MTV’s The Challenge returns on January 6th, and now that the fantasy draft is in the books it is time to break down the competition, in reverse order of likeliness to win. There are 13 teams of two, with the definite possibility of twists and turns along the way.
Tied for 12th – Both Are You the One Teams
The rookies never fair well, and with all the veterans around, and the fact that these two teams will probably be more alienated than ever1 since they are coming from a totally different show. Admittedly having not seen the show it is impossible to know whether they are talented at all anyway, but that doesn’t matter. There is zero chance either of these teams wins.
11th – Tom and Hailey
Most people don’t understand why the two teams from the most recent Real World are the ones that were selected. Jenny and Brian made a ton of sense (maybe they aren’t ex’s?), but the two that were selected are horrible. Hailey is going to be a train wreck on this show. These two could easily be the first ones eliminated, and they stand almost no chance of winning an elimination.
10th – Jay and Jenna
Another strange selection. Jay was terribly uninteresting on the Real World and it stands to reason he won’t add anything here. Jenna has some feistiness to her that could lead to them hanging around a bit longer than Tom and Hailey.
9th – CT and Diem
It should not be considered a spoiler to mention the tragic end for poor Diem this past fall as she finally lost her battle with cancer. Almost everyone knows at this point that she leaves the show somewhere along the way, although at this point no one is entirely sure when. It is unclear whether CT get’s a new partner or not, but even still their chances are better than any of the aforementioned teams here. If CT does stay until the end, no matter who his partner is, he is probably in good shape.
8th – Dustin and Jessica
Jessica showed some fire and lasted much longer in Free Agents than anyone thought she would. But she is still a weaker competitor than most of the females ahead of her on this list (except for maybe Avery or Jonna). Dustin is also solid, but he went out very early last time out and he will need a lot of luck to make it further this time.
7th – Knight and Jemmye
Knight tragically died just before Thanksgiving, but since it was after the filming of the show he should be on the entire thing. He and Jemmye have a massively dysfunctional relationship, and will certainly end up fighting with each other several times along the way. Jemmye seems to often find a way to hang around for a while, and as crappy as Knight is they could scrap together a win in an elimination or two. Plus they are the kind of team the big guns like to keep around to easily beat later.
6th – Johnny and Avery
Avery has not been on a Challenge before, but Johnny was a breakout start of Free Agents. He would likely have been a lot higher with a partner who was not such a mystery. This team is a dark horse that could win it all with a little bit of luck.
5th – Zach and Jonna
Zach has turned into one of the stars of this show. Bananas is the calm cool veteran, Wes and Jordan are the villains, and Zach is the muscular beast who should be able to dominate most one-on-one matchups. Except he tanked hard in the finals last time out, and he is stuck with Jonna, who while scrappy, doesn’t match up well with the women ahead of her on this list. With the format being unknown, there is a possibility that an elimination could come down to the guys being an afterthought. If it’s that plus Jonna vs. someone like Sarah, Jonna is in trouble. Zach should carry them deep, but they probably won’t win.
4th – Leroy and Nia
This is probably the ultimate wildcard team. “Hurricane” Nia was new last time out and didn’t last very long, but sometimes rookies just need to get a feel for things. She is unstable, but strong and should be able to hold her own against every other female in the game. Leroy is very lethargic on these shows, just trying to hang around and have fun without ruffling feathers or getting kicked off, but he also never seems like he is trying super hard to win. He has the physical talent, and if he decides to go all out this team could be great.
3rd – Jordan and Sarah
Sarah has come close so many times and is liked by many fans of the show. She is pretty physically gifted, smart, and definitely tries as hard as she can all the time. She was not on Free Agents and was forced to leave Rivals early when her partner quit, so she should be out for blood. Jordan is one of the up and comers, but he has a major cockiness problem, as well as a major rivalry with Bananas. The question with him is often whether or not will be able to keep his cool. They are the kind of team that could find themselves in eliminations early as other teams try to eliminate a good team. If they make it to the final though, they will be tough to beat.
2nd – Wes and Theresa
Wes may be the ultimate villain on this show at this point, disliked by fans and fellow competitors alike. But he is strong and smart and has done more than enough to prove his place in these competitions. Barring some really bad luck he should at least be around until the latter half the of show, especially with a pretty athletic veteran partner like Theresa. This is her 6th Challenge and she has never even made the finals despite coming in 4th on Free Agents. She has what it takes to break through and with this partner they should coast for a while.
1st – Bananas and Nany
If The Challenge truly were the 5th major American sport as Bill Simmons and Dave Jacoby often lament, then Johnny Bananas would be the Bill Russell/Michael Jordan/Wayne Gretzky of the franchise. In 10 appearances he has one an astounding five times, and been to the finals two other times. That means that he makes the finals with a 70% clip. This is Nany’s fourth straight Challenge and she is fresh off a 2nd place finish to the she-beast that is Laurel. Many showed herself to be awfully good last time out, and this team is pretty stacked. Bananas doesn’t let his personal relationships get to him all that much at his old age, so as long as Nany keeps her cool this is the team to beat. It’s likely that Wes and Zach know that though, and Jordan hates him, so they may team up to try and get them out early.
Although the above represents the likelihood that any one of those teams might win, it could play out significantly different. A bad break here or there can easily knock a team out. Someone always ends up in the finals who doesn’t seem like they have a chance at all, someone like Dustin and Jessica could find a way in for that matter. Bananas/Nany and Wes/Theresa would have to really hit some bad luck to not make it to the finals. Sarah and Jordan are a really strong team as well, and seem like the kind of team that should be able to co-exist to win. So those three teams should make it there. Zach might be the single strongest male competitor at this stage of the game, but Jonna could be a major weakness if they end up in any elimination rounds. Leroy is another strong competitor but Nia is a wildcard and can fly off the rails at any point. So going off the board a bit and picking Johnny Reilly and Averey as the last of four teams (assuming it’s four) to be in the finals.
- Unless Wes and Bananas go old-school “alliances” on everyone [↩]
Michael Terry of Grantland did a great job of summing up why a college football playoff changes things:
Where once we placed a general emphasis on consistency of excellence, new playoff systems have instead sought to improve everyone’s chances to win by placing an increasing emphasis on excellence under manufactured pressure. At one time, the idea was to ensure the two best teams met to determine the champion. Now we create paths for more and more teams to show they can perform best “when it matters.” Playoffs are said to be fairer. They’re not. What they are, it turns out, is more fun — a guarantee of an annual blip of excitement. Fans’ preference for more playoff games has made it easier for major sports to continue playoff expansion to increase revenues while rightly claiming to be in step with the wishes of their followers.
These thoughts echo what has been spoken about both on this blog and the former podcast associated with it. A college football playoff is certainly more exciting, but it is not better at determining who the best team (and therefore most deserving champion) is. This is true in all sports, where the slate is essentially wiped clean when the playoffs start. Sure there could be some benefits from seeding, or from home field, but those advantages are marginal. It is almost as if this is a second season, just shortened and played in a different format (at least in baseball, basketball and hockey it is).
The argument against this logic would be that Florida St. is 13–0, and would have certainly been #1 or #2 in the old BCS. And many people do not even think they will beat Oregon in the semifinals. So the argument is that the new system therefore “works”. But an Ohio St. team that lost early at home to a bad Virginia Tech team has benefited greatly form playing better later. Of course Ohio St. is trotting out their 3rd string QB in a national semifinal for his second career start, so they might get blown out too.
What if leagues started experimenting with more radical changes. The baseball minor leagues and the NBA Development League have both tried new rules in recent years. What if the regular season mattered more in the playoffs? What if teams that finished higher seeded got some other sort of advantage besides just a possibility of more home games? Maybe the better team gets spotted a certain number of points/runs/goals based on how much better they finished than their playoff opponent. Maybe there is some other tweak, like in baseball a team only gets 2 outs per inning for so many innings at the start of the series.
The bottom line is that teams that play well in the regular season should be more rewarded for it. Otherwise, what is the point? And what does it prove when more than half the NBA teams make the playoffs? At that stage the slate is wiped clean, but should it be? No one remembers who the “regular season” champion is, because such a thing doesn’t exist. Instead of the champion is crowned out of a pool of select teams who all basically have the same shot once the playoffs start. Seems like a system ripe for a tweak.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
More in-depth thoughts have already been shared, and not a minute of the campaign or Exo Survival mode have been played, but this game remains in the rotation. It is hard to tell if this game is just not as fun, or if the series is just tired and played out at this point, but Advanced Warfare has not seemed to have garnered the same amount of play time up to this point as previous iterations. The maps are well designed though, and that makes the game less frustrating to play at any given moment. Regardless it’s hard to see playtime reaching previous years at this point, especially with the recent change to Domination scoring which has made the mode mostly unplayable.
Hockey games are just an occasional purchase, but a Black Friday (weekend) deal of getting this game digitally for $40 was hard to pass up. For people that are not diehards of a certain sport, it’s easy to pick up a game like this and play it for a couple of years because the latest and greatest rosters do not matter a whole lot. NHL 15 is gorgeous looking. The presentation is spectacular and the pregame intros from actual announcers are cool, but they get repetitive fast. Like penalties and fouls in football and basketball games it seems like penalties don’t occur frequently enough, and it seems like AI teammates never commit penalties, ever. The game feels great though, and the way that the clock always counts down from 20 minutes (just faster or slow depending on the period length) makes the game feel more real to a certain extent.
This is especially useful with penalties, when they actually are called. On 6-minute periods a 2-minute penalty would take up 1/3 of the period, but the penalties are scaled accordingly meaning the penalty also goes by faster than 2 real-time minutes. This means that power plays don’t last as long, but that is OK because there are not many of them anyway.
Without a lot of past experience it’s hard to say how this game stacks up to past iterations, but it’s smooth, pretty and fun to play even for a novice.
This is kind of random one. Aside from a brief dabble with Legends of Wrestlemania on XBOX 360 wrestling games haven’t been purchased in the Hippo household in a long time. Part of the impetus for this purchase was the pre-order bonus of Sting, the longtime face of WCW and a childhood favorite1. This game looks very, very good. There are also enough ’90s wrestlers to keep someone who has been away from the sport for over a decade entertained. The career modes seem pretty deep, almost too much so. But there are so many different types of matches that a person could stay occupied for quite a while just screwing around.
Many of the WWE “legends” have to be unlocked by completing challenges. These are time consuming, and often hard, unfun, or both. For $2 everything in the game can unlocked at will. Old school gamers might balk at paying for something that used to just require a cheat code, and others probably think it’s lame to pay to unlock things that would be free with some time and effort. But $2 is a small amount of money, and many people won’t feel like spending 50 hours to unlock everything in this game.
WWE fans probably enjoy the heck out of this game. Nostalgia seekers2 will have fun, but probably a limited amount. It would be fun to throw in when friends come over, but the learning curve is such that an experienced player would have a massive advantage.
I wouldn’t have bought this game without the Sting bonus, and in retrospect I am sure I won’t get $60 of value out of it, but these things happen.
Game of Thrones
Telltale games has been releasing episodic video games for popular intellectual properties for a few years now. They have done Back to the Future and The Walking Dead and this time took a stab at the HBO hit Game of Thrones. This game is based in the universe of the TV show and features several characters that fans of the show will recognize. The story picks up late in season 3 (see the following footnote for a more spoilery description3).
The game has players in the role of various members of House Forrester, an actual family from the Game of Thrones series, but apparently one that has only been mentioned in passing in the books. This gives Telltale a chance to take some liberties.
The bulk of this game is the story. There are quick time events here and there but mostly it’s reacting to other characters by choosing from 3–4 possible responses, each of which drives the direction of the story and has impact on future events of the game. Essentially playing this game is like watching an interactive, “choose your own adventure” style version of the Game of Thrones TV show.
It is far from action packed, but feels very close to the show it is based around. The graphics are good, but not great. It also only costs $5 for the first episode, so it won’t take much to find out if it’s worth. So far, it has been.
Everyone loves speculation, so why not go full bore? Les Miles has denied (off the record) that he is interested in the Michigan job. But as the Jim Harbaugh Smokescreen has taught us, nothing is official until it’s official. So what happens if Miles takes the Michigan job? He would almost certainly take coordinators Cam Cameron and John Chavis with him. So then the search is on for one of the five (maybe three?) best jobs in the SEC.
Plan 0 – Make Them Say No
LSU has to at least make calls to Urban, Saban, Stoops, Malzahn and Jimbo to make them say “no thanks”. Jimbo was a coordinator at LSU, and while FSU has a huge advantage in the ACC, it’s still not a top tier SEC program. It is not insane that he might interested, but seems unlikely.
If the rumors are true that Michigan is waiting for Harbaugh to say no first, it’s likely that by the time Miles is fired, Sean Payton’s fate in New Orleans would be known. If he was let go there is no way to at least not pick up the phone and check with him.
Plan A – The Real Candidates
There are three names that make the most sense. All three coach in the SEC currently. All three are up and coming coaches and programs without the ceiling of LSU. Kevin Sumlin, Hugh Freeze and Dan Mullen all make obvious sense. Mullen’s stock has never been higher and he would be wise to strike while the iron is hot. Although he might not have been a candidate places it’s interesting that his name hasn’t seem to have come up much at all this month. He would be ludicrous to turn this job down if offered.
Freeze probably has a higher ceiling at Ole Miss and hasn’t had the rocky time Mullen has had so far, so he might not be as quick to pull the ripcord, but this might be too enticing of a job to turndown. Sumlin has the advantage of coaching in Texas, and the NFL rumors are always going to be there, but this would be a step up and the kind of job he could have for 20 years.
Plan B – Beyond the SEC
If none of those guys are smart enough to take this job then it’s time to look elsewhere. Mark Dantonio has done wonders at Michigan St., and the last guy LSU poached from there worked out pretty well. While he seems pretty entrenched, this might be too high profile of a job to turn down. Jim Mora has gotten some buzz this offseason as a guy who might be looking for a bigger job than UCLA. If was willing to kick the tires on the Michigan job it’s crazy to think he wouldn’t jump at this. Rich Rodriguez has his stock pretty high once again. Arizona is not LSU, and there would be no way he could turn this down no matter how happy he is there.
Plan C – No Way It Makes It This Far
It seems impossible to think that all of those guys say no, but anything is possible. At this point LSU would look at guys who 90% of programs would take if they could get them. Mike Gundy at OK ST., the guy who took over for Miles. A step up for him, and he gets out of a sticky situation with justification of joining a truly elite program. Dabo Sweeney of Clemson can probably only get them so far. He is young and a good recruiter and has had moderate success so far. Chronic job hopper Todd Graham of ASU could make sense.
Plan D – The Sure Thing
At this point it would be one name, former LSU assistant Bo Pellini. He could surely manage to get out of the Youngstown t. job he just accepted if need be, and there is a 0% chance he says no.
Sinan Kubba from Joystiq on the return of Heroes of Might and Magic 3
Heroes of Might and Magic 3 is charging back into gaming with a surprise pincer attack. Not only is the 1999 turn-based strategy returning to Windows PC with widescreen-friendly HD visuals, but it’s also coming to iOS and Android, albeit for tablets only.
If that has strategists of a certain age fidgeting at the thought of more all-nighters, the good news is they’ve barely more than a month to wait. Both the PC and tablet games are already scheduled for release on January 29, 2015.
Heroes of Might and Magic 2 was actually the first game in the series I played, and probably the one I spent the most time on. I do remember playing Heroes of Might and Magic 3 and enjoying it, but definitely not playing it as much.1
It is exciting to see this game coming to iOS. This is a great tablet game. Great turn-based game without the need for virtual “sticks” or any other potential shortcomings of a touchscreen. And even better than something like Sim City where great levels of precision are required. One of the main drawbacks of any of the Heroes games was just how darn long it took to play a game. They just took FOREVER. But that is why the iPad is just perfect for this. Pick it up and play here and there pretty easily without having to sit down and play for hours or load up a big slow computer game for just a few turns.
This game definitely isn’t for everyone (sorry Chris!), but if it is under $20 for essentially the same version as the computer game from 15 years ago I see no way I won’t buy it!
- I knew there was a 4th game, but not a 5th, and apparently a 6th is coming in 2015. [↩]
Every year some college football programs fire their coaches and hire different ones. Sometimes they aren’t a surprise, like Charlie Strong to Texas or Steve Sarkisian to USC. Other times they are, like Mike Reilly to Nebraska. But during the process there is a constant smokescreen up. Jim Harbaugh’s comments regarding the Michigan job the last few days mean absolutely zero. The simple reason is that he will not show his hand until he is definitely sure what his future holds. This is true of any coach. Until a coach accepts the opening, they are in play unless one of the following things happens.
Position Is Filled
Obviously if a team hires a different coach (let’s just use Les Miles at Michigan here) the job is off the table. At that point the other “candidate” will likely deny any interest (whether true or not) to keep their current team/fanbase from having hurt feelings. It also keeps them from looking like they were passed over for a job, even if they were.
Coach Signs a Contract Extension
This is the de facto move at the college level to take a coach’s name out of the conversation. Butch Jones signed an extension with Tennessee this week which eliminated him from the Michigan search. This rule only applies to the current hiring cycle. For example, Jones could be right back in the mix next offseason at other places. Of course, with job security they are less likely to leave, but they are far from eliminated from the conversation. In the case of Jim Harbaugh, him being traded to the Raiders or Jets would be the equivalent of signing an extension (which the 49ers almost certainly wouldn’t do).
Coach Takes Another Job
Another rather obvious scenario. When Jim McElwain accepted the Florida job, he obviously was no longer a candidate elsewhere. In Harbaugh’s case, this again would be a trade to another team (probably Oakland or New York).
Essentially nothing Jim Harbaugh (or any other coaching candidate) says means a thing at this point. Only action does. Harbaugh is not getting an extension with the 49ers unless they win the Super Bowl. So he will remain a candidate until San Francisco trades him or until Michigan fills the job with someone else. Everything else is just a smokescreen.
I kept the hierarchy at the bottom because there are still 9 rows that are alive, and it looks like it is going to be spot on. The exception being the fact that Ohio St. might win Saturday and get left out because their starting QB is out for the season. There will be a lot of debate about whether this makes sense, but it does. If Ohio St. just barely gets by Wisconsin on Saturday it might be fair to say that without Barrett they are not one of the four best teams, despite what their resume says. This is why the committee was formed.
Assuming nothing crazy happens on Saturday Alabama, Oregon and Florida St. are in. The fourth and final spot will come down to Ohio St., Baylor and TCU (assuming all three win on Saturday). Ohio St. will have an extra win, and Baylor will have barely beat TCU in a head-to-head win. The committee won’t consider tiebreakers when it comes to conference champs so in their eyes both TCU and Baylor could be considered Big 12 champions, so there is no advantage there. TCU is probably the better team, but Ohio St. might actually be better than either of them with J.T. Barrett. But he is out, so that changes everything.
College football definitely got what they wanted, the last weekend of the season is very meaningful, and not just from a “win and you’re in” perspective.
The hierarchy works perfectly though for figuring out who controls their own destiny. Reading from top to bottom is pretty spot on. For example, for Arizona to get in, not only would they have to beat Oregon, they would need two of Florida St., Ohio St., Baylor and TCU to lose1.
The only place it gets murky is in the Ohio St./Baylor/TCU area. Ohio St. had the edge before Barrett went down. Baylor QB Bryce Petty has a concussion so who knows if he will even play. If one of the top three loses though, Ohio St. and one of TCU/Baylor would make the most sense.
If you are a Badger fan, Wisconsin would probably get in if they won and Baylor and TCU both lost.
If you want pure bedlam, there is a scenario where the playoff is Missouri, Arizona, Wisconsin and (maybe) Kansas St. How nuts is that?
|2||Undefeated Florida St.||FSU|
|3||1-loss SEC champion||Alabama|
|6||1-loss Pac 12 champ||Oregon|
|7||1-loss Big Ten champ||Ohio St.|
|9||2-loss SEC champ||Missouri|
|11||1-loss Big 12 champ||Baylor, TCU|
|12||2-loss Pac 12 champ||Arizona|
|15||2-loss Big Ten champ||Wisconsin|
|16||2-loss Big 12 champ||Baylor, TCU, Kansas St.|
- In this scenario whoever the SEC champ is would make it over Arizona [↩]
Two weeks after it’s release, and after presaging for a second time this week, it seemed like a good time to post some thoughts on Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. This is the 11th (!) game in the series, and the first solo Call of Duty effort from Sledgehammer games. They did co-develop Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 with Infinity Ward though. Those that dubbed Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare as “Call of Duty: Titanfall” didn’t end up being that far off. More on that soon.
This game definitely feels like a Call of Duty game. It’s extremely fast paced, and as the trend has been the last few years, the maps get smaller and the engagements get faster and more frequent.
Everything is not perfect though, there are some web established server/netcode issues that seem to cause problems for many players. These issues have been discussed at length, but the gist of it is that it symptomizes itself as a player seeing hit markers on their screen, but not getting a kill, and then the subsequent kill cam showing that the player’s hits never registered. This is a frustrating problem.
The Exo Suits
The big addition to this year’s installment was the Exo Suit. This is where the Titanfall comparisons come from. For the first time, double jumping is possible. As is boosting with thrusters forward, backward and side-to-side. This increases the pace and speed of the game and makes the game more vertical than ever. At first this seemed like it would be a real issue, but it has actually been pretty good so far. No longer can someone who has taken the time to climb way up high simply sit there without incident, as double jumping allows anyone to get anywhere relatively quickly. It will be interesting to see if this will be here to stay with whatever the next game it is or not, but best guess is that at this point most people would be sad to see it go.
The Exo suits also offer an extra ability that can be equipped. Some of these options used to be perks (Ping, faster health regeneration) and there are some totally new things (like cloak and hover). These gimmicks don’t seem to be worth a slot in the “pick 13” system, and although some people use them, it seems like most people opt to go other directions.
Create-A-Class Pick 13
The pick 13 system is based on the system that has been in use in recent games where player’s can opt to build their class in many different ways. For example, players can sacrifice the aforementioned Exo Abilities for a third weapon attachment. This allows players to really get a class to fit their play style.
Most people seem to be opting for assault rifles, either the BAL–27 or AK–12 seem to be the most popular. At the moment, the class of choice for this blog is BAL–27 w/suppressor, quickdraw grip and stock as primary. No secondary, launchers or Exo abilities. Low Profile, Peripherals, Toughness and Blast Suppressor as perks. Then UAV (with support and threat detection), Care Package (with support and double tap) and Remote Turret (with support and sentry) as score streaks.
The interesting thing in this game is the de-emphasis on perks. After Ghosts offered something like 30 perks, there are just 15 here. Many perks (like quickdraw) have been moved to attachments, or (like dead silence) Exo abilities. This makes using three attachments almost a must. As a result of this change, the perks are somewhat disappointing. Outside of the four mentioned in the previous paragraph, there are few others worth using. Lightweight maybe, Flak Jacket in certain game modes, Cold Blooded is good, Blind Eye on occasion or maybe Scavenger if you live a long time frequently. That is just 9 out of 15 that are even worth considering.
There are just 12 score streaks, and as been the case the last couple of games, score streaks continue to be de-emphasized and weakened as to not be game ruining. They have done a good job with this, and because the streaks are based on scoring points, and not just kills it’s much easier for people to earn them while playing objective based games. The other addition is the ability to modify score streaks so that they have additional features, but these also increase the cost. The higher cost streaks (Goliath, Warbird and Paladin) are not enough of sure things to warrant equipping them. As good as the Paladin is, it probably will lead to just a couple of kills in most cases, and since it requires 950 points it is just not worth it. On the other end of the spectrum, the System Hack at 600 points seems to happen a bit too frequently. It will be interesting to see if Sledgehammer tweaks these at all down the road.
The maps have been an interesting experience. For the most part there are not any huge maps, and all the maps feel small thanks to the Exo suit making moving around so much faster. No maps jumped out as Strikezone/Dome/Nuketown after the first couple of days, but after two weeks it has become apparent that the maps are very well designed. There don’t seem to be spawn areas that give one team too much of an advantage and most maps don’t have any major bottlenecks. This seems to be because most maps were created with the “three lane design” in mind, which means that there are three different main paths on the map.
That isn’t to say the maps are perfect, but for the most part they are good, without a lot of separation between the best and worst maps. At this point the top four in some order would be Detroit, Defender, Instinct and Retreat. The bottom four in some order are Terrace, Ascend, Solar and Recovery.
So far, it’s Call of Duty. It doesn’t seem as enjoyable as Call of Duty: Ghosts, although that is a minority opinion, but it’s good. The connection/lag issues will hopefully get fixed sooner rather than later, which will help. There are a lot of game modes, and enough balance in the maps that the game should be fun for a while. It remains remarkable that after the 11th iteration this game still sells as well as it does. There is somehow enough to get people coming back each year, for now. Sooner or later though, they need something more fresh than this.
Not a full on preview this week since it’s a crappy week, but instead a look at five bizarre gambling lines.
I don’t bet on games. I make my three picks on Twitter each week for fun, and to prove to myself that I should never consider betting on games. My dad always had this mantra that if it seemed to good to be true, it probably was. Which leads me to five games this week that have lines that just seem way off.
LSU (+1) @ Arkansas
Wow. What? LSU is 7–3. Their losses are to Mississippi St., Auburn and Alabama, all top 10 teams. Arkansas is 4–5. Their best win is at Texas Tech or against Northern Illinois! So what gives? If you believe in the Bruce Feldman “Body Blow Theory” © then this makes a little most sense. LSU just had a rough game against Alabama. It’s a perfect letdown situation. Plus Arkansas is coming off a bye. Arkansas is a top 40 team according to Football Outsiders. Still seems crazy.
Mississippi St. (+9) @ Alabama
Mississippi State is #1 in the country. They are 9–0. They have handled every challenge that has come their way. They have beaten Auburn and LSU. They had Tennessee Martin last week, so as close to a bye as you can get. So what gives? Football Outsiders has Alabama as the best team in the country (6th offense, 2nd defense). Mississippi St. is ranked 6th by them, and behind Alabama in both categories. This is a little crazy though. How often is the #1 team getting 9 points, even on the road?
Nebraska (+6.5) @ Wisconsin
Nebraska is rank 16th and is 8–1. Wisconsin has two losses and is ranked 20th. This isn’t just a spread bumped by home field. Nebraska hasn’t beaten a top 25 team. They lost at Michigan St. and their best win is Miami, who is ranked 12th by Football Outsiders, but have come a long way since September. Wisconsin has two losses. One was opening night against LSU (excusable). The other was against Northwestern (inexcusable). Nebraska is coming off a bye week. Football Outsiders has them ranked 14th, and Wisconsin ranked 19th. This one doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Auburn (+2.5) @ Georgia
Auburn is ranked 9th, Georgia is 15th. Both have two losses. Auburn lost at Mississippi St. and to Texas A&M. Both top 25 teams. Georgia lost to South Carolina and Florida, both of whom Football Outsiders has ranked behind Virginia. Georgia’s defense isn’t great, and even with Todd Gurley back Auburn is probably better on both sides of the ball. This line at least makes a little sense factoring in home field, but still seems a little off.
Florida St. (–2.5) @ Miami
On first glance, this is insane. But FSU’s best win is a fading Notre Dame team, or a Clemson team that has come on late. Miami has lost three times. On opening night at a solid Louisville team, on the road against a good Nebraska team (both in September) and a more inexcusable loss at Georgia Tech. But all 6 of their wins have come by at least 10 points, and their last three all by at least 21. They are coming off a bye, and more importantly Football Outsiders have them ranked 12th (10th offense, 18th defense), and would likely be higher without a 64th ranked special teams. FSU is 9–0, but they are ranked only 9th, with the 29th ranked defense.
When it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. I have been picking three games for fun every week and at this moment, those would be Miami, Arkansas and Alabama.
There are 32 NFL teams. Each year somewhere between 5–8 coaches lose their jobs. It’s never too soon to start thinking about who is where. Oakland already fired Dennis Allen, and it’s likely five more guys will join him. So who will they be?
22 guys are safe at this point:
- Bill Belichick, NE – Five straight division titles. Missed the playoffs once since 2002. 7–2 this year.
- Doug Marrone, BUF – 2nd season. 5–4 after 6–10 last year. Would have to lose out to be at risk.
- John Harbaugh, BAL – Made playoffs in first five seasons. Won Super Bowl two seasons ago. 6 wins already; 6–10 wouldn’t even be enough.
- Mike Pettine, CLE – First year.
- Bill O’Brien, HOU – First year.
- Chuck Pagano, IND – Third year. About to make playoffs for third time.
- Gus Bradley, JAX – Year two. Not doing well, but expectations are low.
- Ken Whisenhunt, TEN – First year.
- John Fox, DEN – Three for three in playoff appearances. One Super Bowl trip.
- Mike McCoy, SD – Year two. Playoffs last year.
- Andy Reid, KC – Year two. Playoffs last year.
- Tom Coughlin, NYG – One one playoff appearance in last five seasons. But two rings. Probably goes on on his own terms.
- Chip Kelly, PHI – Year two. Looks like a 2nd straight playoff appearance.
- Jay Gruden, WAS – First year.
- Jim Caldwell, DET – First year.
- Mike Zimmer, MIN – First year.
- Mike McCarthy, GB – Five straight playoffs plus a Super Bowl ring.
- Sean Payton, NO – Four straight playoffs plus a Super Bowl ring.
- Lovie Smith, TB – First year
- Pete Carroll, SEA – Just won a Super Bowl
- Bruce Arians, ARI – 2nd year. 8–1.
- Jeff Fisher, STL – Only in year three. Lots of injuries. Probably gets more time.
Good as Gone
Rex Ryan, NYJ
Rex Ryan deserves a lot of credit for lasting this long. He really banked a lot of credit by making the playoffs those first two seasons. He is 0 for 3 since and is currently 1–8. The Jets are really bad. Ryan could immediately get re-hired, but at worst he’s unlikely only out of a job one year.
Mike Smith, ATL
Smith went to the playoffs in four of his first five seasons including a trip to the NFC title game. But injuries derailed this team last season, and they are currently 3–6. Smith probably has to get to 8 wins to keep his job. Otherwise, Falcons owner Arthur Blank has to start thinking about not wasting the primes of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.
Too Close to Call
There are three more coaches still out there to get fired. It will come from this list of 7 name, from least likely to most likely.
Joe Philbin, MIA
Philbin somehow entered the season on a warm seat despite improving from 7–9 to 8–8 last season. Miami is currently 5–3. 8–8 almost surely keeps his job and Miami’s defense is one of the best in the league. If this team finished 2–6 though, he would probably be gone.
Mike Tomlin, PIT
The fact that teams would line-up to hire Tomlin means he probably isn’t going anywhere. But after two 8–8 seasons without the playoffs things can get restless. Tomlin is 5–3 in the playoffs and has two trips to the Super Bowl (one ring). Pittsburgh is 6–4. He probably get’s at least another year unless they lose out.
Marvin Lewis, CIN
He has been coaching the Bengals since before the forward pass was legalized1. He has a winning record, and has made the playoffs in three straight seasons. But he is 0–5 lifetime in the playoffs. The Bengals are 5–3–1 in the leagues’s deepest division, and could miss the playoffs even with 9 wins. This is a team with tons of talent that lost both coordinators in the offseason. So Lewis is probably safe.
Jason Garrett, DAL
Garrett has never made the playoffs or had a full “winning” season, but he has gone 8–8 for three years. Dallas started 6–1 and are now 7–3. After that start raised expectations, missing the playoffs would be catastrophic. It would also likely mean having finished 4–5. Hard to see Jerry Jones letting that slide.
Marc Trestman, CHI
Only in his second season, but the Bears have been horrible. Even though the defense has been ravaged by injuries there is too much talent on offense for this team to be so middle of the road. It’s unlikely a coach gets fired after two seasons, especially with traditionally tight fisted owners, but the Bears window with this offense is going to close fast, so it might be time to try something else. Seven wins probably saves his job though.
Jim Harbaugh, SF
This seems almost unimaginable. Harbaugh is in year four. He has been to three NFC title games, and one Super Bowl. Any team would kill for a coach that good that fast. And yet the rumors of lockeroom antics won’t die. And currently at 5–4 the playoffs are far from a lock. If the rumors are true about the way the team is being managed, and the 49ers miss the playoffs they may cut him loose. This situation is too unpredictable though.
Ron Rivera, CAR
Rivera was on the hotseat last season after a slow start. But he finished 12–4 and made the playoffs. The Panthers have taken a step back and at 3–6–1 don’t look good. Short of going 6–0 from here on out they will probably miss the playoffs. 4–2 is probably enough to cost him his job. So it doesn’t look good
Rex Ryan and Mike Smith get the axe, joining Dennis Allen. Carolina doesn’t bounce back and Ron Rivera gets the boot. Dallas totally implodes and misses the playoffs. Bye-bye Jason Garrett. The Bears finish 5–11 and the Marc Trestman Experiment comes to an end.
- Rough estimate [↩]