Monday, August 20, 2012

FFHL NFL FOOTBALL SEASON KICKOFF

FROM THE DESK OF THE “FUGITIVE” COMMISSIONER

Hello Football Fans, The NFL preseason has started, so this letter is almost exclusively NFL news and minutia and other good stuff such as three quiz questions. I don't have the coaching changes listed yet (later), but a quickie summary of the rule changes is attached and may interest you. I'll be sending out a college football "kickoff" letter soon, as the season starts in a few short weeks.
Enjoy, The Fugitive Commissioner of the FFHL

Now that the 2012 Olympics are history, and with all due respect to those incredible athletes, I’m moving on to the 2012 football season… after this.  Here’s a brief summary of the medal count for the top countries (before “winning” athletes lose their medals after positive drug tests):
 

COUNTRY                 TOTAL           GOLDS
    USA                            104                 46
    China                            87                  38
    Russia                           82                  24
    Great Britain                 65                  29
    Germany                       44                  11
    Japan                            38                    7
    Australia                        35                    7
    France                           34                  11
    South Korea                  28                  13
    Italy                               28                    8
To put the competition into perspective:
                        Only 25 countries won double-digit medals, and
                        One-hundred twenty-three (123) countries won 0 medals.

If you follow projections going into the season, you probably have noticed that experts tend to use last year’s results as a predictor of success for this year, which is of course one factor in the analysis.  But, as the statistics bear out, it is not the overriding factor.  Since 1998, a team has repeated as division winner only 30% of the time, or less than 1 in 3.  In 2011 alone, only 1 of the 8 divisions had a repeat winner (NE Pats; they have won the AFC East 8 of the last 9 seasons).  

In 2002, realignment created 8 divisions of four teams each. In those ten years, the NFC South has never had a repeat winner, and each of the four teams in the division (NOR, ATL, CAR, TB) has won the division title at least TWICE in those ten years.  All four members of the AFC West and NFC West have also won at least one division title in those ten years.

“So, who’s going to win Super Bowl XLVII?”
(Speaking of Roman numerals, did anyone else notice that the 30th Olympics were XXX??!!?)

I’ll give my predictions below (and of course, since I am a lousy prognosticator, you may argue with my selections).
After my comments, I have summarized the gambling odds by NFL division from LUCKY’S as of April 25th and from TheSpread.com website as posted in the second half of July.  There really are not that many differences between the two sets of numbers [see “big” changes IN RED on the following pages].


As a refresher, this may help to interpret the odds numbers:
A positive number means that you have to bet $100 to win that “positive number” amount of money.  For example, +300 means that you wager $100 to win $300 [total payback $400].  This is the same as “3 to 1” odds, or 3/1 odds [that is, $300 win divided by $100 amount wagered].
A negative number means that you have to bet that amount of money to win $100.  For example, -250 means that you wager $250 to win $100 [total payback $350].  This is the same as “2 to 5” odds or 2/5 odds [that is, $100 win divided by $250 amount wagered].

PROJECTED DIVISION WINNERS (by “The Fugitive”, not very scientific)

AFC East:  New England looks like the solid favorite again, as long as Tom Brady is QB and Cheating Belichick is the coach), even with flaws in their #31-ranked defense (next-to-last in the league in 2011,  only ahead of #32-ranked Green Bay).

GAMBLING ODDS to win division:
“Lucky’s” in April: NE -300 (big favorite), NYJ +350, BUF +500, MIA +900
TheSpread.com in July: NE -350 (big favorite), NYJ +600, BUF +700, MIA +1200

AFC North: Three teams made the playoffs last year.  Baltimore and Pittsburgh were 12-4 and Cincinnati was 9-7, with Cleveland languishing in the cellar at 4-12.  I’ll go out on a limb and say that the top 3 teams will all have worse records this year, and the Browns with a rookie QB will not improve on their paltry 2011 record (especially if they go 0-6 in their division again this year).  Flip a coin – BAL or PIT; I’m taking Pittsburgh to win the division this year, although both teams have question marks.
Cincinnati is getting banged up in the preseason.

GAMBLING ODDS:
 “Lucky’s” in April: BAL+120, PIT +150 (a close 2nd), CIN +240, CLE +1100
TheSpread.com in July: PIT+120, BAL +130 (a close 2nd), CIN +400, CLE +2500

AFC South:  Last year, I picked Houston to finally come through, before Peyton Manning was declared out for the season.  The Texans won the division, but Indy was a non-factor, so we’ll never know if my prediction would have been accurate had Manning been able to play.
For 2012, The Fugitive is picking the HOU Texans again, as is everyone else with a pulse.

GAMBLING ODDS:
 “Lucky’s” in April: HOU -500, TEN +350, IND +1000, JAX +1000
TheSpread.com in July: HOU -400, TEN +450, IND +1200, JAX +1500


AFC West:  This division is wide open.  With QB Peyton Manning coming to the Broncos, Denver is widely considered the favorite to repeat.  Their 8-8 record last year was not that impressive, except for some miraculous fourth-quarter comebacks with Tebow (who is now a NY Jet).  Denver won the tie-breaker over SD & KC.  San Diego, Kansas City and Oakland all have a decent chance to win the division and make the playoffs.
For 2012, The Fugitive is taking San Diego, then KC followed by Denver and then Oakland.

GAMBLING ODDS to win the AFC West:
 “Lucky’s” in April: DEN+160, SD +220, KC+250, OAK+300
TheSpread.com in July: DEN+170, SD +180, KC+350, OAK+500

NFC East: Everyone projected the “Dream Team” PHI Eagles to run away with the division title last year, but they ended up only 8-8 and missed the playoffs.  Dallas also disappointed (again), posting an 8-8 record.  The NY Giants took advantage and won the division with a 9-7 record.  The WSH Redskins have a rookie QB and need at least one more year to seriously contend.  Although NYG is the defending Super Bowl champion, they aren’t getting that much respect.  And the sucker that I am, Philadelphia is my pick this year, with Dallas 2nd, followed by NYG and then WSH.

 GAMBLING ODDS:
 “Lucky’s” in April: PHI+140, NYG +160 (close 2nd), DAL +220, WSH +700
TheSpread.com in July: PHI+150, NYG +200 (close 2nd), DAL +250, WSH +750

NFC North:  After a 15-1 regular season last year, Green Bay is the overwhelming favorite in this division.  But Chicago and Detroit both have a shot and should be playoff contenders.  My Vikings have slim chances to contend, need to shore up the defense, and hope RB Adrian Peterson is back to 100% and is able to stay on the field.
For 2012, The Fugitive will take DA BEARS in an upset, with both the Pack and Lions making the playoffs.

GAMBLING ODDS:
 “Lucky’s” in April: GB -200 (big favorite), DET +250, CHI +350, MIN +1500
TheSpread.com in July: GB -250 (big favorite), CHI +350, DET +500, MIN +2500

NFC South:  With the shake-up in New Orleans, this division gets more interesting.  My gut tells me that the off-season distractions will take their toll on the Saints.  The Fugitive will take Atlanta to win the division, and win a playoff game.  Carolina has the potential to be in the race, but I think Tampa Bay will struggle for one more year with their new head coach.

GAMBLING ODDS:
 “Lucky’s” in April: NOR -180 (big favorite), ATL +200, CAR +400, TB +1500
TheSpread.com in July: NOR +130, ATL +140 (close 2nd), CAR +450, TB +1000

NFC West:  Last year San Francisco distinguished itself with new head coach Jim Harbaugh.  It’s hard to believe that one year ago the 49’ers were coming off a 6-10 season and were not considered the favorite to win the division title.  This year the Niners are clearly the favorite after a 13-3 season, and I will make the obvious choice in picking them to easily repeat as the division winner.  I’m thinking that Seattle will be around .500 and settle into 2nd place, with the STL Rams 3rd with new coach Jeff Fisher, and the AZ Cards struggling for respectability with John Skelton at QB.

GAMBLING ODDS:
 “Lucky’s” in April: SF -260 (big favorite), AZ +350, SEA +400, STL +1000
TheSpread.com in July: SF -250 (big favorite), SEA +400, AZ +750, STL +1000

SUPER BOWL PROJECTIONS

Phil Steele’s advanced look has New England beating Green Bay in Super Bowl XLVII, 31-30.

www.PredictEm.com gives three different selections:
The most likely “short” bet:  Philadelphia (at 13/1) over Pittsburgh
Middle-range pick:                 Pittsburgh (at 17/1) over Philadelphia
Long-shot pick:                                  Chicago (at 29/1) over … not listed, maybe the Cubs (?)

THE FUGITIVE SUPER BOWL PROJECTION:  Philadelphia over New England

Odds for winning the Super Bowl as reported by www.sbnation.com on August 9th:
  GB 6/1, NE 6.5/1, SF 10/1, HOU 12/1, PHI 12/1, DEN 16/1, PIT 16/1, BAL 18/1

OVERALL

With all of that said, every year since 2003 there has been a last-place team in at least one of the divisions to win their division the next year.  Which team might that be in 2012?  Last year I posed that same question to you, and the answer was …… HOUSTON (10-6), and DENVER (8-8) tied with SD and OAK and won playoff tiebreaker.  Dallas seemed to be the obvious choice last year, but came up one game short.

For 2012, here are the eight choices: BUF and MIA, CLE, INDY, KC, WSH, MIN, TB, and STL.  Come on, man, you gotta pick one!!
In this category only, I’ll pick “Kansas City” to break out, win the division and make the playoffs as they did in 2010.  My second choice would be Buffalo (would love to see NE Pats fade), but that is a big reach given New England’s cupcake schedule this year.  I believe Washington is at least one year away from contention in the NFC East, but it’s possible if RG3 lights it up.


NFL RULE CHANGES

The new kickoff rules got quite a bit of press last year (college adopted similar kickoff rules this year).  Kickoffs are from the 35-yard line instead of the 30-yard line.
The main NFL rules changes for 2012 are:

1.               The overtime rule that was adopted for the playoffs last year will now be used also for regular season games.  Roughly, that means a team winning the coin flip in OT cannot win the game outright with a FG on their first drive.  The start of the “afternoon” games has been delayed by 10 minutes to accommodate this new rule.

2.               “Automatic” instant replay has been expanded to include all plays resulting in a turnover.  Last year all touchdown plays were subject to automatic replay booth review.

3.               The “defenseless player” rule is expanded to penalize crack-back blocks to the head and/or neck area (Hines Ward Rule).

4.               “Soft pads” are now mandatory, supposedly to help prevent injuries (mainly bruising, but not major injuries).  The required equipment is roughly hip/thigh/knee pads built into a one-piece, lower body suit (“NIKE integrated pads”).  Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s players had used foam pads that stuck out from all parts of their uniforms, but most skill position players jettisoned (NASA term) this bulk to increase their speed and quickness.

5.               The NFL delayed the trade deadline from Week #6 to Week #8.

OTHER CATCH-UP  and MINUTIA OF POTENTIAL INTEREST

Results of NFL Supplemental Draft

WR Josh Gordon (Baylor, Utah, drug suspensions) was the only player taken in this year’s Supplemental draft.  The CLE Browns grabbed this talented athlete (6’4”, 220 lbs, good speed) in the 2nd round.
The next best player available was RB Ed Wesley (TCU); he was not drafted, probably because he measured out at 5’8”, 196 lbs., and a 4.7 forty.
Undrafted LB Larry Lumpkin (Carson-Newman) was picked up by the IND Colts in free agency.

Green Bay Packers shareholders’ meeting

The GB Packers are the only publicly-owned NFL team.  Earlier this year, they had a stock sale that tripled the total number of shareholders.  Basically, the only benefit for owning this “stock” is a lifetime invitation to the team’s annual stockholders’ meeting.  This year’s meeting was held on July 23rd; the Packers got a preliminary count and more than 25,000 shareholders were expected.  In past years shareholders could bring up to 4 guests, but for fear the stadium would not hold all of the attendees, only shareholders were allowed this year.
Only 12,500 stockholders actually showed up; another 21,000 stockholders watched the event online, via a feed available only to shareholders.

Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio

The Pro Football HOF in Canton opened its doors on September 7, 1963.  Forty-nine years later on July 8, 2012, the Hall welcomed its 9 millionth visitor.  That’s an average of about 184,000 visitors per year.
Here’s a quickie summary of the progression:
1963 to 1973               Hit 1 million visitors              100,000 average per year for 10 years
1973 to 1991               Hit 5 million visitors              222,000 average per year for 18 years
1991 to 2012               Hit 9 million visitors              190,000 average per year for 21 years


Chad Ochocinco is history; he changed his name back to Chad Johnson.  He got married in early July.  In August, he was arrested for suspicion of domestic battery for an alleged head-butt to his wife’s skull, and was cut by the “Hard Knocks” Miami Dolphins soon thereafter (August 12, 2012).
He was a six-time Pro Bowler for Cincinnati, and for his career he has 766 receptions for 11,059 yards and 67 TD’s.  Chad was cut by the NE Patriots after last season before he signed with the ‘Fins.  Are his playing days over?  He’s 34 years old, but still may be picked up by some team desperate for WR help.

ARENA FOOTBALL – THE CHAMPION

The Arizona Rattlers, #2 seed in the National Conference, and the Philadelphia Soul, #1 seed in the American Conference, won two playoff games and met in ArenaBowl XXV on August 10th in New Orleans.  The AZ Rattlers beat the PHI Soul, 72-54, for the title.  It was the Rattlers’ third AFL championship (1994, 1997).  Arizona had lost in last year’s championship game to the Jacksonville Sharks, 73-70.


UNITED FOOTBALL LEAGUE (UFL) – REVIVED!

The UFL Commissioner had resigned in January of 2012, and it appeared as if the UFL was dead.  “Not so fast, my friends!”  The league has been revived and actually signed a TV contract with CBS Sports Network recently.  Starting September 19th, there will be two games broadcast per week, on every Wednesday and Friday night (the days not already taken by the NFL).
There will be four teams, with an 8-week regular season and a championship game in late November.

The four teams:
Las Vegas Locomotives         Coach Jim Fassel
Virginia Destroyers                Coach Marty Schottenheimer
Omaha Nighthawks                Coach Bart Andrus (promoted from offensive coordinator)
Sacramento Mountain Lions  Coach Turk Schonert (former NFL QB and assistant coach, replacing
Dennis Green, who sued the league for not paying his salary last year)
It appears that there will not be restrictions on players jumping to the NFL during the UFL season, as had been the case in prior years.
More later.

USFL
There is also a new league intending to play games from March through June of 2013, with 8 teams and a 14-game schedule.  More on that later.

SELECTED GAMES FOR WEEK ONE

Thursday        Kickoff 2012
Sept 5th                        Dallas +3 at NY Giants -3

Sunday                        Early Divisional Matchups:
Sept 8th                       Buffalo +5 at NY Jets                        
                                    Seattle +2 at Arizona
                                    Carolina -3 at Tampa Bay
                                    Other interesting matchups:
                                    Pittsburgh +2 at Denver (last year’s playoff rematch)
                                    San Francisco +6h at Green Bay (#2 & #1 seeds from last year’s playoffs)

Monday Double Header        Cincinnati +6h at Baltimore (7PM Eastern)
                        Sept 9th                       San Diego (Pick’em) at Oakland (10:15PM Eastern)
QUIZ QUESTIONS

QUESTION #1
Six former NFL players were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier this month – Jack Butler, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman, Cortez Kennedy, Curtis Martin, and Willie Roaf.  How many total Super Bowl rings did these players win?

QUESTION #2
Which NCAA-sanctioned teams are not eligible for post-season play in 2012?
HINT:  I asked this question in my last newsletter in July; the answer has changed.


QUESTION #3
This question comes from “The Mudhen” of Fallbrook, CA:
What former NFL player holds the all-time record for highest QB rating (20 or more pass completions)?
HINT1:  He played in the NFL for Pittsburgh and Washington from 2002 through 2010, and announced plans to retire in July.
HINT2: It’s not Kordell Stewart, but think “slash”



ANSWER #1
NONE.  The last time this happened was in 1982, when four players were inducted – Doug Atkins, George Musso, Sam Huff, and Merlin Olsen.  None could boast of a Super Bowl victory.
In the 2012 group, Dawson and Martin did play in one Super Bowl each, but were on the losing end.

ANSWER #2
“Ohio State and North Carolina” was the answer on July 4th, but there has been an addition to that list.
The University of Central Florida will be ineligible for postseason play in both football and basketball for the 2012-2013 academic year (and 5-year probation, and 5-scholarship reduction for three years, and more).  The NCAA added this penalty to the school’s self-imposed penalties after major recruiting violations were uncovered last year.  UCF was also cited for “lack of institutional control”, and is considered a repeat offender after just getting off of NCAA probation in February after being cited for violations from 2007 to 2009.
Central Florida had been picked to win the Conference USA this year.  The team will be moving to the Big East Conference in 2013.

USC is bowl-eligible this year, after serving its two-year bowl ban.
Miami of Florida is still being investigated, but the hammer hasn’t come down yet on the Hurricanes’ program.  It doesn’t look good for “The U”.

ANSWER #3
Though remembered as a role player and for producing some great kick returns, it is Antwaan Randle El. He primarily played QB at Indiana University (also played basketball and baseball at the school), but was considered a WR and kick returner in the pros after being drafted by Pittsburgh in the 2nd round of the 2002 draft.
But he did throw some passes in the NFL and completed 22 of 27 passes for 323 yards with 6 TD’s and no interceptions.  He also had a career rushing mark of 5.5 yards per attempt on 79 total carries (0 TD’s).  He racked up 6 TD’s on kick returns, as well as 15 receiving TD’s.
Oh, the most important stat for this question:  his career QB rating all-time NFL record is 158.7.



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