NFL power poll
New Orleans (11-2). Sunday's second-half turnaround could have very easily saved the Saints' Super Bowl shot. After playing its worst game of the season at Dallas in Week 12, New Orleans was down 14-3 at the half Sunday at Tampa Bay, facing the elements, the Bucs and quite most dangerously, the doubt of whether they were home hit and road charade. A 25-0 second-half response coupled with the Rams' Sunday night stinker, gives the Saints the top spot in the poll and the inside track toward home-field advantage in the playoffs with three games to play.
Los Angeles (11-2). Yes, the Rams dropped a floater in the punch bowl Sunday night against a terrific Bears defense. It also was in the mid-20s and the vertical Rams' attack was confused and corralled. The biggest question — and we have been among the camp that has routinely said this jet-fueled offense was more because of the coach than the quarterback — was why did the Rams abandon the run. Todd Gurley's 11 carries and 14 touches were the fewest in each category of the season. Coincidence? I think not.
Kansas City (11-2). OK, this Mahomes kid is doing nuts, crazo things friends. His arm strength is unavoidably amazing. His decision-making and confidence are inspiring. And his production is off-the-charts. OK, ready for this: With three games left — and the Chiefs needing to win at least two to clinch home-field advantage in the AFC — Mahomes has 4,300 passing yards and 43 TDs. He is averaging 330.8 passing yards per game, so at that average, he will get to 5,292 this season. That would be the third best single-season passing total ever. He is averaging a little better than 3.3 TDs per game, and at that average, he would finish with right at 53 TD passes. That would be the second-most in a season ever. Did we mention that the kid had all of one career start before the 2018 season opener? Sorry Drew Brees, the MVP is the gunslinger in Kansas City.
New England (9-4). If you are a Pats fan, the last-second, 69-yard, double-lateral TD or why was Gronk on the field are no better than your third or fourth concern this morning. No. 1 has to be the two-game gap between the Pats and the Chiefs and the importance of home-field advantage in the playoffs considering that a) New England is 6-0 at home and 3-4 on the road this year; and b) in the postseason in Foxboro, the Pats are 11-1 in their last 12, including nine straight wins, and are 19-3 since the 2001 season in home playoff games. (In case you are wondering, the Brady-Belichick Pats are 3-4 in true road postseason games.) Speaking of Tom Brady, that sequence right before the half with the ball at the Dolphins' 10 with 10 seconds left and no timeouts and Brady took a sack when the only thing he could not do was take a sack was so Blake Bortles of Tim Brady it had to serve as some kind of precursor for a surreal ending. And if you get a 3 there, well, do the math on the importance of that in a 34-33 last-play loss.
Dallas (8-5). Yes, there are teams with better defenses. (Sorry, Chicago.) Yes, there are teams with better records not on this list. (Sorry, L.A. Chargers.) But these Cowboys may be the most balanced sides in the NFL. Yes, almost every time we preach the NFL postulate of you are what your record says you are. But these Cowboys — yes, THESE Cowboys — have Amari Cooper and the Amari Cooper Cowboys are 5-1. That has to account for something. Cooper in six games with the Raiders this year: 22 catches on 32 targets, 280 yards, one touchdown; Cooper in six games with the Cowboys: 40 catches on 53 targets, 642 yards, six touchdowns.
Jacksonville (4-9). Yes there are other 4-9 misfits but we're giving the edge to the underachievers rather than just the stinky. So here you go, one of the most talented defenses in the league front to back and 4-9 is all the Jags can muster. On the bright side, in the projected draft order as of now (listed below), unless the Raiders decide to cut bait with Derek Carr, the Jags and the failed Blake Bortles/Cody Kessler experiment figure to be the worst-finishing team desperately searching for quarterback. The other teams 4-9 or worse all have either a first-round rookie from 2018 or a nine-figure quarterback like Jimmy GQ in San Fran or Matt Ryan in...
Atlanta (4-9). Five straight losses are more than injuries friends. Especially when you consider that among that list was a very mediocre Cleveland team and a struggling Dallas team and a Green Bay bunch that whipped you a week after firing their head coach. And as we are wondering whether this bunch has phoned it in — and again, tanking for better pick positioning parlays as the prudent play people — that's three straight losses and four of the five by double digits. Have to wonder what those crow numbers will be for the home finale Sunday against those pesky Arizona Cardinals.
Arizona and San Francisco (3-10). These NFC West cellar-dwellers have really been joined at the hip all season, right? So here they are hovering right there at the bottom. And while we all may be fascinated with the top spot in the power poll, how about that race for the No. 1 overall draft pick, huh? The three teams at 3-10 — Oakland is the other — had improbable wins in the last nine days. Arizona won at Green Bay in Week 12 and San Fran beat Denver and Oakland beat Pittsburgh last Sunday. The first tie-breaker in determining the draft order is strength of schedule, and since we are talking about stinking, the weaker the strength of schedule (done by winning percentage of all opponents and in parenthesis below) the better. If the season ended right now, the top 7 picks next spring would come in this order:
San Francisco (.529)
Atlanta (4-9 and .493)
New York Jets (4-9 and .502)
Buffalo (4-9 and .529)
Jacksonville (4-9 and .546)
San Fran has lost twice to Arizona and is 0-4 in the NFC, and division record is also in the tie-breaking hierarchy.
Oakland (3-10). Well, anyone wondering who has the stamp on every Raiders decision moving forward after GM Reggie McKenzie was walked to the curb last week? Yep, every move moving forward will go through the poobah in charge and his name sounds a lot like Lon Kruden. And while the Raiders have the same record as the two bumbling bums from the NFC West, check out this wide array of needs for Gruen's Gang: Oakland is 29th in the league in points scored and 31st in points allowed. Considering there are 32 NFL teams, that's a level of dominating futility that few can match.
Bowl clock is ticking
You know the drill. Also, please email your entry to email@example.com. Thanks and good luck.
The rules are simple. Please submit your picks before Dec. 15. (That's this Saturday, Spy.) One entry per person. Feel free to share with friends and family. We are picking the games against the spreads listed below. If there's massive line movement between now and kickoff time, well, that's part of the charm of Bowling for Bowls of Bowl Game Success (Bowler optional).
Also, a correct pick gets those points; no lost points for incorrect picks. We will do all the bowl games so that everyone has at least some tangental interest in every game.
And since there is no hat required, let's remain casual and enjoy the process. (Copyright Nick Saban.)
One-point games (max of 6 points)
Autonation Cure Bowl: Tulane (-3.5) vs. Louisiana
New Mexico Bowl: Utah State (-9.5) vs. Texas State
Las Vegas Bowl: Fresno State (-4.5) vs. Arizona State
Camellia Bowl: Georgia Southern (-1.5) vs. Eastern Michigan
New Orleans Bowl: App State (-7.5) vs. MTSU
Boca Raton Bowl: UAB (-1.5) vs. Northern Illinois
Two-point games (max of 14 points)
Frisco Bowl: San Diego State (-3.5) vs. Ohio
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: Marshall (-1.5) vs. South Florida
Bahamas Bowl: FIU (-5.5) vs. Toledo
Idaho Potato Bowl: BYU (-11.5) vs. Western Michigan
Birmingham Bowl: Memphis (-4.5) vs. Wake Forest
Armed Forces Bowl: Army (-3.5) vs. Houston
Dollar General Bowl: Buffalo vs Troy, pick 'em
Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii (-1.5) vs. La. Tech
Three-point games (max of 21 points)
First Responder Bowl: Boise State (-3.5) vs. Boston College
Quick Lane Bowl: Georgia Tech (-4.5) vs. Minnesota
Cheez-It Bowl: California vs. TCU, pick 'em
Independence Bowl: Temple (-3.5) vs. Duke
Pinstripe Bowl: Miami (-3.5) vs. Wisconsin
Academy Sports & Outdoors Texas Bowl: Vandy (-3.5) vs. Baylor
Arizona Bowl: Arkansas State (-1.5) vs. Nevada
Four-point games (max of 28 points)
Camping World Bowl: West Virginia (-4.5) vs. Syracuse
Alamo Bowl: Washington State (-3.5) vs. Iowa State
Belk Bowl: South Carolina (-3.5) vs. Virginia
Military Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech, pick 'em
Sun Bowl: Stanford (-6.5) vs. Pittsburgh
Red Box Bowl: Oregon (-2.5) vs. Michigan State
Holiday Bowl: Utah (-6.5) vs. Northwestern
Five-point games (max of 45 points)
Music City Bowl: Auburn (-3.5) vs. Purdue
Chick-Fil-A Bowl: Michigan (-7.5) vs. Florida
Liberty Bowl: Missouri (-7.5) vs. Oklahoma State
Gator Bowl: Texas A&M (-4.5) vs. NC State
Outback Bowl: Mississippi State (-6.5) vs. Iowa
Citrus Bowl: Penn State (-6.5) vs. Kentucky
Rose Bowl: THE Ohio State (-6.5) vs. Washington
Fiesta Bowl: LSU (-7.5) vs. UCF
Sugar Bowl: Georgia (-10.5) vs. Texas
Eight-point games (max of 16 points)
Cotton Bowl: Clemson (-11.5) vs. Notre Dame
Orange Bowl: Alabama (-13.5) vs. Oklahoma
For a 10 point bonus: (Pick the winner of the national championship; no spreads, just the winner).
If we need a tie-breaker going into the title game, we'll come up with one.
Butch Jones is back with a title.
After a year in intern exile, Jones, the former cliche-spewing UT boss, is following Mike Lockley to Maryland.
Reports have him as the tight ends coach and associate head coach.
It's really not a huge shock. Jones' record as a head coach at three stops is pretty impressive — he's a combined 84-54 at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and UT — and he's the latest to emerge from the baptismal coaching waters in Planet Saban washed clean of conflict, controversy and coaching conundrums.
Here's a Saban assessment of Butch from earlier this season: "Butch can't coach the player. He works hard in terms of assisting our coaches in planning and preparation. Butch is a very bright guy, and he's done a really good job of that. Basically what he does is assist Mike (Locksley) as much as possible and always gives me a little summary of things that he thinks we need to work on on offense and just from an overall view from a thousand feet type of thing, which has been very helpful."
While Tennessee fans are thinking, "Dang right Nick, he could never coach the players," that statement was because the on-field, working-with-the-players part of the Alabama staff was already full.
And in truth, Tennessee fans should be happy Butch has another gig, because whatever he makes in salary comes out of that monster buyout he gets from UT.
Because whatever Maryland agrees to pay him, Butch will continue to get that check with the Big Orange logo on it at the end of every month worth more than $206,000 until the end of February 2021.
(If you were Butch, wouldn't you tell Mike Locksley you'd take the bare minimum and use the rest of the assistant pool elsewhere? Locksley is making roughly $2.5 million per. Butch's buyout from UT pays him roughly $2.47 million per year minus whatever he makes at his new gig.)
This and that
— Leonard Fournette got into an altercation with a Tennessee fan last Thursday night. Here's more, and Fournette said racial slurs were yelled at him.
— According to Gene of Many Hats Henley, the TFP Sports Swiss Army Knife, the Chattanooga Red Wolves are going to have sponsored kilts for their fans. Yes kilts. And those kilts — the traditional Scottish attire that looks like dudes in dresses — will be sponsored by something called TransCard. I'm just going to let that one marinate right there.
— If you were wondering why Duke, Kansas and Tennessee were not on all 65 AP basketball poll ballots, well, here you go.
— Wow, tell us what you really think Dan Wetzel, who unloads on Hugh Freeze being hired at Liberty.
— And this is a nightmare for every parent. Family goes to Sonic for a burger. Their 11-year-old finds an ecstasy tab in her burger.
True or false Tuesday. We'll answer true to that one.
True or false, you'd still take the Pats over the field in the AFC.
True or false, it is an irrational thought based on previous events to take the Pats over the field in the AFC. (This is a New England team that has lost at Miami, at Detroit and got hammered in Nashville.)
True or false, there were at least three better candidates than Harold Baines on the ballot for the Today's Game Committee considering Steinbrenner, Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Orel Hershiser and Will Calrk were considered too.
As for today, Dec. 11, let's review.
Joe DiMaggio retired from baseball on this day in 1951.
John Kerry is 75 today.
The world's first penis transplant happened on this day in 2014.
Today is international mountain day.
Rushmore of mountains. Go.