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Football Meteorology For NFL Week 3

By Jeff Risdon

This is the last weekend of summer, believe it or not. Nights are getting cooler, and many areas north of the Mason-Dixon line will see their first frost in the next couple of weeks. The leaves are already turning here in West Michigan, where we had a pathetically cold summer; just one day did the temperature top 90, and we had record low high temperatures 11 times between July and August. One of those happened to be a day I took my kids to a water park. Not that I’m bitter…

Last Week: Another 10-6 week, pushing the season forecast to 20-12.

Betting Recap: I really don’t want to talk about it. Wagered $2250. Lost $2000. The little old ladies surgically attached to the slot machine chairs with their portable oxygen tanks on their walkers blocking the path are laughing at me. Sitting at $7250 

Thursday Game

- Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons (-6.5): I’m not sure Atlanta is a touchdown better than anyone at this point, but if they are the most likely suspect is any team coached by Lovie Smith. He must have nightmares about Matt Ryan. The Bucs look badly out of sync on both sides of the ball, with the signing of Josh McCown appearing to be a failed gamble. Tampa cannot throw the ball, period. That’s just what the Falcons need, because they cannot stop anyone from throwing. They’ll be better at home. Heck, they might even get their first sack.

Falcons 27, Bucs 17

Sunday Games

- Denver Broncos at Seattle Seahawks (-4.5): There has not been a Super Bowl rematch in the following season since 1997. That’s a truly amazing statistic. It doesn’t exactly provide much of a track record in those types of situations.

This contest figures to be a lot closer than the Super Bowl romp by Seattle. Yet the outcome will be the same; Seattle is going to win because Denver cannot handle their pressuring style of defense. The Seahawks underrated linebackers are a problem with their range and headiness. The focus is always on Richard Sherman, but Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are so good at patrolling the 7-15 yard range. That’s where teams move the chains, and Seattle keeps offense off schedule with their three-deep zone looks that limit first down gains and crush teams on 2nd-and-8. The home field advantage is nice, too.

Seahawks 28, Broncos 20

- Tennessee Titans at Cincinnati Bengals (-6.5): Last week the Titans defense really struggled to keep up with Dallas and Demarco Murray. This week they face a similar challenge with Gio Bernard and the Bengals, who have a good offensive line and a dangerous passing game to balance out the attack. Even without A.J. Green, this is still a high-caliber offense with an ever-progressing Andy Dalton.

Tennessee can still win, but it will take Jake Locker being the Week 1 version and not the Week 2 version. He has earned my respect for improving his game, but has not yet earned my trust. The Cincy defense is showing great opportunism, and I see them with a +2 turnover ratio in this one.

Bengals 24, Titans 13

- Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns (+1.5): Cleveland is doing a great job of not beating itself. The Browns have yet to turn the ball over, and they rank 6th in penalty yards. Smart and disciplined football gives them a chance in every game.

They will be challenged by Steve Smith in this one. The brash Ravens wideout drew three penalties last week and is notorious for getting under opponent’s skin. He’s also a handful in coverage, and if the Browns think Joe Haden can cover him they’re in for a long afternoon. Haden ranks 94th out of 96 corners in Pro Football Focus rankings. Should Cleveland roll help to Steve Smith, it’s Torrey Smith time. The Browns effective running game will keep it close, but the Ravens notch the divisional road win thanks to Justin Tucker’s mighty leg.

Ravens 17, Browns 16

- Dallas Cowboys at St. Louis Rams (+0.5): The Rams are built almost completely around the ability of their defensive line to dominate games. In drafting Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn, Chris Long and Aaron Donald in the first round while neglecting the gaping holes in the secondary (and quarterback, wide receiver and tight end) the Rams are relying on that major investment in the front to carry the day.

So when that universally lauded unit has just one sack and one takeaway in two games, it’s a recipe for disaster. Dallas has one of the best offensive lines in the league, which helps blunt St. Louis’ supposed advantage. They also have a great wide receiver in Dez Bryant that the Rams cannot cover and a running back in Demarco Murray who is a mismatch against badly overdrafted LB Alec Ogletree. The Cowboys' own defense is overachieving. I’m not sure they can sustain that long-term, but against this sorry excuse of an offense they’ll keep it rolling.

Cowboys 28, Rams 16

- San Diego Chargers at Buffalo Bills (-2.5): I don’t want to rain on Buffalo’s impressive unbeaten parade, but don’t go buying those playoff tickets just yet. The Bills have missed the playoffs the last four times they started 2-0, making them the only team to accomplish that feat.

Perhaps, to quote Evans Blue, this time it’s different. The Chargers travel across the country for an early kickoff one week after an emotional, physical win over mighty Seattle. The heavy money coming in on Buffalo leads me to follow, too. This game opened with the Bills as a 1-point favorite. It jacked up from 2 to 2.5 from Wed. to Thursday. In a game that seems like a tossup, I’ll swim with the whales.

Bills 24, Chargers 21

- Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions (-1.5): Every time Aaron Rodgers has played the full game against Detroit, the Packers have won. It’s hard to ignore that inglorious nugget, but I’m going to in this one.

Detroit’s offensive and defensive lines both have major advantages in this game over Green Bay’s editions. The Packers made some nice in-game adjustments to slow down the Jets running game last week, but that was predicated on the defense banking that Geno Smith and Jeremy Kerley couldn’t exploit them with the pass. That won’t work against Matthew Stafford throwing to Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Detroit had better put the ball in the end zone when they get close, because there is zero confidence in kicker Nate Freese. It’s hard to pick against the Packers here, but I’m doing it with $500.

Lions 30, Packers 25

- Houston Texans at New York Giants (+2.5): The Giants will win at some point, but this is a terrible matchup for them. New York has yet to force a turnover, while their offensive line continues to struggle. Houston has this guy named J.J. Watt you might have heard of. He’s probably the best player in the league regardless of position, and he’s liable to end Eli Manning’s impressive consecutive game streak. The Giants lost their top receiver in Jerrel Jernigan this week, as well as valuable CB Walter Thurmond. Somehow the Texans eclipse last year’s win total by the end of summer.

Texans 23, Giants 13

- Oakland Raiders at New England (-14.5): Things don’t get any easier for Derek Carr and the Raiders, as the rookie QB must travel across the country for an early start against emerging stud Chandler Jones and the Patriots defense. The Patriots' offense has not impressed, but they won’t need to do much here to outscore a toothless Oakland offense, whose best player is probably rookie left guard Gabe Jackson. He’s going to be great, and soon, but that says a lot more about the lack of talent around him at this point.

Patriots 24, Raiders 3

- Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars (+6.5): No way the Andrew Luck Colts fall to 0-3 by losing to the Chad Henne Jaguars. No freaking way. I’ll bet $1000 on it.

Colts 36, Jaguars 20

- Washington at Philadelphia Eagles (-6.5): Something tells me DeSean Jackson is going to haunt his former team. I’m also concerned the Eagles cannot keep falling way behind and rallying back. I believe Kirk Cousins will run coach Jay Gruden’s offense very similarly to the way Andy Dalton did in Cincinnati. I’m not bold enough to predict the outright upset but I do really like Washington getting a touchdown.

Eagles 30, Ethnic Slurs 27

- Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints (-10.5): Obligatory mention of Adrian Peterson not being active.

With that out of the way, this game is a real litmus test for the Saints' defense. They’ve been lousy thus far, but last year they were quite stout. If they struggle at home here against Matt Cassel, Matt Asiata & Co., their issues are very real and pervasive. I’m confidently starting Cordarrelle Patterson against them regardless, and you should too. But that’s fantasy talk. In real football, the Saints offense should cruise against Minnesota’s overmatched back seven. 

Saints 34, Vikings 21

- Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers (-3.5): The Panthers were mighty impressive in beating up my Lions last week, a game I’ve extensively broken down throughout this week. The manner in which they did so portends quite well against a Pittsburgh team reeling after getting pounded by the rival Ravens. I can’t see the Steelers OL holding up against Carolina’s impressive front, even sans convicted woman beater Greg Hardy. But the biggest advantage is Luke Kuechly, who will absolutely snuff out Le'Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh running game. He’s pretty darn good in coverage too, as is the underrated Panthers secondary.

Side thought: Steel Panther should play the national anthem and be the halftime show.

Panthers 24, Steelers 14

- Kansas City Chiefs at Miami Dolphins (-4.5): This game is strangely the toughest on this week’s slate for me to forecast. My relative clueless nature stems from Miami’s vastly divergent performances in their two games. The good Dolphins from Week 1 will crush the wounded Chiefs in Miami, but the Week 2 version will struggle even at home against Alex Smith throwing to Donnie Avery. Both teams will be without their starting RBs, further muddying the South Beach waters. I can’t see Kansas City’s offense outscoring Miami’s, but defense and special teams might swing the equation the other way.

Dolphins 26, Chiefs 21

- San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals (+2.5): If Carson Palmer were 100% I would pick the Cardinals here, but he’s not. Drew Stanton is a capable backup, but you have to be more than capable to beat the 49ers. That SF secondary has shown they are vulnerable, however. The Niners have had Arizona’s number, winning the last four meetings. That includes a December meeting in Arizona when the Cardinals were absolutely rolling. I like the San Francisco ground game to have a big day.

49ers 20, Cardinals 16

Monday Night

- Chicago Bears at New York Jets (-2.5): I really like what Chicago showed in their comeback rally over San Francisco. They proved ready for primetime despite a rash of key injuries that left them either less than 100% (Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery) or out (Charles Tillman). Meanwhile the Jets completely wet the bed with a big lead against the Packers. That doesn’t exactly engender confidence in New York. This should be an entertaining matchup, but I really like the road team getting points. $500 on Chicago. 

Bears 28, Jets 20

Gambling summary:

Indianapolis -6.5 for $1000

Chicago +2.5 for $500

Detroit -1.5 for $500


NFL Team Rankings, Week 2

By Christopher Reina

Our NFL Team Rankings are based entirely on the The Trench Counter, which is an objective formula measuring average yards per pass and run on both offense and defense, along with first downs registered and given up, turnovers for and against, and total penalty yards.

Over time, The Trench Counter rankings begin to closely resemble the standings but goes even further to determine which teams are truly the best when on the line of scrimmage.

The chief aim of the Trench Counter is to take the subjective out of the equation and even the somewhat fluky nature of teams actually scoring points, which is of course the whole point on a game-by-game basis.

The Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins climbed to first and second in the rankings after huge Trench Counter differentials in Week 2 against the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Buffalo Bills, meanwhile, are 2-0 while posting a -5.3 and +5.6 in their two games so we're not quite ready to buy their fast start.

The Seattle Seahawks fell to No. 6, but had a +2.3 in their loss to the San Diego Chargers. The Seahawks rushed for 8.0 yards per rush, but running 35 fewer plays was a clear issue as was allowing Antonio Gates to score three touchdowns. The Seahawks will be fine though and will win more road games than they lose.

To reiterate, this is not how I would subjectively rank the 32 teams and two weeks of data produce results that are themselves fluky.

Week 2 Rankings

1. Cincinnati Bengals: 10.7
2. Washington Redskins: 8.0
3. Arizona Cardinals: 7.8
4. Chicago Bears: 7.5
5. Baltimore Ravens: 6.9
6. Seattle Seahawks: 6.2
7. Minnesota Vikings: 5.4
8. Philadelphia Eagles: 5.3
9. Carolina Panthers: 4.8
10. Detroit Lions: 3.7
11. Houston Texans: 3.5
12. Miami Dolphins: 3.2
13. Tennessee Titans: 2.9
14. Denver Broncos: 1.8
15. Cleveland Browns: 1.6
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1.5
17. New Orleans Saints: 0.8
18. Green Bay Packers: 0.7
19. Buffalo Bills: 0.2
20. Dallas Cowboys: -1.3
21. San Francisco 49ers: -1.7
22. New England Patriots: -2.2
23. New York Jets: -3.5
24. Oakland Raiders: -3.7
25. Indianapolis Colts: -5.2
26. Kansas City Chiefs: -5.3
27. San Diego Chargers: -5.8
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: -9.1
29. New York Giants: -10.0
30. Atlanta Falcons: -10.8
31. Jacksonville Jaguars: -11.3
32. St. Louis Rams: -12.4


$.10 After Week 2

By Jeff Risdon

This was a real tough week to follow and cover the NFL. At one point six of these ten cents had nothing to do with anything on the field. It’s not, as some claim, the worst week in NFL history. Nobody died, which inherently makes the Jovan Belcher and Rae Carruth situations worse. Yet the barrage of negativity is hard to ignore when off-field criminal issues lead the network news shows, not just the sports networks.

$.01--The news story that dominated the nation this week involved the released video of Ray Rice knocking out his wife with a swift left in the elevator of a now-closed Atlantic City casino. That disturbing visual quickly shifted the story into two directions: domestic violence awareness and a stern challenge to Roger Goodell’s viability and effectiveness as NFL Commissioner.

It’s the Goodell angle that has transfixed the football world. Long a lightning rod of criticism, the commish earned near universal scorn for his ham-handed handling of such a public case. Even though the NFL committed no legal crime, the league is most certainly guilty of a cover-up scandal rivaling the Iran-Contra affair or Benghazi, based on your political persuasion.

Goodell claims to have no knowledge of the video before TMZ released it on Monday. That flies in the face of his authoritarian, omnipresent image and history. It also raises some serious questions about the competency of his office, as there is verified receipt of the video at NFL headquarters from several months ago.

Either Goodell is a lying hypocrite or a flaming rod of ineptitude, take your pick. I’m not even sure which is worse.

Will it be enough to cost him his $40M-a-year job? Probably not. He makes the NFL owners--his bosses--far too much money for them to send him to the gallows.

Still, a man whose driving force in life is “protect the shield” splattered the blood of abused women everywhere all over his league’s precious reputation. By coming down initially too soft, then overreacting (more on that coming below) in the other direction when caught with his pants down, Goodell has irreparably damaged his own credibility and power. He can never earn back what he gave away.

$.02--As macabre as it sounds, it’s really a damn shame that there isn’t a Ray Rice video of what Panthers star defensive end Greg Hardy did to his girlfriend. Because if you think sucker-punching an agitated companion is worthy of a lifetime ban from the NFL, you probably want Hardy deported to northeast Syria.

It’s a complex case fueled by intoxicants and 911 calls from neighbors and Hardy himself, nicely detailed back in July by the Charlotte Observer. Yet he was found guilty in court of assault and communicating threats, which entailed him putting his hands around her neck and telling her he was going to kill her after dragging her around the house by her hair.

As tone deaf as Goodell appeared with the Rice case, the Panthers are worse. Hardy was convicted in July, yet the team has done nothing until Sunday. They weren’t even expected to do anything then until public outrage finally forced them to acquiesce to common decency and deactivate Hardy for Carolina’s game with the Lions. Per Chris Myers on the Fox game broadcast, it was “on organizational decision”.

I want to give Panthers owner Jerry Richardson some credit. He’s a very good man. Yet it never should have taken this long to begrudgingly sit down his star player. As Louis Riddick sagely said on ESPN’s exhausting NFL Countdown, Joe Gibbs would have cut Hardy long ago. That Hardy is still employed is a travesty. Maybe when he goes to prison later this fall Richardson will finally have the decency to cut him.

Perhaps there was some karmic justification in place for Carolina. Hardy’s replacement Mario Addison annihilated Detroit’s 3rd and 4th string right tackles for 2.5 sacks and was unblockable when the Lions were in definite passing mode.

$.03--Adrian Peterson made sure the negative spotlight shone brightly on the NFL all week. The Vikings star running back was indicted and later arrested for “reckless or negligent injury to a child”.

This is a tough case. Peterson quite clearly and sincerely believes his actions are a perfectly acceptable form of discipline that he perhaps took a bit too far.

Regardless of your personal viewpoint of corporal punishment, a 230-pound pro athlete hitting a 4-year-old child with a switch “10 or 15 times” for interrupting a video game is miles beyond a bit too far. The boy suffered nasty injuries to his legs and groin, ones that were visible to doctors days later. Google the pictures if you want the disgusting evidence.

What makes this especially gut-wrenching is that Peterson of all people should be hyper sensitive to this issue. He had another son killed by an abusive stepfather just 11 months ago.

I wonder if Peterson thought of his dead son while nearly beating the life out of this one. I wonder how many lashes he would inflict if the child did something really unreasonable, like setting off firecrackers in the living room or spilling grape juice in one of Peterson’s luxury cars.

I consulted with former Suffolk County (NY) Assistant District Attorney Craig Hayes about Peterson’s grand jury case. I’m going to quote Hayes directly from our correspondence here:

There is a good chance that this case goes to trial, unless the DA caves in.: Most DAs when a person has a good background in cases like this will offer things like parenting classes, anger management, probation, etc., and other alternatives to jail to dispose of a case like this. I would think that the DA made some type of pre-indictment offer. We probably will never know what -if any- pre-indictment offer was given to Hardin and AP. Neither DAs nor the defense attorney will typically share this kind of information.

But since Peterson rejected any offer, if he got one and I would guess that he did, and more important, he testified before the Grand Jury, the DA probably will not offer a plea bargain now, that ship has sailed. Many DA Offices have a "No Deal" policy once a defendant testifies. There reasoning is, "I know your defense, they didn't buy it, why should I cut you a deal now." Asking for a deal now is like wanting your chips back after showing your hand in poker.

Hayes’ opinion on why he was charged with those specific allegations:

“the fact that the Grand Jury indicted Peterson on a reckless theory means that they did not believe that he intentionally injured his child, but they are accusing him of doing something reckless (A 230 pound ball of muscle hitting a 4 yr old with a switch) that he knew that he could hurt him, but he disregarded that risk.”

It’s sad that Peterson doesn’t realize the gravity of his actions. It’s sad that he learned NOTHING from the death of one of his other children. It’s sad that folks are whining about how this impacts their fantasy football teams. Most of all, it’s sad for that little boy.

$.04--In actual football, the defending Super Bowl champs showed some vulnerability in San Diego. The Chargers beat the Seahawks 30-21, sending both teams to 1-1.

The story of the game was opportunism. Seattle’s vaunted defense could not get off the field on third downs, as San Diego converted 10 of 17 chances. They absolutely dominated the clock, and it worked:

On the other side, Dwight Freeney sacked Russell Wilson on Seattle’s first third down attempt and it set the tone for the game. San Diego stayed composed after Seattle cut the lead to 20-14, mounting a steady drive to threaten the red zone. Seattle had them stopped for a field goal attempt but a personal foul on Bruce Irvin kept the drive alive. Two plays later Antonio Gates caught his third TD pass--a spectacular one-handed stab--and it was 27-14. The game was essentially over.

The score shouldn’t even have been as close as it was. Percy Harvin clearly stepped out of bounds on his long touchdown scamper for Seattle, but the zebras on the field and in the replay booth all somehow missed it. Perhaps it was the 100+ degree heat on the field.

$.05--San Francisco opened Levi’s Stadium some 45 miles outside the city. It was a tale of two halves.

This was an ugly affair early on, one that made me wish I could go to bed instead of writing about the game. There were 17 penalties in the first half.

The Chicago offense was limper than an overcooked Ramen noodle for most of that half:

Fortunately I stuck around to catch what became a pretty compelling game. Niners fans might see it a little differently…

Chicago rallied while San Francisco imploded. Jay Cutler came alive while Colin Kaepernick came unhinged. Cutler wound up throwing four TDs and was masterful in the red zone. Kaepernick turned the ball over four times and was at his worst when his team needed him the most.

The Bears leave town with a much-needed 28-20 win. It elevates them into a 4-way tie in the NFC North. Meanwhile the Niners were exposed for their vulnerable secondary and declining offensive line. They’re now looking up at the Cardinals in the NFC West and travel to Arizona next week with what looks like a lengthy injury list.

$.06--Baltimore rallied around itself in the Thursday night game, thrashing the archrival Steelers 26-6. The actual game didn’t get nearly as much publicity as it should, because what happened between the lines was the most graphic exposure of the Pittsburgh Steelers as a team in serious trouble.

Since jumping out to a 27-3 halftime lead in their opener against Cleveland, Pittsburgh has been outscored 50-9. Worse, it’s to divisional opponents and with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger and emerging stud in running back Le'Veon Bell.

There are myriad reasons why these Steelers look very much like a last-place, 5-11 team. Their offensive line is substandard. Their defensive line is worse than that. The linebackers make those units look like Pro Bowlers.

Poor drafting has been a major culprit. The Steelers are an organization which takes deep pride in its ability to replace aging talent from within. Unfortunately they’ve whiffed on several higher draft picks in recent years, going back to Limas Sweed and Bruce Davis in 2008. Some of the better picks have fled for greener pastures, guys like Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, LaMarr Woodley and Kraig Urbik. Complete whiffs on guys like Mike Adams, Sean Spence, Marcus Gilbert, Ziggy Hood, Alameda TaAmu, Curtis Brown, the list goes on and on.  They drafted Jarvis Jones, a player who this 40-year old (at the time) with chronic turf toe outperformed in every Combine test except the bench press, in the first round last year and wonder why he’s been inadequate…at best.

At some point, some of the fault is going to hit the coaches for failing to develop these players and for their inability to properly scheme for the talent they do have. Dick Lebeau is a legend, one of the most innovative defensive minds in NFL history. Alas, he has not changed with the modern NFL. His time has come.

It might be coming for Mike Tomlin too. As many Steelers faithful lament, he gives the same press conference after every defeat. Tomlin takes the blame for failing to have his team prepared and making too many mistakes. How about trying to remedy that, coach? Omar Epps’ doppelganger needs to figure that one out soon. 

$.07--The New York Jets beat the New York Jets in Green Bay. I guess the Packers technically had something to do with it, but the Jets are far more culpable in their own defeat.

New York thoroughly dominated the game early, racing out to a 21-3 lead by scoring touchdowns on each of its first three drives. The Jets completely owned the line of scrimmage both offensively and defensively, pushing around the Packer lines with ease.

The worm started turning late in the second quarter, when Geno Smith threw an ill-advised pick deep in Green Bay territory on the first play after the two minute warning. That gave Aaron Rodgers just enough time to mount a critical drive culminating in a Randall Cobb TD reception. That closed the gap to 21-16 instead of having the Jets ahead no worse than 24-9. Huge swing.

As for the second half, the Jets happened. They gained all of 50 yards in the second half. New York even benefitted from a ponderous officiating decision that negated a Smith fumble, as somehow a pass that goes backwards can be ruled forwards even if it’s not really thrown.

When the Packers took the lead, the Jets responded by starting a brawl on the 2 pt. conversion. After tying the game with a 52-yard field goal, it took exactly one play for Jordy Nelson to embarrass first-round picks Dee Milliner and Calvin Pryor on an 80-yard catch and run for the go-ahead TD.

Then this happened…

The following wins football tweet of the weekend:

The wiped out TD would have tied the game in the fourth quarter, but some official ruled that some Jets coach not named Rex Ryan called timeout. Of course Ryan is the only person allowed to call timeout from the sideline, but that didn’t matter because the play was blown dead right at the moment of snap. Marty Morninwheg happens, just ask Lions fans…

Somehow, Green Bay eked out the win to improve to 1-1. That’s a critical win, keeping them tied for first in the NFC North and headed to Detroit next week with a chance to seize control of the NFC North, a division they’ve owned recently. The Jets fall to 1-1 and have only themselves to blame.

$.08--NFL Quickies

--Very happy for Austin Davis getting the win in his first start for the Rams. The way that game ended was a travesty, however. Bucs WR Mike Evans makes a great catch and gets rocked by the crown of a helmet into his neck and shoulder. He tries to get up but can’t; he’s obviously hurt by a hit that was obviously a penalty. Since Tampa had no timeouts left, the 10-second runoff penalty caused time to expire with the Bucs in field goal range and trailing by 2.

--The RG3 injury looked terrible, but this is why Washington selected Kirk Cousins in the same draft and refused to trade him despite some (allegedly) tempting offers. Cousins was 22-for-33 for 250 yards and 2 TDs in leading Washington to a 41-10 thrashing of the Jaguars. He’ll be the starter for the foreseeable future, and if he plays like this the question might turn to “what can they get for RG3” instead of Cousins.

--I love the Ickey Woods commercial for Geico. Even after seeing it approximately 113 times over the football week, it still hasn’t gotten old. I totally believe Woods would celebrate getting cold cuts.

--Woods’ old team, the Cincinnati Bengals sit atop the AFC North with a quiet 2-0 record. One of those wins is over Baltimore, the other came Sunday in whacking the Falcons 24-10. A big key: they have yet to turn the ball over in their two games. If only Andy Dalton could do that in January…

--One of the most surprising outcomes came courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys, who trounced the host Titans 26-10. The surprising number there is 10. The Cowboys embattled defense forced Jake Locker into a rough day, as Tennessee went just 2-for-10 on third down. Dallas held the ball for over 41 minutes thanks to a pounding rushing attack, the best way to keep a bad defense from being exposed. Good game for Coach Jason Garrett.

--The New York Giants didn’t come close to beating an Arizona team playing an early Eastern game with a backup quarterback. That was one the Giants had to have, and they were thoroughly outclassed. Eli Manning is much more a part of the problem than the solution at this point.

--In my Football Meteorology virtual wagers, I’ve bet big against the Browns twice. I’ve lost twice. Huge win in the home opener for Cleveland and Coach Mike Pettine. They’ve been very solid over the last six quarters with a strong running game and smart football. Like their I-71 brethren, the Browns have yet to turn the ball over in 2014.

$.09--College/Draft quickies

It was a pretty lame weekend of college action, and I watched almost none of it in real time. So the focus here this week is the draft.

--I’m not a huge fan of Michigan State QB Connor Cook, whom I compared to a McCown brother this week. Yet he’s got this going for him…

He’s a better prospect than Hoyer or Cousins at the same point. Stanton was a different style of QB so it’s hard to compare them, but their talent level and ceilings are comparable: capable #2 who can start a few games and not be the reason you lose, but not a guy you are comfortable calling a true #1.

--The one game I was watching was UCLA vs. Texas in Jerry Jones’ palatial shrine to his own cash in Arlington. The Longhorns looked better than they have in years early on, and they even knocked overrated (as a draft prospect) Bruins QB Brett Hundley out of the game. I fell asleep at halftime. I woke up just in time to see backup QB Jerry (son of Rick) Neuheisel being carried off the field after leading UCLA to the win. At some point I’ll have to watch the second half…

--I spent time breaking down Toledo C Greg Mancz and his performance in the Rockets’ exciting loss to Cincinnati. Mancz was impressive as both a right tackle and guard earlier in his Toledo career, and now he’s moved to replace Zac Kerin in the middle. He’s better than Kerin, an undrafted rookie currently on Minnesota’s practice squad. Kerin was nastier but Mancz is stronger and more technically proficient with his hands. I like his ability to fire off the ball and dictate the action, and he generally did well engaging in space. I want and need to see more, but Mancz looks like a worthy Senior Bowl candidate and potential middle-round pick next May.

$.10--Friday was a gut punch, a rotten day to have this job which I normally love. Minutes after talking to ESPN 96.1 in Grand Rapids (thanks Sean Baligian!) about Greg Hardy’s brutal assault of his girlfriend and Carolina’s tone-deaf refusal to suspend him--let alone deactivate him for a game--the Peterson news broke.

Frequent readers know I’m a Lions fan, but not the kind of fan who hates or roots against other teams. I’m above all else a football fan, and watching AD run all day is a great example of why. My children got home from school about 30 minutes later, and my son immediately wondered why one of his favorite players was in trouble.

It’s hard to explain child abuse to a child who hasn’t been abused. That’s a foreign concept, as is corporal punishment to my children. Answering questions about why someone would whip a child is a conversation I was not ready to have with my kids.

So I unplugged on Friday night. I watched the first half of the Toledo-Cincinnati game with the sound off. Yet every time I saw the NFL on the crawl it completely bummed me out. I really needed a good Saturday to get my mind back in the right place.

I got it thanks to lower levels of sports. My daughter Elizabeth had her first game of kindergarten soccer at 8 AM in the 44 degree cloudiness of the early fall in West Michigan. The game was everything you’ve heard about 5 and 6 year olds playing soccer, one giant amoebic mass of children chasing the ball with no organization or passing. My Lizzie made two legitimate saves while playing goalie, and she nearly scored the first soccer goal in Risdon family history at the other end later on.

It was the lowest level of sports, and it was fantastic. Kids knocking each other over and saying “sorry” before sometimes sitting down next to them as the action played on nearby. There was the one inevitable kid who just couldn’t resist using his hands on the ball…every single time. Each team had one player who looked like Lebron James playing middle schoolers, a couple of kids who have clearly played before, and novices like my Lizzie who smiled when they simply kicked the ball in the right direction.

My son Layne wildly cheered on the young ones, yelling praise and literally leaping out of his shoes when his little sister launched a shot that required a save worthy of Tim Howard. My kids get along well together, but seeing him so fired up and happy for his sister was still absolutely awesome.

After defrosting for a bit, my wife headed to the Michigan/Miami tilt and I took the kids to the local D-III college game. We watched Hope College host Augustana, part of a crowd that was notably less than high school games we attended in Clear Lake, Texas.

We had no rooting interest in the game. Heck, we didn’t even have seats; we sat on a grassy knoll in the end zone. Layne fielded an extra point, as there was no net to catch the ball. Popcorn was $1.25 for about half the amount that costs $8.50 at Ford Field. Admission was $11 for the three of us. Parking, which costs at least $40 to park 3 miles away in Ann Arbor, was free two blocks from the stadium.

It was joyous. The game was close and exciting, with Hope winning 37-27. The skill level was solid and pretty balanced. There were no future NFL players on the field. Most of these young men couldn’t walk onto downtrodden Big Ten teams. It didn’t matter.

For one day anyway, sports became about fun and escapism again. I wish it could always be that way. 



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