretion, right?
32. Cleveland (100/1). Interesting side twist to Sunday's season-finale against Pittsburgh. At the end of last season, Browns coach Hue Jackson said there's absolutely no way this year's team would match last year's 1-15 mark. He even said that if they did he would go jump in Lake Erie. Well, coach, about that. A win Sunday would make the Browns 1-15. And Sunday's projected high in Cleveland is 14. Projected low is 4. Yeah, maybe a loss to the Steelers wouldn't be all that bad.
Who wants picks?
Well, there's that. After a much-publicized and highly criticized start to the bowl game picking season, we're back on even footing.
We started bagel-and-4 on a bloody Saturday. We have rolled to a 6-2 mark with a pair of wins yesterday picking against back-up quarterbacks. After that first installment finished 1-4 (War Lane Kiffin) we went 5-2 on our second round.
That makes us 6-6 against the number, meaning we survived the lesser known bowls and the games that truly swing on motivated sides and coaching changes. (Visor tip to Mark F. for the correction. We lost two picks on Saturday, not one. That's how sweep Tuesday got us back to even. Still a little bitter about the 24 points in the last five minutes to blow out the total.)
As for our original points of fringe motivation and coaching carousel, here's proof: Until Duke topped Northern Illinois on Tuesday, the Group of Five teams were 2-0 against Power Five teams. Also, teams that have had a head coaching change are 0-3 so far in bowl games. So there's that.
And to combine the two, let's explore the FSU-Southern Miss game in something called the Walk-On Bowl. This one plays into both those caveats, right? USM playing with a chip on its shoulder against a roster of FSU dudes who likely did not even open recruiting letters from Hattiesburg. There's also the coaching turmoil in this one with the change at FSU.
So we should be all over Southern Miss, right, especially getting more than two scores?
Well, here's the thing. We truly believe this game goes one of two ways and the points are generally meaningless. Either FSU wins by three-plus scores or USM wins the game outright.
Anyhoo, with more and more games starting to fill more and more ESPN portals, we thought, "Hey goofy, why not throw out a rare Wednesday Fab 4 picks?"
Yeah, why not indeed. (And yes, if we get a chance to bet against back-up quarterbacks moving forward, we're all for it.)
So with that, we will post around lunchtime a new collection of Fab 4 picks as well as the updated standings of the Bowling for Bowls of Bowl Game Success (Bowler Optional).
Baseball stadium finances
Here's an interesting story from the Associated Press about the fallout of the first year of the new SunTrust Park, the Braves new stadium that was funded in large part by Cobb County taxpayers.
It is an interesting look at the finances and the likelihood that taxes are going to be raised in Cobb County to help the ends meet.
It's also an interesting lesson moving forward for folks in Chattanooga, since sooner rather than later we will be facing a decision about how much the city and county wants to help the owners of the Lookouts build a new ballpark.
Yes we thick AT&T is a fine place too, and love it's location. But gang, that ultimatum is coming from the Lookouts brass at some point. They do not love the stadium — especially its alignment to the setting sun — and it needs some work.
Plus, there are some powerful folks who love to put something different on Hawk Hill.
This is coming. It's a matter of when not if.
And then the matter becomes should.
Should the city and county spend a eight figures helping build a ballpark?
Not sure anyone can answer that until the plans are a little more set and lot more fiscally detailed.
We do know this: The Battery, the area of shops and restaurants and living spaces that are all around SunTrust, is cool and certainly help a offset the expense of the stadium that is almost exclusively for baseball. And apparently The Battery did not really come close to meeting expectations in the first year.
That's not good. For Cobb County or the people pitching the plans on the Southside in Chattanooga for a similar look at feel on a smaller scale.
We also know this: SunTrust is not alone, and the one-sport, one-team use of baseball facilities make them a tougher sell in our view for taxpayers. Take Mercedes-Benz for example.
Atlanta helped the Falcons out a ton on Mercedes Benz to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. But The Benz will have a Super Bowl, a Final Four, it will allow Atlanta the chance to lock-down the SEC title game and gives the ATL a spot in the college football playoff rotation.
Now add the multitude of big-name acts that fill domed stadiums and all the other things that can use that year-round, and that billion-dollar investment seems smarter than the hundreds of millions poured into a baseball stadium, right?
Anyhoo, we also know this about the stadium question facing Chattanooga: If the city elects not to help fund a new stadium, someone else will and the Lookouts will be more than happy to pack and go.
This and that
— Here's the NBA's review of the calls in the last two minutes of the Warriors' Christmas Day win over the Cavs. We offer that with no words or judgement. Just the NBA's self-evaluation that the refs missed three fouls committed by KD in the last two minutes and one foul committed by LeBron.
— Want to know why the Jags are a double-digit win team and have a home playoff game on tap next month? The biggest reason is they are heck on opposing quarterbacks, who have a season-long rating of 67.5 against the Jags. That number — crafted by pressure and two stout corners — is the lowest in the league.
— Speaking of the new-age defensive approach in today's NFL. Check out these stats that taint the old cliche of you have to stop the run to win: The Chargers are the worst defense against the run and they are 8-7; The Cardinals are the best defense against the run according to Football Outsiders and they 7-8; The Vikings have allowed the fewest TD passes and are 12-3; The Bucs have the fewest sacks and they are 4-11.
— Here's a lot of name-dropping with a little substance on some of the higher-profile commits that did not sign last week.
Hey, it's Dec. 27.
As for birthdays, well, Bill Goldberg is 51 today, and yes we thought he was older.
Nick Chubb is 22 today. Happy Birthday Nick.
Carrie Fisher died on this day last year. Wow. It was strange watching her crush it in the new Star Wars and knowing she is gone, right?
That said, we are running low on days of the year, and we need some help with some year-end sports suggestions.
As for a Rushmore, today, let's explore the top athletes of 2017. Go. And remember the mailbag.