So, when did the NFL become less competitive than non-conference college football? Six of the 12 games played yesterday were decided by at least four touchdowns. That’s preposterous. It makes for ridiculously uncompetitive action, and therefore mostly uninteresting football. The good news, I guess, is that at least we aren’t taking bets on the games – books are getting absolutely killed by favorites covering monster spreads like this. The favorites were 8-3-1 ATS this week, and the three biggest spreads, usually the public money magnets that the books feast on, all covered. Ouch. The disparity in the league this year is amazing. For the first time ever we have three undefeated teams through seven weeks of the season. On the flip side, we have three teams that could quite conceivably not win a game, and for a couple more it seems impossible to believe that they have already won one (or more). I thought salary caps were supposed to bring competitive balance?
There was a lot to digest yesterday. I was shocked by what happened to the Bears, for example. I also didn’t expect the disparity between the Jets and the Raiders to be quite so large. And I can’t help but be even more impressed by the Saints than I already was. The most significant result in my eyes, though, is the Cards’ win at the Giants. Through five weeks many were making the case that the Giants were the best team in the league. They were challenged and humbled by the Saints, but that didn’t leave many expecting them to lose at home to the Cards. Of more concern, Eli Manning was, well, lousy. The Cards have now won three in a row and are alone in their conference. They have a very favorable schedule as well – five games remaining that I would call likely wins, and none that I would count them out of. It’s not hard at all to imagine this team getting 11 wins – just check out the schedule if you don’t believe me. In short, it’s clearly too soon to rule out the defending NFC champs.
I couldn’t be happier for Alex Smith. I am a sucker for a redemption story, so maybe I am a bit biased, but I have always had the feeling that Smith was a better player than we had seen, and that he was a victim of some unfortunate personal and team circumstances. I think that the time off this year may actually have been the best thing for him – he got a chance to stand back and get to totally absorb and digest the offensive system. Previously he had had to learn as he went, and it doesn’t sound like that is when he is at his best. He couldn’t have looked any more impressive yesterday, and it was already enough to get him named the starter going forward. If you read this blog regularly then you know I am fairly high on the Niners anyway. This development certainly doesn’t dim my enthusiasm. Neither does the way that Michael Crabtree looked reasonably comfortable and effective despite just joining the team, or the fact that Vernon Davis is finally playing like one of the best tight ends in the league – something I never thought I would saw despite expectations of that when he was drafted..
Strange news out of the UFC – Brock Lesnar has had his Nov. 21 title defense postponed until January because he is sick, has been sick for almost a month, and can’t seem to get healthy. Am I the only won who wonders if ‘sick’ is code for ‘tested positive’? This means that the headline event at UFC 106, which strangely takes place just a week after UFC 105, is now Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin. That’s hardly an inspiring pairing.
I’m very happy about the news out of St. Louis today. Not only has Tony La Russa officially decided to come back for another year, but none other than Mark McGwire will be joining the team as hitting coach. I was a gigantic McGwire fan while he played, and I think that it is more than time for him to be welcomed back into the baseball family. I won’t even pretend to defend or justify his actions in front of Congress and the related events, but I have never thought that his exile was deserved, and the league is much better when he is around. He was also a serious student of the game, so I think he’ll have a lot to add to this team.
I definitely think that TCU deserves to be ahead of Boise State in the BCS standings – a much tougher schedule, roughly equivalent offense, and more impressive defense. I didn’t think that it was going to happen, though. The Horned Frogs are ahead of the Broncos now, though. It’s no guarantee that they will stay there, but with a meaningful game against Utah still remaining for them while Boise State plays no one it’s a good bet. I don’t want to take anything away from Boise State, but TCU deserves a BCS berth after having been very good, and under-appreciated, for a long time. Besides, I think that TCU’s defense has a better chance of beating a top team than Boise State does this year.