Jim Vallet and Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
Last weekend was great if you are a Detroit sports fan. The Lions finally won, and they did it in thrilling style. The University of Michigan throttled Iowa to advance to its first ever College Football Playoff. On Sunday night, in spite of my fantasy team’s defeat, bad bets, and bad picks, I was happy. That was the Good.
Then I watched Monday Night Football, and in spite of New England saving my betting weekend with an outright win, I was mad.
First, why would the NFL ever schedule a night game in Buffalo in
December? I guess the stadium in the Yukon must have been booked, but I know the conditions did not allow world class athletes to show their skills. The good part was that the game was played at a pace suggesting both coaches had a plane to catch, but otherwise…why?
Secondly, although I was glad I had picked (and bet on) the correct team, I was mad because how could New England go from last year’s debacle to this year’s good team? They rebuilt in less than a year, and the Lions have been rebuilding for 70 years and, despite Sunday’s win, they still stink. Last year on a Monday night, I watched Cam Newton chuck the ball all over the yard with no success (just like he’s doing now with Carolina) and now I’m watching a team that knows exactly what it wants to do and how to do it. How did this happen?
It’s really not that complicated…the Patriots got better players, and the Lions did not. The Pats spent a ton of money on free agents and had a great draft. The Lions lost their two best offensive players after losing their two best defensive players in the year before. As they demonstrated on the field, the Lions could ill afford to lose good players and not replace them.
There is more to it than just that. I have never seen a team at any level in any sport win as many close games as the New England Patriots. Last night, in the fourth quarter as Buffalo was twice driving for what they hoped would be a game winning touchdown, I sincerely believed that the Pats would somehow stop the Bills, and they did. When the Lions were driving for what turned out to be a game winning touchdown Sunday, I just knew the Lions would find a way to mess up and blow it. I have already documented many times the countless ways the Lions have found to lose, but in New England the Pats find ways to win. Remember the Tuck Rule, the 48-yard impossible field goal in ankle deep snow, Malcolm Butler’s Super Bowl winning interception of Russell Wilson, the Super Bowl comeback against the Falcons, beating “The Greatest Show on Turf” in another Super Bowl, shutting down Peyton Manning when the rest of the NFL couldn’t, and on and on? The Patriots don’t always win, they just win more than anyone else.
Then there’s the coaching. Bill Belichick has coached the New England Patriots since 1996, longer than many NFL players have been alive. He now is also the Pats’ General Manager. There is no team that gets the best out of its players the way the New England Patriots do, period. It seems Patriot players are always put in the best possible circumstances to perform their best. New England always puts the opponent’s players in situations they don’t want to be in. When New England gets rid of a player, that player is either a cancer or is no good. After last year’s NFL draft, “experts” graded the Patriots draft as, “ok”. This year’s results show a draft much better than just “ok”. New England is constantly looking for advantages, and has been accused (and, convicted by the NFL) of going too far and cheating on several occasions. My personal opinion is there is a lot of smoke for no fire, but certainly you can not accuse New England of leaving even a single stone unturned in the pursuit of wins. Although I am proud that nobody has accused the Lions of cheating (considering their record, wouldn’t that be the pinnacle of incompetence if they did cheat), their coaches have provided NFL writers like me with an unlimited supply of arrows to launch at Lions’ coaches’ foibles. In short, comparing NFL coaching in New England and Detroit is like comparing advanced calculus to the ABCs. Maybe other coaches could achieve a record like Belickick given the time and resources Belichick has, but that’s really hard to say.
Ultimately, it comes down to the New England Patriots consistently putting better players on the field and putting them in the best possible circumstances. The Lions have a chance this year at the number one overall pick in the upcoming college draft, and several other picks, too. So now it’s up to the Lions’ management to assess this year’s draft eligible players, and decide the best course of action. Frankly, over the last 70 years the Lions have sucked at this. Sure, they drafted Calvin Johnson, Barry Sanders, Billy Sims, and Matt Stafford, but they have also drafted far more busts like Nick Eddy, Andre Ware, Chuck Long, Jahvid Best, Titus Young, Joey Harrington, and Charles Rogers. I never remember the Lions employing draft strategy like trading up or down to get players they want. This year, the college player most analysts believe will go number one in the draft is Jayvon Thibodeaux, a pass rusher from the University of Oregon. The Lions need a pass rusher, like they need pretty much everything. Is Thibodeaux the answer, or is Aidan Hutchinson, a pass rusher from the University of Michigan, a better choice? Or, should the Lions trade their high pick either for established players or more, albeit lower, draft picks? I won’t even pretend to know the answer to that question, but I’m really frustrated that over the years the Lions have demonstrated they don’t know the answer to that question, either. That’s the Bad.
Finally, there’s the Ugly, and that’s my record last week. I’ll try again this week with my picks against the spread. Lines are from sportsline.com on Tuesday, Dec. 7.
Minnesota Vikings (-3) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers are not playing the AFC North or the Lions this week.
Kansas City Chiefs (-9 ½) vs Las Vegas Raiders: Good defenses can cover big spreads and the Chiefs defense has been really good lately.
Tennessee Titans (-9) vs Jacksonville Jaguars: It looks to me like the Jags are already booking vacations and tee times
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3) vs Buffalo Bills: The Bills have been beat up by big, physical teams
Arizona Cardinal (-3) vs Los Angeles Rams: The line indicates these two teams are even. Do you believe that?
Last week 2-4
As someone who spends at least 75 percent of my football handicapping time on college football, this is my least favorite week of the year. The regular season ending last week leaves us with only Army-Navy game this week, with the 42 bowl games and the national championship game spread over the next three weeks.
None of those begin until next Friday, however, so for this week it’s all about the NFL.
Army vs. Navy: With the line sitting Army -7 ½, if I was forced to make a bet on this game, I would reluctantly take Navy. But the reason I can’t bet it is twofold. First, my natural tendency in big games is to default to the underdog, to the point that I’ve almost completely stopped betting on high-profile, big-stakes games. And make no mistake, this is the biggest game of the season for both of these teams. Army has the better record, 8-3 to Navy’s 3-8, and better offensive and defensive stats to match. But Navy has played the much tougher schedule, so I can’t decipher how much of Army’s record and statistical advantage is due to Army being better than Navy, and how much is due to the difference in schedules. Plus, as a lover of college football, particularly triple option offense, I don’t need a wager to fully enjoy this one.
Ravens +2 ½ vs Browns: This is an interesting scheduling spot because these teams just played two weeks ago, and the Browns had a bye last week, so the Browns have essentially had three weeks of preparation just for the Ravens. The Ravens won that game two weeks ago 16-10 despite Lamar Jackson throwing four interceptions. That preparation edge is probably the reason the Browns have been bet from +1 to -2 ½, but given how bad Jackson played in the first meeting, that makes this just as much a revenge spot for him individually as it is for the Browns.
Titans (-8 ½) over Jaguars: I’m not normally one to lay more than a touchdown in the NFL, especially with a team that has as many key players out with injuries as the Titans have had. But the Titans have lost two consecutive games, and are in need of a good outing here. While Dontrell Hilliard and D’Onta Foreman are not Derrick Henry, they both ran for more than 100 yards against the Patriots, so I’m confident the Titans can run the ball here. Julio Jones returned to practice this week and may be activated for this game, but even if he’s not, I think the Titans can do enough to win by double figures.
Falcons (+2 ½) vs. Panthers: With losses this season by scores like 32-6, 48-25, 43-3, and 25-0, it would be easy to dismiss the Falcons as simply another bad team. But Atlanta has largely been able to beat the teams that are on a similar level, and that’s where we find the Panthers. Carolina beat Atlanta 19-13 on Halloween, but has lost three of four since then, plus lost Christian McCaffrey again, and now has Cam Newton at quarterback looking as nonfunctional as he did in New England.