Jim Vallet and Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
The regular season is over and the playoffs, starting with “Super Duper Wild Wildcard Weekend”, are here. This week, though, my attention is still on what happened last weekend.
Rahm Emanuel, former mayor of Chicago and current U.S. Ambassador to Japan, used to say that nothing motivates Congress men and women like the smell of jet fuel, meaning things get done faster when congressional vacations are on the line. I’m not sure about that after watching the happenings in the House of Representatives last week, but I know for sure that there were some NFL teams that did not mail in their efforts last week, regardless of smells.
Not to disparage other teams, because I can only watch a few NFL games at once, but I was very impressed with the efforts of the Indianapolis Colts (sorry I called you Dolts last week), Houston Texans and Detroit Lions last Sunday. To say they were playing only for pride is ridiculous, because players, unlike owners, are held accountable for what they do on the field. But none of the teams I mentioned had a chance of making the playoffs when their games started, and in the case of Houston, actually had motivation to lose in order to get the first pick in April’s draft. But, these teams chose to not only show up, but to play hard and with imagination.
Houston deserves the most credit, with Indianapolis next. This game, which appeared to be a stinker, was the most entertaining of the weekend. Both teams let it all hang out, and showed why not giving the ball away is a trait good teams have. Both Sam Ehlinger and Davis Mills showed they have the talent and the guts to be NFL QBs, but also unnecessarily gave the ball away several times. In particular, the winning drive that the Texans put together to win the game and lose the first draft pick was inspiring to me. Colts’ running back Zach Moss was running as though possessed, where was that in Buffalo? Texans’ wideout Brandin Cooks, despite wanting out of Houston, was not looking like a player worried about getting hurt. A great game, a great effort by both teams, a real exhibition of athletic talent.
The next day, the Texans fired head coach Lovie Smith.
The Lions, ah my Lions, did all Lions fans proud (there must be at least four or five). I must confess, when Detroit wrapped up the game with their final first down and began to line up in the victory formation, I had tears in my eyes. I remembered my parents, my grandparents, my uncles, my siblings, all cheering for the Lions and being disappointed again and again. I remembered watching frustrated fans throwing snowballs at Lions players and coaches after another half hearted effort. I remembered Chuck Hughes collapsing and dying on the field in 1971. I remembered a parade of coaches no other NFL team wanted. I remembered my dad collapsing with disappointment after Tom Dempsey’s then-record 63 yard field goal that beat Detroit on the final play of the game. I remembered my mom, distraught after yet another loss, saying, “I still love ‘em”.
Not Sunday. Sunday the Lions had the better coaches, and the players reflected it. Despite being in a “win and in” situation, several of the Packers decided to play like punks instead of like contenders. Dropped passes, cheap shots, dumb penalties, a player actually going across the line of scrimmage to smack the ball away from Detroit’s center, were all topped by a Packer actually assaulting a Detroit trainer as he attempted to attend to a Lion player who had been cheap shotted. The Packers have real problems, but, you know what? I don’t care. I watched last second Hail Marys, bad coaching decisions, missed assignments, and bad calls help the Packers beat the Lions for years. Finally, the Detroit Lions gave all of us fans (maybe only my family) something to be proud of, and it’s Green Bay left wondering, “What the ##**?”
Sunday, despite the usual plethora of stupid, selfish play, also gave me the hope that real competition is alive and well in the NFL. There are lots of players that really care. But, despite caring, good teams, and I’m talking about legitimate playoff teams, do not make the same mistakes again and again, especially turning the ball over. Although there are several talented players like Sam Ehlinger and Davis Mills, the difference between talented and good is not hurting yourself with mistakes. Although talent in the NFL is necessary, it’s not enough.
OK, the playoffs. This week is (now called) “Super Wildcard Weekend”. Games from Saturday afternoon until Monday night. If history is any use as a predictor, there will be upsets. What I have noticed about myself is the more I study and learn about teams, the more I tend to favor the favorites. Be careful with that, because there is no such thing as a bad football player in the NFL. So, in a real scoop, I predict no team wins by a score of 65-7. Aside from that, here are the rest of my picks against the point spreads. Lines are from sportsline.com on Tuesday, Jan. 10.
San Francisco 49ers (-9 ½) vs Seattle Seahawks: The Lions had their chance to make the playoffs, and they blew it when they lost to Carolina, so they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs. Neither do the Seahawks.
San Diego Chargers (-1 ½) at Jacksonville Jaguars: The Chargers could make a good run if Mike Williams is playing. Be careful if he’s not.
Buffalo Bills (-10 ½) vs Miami Dolphins: A lot of points, I don’t like that. But, I don’t like what I see from Miami lately more.
New York Giants (+3) at Minnesota Vikings: This year, the Vikings have given up more points than they have scored. I think they’ve been lucky all year, except for when they’ve been thumped.
Baltimore Ravens (+6 ½) at Cincinnati Bengals: The hardest game of the week for me to pick. The Ravens need Lamar Jackson back, if he doesn’t play I’ll go the other way. But 6 ½ is a lot of points to give a team like Baltimore at playoff time.
Dallas Cowboys (-2 ½) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I want to bet against the Cowboys SO BAD, but all year it’s the Bucs that have been SO BAD.
Last week 4-2
49ers/Seahawks under 42: Two things concern me about this one: teams that lost twice to their playoff opponent in the same season are 8-1-1 against the spread the last 10 times it’s happened, and doubt about whether Brock Purdy can carry a team in the playoffs. But on the other side, Geno Smith has also never been in a playoff game, and last year, the first year of the expanded playoffs, the No. 7 seeds both got blown out and looked totally overmatched, But the forecast in Santa Clara Saturday is for heavy rain and winds. I don’t see a lot of offensive fireworks in store.
Jaguars/Chargers over 47: I don’t expect the Jaguars to have an easy time of it like they did in winning in LA 38-10 earlier this season, but I think they’re a more complete team. But I see this game as the antithesis of the Jags-Titans game last week, where both offense were simply trying to avoid making the mistake that gave away the game. The offenses will decide this one.
Bills (-13 ½) over Dolphins: This line wouldn’t be nearly this high in the regular season, but with good reason. After losing in overtime in Kansas City last season, it’s Super Bowl or bust for the Bills, and although the Dolphins have plenty of weapons, they have no chance in a shootout with overmatched QB Skyler Thompson.
Giants (+3) at Vikings: The Vikings have made more escapes this season than Houdini, including Christmas Eve against these Giants. In that game, both teams pulled out miracles, but the Vikings’ came last. I’m not sure either team can get clear of each other.
Bengals (-8 ½) over Ravens: The Ravens have lost in the playoffs the last two years because their passing game failed them, and now they come in with Tyler Huntley and Anthony Brown at QB.
Cowboys/Buccaneers under 45 1/2: The Cowboys haven’t won a road playoff game in the lifetime of most of their current players, 30 years ago, and the franchise has never beaten Tom Brady. I envision a close, low scoring game that comes down to whether Brady can lead a last second drive.
College: No picks