Saturday, September 10, 2016

FOOTBALL NEWS – COLLEGE, NFL KICKOFF DOUBLE ISSUE


FROM THE DESK OF THE “FUGITIVE” COMMISSIONER

Hello Football Fans,
Attached is a summary of four months of off-season activity related to pro football since the 2016 NFL Draft.

Please take an hour or so to get up to speed for the 2016 season.

I've got a short write-up for each team, and I have given you my projected regular season records for each team and guesstimated playoff results (although not too scientific).


Also summarized are rule changes and other items of potential interest to get the season started.

Enjoy,

The Fugitive Commissioner of the FFHL, on the lam from the gambling police

ISSUE #1 – THE YOUNGSTERS

COLLEGE KICKOFF
The season got started quietly on Saturday, August 27th with two interesting games.

CAL Bears 51, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 31
An FBS game was played in Australia (Saturday there, Friday night in the USA – 20 hour time difference between Hawaii and Sydney).
Why so interesting?
The point spread is already coming into play. California was favored by 22h points and was running out the clock with about ½ minute remaining in the game, leading by twenty points … hand off up the middle from the Hawaii 15-yard line…he rumbles, he bumbles, he rolls over several would-be tacklers toward the goal line …. Downed inside the 1-yard line – no TD -- 24 seconds to go….CAL decides not to run another play and the game is over; the CAL Bears do NOT cover against the spread (ATS).
FCS#6 Charleston Southern at FCS#1 North Dakota State
The Football Championship Subdivision (fka Division 1-AA) kicked off the season with a blockbuster game. The CSU Buccaneers were forced to play their opener on the road, across country, against the defending five-time FCS Champion.
The game was tied at halftime (3-3) and after three quarters (10-10) and after four quarters (17-17), since Charleston missed a 51-yard FG slightly wide left as regulation time expired that would have won the game.
NDSU prevailed with a 25-yard run on the first play of overtime, and the Bison extended its nonconference victory streak to 43 games.
FINAL: NDSU 24, CSU 17 (OT)

LAST WEEKEND – THE FULL SEASON IS UNDERWAY
This first week on the gridiron was touted as being the best lineup of opening games in the history of college football. Maybe that’s true; the list of key matchups was impressive. And we probably have to give the new CFP playoff system some credit in forcing big-time programs to upgrade their schedules.
Anyway, the first week of key matchups for the most part did not disappoint.
Three of the AP Top 10 teams were upset in the first week on the gridiron.
The AP Top 10 posted only a 4-6 record against the spread (ATS), which generally bodes poorly for us FFHL handicappers, who selected only 17 underdogs out of 84 total picks this week.

Following are the quickie results for the Preseason AP Top 25 teams:

AP#1 Alabama crushed AP#20 USC, 52-6, in Arlington, TX


AP#2 Clemson won at Auburn, 19-13.
AP#3 Oklahoma lost to AP#15 Houston, 33-23, in NFL Houston Texans stadium
AP#4 Florida State beat AP#11 Mississippi in neutral site Orlando, FL
AP#5 LSU lost to unranked Wisconsin, 16-14, in neutral site Green Bay, WI.
AP#6 Ohio State smoked visiting Bowling Green, 77-10.
AP#7 Michigan bounced visiting Hawaii, 63-3.
AP#8 Stanford beat visiting Kansas State, 26-13.
AP#9 Tennessee got lucky and beat visiting Appalachian State, 20-13 in overtime.
AP#10 Notre Dame lost at unranked Texas, 50-47, in double overtime.
AP#12 Michigan State struggled to beat FCS Furman at home, 28-13
AP#13 TCU struggled big-time at home but finally beat FCS South Dakota State, 59-41.
AP#14 Washington beat visiting Rutgers handily, 48-13.
AP#16 UCLA lost on the road to favored Texas A&M, 31-24, in overtime.
AP#17 Iowa beat visiting Miami of Ohio, 45-21.
AP#18 Georgia beat AP#22 North Carolina, 33-24, in NFL Atlanta Falcons stadium
AP#19 Louisville clobbered visiting Charlotte, 70-14.
AP#21 Oklahoma State beat visiting FCS SE Louisiana, 61-7.
AP#23 Baylor beat visiting FCS Northwestern State, 55-7.
AP#24 Oregon struggled early at home but prevailed over FCS UC-Davis, 53-28.
AP#25 Florida was sluggish on offense at home but beat heavy underdog UMass, 24-7.

UNDERDOG WINNERS - FOOTBALL BOWL SUBDIVISION (FBS)
There were THIRTEEN underdogs that won outright in 41 FBS vs. FBS games (32%, roughly one in every three games).

On Thursday night, South Carolina (+4) won at Vanderbilt, 13-10. The SC Gamecocks trailed 10-3 until finally scoring a TD in the 4th quarter. The VAND Commodores subsequently missed a 47-yard FG attempt and then SC ended up with a slim chance to win in regulation, setting up for a 55-yard FG with 41 seconds to go…with a slight tail wind….it’s up with plenty of distance, and GOOD!
FINAL: S.CAR 13, VAND 10

On Friday night:
Ball State (+4) won at Georgia State, 31-21.
Army (+16) won at Temple, 28-13.
Toledo (+3h) won at Arkansas State, 31-10.

On Saturday:
AP#15 Houston (+11h) beat AP#3 Oklahoma at neutral site NFL Houston Texans’ Stadium (Houston, TX). The UH Cougars led 19-17 at halftime and were not intimidated by the OU Sooners, Power 5 Big XII preseason favorite. Houston extended its lead in mid-3rd quarter when Oklahoma missed a 53-yard FG (short), and HOU returned it 109.999 yards for a TD (returner’s heel just about touched back of end zone). Soon thereafter, OU fumbled and Houston engineered a 10-play, 51-yard drive for another TD to lead 33-17. Oklahoma fumbled once more after that and could not catch up (plus, this undisciplined team had several costly and unnecessary 15-yard penalties).
FINAL: HOU 33, OKLA 23
Houston has at least one more tough game in the regular season – vs. Louisville at home on November 17th (and maybe several road contests: at Cincinnati and at Navy). If the Cougars go undefeated, will they get a berth in the 4-team CFP Playoffs? We’ll see.


Wisconsin (+10) beat AP#5 LSU at GB Packers’ Lambeau Field (Green Bay, WI). The UW Badgers kicked a pair of FG’s in the first half and then scored a TD early in the 3rd quarter to lead 13-0. But then the LSU Tigers capitalized on two UW turnovers in the next several minutes – a “Pick 6” interception return for a TD and then a fumble that was converted to another TD. LSU led 14-13 after three quarters. Bucky Badger kicked a 47-yard FG with 3:47 remaining for the eventual game-winner. Both teams had 3 turnovers; UW outgained LSU from scrimmage 339-257.
FINAL: WISC 16, LSU 14

Western Michigan (+5) won at Northwestern, 22-21.
In a tightly contested matchup, NW Wildcats took the lead on a TD early in the 4th quarter, 21-16, but the UWM Broncos responded with a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ate up 6½ minutes of clock and gave them the lead. Northwestern still had plenty of time, and matriculated down the field…1st and goal from the UWM 6-yard line, QB running for the end zone for the go-ahead score with 3 minutes to go….fumble, recovered by Western Michigan, after which the visitors ran out the clock to secure the victory.
UWM converted all four of its 4th-down attempts from scrimmage to help the cause.

SHOCKER OF THE WEEK:


South Alabama (+28) won at Mississippi State, 21-20. The MSU Bulldogs seemed to have the game under control, leading 17-0 at halftime, but the 4-TD underdog SAU Jaguars out of the Sun Belt Conference shocked the SEC West team. The Jags scored a TD with 57 seconds remaining to take its first lead of the game; but wait--Mississippi State marched quickly into chip-shot FG range for the game-winning attempt with six seconds on the clock…28-yard FG is…no good, wide left.
BOBCATS upset BOBCATS!
Texas State (+21) won at Ohio U. in triple overtime, 56-54.
Southern Mississippi (+6h) won at SEC Kentucky, 44-35.
BYU (+1h) beat Arizona in the NFL Arizona Cardinals’ stadium, 18-16.
Brigham Young University led at halftime, 9-0, but the UA Wildcats finally took the lead 16-15 with back-to-back TD’s in the 4th quarter, the go-ahead score with only 1½ minutes remaining in the game. After the ensuing kickoff, the BYU Cougars marched down the field and were in position for a 33-yard game-winning FG attempt with four seconds to go. New HC Kalani Sitake faced a difficult decision in his NCAA debut. He could send out sophomore kicker Rhett Almond, who had already missed a FG and an extra point kick earlier in the game; or, he could go with freshman kicker Jake Oldroyd. Oldroyd got the nod and made the best of his opportunity.
Wyoming (+10) beat visiting Northern Illinois, 40-34, in triple overtime.



MOST ENTERTAINING GAME OF THE WEEK:
On Sunday night, Texas (+3h) beat visiting AP#10 Notre Dame in a wildly contested matchup. The UT Longhorns jumped out to a 31-14 lead after settling for a 25-yard FG in mid-3rd quarter. The ND Irish responded with two quick TD’s and a third unanswered score early in the 4th quarter to take the lead, 35-31. Texas finally got the lead back after scoring a TD with 3½ minutes remaining in the game, 37-35, but the extra point kick was blocked and Notre Dame ran it all the way to paydirt at the other end of the field for a 2-point defensive PAT to tie the score, 37-37; plus, Texas had to kick off to the Golden Domers. However, regulation play ended without incident, and the teams were headed to overtime.
Both teams scored TD’s in the first OT. In the 2nd OT, Notre Dame had to settle for a FG and then Texas responded with the winning TD.


FINAL: TEX 50, ND 47 (2OT)
Note: both teams used a two-QB rotation, but in different ways.
Texas started freshman passer Shane Buechele (Phil Steele #12-rated nationally coming out of high school), and used senior Tyrone Swoops (6’4”, 254 lbs.) as a change-of-pace “Wildcat” runner (he rushed for the winning TD in overtime).
Notre Dame used two QB’s who both had success in prior years. Sophomore DeShone Kizer started and drove his team to a TD on the opening drive. But appearing to be scripted, Kizer was replaced by junior QB Malik Zaire, who entered the game for the Irish’s second possession of the game. It went back and forth until it became apparent that Kizer was the better alternative; he threw 5 TD passes and rushed for 77 yards and another TD in the losing cause.

“NOT QUITE” AN UPSET:
AP#9 Tennessee (-21) was a three-TD favorite at home against Appalachian State out of the lowly Sun Belt Conference. After taking the lead 13-3 in mid-second quarter, the ASU Mountaineers missed the extra point kick and then missed a potential go-ahead 42-yard FG with 5½ minutes remaining in the 4th quarter, but still ended up sending the game into overtime against one of those over-hyped SEC teams. On their first possession in OT, the TENN Vols fumbled near the goal line, the ball dribbled into the end zone and a Volunteer recovered it for the winning TD.
FINAL: TENN 20, APP ST 13 (OT)
If you will recall, exactly nine years ago (to the day) Appalachian State (then ranked FCS#1) upset then-AP#5 Michigan at the Big House, 34-32 [September 1, 2007].
Indiana (-10h) trailed on the road to Florida International after three quarters, 13-12, but scored 22 unanswered points in the final stanza to prevail, 34-13 (and cover ATS).
AP#22 North Carolina (+2h) led 24-14 after scoring a TD in mid-3rd quarter, but AP#18 Georgia scored 19 unanswered points the rest of the way at neutral site ATL Falcons’ Stadium (Atlanta, GA). The momentum changed on a bad penalty call (lineman allegedly downfield on pass play) against the UNC Tar Heels followed by an unsportsmanlike penalty on HC Larry Fedora for walking on to the field to argue the call.
FINAL: UGA 33, UNC 24
AP#16 UCLA (+3) trailed 24-9 at Texas A&M until the Bruins scored a TD with less than five minutes remaining in regulation play. UCLA scored again less than two minutes later (scoring 15 unanswered points in the 4th quarter) to send the game into overtime. But the favored home team won in OT.
FINAL: TXAM 31, UCLA 24 (OT)
On Monday night, AP#11 Ole Miss (+4h) jumped out to a 28-6 in the 2nd quarter over AP#4 FSU in neutral site Orlando, FL. But Florida State scored just before halftime and then dominated the 3rd quarter to take the lead, 36-28, and never looked back. The Rebels lost the turnover battle 4-0, giving FSU the 2nd-half momentum. Seminoles’ freshman kicker Ricky Aguayo (brother of 2016 NFL 2nd round draft pick of the TB Bucs, Roberto Aguayo) made six FG’s in the game without a miss.


FINAL: FSU 45, MISS 34



AGAINST THE SPREAD – “STRANGE TWISTS”
You already read about the first game of the 2016 season; it came down to the final moments ATS in Australia. And there are so many more games that come down to the final few minutes ATS. For this week, I’ll stick just to the Top 25 games that haven’t already been covered above.
AP#2 Clemson (-7h) traveled to Auburn for its season opener. The CU Tigers led comfortably 19-6 in the 4th quarter, but the other Tigers of Auburn, Alabama kept playing hard and scored a TD with 3½ minutes remaining in the game to cover the spread.
FINAL: CLEM 19, AUB 13



PRESEASON POLLS - FBS
Let’s compare the preseason Associated Press (AP) Top 25 to the current AP rankings after last weekend’s games. First place votes are listed in parentheses.
Summary:

With losses, OKLA dropped 11 spots to #14, LSU dropped 16 spots to #21, ND dropped 8 spots to #18, MISS dropped 8 spots to #19, and UCLA, USC, UNC, and Florida all dropped out of the Top 25. Tennessee barely beat an SBC conference team and dropped 8 spots to #17. With wins, Washington jumped up 6 spots to #8, Houston jumped up 9 spots to #6, Georgia jumped up 9 spots to #9, Louisville jumped up 6 spots to #13, and previously unranked Wisconsin, Texas, Texas A&M, and Miami.FL jumped into the Top 25 at #10, #11, #20, and #25, respectively.
#1 Alabama got all but seven of the 61 first-place votes.
                                           AP
AP Top 25       AP           9/5/16
TEAMS      Preseason      NOW      Comments
Alabama         #1 (33)      #1(54)     Crimson Tide will be at the top until its first loss
Clemson         #2 (16)      #2(2)       Somewhat shaky win at Auburn in opener
Oklahoma       #3 (4)        #14          Lost convincingly to non-Power 5 Houston
Florida St       #4 (5)        #3(4)       Big comeback win over Ole Miss
LSU                #5 (1)        #21          Ugly loss at Lambeau Field; HC Miles on hot seat again
Ohio St           #6 (1)        #4            Cupcake win at home


Michigan        #7 (1)        #5 (1)       Cupcake win at home
Stanford         #8              #7             Cardinal eventually controls the pesky KSU Wildcats
Tennessee      #9              #17           Lucky win in OT as a 3-TD favorite over Appal.St.
Notre Dame   #10            #18           Loss at Texas tempers expectations in South Bend
Mississippi    #11            #19           Lost momentum & lost to #4 FSU, 45-34
Michigan St   #12            #12           Spartans play at Notre Dame on Sept. 17th
TCU               #13            #15           Horned Frogs looked shaky in opener
Washington  #14             #8             Cupcake win over visiting Rutgers, 48-13
Houston        #15            #6             QB Greg Ward Jr. & Co. beats OU; Heisman Trophy?
UCLA            #16           #27            Tough overtime loss at TX A&M in opener
Iowa              #17           #16            Cupcake home win over weak Miami.OH (#120 of 128)
Georgia        #18            #9             Bulldogs regain momentum and beat #22 UNC, 33-24
Louisville      #19           #13           Cupcake home win over Charlotte
USC              #20             NR          “Roll Tide”; OC Lane Kiffin & Co. prevail over Trojans
Oklahoma St. #21           #22           Cupcake win over unranked FCS SE Louisiana
UNC             #22            #31           Tough loss to SEC Georgia in opener at neutral site
Baylor          #23            #23           Cupcake home win over FCS NW State
Oregon         #24            #24           Cupcake FCS opponent tussles with the Ducks
Florida         #25            #26           Lackluster cupcake win over UMass, 24-7
Wisconsin     NR            #10           Upset #5 LSU in Green Bay, 16-14
Texas            NR            #11           Upset win at home over #10 Notre Dame
Texas A&M  NR            #20           Beat #16 UCLA at home in overtime
Miami, FL     NR           #25

PRESEASON POLL COMMENTS:
The FWAA-NFF Grantland Rice Super 16” Poll started up a few years ago, but it is not providing any new information this year to start the season. Its Top 16 picked the same top sixteen teams as the AP Poll, and the Super 16 Top 10 is the exact same teams in the exact same order as the AP Poll.
Back in February, Phil Steele projected how the AP Poll preseason rankings would look when first released in August. That is six months ahead of time – and his early projection
of the AP voters’ thoughts nailed down all ten Top 10 teams…in the exact same order as the currently released Preseason AP Top 10. Amazing!

The preseason Coaches’ Poll (Amway/USA Today) is quite similar to the preseason AP Poll. Both polls have the same Top 25 teams, albeit ranked in a slightly different order (C’mon, Man! boring). The biggest discrepancy is UCLA – ranked AP#16 and Coaches#24. “Coaches” Poll first place votes: Alabama (55), Clemson (7), FSU (1).
Based on these findings, I will focus just on the AP Poll during the season until the CFP Committee starts coming out with its preliminary rankings on Tuesday, November 1st, at which time I’ll switch my attention from the AP Poll to the more “meaningful” CFP rankings. The final CFP rankings that determine the four playoff teams will be unveiled on Sunday, December 4th.
If you look at the voting numbers for the AP Poll, the Top 10 teams outdistance the next ten teams (#11-#20) by a wide margin. AP#10 Notre Dame got 1006 points, whereas AP#11 Ole Miss got only 718 points (about 300 points different); AP#5 LSU got 1269 points (less than 300 points different than #10 ND). Whatever. It has all changed after only one week of play, since both ND and LSU were upset last Saturday.

Preseason                Final
2016 AP Top 10      2015 AP Top 10
ALABAMA             ALABAMA
CLEMSON              CLEMSON
OKLAHOMA          STANFORD
FSU                         OHIO STATE
LSU                         OKLAHOMA
OHIO ST                 MICHIGAN STATE
MICHIGAN            TCU
STANFORD           HOUSTON
TENNESSEE         IOWA
NOTRE DAME      OLE MISS



UPSETS” -- FCS beats FBS
During the first week of the 2013 season, 8 FCS teams won games against FBS teams. That included a “Power 5” conference team losing: Kansas State lost to FCS #1 North Dakota State.
In the first week of the 2014 season, only 2 FBS teams lost to FCS schools; one FBS loss was at the expense of a Power 5 conference team: Iowa State lost to FCS#1 North Dakota State.
Last year, in the first week of the season there were 4 FCS teams that beat FBS schools including two Power 5 conference schools (Washington State, Kansas, Wyoming, and Army).

This year:
Four FCS teams beat FBS teams, including three games involving Power-5 conference schools.
FCS#4 Richmond won at ACC Virginia, 37-20.
FCS#5 Northern Iowa won at Big XII Iowa State, 25-20.
FCS#17 Eastern Washington won at PAC-12 Washington State, 45-42.
FCS Albany beat the MAC conference Buffalo Bulls, 22-16. BUF lost the turnover battle 4-0 (including a fumble at the goal line with 4 minutes remaining in the game), even though the Bulls racked up 403 yards from scrimmage (vs. 238 for the ALB Great Danes).



FCS UPSETS – “NOT QUITE”:
On Thursday night:
UConn barely beat the FCS-unranked Black Bears of Maine, 24-21; and,
Idaho eked out a victory over FCS-unranked Montana State, 20-17.
On Saturday, FBS Nevada had to prevail in overtime over Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, 30-27. SLO scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to tie the game. HAWKEYE of the FFHL continues to support the San Luis Obispo program as he pays tuition for his co-ed daughter, a sophomore at Cal Poly.
FCS vs. FCS
The only two Top 25 FCS teams to lose to another FCS team were:
FCS#6 Charleston Southern lost on the road versus FCS#1 ND State, 24-17 (OT).
FCS#21 North Dakota lost at FCS-unranked Stony Brook, 13-9



FCS RANKINGS
Let’s compare the preseason FCS Coaches Poll Top 25 to the current FCS rankings after last weekend’s games. Before the season started, the ND State Bison (5-time defending FCS Champion) were the unanimous selection for the top spot in the poll by the 25 voters. The Bison are no longer the unanimous #1.
All of the FCS Top 10 won in the first week (two vs. FBS teams) except FCS#6 Charleston Southern (loss to FCS#1) and FCS#10 William & Mary (loss to FBS NC State out of the Power 5 ACC).

As of 9/5/16
Team Preseason Current Results
North Dakota St #1 (25) #1 (23) Beat FCS#6 CSU at home in OT
Sam Houston St #2 #3tie Easily beat FCS unranked foe
Jacksonville St #3 #5 Beat FCS North Alabama, 31-12
Richmond #4 (0) #2 (3) Soundly beat FBS Virginia, 37-20
Northern Iowa #5 #3tie Won at FBS Iowa State, 25-20
Charleston Southern #6 #7 Lost at #1 NDSU 24-17 in OT
Chattanooga #7 #6 Easily beat FCS unranked foe
Illinois State #8 #9 Easily beat FCS unranked foe
McNeese State #9 #10 Easily beat FCS unranked foe
William & Mary #10 #13 Lost at FBS NC State, 48-14
James Madison #11 #11 Easily beat FCS unranked foe
Portland State #12 #14 Beat FCS C.WA 43-26
Montana #13 #15 Beat St. Francis (PA), 41-31
South Dakota St #14 #12 Lost at FBS AP#13 TCU, 59-41
The Citadel #15 #16 Barely won at FCS Mercer, 24-23
Colgate #16 #20 Lost at FBS Syracuse, 33-7
Eastern Washington #17 #8 Beat host FBS WA State, 45-42
Northern Arizona #18 #17 Lost at FBS AZ State, 44-13
Harvard #19 #21 No game
Fordham #20 #25 Lost at FBS Navy, 52-16
North Dakota #21 NR Lost at Stony Brook, 13-9
Villanova #22 #19 Lost at FBS Pittsburgh, 28-7
Southern Utah #23 #23 Lost at FBS Utah, 24-0
Western Illinois #24 #18 Won at FCS Eastern ILL, 38-21
North Carolina A&T #25 #24 Easily beat FCS unranked foe
Youngstown State NR #22 Easily beat FCS unranked foe



FFHL RESULTS – WEEK ZERO
Overall, we FFHL’ers started out the year with a characteristically weak 37-47-0 (44.0%) record ATS with only FBS college games eligible.
We started out this year once again betting heavily on the favorites. We picked only 17 underdogs out of 84 total picks (67 favorites). Results: We were 10-7 ATS on underdog picks.
FFHL LOP-SIDED and CONTESTED PICKS AGAINST THE SPREAD (ATS)
Listed below is a breakdown of some of our significant picks.

ATS Picks
Team For-Against Result / Unsolicited comments
Clemson -7h at Auburn 6-0 LOSS, CU Tigers win only by 6 points
At Stanford -14 vs. KSU 5-0 LOSS, Stanford wins only by 13 points
Notre Dame -3h at Texas 6-1 LOSS, UT Longhorns upset Irish
Alabama -11h vs. USC 5-1 WIN, ‘Bama obliterates Trojans
FSU -4h vs. Ole Miss 4-1 WIN, Seminoles’ impressive comeback
Arizona vs. BYU 4-0 LOSS, UA Wildcats lose outright
At Vanderbilt -4 vs. S.CAR 3-0 LOSS, VU Commodores lose outright
At Ohio St vs. B.Green 3-0 WIN, OSU Buckeyes blow out BGSU
Houston +11h vs. OKLA 3-2 WIN, UH Cougars win outright over OU
UCLA +3 at TX A&M 3-2 LOSS, Bruins lose in OT by 7 points
MIA.OH +27h at Iowa 2-2 WIN, UI Hawkeyes win only by 24 points
LSU -10 vs. WISC in GB 2-2 LOSS, LA State Tigers lose outright to Badgers
Georgia -2h vs. UNC 2-1 WIN, UGA Bulldogs win by 9 points in Atlanta



ACCUMULATED RECORDS AGAINST THE SPREAD (ATS)
In this college-only first week:
ATS STRAIGHT-UP
Record Record
FAVORITES 17-23-1 (42.7%) 28-13 (68.3%)
HOME TEAMS 13-18-1 (42.2%) 20-12 (62.5%)
There were nine neutral site games to start the season.



CONFERENCE RESULTS FOR SEASON OPENING WEEK
BIG 10 12-2 record
ACC 11-3 record
BIG XII 7-3 record
PAC-12 7-5 record
SEC 7-7 record
I just had to mention this, since the Southeastern Conference got off to a rough start.
And, SEC West Arkansas at home barely beat 26-point underdog LA Tech, 21-20.



COLLEGE CATCH-UP and OTHER MINUTIA
CORRECTIONS FROM THE PREVIOUS COLLEGE NEWSLETTER
Sorry, Fighting Illini fans. When I reported the head coaching change from last year, I listed only the interim HC change. The new “permanent” head coach is Lovie Smith, former CHI Bears’ HC (2004-2012) who was fired after his 9th season with the club; the Bears posted a 10-6 record that year.
Also, I imagine many of you Big 10 fans caught my blunder when referencing the Ohio State conference loss last year. The Buckeyes lost in the regular season finale to Michigan State and didn’t advance to the Big 10 title game (Michigan State vs. Iowa).
BIG 12 CONFERENCE EXPANSION UPDATE
The Big XII board of directors meet on October 17th, at which time there will probably be an announcement about the expansion of the football conference from 10 teams to 12 teams (possibly 14 teams). With a two-team expansion, the frontrunners appear to be Houston and Cincinnati. Already eliminated from the list of potential teams were East Carolina, Memphis, Navy and Boise State.
Stay tuned.

NFL NEWS and MINUTIA
TEDDY BRIDGEWATER OUT FOR SEASON
I am so bummed out.


The MIN Vikings lost their starting QB for the year – torn ACL and dislocated knee in a non-contact practice session injury (but no nerve or arterial damage). The Vikes’ backup is Shaun Hill, age 36, who knows the offense and has some starting NFL experience. But it’s not the same level of excitement for me heading into the new season of hopes and aspirations (and potential 1st-ever Super Bowl victory).
But HC Mike Zimmer is focused on how to keep his troops dialed in.
Because of the injury, Minnesota’s odds to win the NFC title and Super Bowl just ballooned from 10:1 to 15:1 and from 20:1 to 30:1, respectively.
The ESPN Football Power Index projections have also changed dramatically:
                                        Before injury After injury
Projected # of wins               9.4               8.1
Playoff chances                    63%            38%
Chances to win division      34%            18%
UPDATE: On Saturday, September 3rd, eight days before the Vikings’ season opener, the team acquired QB Sam Bradford from Philadelphia for next year’s 1st round draft pick and a conditional 4th rounder in the 2018 Draft. After my initial shock, this pick-up makes some sense in that current Vikings’ TE Coach Pat Shurmur (CLE HC 2011-2012) was Bradford’s offensive coordinator and interim head coach for the PHI Eagles last year and also had been his OC previously with the STL Rams (2009-2010). Bradford is playing under a two-year, $35 million contract; his $11M bonus is being fully picked up by the Eagles. He could be dumped in March of 2017 depending on the progress of Bridgewater’s rehab. I’m skeptical, since Bradford generated the 3rd-worst QB rating of all qualifying NFL quarterbacks last year.
UPDATE 2: Bradford and Hill are sharing practice snaps with the #1 offensive unit. The starter for Week #1 at Tennessee is still to be determined.

FOLLOW-UP PHILADELPHIA
After trading #1 QB Sam Bradford, the PHI Eagles have decided to elevate rookie QB Carson Wentz (#2 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft out of North Dakota State) to starting quarterback, assuming that his injured ribs have fully healed prior to the season opener on Sunday. Chase Daniel will remain the backup QB (for now).

TONY ROMO INJURED IN PRESEASON




The DAL Cowboys will also have to rely on their backup QB, rookie 4th round draft pick Dak Prescott, who has looked exceptional in the preseason. Starting QB Tony Romo, age 36, broke a bone in his back in a preseason game and will be out at least six weeks and probably more like 10 weeks. Rookie QB, rookie RB, great OL; what happens in the Big D?
UPDATE: The Cowboys picked up a BAL Ravens’ backup QB – Jerrod Johnson. I doubt this is the end to the team’s preseason dealings in signal callers.
UPDATE 2: Dallas picked up Mark Sanchez, who was cut by the DEN Broncos.
Believe it or not, Sanchez and Sam Bradford have pretty much identical career regular season stats (neither one good). But Sanchez has at least had success in the playoffs (NY Jets), albeit long ago in NFL terms.

2017 NFL DRAFT
I mentioned earlier that next year’s draft will be held in Philadelphia on April 27th through April 29th. I will just add a piece of trivia: the first-ever NFL Draft was held in The City of Brotherly Love (Philly) in 1936.
OLYMPICS “FUTBOL”
Aren’t you glad you get to watch American Football, as opposed to the excruciating pain of having to sit through even one whole soccer match?
Here’s an example:
The GOLD MEDAL game in the 2016 Rio Olympics was tied 1-1 after a 59th-minute goal. For the next 60+ minutes and to finish up regulation and overtime play, there was no further scoring.
In fact, in the whole game (120 minutes consisting of two 45-minute halves followed by 30 minutes of overtime), each team had only three shots on goal (are you kidding me?!!?).
And to top it off, the winner of the gold medal was determined by a penalty kick shootout. What a joke.
FINAL: Brazil 1, Germany 1 (penalty kicks 5-4 and host country Brazil wins)
[Imagine that Cleveland and Golden State were still tied after an overtime period in Game 7 of the NBA finals, and the rules dictated that shooting free throws would determine which team won the game and the highest honor -- the NBA Championship).

LOOKING AHEAD – selected games, not the full slate
COLLEGE FOOTBALL - FFHL WEEK #1 (college FB’s 2nd week)

Thursday No games
Sept 8th

Friday Maryland (-10h) at FIU
Sept 9th AP#13 Louisville (-14h) at Syracuse

Saturday Iowa St (+15) at AP#16 Iowa; ISU won last time in Iowa City, 20-17
Sept 10th BYU (+3h) at Utah Beehive State rivalry
New Mexico (-11h) at NM State Interstate 25 rivalry
Wyoming (+24h) at Nebraska Last time in Lincoln (2013) WYO lost 37-34
Arkansas (+7h) at AP#15 TCU Big SEC vs. Big XII matchup
Wake Forest (+5) at Duke
UTEP (+28) at AP#11 Texas
Texas Tech (+3) at Arizona State
CAL (+7h) at San Diego State SDSU “toughest” game of year
North Carolina (-10) at Illinois
Cincinnati (-6h) at Purdue
Ball State (+17h) at Indiana
SMU (no line) at AP#23 Baylor
FL Atlantic (+24h) at AP#25 Miami FL
Washington State (+11) at Boise St
Virginia (+24) at AP#24 Oregon
Penn State (+6) at Pitt
Boston College (-17) at UMass to be played at Gillette Stadium
VA Tech (+11) vs. AP#17 Tennessee playing at neutral Bristol, TN
South Carolina (+6h) at Mississippi State
Phil Steele’s preseason rankings for the best non-Power 5 teams to secure the one automatic spot of the twelve “major” bowl bids (SIX Major Bowls):
Houston Cougars Steele is spot-on here (so far), after upset of Oklahoma
Boise State
San Diego State Easy schedule
South Florida
Air Force
Western Michigan Good pick so far; beat NW in Evanston, IL
Western Kentucky

NFL WEEK #1 – SELECTED GAMES
Thursday Kickoff 2016 8:30PM Eastern
Sept 8th Carolina (-3) at Denver Super Bowl rematch [Denver won on botched call, 21-20, Ed]

Sunday Early Divisional Matchups:
Sept 11th Tampa Bay (+3) at Atlanta
San Diego (+7) at Kansas City
NY Giants (+1) at Dallas
Others:
New England (+6) at Arizona NE QB Brady is out
Buffalo (+3) at Baltimore
Cleveland (+4) at Philadelphia
Detroit (+4) at Indianapolis
Green Bay (-5) at Jacksonville

Monday Pittsburgh (-3h) at Washington (7:10PM Eastern)
Sept 12th LA Rams (-2h) at San Francisco (10:20PM Eastern)

FOOTBALL QUIZ QUESTION
QUESTION #1: What non-Power 5 conference team is the only such school to have ever signed a “five-star” recruit coming out of high school?



ANSWER #1:
The Houston Cougars signed 5-star DT Ed Oliver, who was the #4 overall recruit by the ESPN 300 last year, and Phil Steele had him ranked as the #5-overall high school defensive lineman heading into his first college season. Now playing as a freshman for the UH Cougars, Oliver is 6’2”, 290 lbs., performed well on the defensive front against Oklahoma in the team’s 2016 season opener.



ISSUE #2 – THE PROS
FROM THE DESK OF THE “FUGITIVE” COMMISSIONER

FANTASY OWNERS AND HANDICAPPERS
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the new season, you fantasy football fanatics and gluttons-for-punishment handicappers must be notified of the new weekly “injury report” changes – significant revisions to the reporting rules for NFL teams.


There will no longer be a “Probable” designation assigned to any players.
The league stated that last year at least 95% of players listed as “probable” did in fact play in the game.
The “Questionable” designation will now mean that “it is uncertain as to whether the player will play in the game”. Translation: anywhere from just under 100% (almost certain to play) to a 50% likelihood.
[in prior years it meant about a “50%-50% chance”]
The “Doubtful” designation will now mean that “it is unlikely the player will participate” in the game. Translation: less than 50% chance to play, but a player could easily still be active for the game.
[in prior years it meant about a 25% or less chance to play, and recent history had shown that a player listed as “doubtful” was not going to play in most circumstances. ]
The “OUT” designation will not have to be divulged by teams until 90 minutes before game time, at which time the 46-man active roster for the week must be turned in to the game officials. The road teams, however, will in effect reveal some or all of their “out” players much earlier than the official deadline if the injured players don’t get on the plane to travel to the game.
The new rules reduce the clarity as to whether your fantasy first rounder will actually play in the game and potentially produce points for your fantasy team. And the handicapping “insiders” will have even a better chance to have superior information over the amateur bettor on key injuries leading into games.



START OF THE NFL SEASON
The season kicks off with a Super Bowl rematch on Thursday night (8:30PM Eastern), September 9th:
CAROLINA (-2h) at DENVER
That’s right; the road team who lost to the Broncos in the Super Bowl is favored to win in the Mile High City.(See highlights from this controversial win next week)

There will be two Monday night games in NFL Week #1 on September 12th:
PITTSBURGH (-3h) at WASHINGTON 7:10PM Eastern
LOS ANGELES RAMS (-2) at SAN FRANCISCO 10:20PM Eastern
Yep, both road teams are favored to win.
The other thirteen Week#1 games will be played on Sunday, Sept. 11th.
The only NFL Week #1 game with a spread of more than 6½ points is:
MIAMI (+10) at SEATTLE



NFL OVER/UNDERS
This section is intended to give you an idea of how many games your team may win during the 16-game regular season.
The Las Vegas bookmakers (e.g., Bovada.LV and Westgate SuperBook) have ongoing preseason betting opportunities for how many regular season victories each team will produce. The “Over/Under” is the betting line, and bettors try to determine if an NFL team will win more or less games than the Over/Under number.
Following are the approximate betting lines as of August 20th:
[Note: a negative # in parentheses represents the amount you must bet on the “over” to win $100; a positive # is the amount you will win if you bet $100 on the “over” – assuming you don’t LOSE.]
There are also numbers for the “under” bets (but not listed here).
O/U # of
Wins Teams
10.5 GB (-175), NE (-150), SEA (-145), PIT (-140), CAR (-125)
Meaning: bettors on average are expecting these teams to win 11 or more games;
Green Bay is getting more love than the others (bet $175 to win $100)
10 AZ (-160) Cardinals’ bettors must bet $160 to get $100 profit on “over 10 wins”
9.5 DAL (+115), IND (+130), DEN (+130)
Meaning: bettors on average expect these teams to win 9 or less games;
Bet $100 on Denver to rack up 10 or more victories and win $130 ($230 payout)
9.5 KC (-140), CIN (-125)
Meaning: bettors on average expect these teams to win 10 or more games
9 MIN (-150)
8.5 HOU (-140), OAK (-135)
8 BAL (-140), NYG (-140), BUF (-125), NYJ (+120)
7.5 ATL (+110), DET (+110), CHI (+115), LAR (+140)
Meaning: Average bettor expecting 7 or less wins for these teams
7.5 JAX (-135), WSH (-130)
Meaning: Average bettor expecting 8 or more wins for these teams
7 SD (-155), MIA (-130), TB (-125), NOR (-110), PHI (+120)
5.5 TEN (-165), SF (+100; Even money on the “over” bet)
5 CLE (-105)



NFL RULE CHANGES
The most controversial change to the rules is that touchbacks on kickoffs will be spotted at the 25-yard line (instead of the prior 20-yard line). This now matches up with the college football rule.
The league’s reasoning for the rule change was to reduce the total number of kickoff returns -- the most dangerous play in football -- in order to reduce injuries (i.e., receiving team takes the touchback, doesn’t return the kickoff, gets ball at the 25, plus avoids violent contact).
But the rule change may have the opposite effect; kicking teams may “pooch” kick the ball to the 2-yard line, force the receiving team to return the kick, and then try to make the tackle inside the 25.
We’ll see how teams handle this new rule and how it all shakes out. Stay tuned.
The “extra point” rules that changed last year were made permanent.
In summary, teams scoring a TD either elect to “go for 2” from the 2-yard line or kick for one point with the ball placed at the 15-yard line (equivalent to 33-yard FG try).
Most people believed this was a good change overall.
All “chop blocks” are now illegal (previously some were legal, depending on area of the field).
The “horse-collar” tackle rule now includes a defender grabbing the jersey at the name plate or above.
A player who gets two “unsportmanlike conduct” penalties (certain ones, not all count) is automatically ejected from the game.
The specific violations that count:
* throwing a punch, or a forearm, or kicking at an opponent, even though no contact is made
* using abusive, threatening, or insulting language or gestures to opponents, teammates, officials, or representatives of the League
* using baiting or taunting acts or words that engender ill will between teams
(wow, does that kind of stuff actually happen in a pro football game??!!? :)
Also, there is no longer any discretion when a player shoves, pushes, or strikes an official in an offensive, disrespectful, or unsportsmanlike way. In any of these cases, the player must be ejected from the game.
There is no longer a 5-yard penalty for illegally touching a pass after being out of bounds and then re-establishing inbounds; however, it is a loss of down.
It is now a “delay of game” penalty if a team is erroneously granted a timeout.

The language of one controversial rule has been rewritten/enhanced – the definition of a legal catch (massaged again, another attempt after 2015 revision). In part, a player has caught a pass when he:
“maintains control of the ball … until he has the ball long enough to clearly become a runner. A player has the ball long enough to become a runner when, after his second foot is on the ground, he is capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, tucking the ball away, turning up field, or taking additional steps.” (underlined words are the addition to the previous rule). The key word in the last sentence is “or” – meaning that any of those four actions would constitute a legal catch/reception.
Doesn’t that just makes you want to quit your job and sign up to be an NFL official?
[The new wording should make it more difficult for the replay booth to overturn the call on the field. Had this new wording been in place two years ago, it would almost surely have deemed Dallas WR Dez Bryant’s reception to be a “catch” against Green Bay in the 2014 playoffs.]



PROCEDURAL CHANGES
The league tweaked the instant replay procedures for the 2015 playoffs on an experimental basis. Those rules have been extended over to the 2016 season. The on-field officials will be able to consult with the NFL officials at league headquarters during games to provide info on the correct application of rules including appropriate assessment of penalty yards, proper down, and status of the game clock.
Thanks to Deflategate (and NE Patriots’ employees kidnapping the game balls before a game and taking them into a restroom), all teams must now give 24 balls to the referee for pregame PSI testing. The rule requires 12 primary balls and 12 backup balls to be provided by each team to the referee no later than 2 hours and 30 minutes before kickoff. The NFL has avoided explaining the new procedures, as their previous PSI testing methods and procedures obviously weren’t being closely followed/scrutinized/monitored.
On a “coin flip”, the coin must actually “flip”. If it doesn’t, it’s a do-over (“pigtails”). But the player that made the call of “heads” or “tails” before the original coin toss cannot change his call on the re-toss.
Maybe the captains for the opposing sides should just do “rock, paper, scissors”.
NFL players can no longer wear exposed “hoodies” (including hooded sweatshirts) over their shoulder pads.
Assistant coaches are now expressly prohibited from entering the field of play.
Head coaches are the only coaches allowed on the field during games, and then it is permissible only for the specific purpose of checking on injured players.
Also, there will be a point of emphasis to enforce the rules related to bench players and other team personnel entering the field of play illegally.



OFFICIATING CHANGES
Last year, there were 122 NFL officials. This year there will be 124 officials – three new officials were hired and one retired. All 17 referees will be returning.



NFL DIVISIONAL PREDICTIONS AND ODDS
Let’s take a look at the predictions by some of the “experts”, keeping in mind that the preseason magazines generally get published way back in June (with print deadlines in May) and thus do not account for happenings during the summer months.
This year, I’ll use the preseason rankings of Lindy’s Sports (May 2016, no specific records predicted), Sporting News (May 2016, no records predicted), and “The Fugitive” (August 2016, with 3 extra months of info that magazines didn’t get), who project how teams will finish in their divisions and how they see the playoffs shaking out for the 2016 season.

Lindy’s SNF Fugitive Comments
AFC EAST NE NE NE 10-6 Brady 4-game suspension to start year
BUF BUF NYJ 8-8 Jets have tougher schedule this year
NYJ NYJ BUF 7-9 Bills’ preseason has been disaster
MIA MIA MIA 7-9 ‘Fins are an enigma; OL improved?



AFC CIN PIT CIN 11-5 Bengals have won division last 2 years
NORTH PIT CIN PIT 11-5 RB 3-game suspension could be difference
BAL BAL BAL 6-10 Can the defense regain its old dominance?
CLE CLE CLE 4-12 At least one year away from contention



AFC HOU HOU JAX 10-6 Will need to have much-improved “D”
SOUTH IND IND IND 8-8 QB signed long-term; must stay on field
JAX JAX HOU 8-8 Too many new parts; must stay healthy
TEN TEN TEN 6-10 Titans need one more year to gel?



AFC WEST DEN DEN KC 10-6 Lots of injury questions; HC Reid
OAK OAK OAK 9-7 Up and coming per pundits
KC KC DEN 8-8 QB issues; defense could lead again
SD SD SD 4-12 Sorry Bolts’ fans; what leads this team?



NFC EAST DAL NYG NYG 9-7 WSH was predicted for cellar last year,
PHI DAL WSH 8-8 but the ‘Skins won the division;
NYG WSH DAL 7-9 Giants look best of mediocre teams to me,
WSH PHI PHI 5-11 with influx of defensive players.



NFC GB GB MIN 12-4 Vikings to repeat as division winner
NORTH MIN MIN GB 11-5 Packers need svelte RB Lacy in 2016
DET CHI CHI 7-9 Where is Da Bears’ beef (on defense)?
CHI DET DET 6-10 Owner Martha Ford can only do so much



NFC CAR CAR CAR 12-4 Target on backs of Panthers’ players
SOUTH TB NOR TB 8-8 Improving; maybe next year (new HC)
NOR ATL NOR 7-9 I just don’t like the Saints’ karma
ATL TB ATL 6-10 Falcons’ 2015 collapse makes recovery tough

NFC WEST AZ SEA AZ 11-5 HC Arians has been amazing
SEA AZ SEA 10-6 I’m not sure about my prediction here
LAR LAR LAR 7-9 I’m probably being generous with Rams
SF SF SF 3-13 Best wishes to owner John York



I don’t need to tell you that these projections are close to mere speculation (especially The Fugitive’s crap-shoots). Nevertheless, both mags have predicted the exact same order for all four divisions in the AFC (wow, what a consensus!)
Last year, no serious prognosticator picked the CAR Panthers to post a 15-1 regular season record and to advance in the playoffs all the way to the Super Bowl. The preseason odds on Carolina to win the NFC Championship were 22:1.
And the DAL Cowboys, 10:1 to win the Super Bowl and 6:1 to win the NFC, won only four games.



YOU MAKE THE CALL
In 18 of the last 20 years, at least 5 teams have made the playoffs that didn’t qualify the year before.
In 2015, only four non-playoff teams from 2014 made the post-season: MIN, WSH, KC, and HOU.
That means four playoff teams from 2014 did NOT make the playoffs in 2015 (BAL, IND, DAL, and DET).
What about this year? Can you pick five teams from last year’s playoffs that will not make it to the postseason this year?



These are your choices:
AFC: PIT, CIN, NE, DEN, KC, HOU
NFC: CAR, AZ, SEA, GB, MIN, WSH
I’ll select HOU, DEN in the AFC and WSH, SEA in the NFC …. (oh, that’s only four). OK, I’ll have to reach and eliminate New England; maybe this is the year they finally disappoint (I don’t want to select either GB or MIN this year, nor do I want to eliminate PIT and CIN out of the AFC North).
And now that you’ve made your picks, which non-playoff teams from last year do you project will fill those five spots and make the playoffs this year?
I’ll select NYG to win the NFC East, JAX to win the AFC South, OAK to sneak into a wild card spot, and then … (I don’t know), let’s say IND for wild card or division title and I have to pick a winner for the AFC East if NE doesn’t win the division, so I’ll take the NYJ (10-6 last year but tougher schedule this year).



THE PLAYOFF PROJECTIONS



WILD CARD GAMES
Lindy’s SNF Fugitive
AFC PIT over DEN NE over OAK PIT over NE
AFC HOU over OAK CIN over HOU OAK over JAX
NFC CAR over MIN CAR over AZ GB over NYG
NFC GB over SEA MIN over NYG MIN over SEA



CONFERENCE TITLE GAMES
NFC: AZ SEA MIN
over over over
DAL GB CAR



AFC: CIN PIT CIN
over over over
NE DEN PIT
SUPER BOWL 51 (LI)
AZ PIT MIN
over over over
CIN SEA CIN



A FEW TIDBITS ON EACH TEAM



AFC EAST
NE Patriots (2015: 12-4)
QB Tom Brady, age 39, is suspended for the first four games of the season (basically for failure to cooperate in Deflategate mess). Backup Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois, 2014 2nd round draft pick) will start.
New England is trying to win its EIGHTH straight division title.
2016 schedule: 3 of first 4 games are home, then 4 of next 5 games are away in Weeks #7-#12 with a “bye” mixed in.
NY Jets (2015: 10-6 with easy schedule; QB Fitz had 31 TD passes, 15 INT)
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick finally got signed; new RB will be Matt Forte (CHI; age 30)
Re-signed DE Muhammad Wilkerson to huge 5-year deal, $86M. Is he still motivated?
2016: tough & weird schedule – 6 of 8 games are away in Weeks #2-#10, then “bye”, and then 4 of last six games are at home; Jets face AFC-North and NFC-West out of division.
BUF Bills (2015: 8-8)
Buffalo has missed the playoffs 16 straight years. This is nearly unfathomable; “C’mon, Man!”
HC Rex Ryan is in 2nd year with Bills; he hired twin brother Rob to handle the “Ryan 5-2” defense.
Those two dudes are on the hottest seat imaginable. Bye-bye to both with another bad year.
OLT Cordy Glenn was re-signed to a huge deal, 5-year, $65M ($36M guaranteed).
2016: too many preseason injuries; schedule -- 3 row home games Weeks #14-#16 (winter).
MIA Dolphins (2015: 6-10 record; 26th ranked offense; 25th ranked defense -- ugly)
Miami has been out of the playoffs for 7 straight years.
New HC Adam Gase (age 38, youngest in NFL), trying to improve both “O” and “D” from 2015.
Absolutely need to get improvement from the offensive line. Drafted Laremy Tunsil (Ole Miss) in 1st round even after his pot-smoking video went viral immediately prior to the start of the 2016 NFL Draft.
Pro Bowl OC Mike Pouncey has a hip injury and may not be able to play in Week #1; QB Ryan Tannehill has been sacked more than any QB in the last four years (184). He’s on the hot seat as well.
Miami gets 2015 1st round pick DE Dion Jordan back from torn Achilles tendon, but he failed physical coming back to camp and had arthroscopic surgery on his knee that slowed his progress.
Running game looks weak – lost Lamar Miller, picked up injury-prone Arian Foster (HOU; torn Achilles in Week #4 last year) in a 1-year, $1.5M deal.
2016: odd schedule – 3 of first 4 games are away, then 4 row at home, and then 5 of next 7 away.



AFC NORTH
CIN Bengals (2015: 12-4)
Bengals have reached the postseason in the last 5 years.
In 2015 QB Andy Dalton was injured in Week #14 (broken thumb) right before the playoffs and the team lost again in the first round (18-16 to PIT).
Cincinnati has a solid “D” with 10 of 11 starters returing.
However, the team had significant losses in free agency: ORT, SS, WR, WR (Marvin Jones), and LB.
Cincy must replace departed DC Hue Jackson (now HC in CLE) – new DC is Ken Zampese.
PIT Steelers (2015: 10-6, even with many injuries to key players last year)
Defensive secondary appears to be the weakness; this was addressed in the 2016 Draft: 1st round CB & 2nd round SS, and last year about 75% of their defensive plays were “sub-packages” (i.e., 5 or more DB’s as opposed to a “basic” defense package where at least seven players are “in the box”).
Pittsburgh is solid at the skill positions, but lose RB Le’Veon Bell for first 3 games to suspension (multiple missed drug tests); backup RB is DeAngelo Williams. And, WR Martavis Bryant is suspended for the year.
BAL Ravens (2015: 5-11; lots of injuries including QB Flacco Week #11 ACL tear)
Baltimore lost too many close games last year, somewhat attributed to poor performances by the DB’s.
The WR’s are old and running backs are just OK, it appears. The team upgraded its offensive line with the #6 overall pick in the 2016 Draft – OLT Ronnie Stanley (Notre Dame).
2016 schedule: After a Week #8 bye, 4 of the next 5 games are home & then the next 3 of 4 games are away in cold-weather cities (December).
CLE Browns (2015: 3-13; worst season since 2000 and only 2 winning seasons in last 15 years)
The front office now has personnel with a “Moneyball” philosophy (including Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta of baseball fame).
The new HC is Hue Jackson (former HC of OAK Raiders and most recently DC for CIN Bengals), and he appears to have the lowly Browns on a good path for improvement.
Cleveland has its third new DC in 3 years, but it appears to be a good change with veteran Ray Horton.
New QB is Robert Griffin III, getting his second chance after dubious fallout with Washington.
2016 schedule: 4 of 5 games are away in Weeks #3-#7; later 3 row at home including “bye” in Weeks #11-#14.



AFC SOUTH
JAX Jaguars (2015: 5-11)
I’m picking the longshot here; team will have 5 or 6 new starters on defense with a new DC Todd Walsh.
Six of Jacksonville’s seven 2016 draft picks were used to bolster the “D”, plus in free agency the team picked up DT Malik Jackson (DEN) and CB Tashaun Gibson (CLE).
2016: another weird schedule with a home game in London (Week #4) which is mixed into a stretch of 3 of away games (Weeks #2-#6 including bye week), and later 4 of 5 games are away (Weeks #8-#12).
After reading this, I may have to rethink my projected choice for the AFC South division winner.
IND Colts (2015: 8-8; QB Luck injured for 9 weeks of the season including lacerated kidney)
Indianapolis should benefit from new OC Rod Chudzinski (CLE HC) and new OL coach Joe Philbin (former MIA HC). Team drafted OC Ryan Kelly (ALA) in first round and he should be an immediate starter.
RB Frank Gore is age 33 and needs his OL to be improved.
HOU Texans (2015: 9-7; ranked 3rd in NFL in defense)
HC Bill O’Brien has had 7 different starting QB’s in his first two years. Now he has another one -- highly paid Brock Osweiler (DEN), 4 years, $72M.
The defense will probably be stellar again, but for some reason I’m not feeling it, given that former DC Wade Phillips has been gone for 2 years. DC Romeo Crennel (former CLE HC) should do well.
2016: There are 5 new starters on offense including free agents RB Lamar Miller and unproven QB Brock Osweiler; this offense has been rebuilt for speed!
TEN Titans (2015: 3-13)
Tennessee hired new GM Jon Robinson and has new full-year HC Mike Mularkey and a whole new coaching staff that includes the legendary DC Dick LeBeau (age 79).
The offensive line was horrible last year; Titans drafted OT Jake Conklin (Mich.St) with the #8 overall pick in the 2016 Draft to help with the rebuilding process.
The division is up for grabs, so this team would be the ultimate darkhorse division winner (although I don’t necessarily see it happening).



AFC WEST
KC Chiefs (2015: 11-5, including 10 straight wins to finish regular season)
Last year Kansas City posted its first playoff win in 22 years, even without star RB Jamal Charles, who was lost for the season in Week #5 with a torn ACL. And, even with significant defensive injuries including LB Justin Houston (ACL surgery in February), two DB’s and SS Eric Berry’s recovery from cancer.
2015 OC Doug Pederson is gone (PHI HC), and the new co-coordinators are Brad Childress & Matt Nagy.
LB Houston may not be ready until mid-2016, and SS Berry reported will be ready just prior to Week #1 of the regular season (he will play under the franchise tag deal, as he hasn’t been re-signed to a long-term deal).
OAK Raiders (2015: 7-9)
Oakland has missed the playoffs in 13 straight years. Does Marcus Allen need to come out of retirement? Or maybe Jim Plunkett? Naw.
The coaching staff is intact. DB Charles Woodson retired, but the Raiders signed four free agents (LB, CB, FS, and OG) to bolster their playoff chances.
2016: overall an easier schedule than last year, except they play 3 of 4 weeks on the road THREE different times during the regular season.
DEN Broncos (2015: 12-4 and Super Bowl Champs, fueled by the defense)
Denver has won the division FIVE straight years.
The defense carried this team in 2015, and the unit lost DE Malik Jackson and LB Danny Trevathan, but did re-sign OLB Von Miller to a huge deal, 6-year, $114.5M.
The big question is at the QB position (same as last year, with Peyton Manning struggling mightily when not injured). Manning retired, backup Osweiler signed with HOU, leaving free agent Mark Sanchez (turnover-prone), last year’s 7th round draft pick Trevor Siemian (Northwestern), and this year’s 1st round draft pick Paxton Lynch (Memphis). Siemian appears to be the starter until Lynch the rookie can get up to speed. Sanchez may be released before the start of the season; if so, GM John Elway will be looking for a veteran backup QB (or he will come out of retirement and suit up himself; he’s only age 56).
WR Brandon Marshall was re-signed to a 4-year, $32M deal.
SD Chargers (2015: 4-12, worst season in 12 years)
San Diego needs to improve in the trenches (i.e., defensive and offensive lines).
On the defensive side, 2016 #3 overall draft pick DE Joey Bosa (Ohio State) still isn’t signed (C’mon, Man!). The team signed DE Brandon Mebane (SEA) in free agency.
On the offensive side, the Bolts signed free agent OC Matt Slauson (CHI; age 30) and drafted OL Max Tuerk (USC) in the 3rd round of this year’s draft. The Chargers need to jump-start the running game.
The new OC is Ken Whisenhunt, who was the Chargers’ OC back in 2013 and was HC at AZ (2007-2012) and TEN (2014-2015).
I’m not feelin’ it, Bolts’ fans. Hope I’m wrong.
NFC EAST
NY Giants (2015: 6-10)
The New York Football Giants have had three straight losing seasons; former HC Tom Coughlin was fired. The new HC is former Giants’ OC Ben McAdoo (age 39).
QB Eli Manning has not missed a game in his 12-year career with the Gnats. Impressive!
NYG signed four impact players in free agency to add to their defense – DE, CB, DT, and LB; plus, 1½- handed DE Jason Pierre-Paul is back for a full year.

WSH ‘Skins (2015: 9-7, won the division)
Washington has not produced consecutive playoff appearances since 1991-1992.
QB RGIII is gone, and the undisputed starting QB will be Kirk Cousins.
The running game appears to be thin and suspect; the WR’s and TE should be the strength of the “O”.
On defense, the ‘Skins signed free agent CB Josh Norman (CAR), arguably the best corner in the NFL. The team lost OLB Junior Galette for the year (torn Achilles).
2016 schedule: from Weeks #7-#14, five of seven games are road games, including London game in Week #8 followed by a “bye”. This stretch includes three straight road games in Weeks #12-#14.
DAL Cowboys (2015: 4-12)
QB Tony Romo (age 36) missed 12 games in 2015. He’s healthy (but fragile) and ready for 2016 season; rookie Dak Prescott (4th round pick, MISS.St) has looked great in the preseason with a limited playbook and facing unsophisticated vanilla defenses. The only other QB on the roster is Jameill Showers – who? He was an undrafted free agent in 2015 out of UTEP.
TE Jason Whitten (age 34) has played all 16 games for the last 12 years.
WR Dez Bryant only played in 9 games last year; he is for the most part healthy and ready for 2016.
On defense, Dallas is somewhat of a mess. The “D” ranked #17 in the NFL last year, and did not have significant upgrades in free agency. Three guys in the “front 7” are suspended to start the year (LB Rolando McClain (10 games), DE DeMarcus Lawrence (4 games), and DE Randy Gregory (4 games), leaving this unit as a weakness.
UPDATE: Tony Romo broke a bone in his back in a preseason game on August 26th, and could (possibly) be out six to ten weeks (or he could be ready for Week #1). Stay tuned, folks. The Cowboys are going to be forced to add another QB to their roster soon.
PHI Eagles (2015: 7-9)
Philadelphia is in transition from HC Chip Kelly’s scrap heap to a revamped squad with new HC Doug Pederson (former OC for KC Chiefs). The Eagles will have their 3rd HC in the last five years. The new DC will be Jim Schwartz (former DET HC).
The QB position is in flux. Starter Sam Bradford appears to be an overpaid head-case (he needs to produce on the field, no excuses). Chase Daniel is an overpaid but capable backup. The team moved up big-time in the 2016 Draft to get QB Carson Wentz at #2 overall; he’s still third-string at this point and will likely not be rushed into action.
The RB position is weak.
I’m not too sure about the defense, but this team overall is in “rebuilding” mode.



NFC NORTH
MIN Vikings (2015: 11-5, won the division last year)
The Vikings will be playing in their new indoor stadium this year.
Minnesota needs to improve the offensive line; they signed two immediate starters OG Alex Boone (SF) and OT Andre Smith (CIN) in free agency. In conjunction, RB Adrian Peterson (age 31) must stay healthy and on the field for the team to have a chance to repeat as division champs.
The team also filled some holes on the defense, and this team is a Super Bowl contender (caveat: I am a lifelong Vikes’ fan, although I didn’t really like QB Fran Tarkenton that much at end of his career).
2016: Minnesota faces a “1st place” schedule, whereas rival Green Bay has a “2nd place” schedule.
GB Packers (2015: 10-6)
Mike McCarthy is heading into his 11th year as the HC for Green Bay. He has taken his team to the postseason in the last SEVEN seasons (2009-2015). He has one Super Bowl victory -XLV(#45); five of his seven playoff losses were suffered on the final play of the game (including each of the last three years! Ouch.)
WR Jordy Nelson is back from a 2015 torn ACL; RB Eddie Lacy is slimmed down and ready to excel.
2016 schedule: in Weeks #3-#7, the Pack has 4 home games and a “bye” (weird), and then has 3 row away games in Weeks #10-#12. GB plays against the NFC-East and AFC-South out of division.
GB also plays ATL and SEA out of division, as compared to MIN playing CAR and AZ out of division – on paper an advantage to the Packers over the Vikes.
CHI Bears (2015: 6-10)
Chicago hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010.
After the exit of OC Adam Gase, Da Bears promoted QB coach Dowell Loggains as the new offensive coordinator. John Fox will be starting his 2nd year as the HC of Chicago.
The Bears lost RB Matt Forte and TE Marcellus Bennett in free agency.
Their WR duo should be one of the elite tandems in the NFL:
2015 1st round draft pick Kevin White was injured his whole rookie season;
WR Alshon Jeffrey had soft tissue injuries in 2015.
Both should be healthy in 2016; they are leaning on a great year of production by strong-armed QB Jay Cutler. Big blow: Center Hroniss Grasu is out for the season with a torn ACL suffered in a scrimmage at Soldier Field in early August.
Chicago’s overall defense improved from #30 to #14 in the NFL last year, but there are still significant question marks. The special teams unit was horrible in 2015, and needs to improve.
DET Lions (2015: 7-9)
Owner Martha Ford hired GM Bob Quinn and he cleaned house, but made the decision to retain HC Jim Caldwell, who is definitely on the hot seat in 2016. OC Jim Bob Cooter will get his first full year at the position; he took over a 1-7 Detroit team in midseason last year and flourished, as the team finished 6-2 in the second half of the season.
The RB fleet is suspect, and the WR group is significantly weakened due to the retirement of Calvin “Megatron” Johnson.



NFC SOUTH
CAR Panthers (2015: 15-1, advanced to Super Bowl 50)
Carolina lost stellar CB Josh Norman in free agency and three other secondary players are gone.
The team waived and then re-signed DE Charles Johnson (dumped $11M contract, signed him later for $3M).
On offense, WR Kelvin Benjamin, 6’5”, 245 lbs., returns from a torn ACL that caused him to miss his 2nd year in the NFL. 2015 NFL MVP QB Cam Newton will be the leader of the “O”.
Carolina’s 2016 schedule includes FOUR cross-country trips.
TB Buccaneers (2015: 6-10)
Tampa Bay has had five losing seasons in a row, and each year the team finished in LAST place in the division. Also, the Bucs have missed the playoffs in 8 straight years.
HC Lovie Smith is out; the new HC was promoted from within – Bucs’ OC Dirk Koetter. Smith gets no respect (fired by CHI Bears after a 10-6 season); he’s now the HC for U. of Illinois.
The new DC is Mike Smith (former HC of ATL); new OC is Todd Monken (former HC at S. Miss.).
Last year the pass defense was horrible; to help solve the problem, TB signed free agent CB Brent Grimes (MIA) and drafted CB Vernon Hargreaves III (FSU) in the 1st round of the 2016 Draft.
I have to believe this team is heading upward but almost surely needs another year before making the playoffs.
NOR Saints (2015: 7-9)
Stalwarts HC Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees are holding this team together. The offense ranked 2nd in the league in 2015, while the defense ranked next-to-last (31st in NFL). DC Rob Ryan was fired.
I’m not sure what stimulus elevates this team to a winning record and a playoff appearance.
However, I will say that my friend Randall likes RB Mark Ingram in his fantasy league.
ATL Falcons (2015: 8-8)
OC Kyle Shanahan and QB Matt Ryan are both on the “hot seat”. The OL has been upgraded, giving both of these guys less wiggle room for excuses.
Aging WR Roddy White was released, but Atlanta signed WR Mohamed Sanu (CIN) in free agency to complement All-Pro WR Julio Jones.
The defense has been weak, and it may lead to the team’s demise again this year.
2016 schedule: it’s a brutal start – Weeks #2-#6 include four road games and three cross-country trips. Last year, Atlanta stared the season 6-1; no way this year.



NFC WEST
AZ Cardinals (2015: 13-3)
Offense: aging QB Carson Palmer needs to stay healthy; every “O” player that scored a TD in 2015 returns to the team this year (wow!).
Defense: Arizona ranked #5 in the NFL last year, and could be better this year. They added DE Chandler Jones (age 26) in a trade with New England in the offseason, and drafted potential head-case but talented DT Robert Nkemdiche in the 1st round of the 2016 Draft.
2016 schedule: 5 of first 7 games are at home; there’s a “bye” in middle, and then 5 of last 7 games are on the road.
SEA Seahawks (2105: 10-6)
This team could go “north” or “south” in 2016.
Seattle lost RB Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch to retirement; the ‘Hawks lost their top two OL in free agency. TE Jimmy Graham may be healthy this year, after struggling with injuries in 2015.
The defense could carry this team again; the Seahawks have allowed the fewest points in the league the last FOUR years. The only key losses were OLB Bruce Irvin (OAK) and DT Brandon Mebane (SD), with the addition from the 2nd round of the 2016 Draft in NT Jarran Reed (ALA) and three veterans in free agency to solidify the defensive line.
LA Rams (2015: 7-9, formerly the St. Louis Rams)
If you have just broken out of your cocoon, the Rams moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles. The team will play their games in the LA Coliseum this year.
The Rams have not had a winning season since 2003. HC Jeff Fisher is heading into his 5th year with the team.
The defense lost four starters in the offseason including CB Janoris Jenkins (NYG) and LB James Lauranaitis (NOR).
The offense is suspect; the starting QB appears to be Case Keenum, with rookie #1 overall draft pick Jared Goff still getting up to speed (the team gave up multiple draft picks to get him). RB Todd Gurley could be the savior, but others must step up if opposing defenses key on him.
SF 49’ers (2015: 5-11)
It pains me to dump on the Forty-Niner faithful (Rick G. and Bob R., just to name a few), but what do I know (that’s a rhetorical question; please do not respond in a hostile manner).
According to one early report regarding point spreads for the season, SF was projected to be an underdog in every game it plays this year. Of course, that doesn’t mean the team will lose every game.
San Francisco’s offense was ranked at the bottom of the league last year.
The Niners’ new HC is Chip Kelly (formerly PHI HC and Oregon HC).
The team did not make any kind of a splash in free agency (except OG Zane Beadles to replace departed Alex Boone); their 2016 1st round draft pick at #7 overall was DT DeForest Buckner (Oregon), who will likely provide an immediate positive impact.
The QB situation seems bleak; the starter will be either Blane Gabbert or Colin Kaepernick (or in a pinch, the legendary Joe Montana, who just turned 60 in June).
NFL ROSTERS
Each NFL team had been working with a 90-man roster through training camp. By Tuesday, August 30th, rosters must be carved down to 75; and, by Saturday, September 3rd, rosters will have be further reduced to the regular-season limit of 53. Following that final cut, teams begin forming their 10-man “practice squads” and will then be able to claim players waived by other teams.



FOOTBALL IN SAN DIEGO
First, the SD Chargers have not been able to sign their first round draft pick, Joey Bosa (Ohio State) selected #3 overall. Both sides are partially to blame, but it doesn’t help either party to be in the middle of a stalemate. San Diego’s owner has been perceived as cheap in the past; Bosa is supposedly characterized as having an “entitlement” complex to some extent. Either way, it’s bad for the player and the club with only two weeks before the season starts.
On top of this negative situation, the Chargers need a new stadium in San Diego. A two-thirds majority vote from City of San Diego voters is required in the upcoming election in order to get the necessary public money (additional hotel tax) for a new stadium project.
The stadium initiative probably won’t pass, leaving the Chargers with several options:
Plan B: The Chargers could exercise their right to join the LA Rams and share their new stadium in Inglewood, which will be ready for the 2019 season (the Rams will play in the LA Coliseum until then). In this scenario, the Chargers would most likely be treated as the “other” team, a second-class tenant, the proverbial “red-headed stepchild”. The LA Rams have already started a huge marketing campaign in the future stadium surroundings to promote the RAMS in Los Angeles.
[Note: a Chargers’ decision needs to be made by January 2017; if the team declines this option, the OAK Raiders would then have this same option to share the new Rams stadium.]
Plan C: The Chargers could stay at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego under its current lease that runs through the 2020 season. At that point, there would certainly need to be significant repairs and upgrades and the City of San Diego would most likely expect the team to bear the costs, which could in turn cause an impasse.
Plan D: The Chargers could strike up a deal in Las Vegas. They might have competition for this market, since the Oakland Raiders are seriously considering a move to Sin City.
UPDATE: The current Las Vegas promoters’ stipulation would be an influx of $750 million from public and/or NFL money.
Plan E: We’re getting pretty deep into the options at this point. Keep in mind that the NFL collectively would prefer to keep a team in San Diego. Nevertheless, a move by the Chargers to the City of Industry in the San Gabriel Valley (east of LA 40 miles or so) is not out of the question. The site had already been approved under the old Ed Roski Plan presented to the Rams about five years ago.
Plan F: Move to San Antonio or Austin; however, a third team in the State of Texas would likely be opposed by the powerful Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones.
Plan G: Move to London or Toronto or some other international market. Wouldn’t that just be great for the sport known as “American” Football? This is only a remote possibility.
FOOTBALL STADIUMS ELSEWHERE
The Miami Dolphins have renamed their newly refurbished stadium as Hard Rock Stadium. The name is not associated with the type of materials used to improve the stadium. J
It’s the 8th time the Orange Bowl site has been renamed dating back to 1987.



PLAYER UPDATES



SIGNINGS and TRADES
PHI Eagles’ DT Fletcher Cox re-signed a huge 6-year, $103M extension through 2022.
IND Colts’ QB Andrew Luck became the league’s highest paid player after signing a 6-year, $139M deal with $87M guaranteed.
MIN Vikings’ safety Harrison Smith was re-signed to a 5-year, $51+M extension.
SD Chargers’ WR Keenan Allen, who missed most of the 2015 season with a lacerated kidney, signed an extension, 4 years, $45M through the 2020 season. Later, WR Stevie Johnson tore his meniscus that required surgery; he is out for the season. This prompted the front office to sign free agent WR James Jones (age 32, formerly GB) on August 18th.
JAX Jaguars WR Allen Hurns, a home-grown player out of Miami of FL, was signed to a long-term extension, 4 years, up to $40M. He was an undrafted free agent after the 2014 NFL Draft.
SEA Seahawks’ WR Doug Baldwin re-signed for 5 years, $47.5M.
BAL Ravens re-signed kicker Justin Tucker to a 4-year, $16.8M deal.
LA Rams’ WR Tavon Austin was re-signed to a 4-year, $42M extension on August 26th.
NE Patriots acquired LB Barkevious Mingo from Cleveland for a 5th round 2017 draft pick. The Browns are accumulating draft picks for next year (consistent with Paul DePodesta’s “Moneyball” philosophy, I guess). CLE has four additional 2017 draft picks so far and should additionally get two more compensatory picks.
NOR Saints’ acquired FB John Kuhn (age 33) in free agency; “Kooooon” had been a popular player for the Green Bay Packers for the last nine years.
On August 25th, WSH ‘Skins acquired OC Bryan Stork in a trade with New England, who received a 7th round pick. The Patriots were going to release him, but Washington was afraid some other team would get the rights to him. Stork was a 4th round pick of the Pats in 2014.
UPDATE: Stork has contemplated retirement rather than reporting to a new team in Washington.
PHI Eagles acquired WR Dorial Green-Beckham (2nd round draft pick in 2015) from Tennessee for OL Dennis Kelly (5th round draft pick in 2012).
And here are a few quickie free agent signings after July 24th:
WR Andre Johnson (age 35) signed with the TEN Titans.
DE Dwight Freeney (age 36) signed with the ATL Falcons.
WR Anquan Boldin (age 35) signed with the DET Lions.
RB Reggie Bush signed with the BUF Bills.
QB Nick Foles was released by the LA Rams on July 25th and was picked up by the KC Chiefs.
DB Antonio Cromartie (age 32) signed with the IND Colts.



SIGNIFICANT INJURIES and RETIREMENTS
HOU Texans’ DT J.J. Watt had back surgery in July for a herniated disc and was estimated to be out 8-10 weeks. He could possibly miss the start of the regular season.
BAL Ravens’ WR Breshad Perriman, 1st round draft pick in 2015, missed all of last season with a PCL injury, and this year suffered a partially torn or strained ACL in June. After treatment and re-examination, the ACL was not torn and he may be ready for the start of the regular season.
CIN Bengals lost two 2016 draft picks to injury already:
1st rounder CB William Jackson III had surgery for a torn pectoral and may be available by Week #10.
4th rounder DT Andrew Billings had meniscus surgery in mid-August.
NOR Saints’ 1st round draft pick this year, DL Sheldon Rankins (Louisville) broke his fibula in mid-August that required surgery. He’ll be out at least six weeks, or roughly projected to return in October.
WSH ‘Skins OLB Junior Galette is out for the year with a torn Achilles tendon; he had a similar injury last year to his other leg.
HOU Texans’ rookie OC Nick Martin, 2nd round pick this year, needed ankle surgery and is out for the year.
BUF Bills’ 2nd round draft pick this year, LB Reggie Ragland (ALA), suffered a torn ACL and is out for the year. Previously, Buffalo’s 1st round draft pick DE Shaq Lawson (Clemson) required shoulder surgery; the timing of his return is uncertain.
CIN Bengals’ TE Tyler Eifert had ankle surgery in May and is hoping to be ready to play by Week #4 of the regular season.
DAL Cowboys’ RB Darren McFadden broke his elbow in early June, reportedly while trying to catch a dropped cell phone before it hit the ground and busted into pieces (that story was later debunked). Anyway, he had surgery and may be ready to start the season (and sit on the bench behind rookie 1st-round draft pick RB Ezekiel Elliott).
WSH ‘Skins WR Josh Doctson (TCU), 1st round draft pick this year, suffered an Achilles injury in the spring and is trying to get ready for the start of the season. The team will not rush him into duty, so he may not play Week #1.
OAK Raiders’ DL Mario Edwards Jr. (2nd round draft pick in 2015) suffered a strained hip in mid-August and will miss the start of the season, it appears (out 4-6 weeks).
OAK Raiders LB Aldon Smith has been a question mark all offseason, and he has checked himself into a rehab center (late July). His status for the regular season is highly questionable.
Also, ORT Anthony Davis is back with the team after a one-year hiatus to get himself right mentally, I guess.
ATL Falcons’ kick returner Devin Hester is still recovering from a 2015 toe injury and as of the end of July still wasn’t ready to practice. He may not be ready until October, and if he’s not ready by then, he may retire.
BAL Ravens’ OT Eugene Monroe retired.
CHI Bears’ CB Charles Tillman retired.
PIT Steelers’ TE Heath Miller retired.
SEA DE Chris Clemons retired.



PLAYER DEVELOPMENTS
NE QB Tom Brady had his 4-game suspension finally upheld, so he won’t be eligible to play until Week #5. The judge’s ruling last year to negate Brady’s suspension was appealed by the NFL to a higher court and the league prevailed.
This will snap Brady’s impressive streak of 112 consecutive starts in regular season games (126 counting playoff games) dating back to 2009. If you will recall, Brady also had a streak of 111 games (128 with playoffs) beginning with his first NFL game as a starter in Week #3 of the 2001 season (after Drew Bledsoe injury) and ending when he suffered a torn ACL in Week #1 of the 2008 season.
PIT RB Le’Veon Bell had his suspension reduced from 4 games to 3 with regard to missing multiple mandatory drug tests. He’ll be out for the first three games of the 2016 season.
BUF Bills’ DT Marcell Dareus (age 26, two-time Pro Bowler in his 6th season) has been suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. He recently checked himself into a rehab facility (August 20th).
CLE Browns’ WR Josh Gordon, suspended all of the 2015 season, was conditionally reinstated by the league on July 25th, although he is still suspended for the first 4 games of the season. An unquestioned talent on the field (he’s been stellar in the preseason), we’ll see if he can keep it together and be productive for Cleveland this year; it appears he is getting plenty of support from teammates and the team.
BUF Bills’ RB Karlos Williams has been released by the Bills, and he cleared waivers without another team picking him up. He is facing a 4-game suspension to start the season, and he was significantly overweight at training camp going into his 2nd season ….. presumably because he gained weight along with his wife during her pregnancy.
PHI Eagles’ offensive tackle Lane Johnson is facing a 10-game suspension to start the season (re: second failed PED test; a third failed test would result in a 2-year suspension). He tested positive for a banned substance, which he claims was ingested with a supplement approved by an NFL-sponsored “app” on which he relied. His case is currently under appeal with the league. He has stated that he will be suing the supplement company, who did not list the banned substance on the list of ingredients for its product.
And just in case you missed it, former QB Tim Tebow has been unable to nail down an NFL job and has been an analyst for the SEC Network. Did you know that he is now 29 years old? Whoa!
Anyway, he is trying to break into the major leagues ….. in BASEBALL, as a position player. He will have a tryout for all interested MLB clubs in Los Angeles on Tuesday, August 30th. Supposedly, representatives from 20 teams are going to attend. Many insiders think this is more of a publicity stunt than the realistic scouting of a prospect.



OTHER CATCH-UP and MINUTIA OF POTENTIAL INTEREST
NFL Supplemental Draft – THE RESULTS
The 2016 supplemental draft was held on July 14th. It lasted only 15 minutes, and none of the six eligible players was selected [Ole Miss CB Tee Shepard, VA Tech long snapper Eddie D’Antuono, Sam Houston State RB Jalen Overstreet, Calgary WR Rashaun Simonise, Concordia DE Cameron Walton, and Purdue’s DL Ra’Zahn Howard.]
After the supplemental draft, DL Howard became a free agent and signed with the HOU Texans. He was a three-year starter for the Purdue Boilermakers, but was suspended in January of 2016 and announced his intention to transfer. He is 6’3”, 325 lbs. and projects as a nose tackle in the NFL.
Also, the CIN Bengals signed free agent WR Rashaun Simonise.



2017 NFL Draft
Next year’s NFL Players Draft will be held in PHILADELPHIA.



2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame
The HOF Contributors Committee has selected two persons (from a group of ten including snubbed Denver Broncos’ owner Pat Bowlen) as finalists for potential induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
This committee selects from available commissioners, owners, and general managers.
An 80% “yes” vote is required for enshrinement.
There is also a HOF Senior Committee that will select one or more finalists to go along with the other eligible former players.



FOOTBALL AND THE OLYMPICS
This summer there were two current NFL players and one former NFL player attempting to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
Former DET Lions’ running back Jahvid Best (concussions ended his career) became the first-ever person with prior NFL experience to qualify for the Summer Olympics. He participated in the 100-meter dash for his country with the St. Lucia track and field team; he qualified with a time of 10.16 seconds at the St. Lucian National Championships on June 25-26.
RESULTS: Best competed against Usain Bolt in the preliminaries, posting 10.39 seconds, 7th in his heat, which did not qualify him for the semifinals.
BUF Bills’ WR Marquise Goodwin was the favorite to win the Olympic gold medal this year in the long jump. However, he performed poorly in the USA Olympic trials, placing 7th and did not qualify for the Olympic team. Bummer.
NE Patriots’ safety Nate Ebner qualified to be a member of the USA Rugby Sevens team at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The team actually won a game, but did not medal in the 12-team competition.
FYI: Rugby hadn’t been played in the Olympics since 1924. Back then, it was called Rugby Union and each team consisted of 15 players on the field. In the 2016 Olympics, each team was made up of seven players (hence “sevens”) and the 2016 games were shorter – only two 7-minute halves with a 1 or 2-minute halftime break. The Championship Game was extended to two 10-minute halves.
RESULTS:
Men’s Gold FIJI, Silver Great Britain, Bronze South Africa
Women’s Gold AUSTRALIA, Silver New Zealand, Bronze Canada



MAJOR LEAGUE FOOTBALL (MLFB)
The latest upstart football league was originally scheduled to begin its inaugural season this year, the MLFB. To help get things started, the organizers anticipated a $20 million influx of cash from a “Far East” investor, but the payment never materialized and the league looks to be in jeopardy of complete failure after a 7-year planning phase.



2017 PRO BOWL
After the 2016 season, the Pro Bowl will be played in Orlando, FL, in the recently renovated Citrus Bowl. This move could render the game even more meaningless to the players than in prior years, when they were at least enticed with a free trip to Hawaii.
The Pro Bowl has been held in Honolulu every year since 1979, with the exception of 2010 and 2015, when the game was played in Miami and Arizona, respectively, in conjunction with the Super Bowl location.



ARENA FOOTBALL LEAGUE (AFL)
The Arena Football League championship game, Arena Bowl XXIX (29), was played Friday night, August 26th.
The Philadelphia Soul beat the Arizona Rattlers, 56-42, in Glendale, AZ. The game was tied 42-42 early in the 4th quarter after an Arizona TD, but the Soul then finished the final period with two unanswered touchdowns to prevail.



COMPUTERIZED FOOTBALLS?
The league is experimenting with the insertion of computer chips inside footballs to try to get information such as field goal kicking data (e.g., how many FG’s would have been missed had the goal posts been squeezed in by a few feet). It would presumably also be used to determine whether a football crossed a goal line or went out of bounds, I suppose (if that’s technologically possible). Stay tuned.

FOOTBALL QUIZ QUESTIONS



QUESTION #1: Last year Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson became the first age-30 something running back to win the NFL rushing title since eleven years ago. Who was the last age 30+ RB to win the rushing title prior to 2015?
HINT: He’s a Hall of Famer.



QUESTION #2: The Cleveland Browns have been unmercilessly criticized for their starting quarterback turnover through the years. The team has used 23 different starting QB’s since the year 2000. There are four teams tied for second place with 18 different starting QB’s during that stretch. Can you name the teams? Good luck even naming one of those four teams. No hints on this one; you have 4 chances out of 31 teams.



QUESTION #3: As mentioned above, Tom Brady has had two long streaks of consecutive games started at QB, one from 2001 to 2008 (128 games including playoffs) and one from 2009 through 2015 (126 games including playoffs). He has two of the seven longest streaks in NFL history for quarterbacks. Name the other five QB’s that had longer consecutive game streaks.
HINT: Two of the five QB’s have active streaks heading into the 2016 season. Only one of the five is in the Hall of Fame (to date).



QUESTION #4: CAR Panthers’ QB Cam Newton was the NFL MVP last year, the first Heisman Trophy winner to have won the MVP award outright (not counting ties) since 1985. Who was the last NFL player to accomplish this feat (in 1985)?
BONUS: Can you name the three other NFL players who also accomplished this feat prior to 1985?
BIG BONUS: What football player has won all of the following awards: Heisman, NCAA title, NFL MVP, and a Super Bowl title?



ANSWER #1:
Curtis Martin (NYJ) in 2004 with 1,697 rushing yards at age 31.
Adrian Peterson (MIN) had 1,485 rushing yards in 2015 at age 30. During the 2012 season, coming off an ACL surgery at age 27, he amassed 2,097 yards to win the rushing title.
Following are some related stats:
Tiki Barber (NYG) rushed for 1,860 yards in 2005 at age 30, but he didn’t win the title that year; Shaun Alexander (SEA), age 28, beat him by 20 yards with 1,880.
In 2003 Jamal Lewis (BAL) amassed 2,066 rushing yards to win the title, but he was only age 24. The youngest RB’s to ever win a rushing title were 23-year olds – Walter Payton (CHI) with 1,852 yards in 1997 and Chris Johnson (TEN) with 2,006 yards in 2009.
Back in 1997, Barry Sanders won the rushing title with 2,053 yards (his best year statistically), but he was age 29.



ANSWER #2:
CHI Bears, OAK Raiders, STL Rams, and DAL Cowboys, even with Tony Romo having 127 starts during that period starting in the beginning of this century.
FFHL handicappers, if you got all four of these teams, you are banned from the league.



ANSWER #3:
The Hall of Famer on this list of five QB’s was just enshrined this year –
Brett Favre 321 games 1992-2010
The others:
Peyton Manning 227 games 1998-2011 (neck injury ended streak)
Eli Manning 194 games 2004 to present (active streak)
Philip Rivers 169 games 2006 to present (active streak)
Joe Flacco 137 games 2008-2015 (torn ACL last season)
Tom Brady 128 games 2001-2008 (torn ACL)
Tom Brady 126 games 2009-2015 (ended with suspension to start 2016)
Joe Ferguson 110 games 1977-1984
Matt Ryan 103 games 2009 to present (active streak)
Note: Eli Manning would have to play every game through the 2023 season to eclipse Favre’s record, when Eli would then be age 42.


ANSWERS TO #4 AND BONUS QUESTIONS:
The last player to win both the Heisman Trophy and outright NFL MVP was RB Marcus Allen (1981 and 1985, respec.).
Barry Sanders won both; he won the Heisman in 1988 but “only” shared the NFL MVP Award with Brett Favre in 1997.
The prior Heisman Trophy winners to also win an outright NFL MVP Award:
RB Earl Campbell
RB O.J. Simpson
RB/Slash Paul Hornung
BIG BONUS: the answer is “nobody”.
Cam Newton had a chance to be the first-ever to accomplish this feat, but he and his team lost to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 in February 2016, leaving him without this distinction (so far).


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