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Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards (35) is upend by Buffalo Bills cornerback Kevin Johnson (29) during the second half of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

NFL Power Poll

The Patriots are mixed up in another videographer/Spygate/Deflategate/"Heaven's Gate"/ Swinging Gate/Bill Gates/and any other gate you can think of this week.

Nevermind the ever-growing whispers about the cracks in the facade of the dynasty as Tom Brady gets well into his 40s, his weapons are missing in action, and the ever-spoiled fans in Foxboro had the nerve to boo during Sunday's home loss against the Chiefs.

Forget all of those very real scenarios.

Allegedly the Patriots were advance scouting/videoing their next opponent and everyone is up in arms. New England is claiming it was part of its business side and for internet productions for fans. Bill Belichick said he knows nothing about any of this. OK.

Still, the last franchise that gets any wiggle room or benefit of the doubt is these Patriots. Hey, past actions — including the Spygate stuff in which they videoed the Rams' signals before the Super Bowl way back when — matter.

As Belichick was pulling his version of Sgt. Schultz — "I know nothing" — someone should have simply told the NFL's best coach in history to state the obvious.

"Guys," he could have said, "It's the bleeping Bengals. The Bengals. Do we really need to do that against Cincinnati?"

Like "Stardust" on the main stage, let's go to the polls and some sneaky important stats as we head into the final three weeks of the regular season.

Powerful

1. Baltimore (11-2). The Ravens have clinched the North and control the AFC order. Win out and the path to the Super Bowl goes through Baltimore. Key stat for Baltimore: The Ravens have become the best running team in the league, and the divide is eye-popping. Baltimore leads the NFL with 200.9 rushing yards per game, and the gap to No. 2 San Francisco (149.1 per) is the same as the gap between the 49ers and the Rams, who are 21st in the NFL with 99.4 rushing yards per game.

2. San Francisco (11-2). We mentioned this on Press Row, but you can make an argument that Jimmy G won the weekend. If this offense — which is second in rushing, remember — develops a play-action consistency, the 49ers are going to be an extremely tough out. Key stat: Four. That's the number of 49ers defensive linemen with 6.5 or more sacks. Arik Armstead has a team leading 10 sacks, Nick Bosa has eight and DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford each have 6.5. Translation: You hear all the time about teams needing to generate pressure without blitzing.The 49ers are doing that better than any other team in the game right now.

3. New Orleans (10-3). The Saints have also clinched their division, but Sunday's shootout loss to the 49ers means San Fran has a game lead and the tie-breaker for home field in the NFC playoffs. That said, the dip in Alvin Kamara's production has been somewhat puzzling. Key stats: Let's offer 9.3 and 109.5. Those are the per-game catches and receiving yards for Michael Thomas through 13 games. Thomas is on pace for 1,753 yards and 149 catches. The all-time record for catches is 143 by Marvin Harrison. Thomas, who was amazingly productive with Teddy Bridgewater, too, deserves more MVP chatter and certainly consideration for NFL offensive player of the year.

4. New England (10-3). Maybe I'll be the last guy off the bandwagon, but the Pats' epitaph has been written and tossed and written and tossed multiple times. And yes, the offense has issues, but wow, that defense is pretty special. Key stat: New England's defense has gotten off the field on third down better than anyone in the league. Pats' opponents are a woeful 36-for-159 (23 percent) on third down this season.

5. Green Bay (10-3). Yes, this is a little higher than most believe, especially when teams like the Chiefs and the Seahawks are still on the board. Still, Aaron Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers, and that's pretty special, especially when he mentions his love of scotch. Know who else loves scotch? Yep, Ron Burgundy. Key stat: Blake Martinez may be the best linebacker in the NFL you have not heard of. Martinez, in his fourth year from Stanford, has 128 tackles in 13 games, one behind Seattle's Bobby Wagner, who is a perennial All-Pro and the highest-paid tackler in the game.

Powerless

28. Washington (3-10). The powerless bunch is like Santa's naughty list, but worse. I will say this: Washington and Miami look to have more fight than the rest of the legions of stinky.

29. Arizona (3-9-1). The Cardinals have lost six straight, moving them into the powerless rankings for the first time since September.

30. Miami (3-10). The Dolphins scored 21 points in a loss Sunday. Those 21 points came on seven field goals. You stay classy, Miami.

31. New York Giants (2-11). The Giants, if they hold the second pick, will be an interesting follow come draft day. (We love the draft; you know this.) They will not need a quarterback, and Chase Young is the surest thing in this draft. But do you deal with a quarterback-starved team like a Miami — which is hurting its draft position for a shot at Tua or Joe Burrow — in that scenario. Hmmmmmmmmmm. (We love the draft; you know this.)

32. Cincinnati (1-12). A destination to Cincinnati may be the biggest draw to keep Tua in Tuscaloosa. Which brings us to the question of who would you draft first, Tua or Joe Burrow? That's a tough one. I would lean toward Burrow, with a big swing factor being who knows for sure with hip injuries. Kudos to Burrow, who has had as good a 2019 as about anyone considering where he started and where he's going to finish.

 

Sportsperson of the year

Megan Rapinoe was named the Sports Illustrated sportsperson of the year.

OK. I guess. Not sure she'd have cracked the top five without getting into a bicker battle with the president, but whatever. The headline actually said, "under attack from a world leader." Some would suggest that she picked a fight with a world leader.

And like a lot of printing and publishing outlets, SI is struggling. The one-time gold standard for the industry announced that it will publish monthly in 2020. And the controversy of picking Rapinoe, simply put, generates a whole of conversation and buzz. (Sadly, that was something SI did every week back in the day.)

I would have gone with Tiger over Rapinoe. Who else do you think was considered?

 

Bowl Contest

And we're here. The Bowling for Bowls of Bowl Game Success (Bowler Optional) is back.

The entry sheet is below. Email your picks at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com. Doesn't cost anything to enter. Winner gets some stuff.

Also, pass it along to your buddies and the Mrs. and anyone else you think would be interested. The more the merrier. The spreads listed below are final, friends, there will assuredly be line movements between now and kickoff on a lot of these games, but these are the lines we're using.

Good luck, and let's go bowling.

One-point games (maximum 9 points)
Bahamas Bowl: Buffalo vs. Charlotte (+5.5) 
Frisco Bowl: Kent State vs. Utah State (-9.5)
New Mexico Bowl: Central Michigan vs. San Diego State (-4.5)
FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl: Liberty vs. Georgia Southern (-5.5)
Boca Raton Bowl: SMU vs. FAU (+3.5)
Camellia Bowl: FIU vs. Arkansas State (-3.5)
Las Vegas Bowl: No. 19 Boise State vs. Washington (-3.5) 
New Orleans Bowl: No. 20 Appalachian State vs. UAB (+16.5)
Gasparilla Bowl: UCF vs. Marshall (+17.5)

Two-point games (max 18 points)
Hawaii Bowl: BYU vs. Hawaii (+2.5)
Independence Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. Miami (FL) (-7.5)
Quick Lane Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. Pitt (-10.5)
Military Bowl: North Carolina vs. Temple (+5.5)
Pinstripe Bowl: Michigan State vs. Wake Forest (+3.5)
First Responder Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Western Michigan (+2.5)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Ohio vs. Nevada (+6.5)
Armed Forces Bowl: Southern Miss vs. Tulane (-7.5)
LendingTree Bowl: Louisiana vs. Miami (OH) (+14.5)

Three-point games (max 18 points)
Texas Bowl: No. 25 Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M (-6.5)
Holiday Bowl: No. 22 USC vs. No. 16 Iowa (-1.5)
Cheez-It Bowl: Air Force vs. Washington State (+2.5)
Music City Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Louisville (-3.5)
RedBox Bowl: Cal vs. Illinois (+6.5)
Birmingham Bowl: No. 21 Cincinnati vs. Boston College (+6.5)

Four-point games (max 24 points)
Belk Bowl: Kentucky vs. Virginia Tech (-3.5)
Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl: Florida State vs. Arizona State (-5.5)
Liberty Bowl: No. 23 Navy vs. Kansas State (-1.5)
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Wyoming vs. Georgia State (+7.5)
Alamo Bowl: No. 11 Utah vs. Texas (+6.5)
Camping World Bowl: No. 15 Notre Dame vs. Iowa State (+3.5)

Five-point games (max 30 points)
Orange Bowl: No. 9 Florida vs. No. 24 Virginia (+13.5)
Outback Bowl: No. 18 Minnesota vs. No. 12 Auburn (-7.5)
Citrus Bowl: No. 13 Alabama vs. No. 14 Michigan (+7.5)
Rose Bowl: No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 8 Wisconsin (-2.5)
Sugar Bowl: No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 7 Baylor (+7.5)
Gator Bowl: Indiana vs. Tennessee (PK)

Seven-point games
Peach Bowl (CFP Semifinal): No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 LSU (-13.5)
Fiesta Bowl (CFP Semifinal): No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson (-2.5) 

National champ (just the winner no spread) is worth 10 points.

 

This and that

— South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley is transferring to Utah. So there's that.

— Stephen Strasburg got the richest contract ever for a pitcher Monday. That record will last until Gerrit Cole signs with the Yankees, Angels or Dodgers. Side note: How great is this stat I heard from Tim Kurkijan on "Golic or Wingo"? Cole struck out at least one hitter in 73 consecutive innings last year and he has the highest strikeout percentage ever for a starting pitcher. Ever.

— College hoops pick. OK, we're committed to a pick daily on the ball that bounces true. We'll take Hickory plus-11 over the mighty Bears of South Bears Central and we'll take Chitwood as the state final MVP at +150. (15 Boyle, who averages 20 points a game, is the betting favorite at -200.) Seriously, we're 10-7 on our intermittent hoops picks this year. Not terrible at 58.8 percent, but we can do better. Give me Maryland minus-1 at Penn State tonight.

— Wal-marts in Canada have removed from their shelves a seasonal ugly sweater that features the words "Let it Snow" with Santa Claus sitting behind a table with three white lines. Insert your "Santa doing cocaine" joke. How is Santa doing blow news to anyone? How in the world do you expect him to stay up all night Christmas Eve and get to all those houses without a little pick-me-up?

— Speaking of clothing malfunctions, here's the story of the women who wore a "Hail Satan" T-shirt on a flight. Egad.

 

Today's questions

True or false, Megan Rapinoe was named SI sportsperson of the year because of the controversy more than anything else.

True or false, you are entering the Bowl contest. (That one should be true. Don't cost nothin', friends.)

True or false, Joe Burrow will set the landslide record for a Heisman winner.

As for today, Dec. 10, we're 15 days from Christmas.

The metric system was adopted on this day in 1799. Heck Finn was published on this day in 1884.

Lots of famous Heisman winners on this day through history.

Rushmore of biggest Heisman snubs (and, yes, Peyton has a spot on that list). Go.
 

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