Week 1 2016 NFL Predictions: Welcome Back, My Friends, To The Show That Never Ends…

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Although it has gotten to the point where it really doesn’t ever go out of season, the National Football League will kick off its 2016 season on Thursday night. That Thursday night game, which has become somewhat of a tradition in the last decade, is a special one as it features the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos taking on the team they beat in Super Bowl 50, the Carolina Panthers, in the Mile High City. With hope, it can wash away what has been another ugly offseason for the preeminent sporting organization in the intergalactic realm (we have to go there since the WWE now has a Universal Champion).

As soon as the confetti stopped falling from the sky at the conclusion of Super Bowl 50, the news for the NFL has been pretty bad. The reigning Most Valuable Player in the league, the Panthers’ Cam Newton, basically started the poo-poo platter of embarrassment in his sullen demeanor following the loss (you want to feel bad about something, Cam? Feel bad about the way you shafted your teammates and didn’t go all-out on that fumble when the game was on the line). He then doubled down on those actions by saying in his season-ending interview with the Charlotte media “show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.”

That was at least as a result of the actions on the field. It became apparent that the NFL still doesn’t have a grasp on the domestic violence situation. Former Dallas Cowboys’ defensive lineman Greg Hardy – who was paid quite handsomely last year after having his 10-game suspension reduced to four games, then laying the proverbial turd in a punchbowl with his play – lamented to ESPN’s Adam Schefter (who has become a joke as a reporter) that he was being punished and that he never hit a woman (this despite photos to the contrary). It seems fitting that, as of this moment, he is still looking for a team.

One player who isn’t, however, is New York Giants kicker Josh Brown. After receiving a slap on the wrist one-game suspension from the NFL from a domestic violence issue with his (now) ex-wife in 2015 that was later dropped, Brown was not only embraced by the Giants but re-signed to a new contract by the Giants management. Add in the substance abuse suspensions (including Johnny Manziel, now out of the NFL and looking to make a comeback; the Cleveland BrownsJosh Gordon and the Pittsburgh SteelersMartavis Bryant) and penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct (we’re looking at you, Cincinnati Bengals’ Vontaze Burfict), and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has to be glad the season is starting.

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But Goodell at least got that criminal Tom Brady! After initially suspending Brady last year – and having that suspension overturned by the courts – the NFL and Goodell went up the appeals ladder and found a court that reinstated the four-game suspension against the New England Patriots quarterback for his part in the “Deflategate” scandal. Brady, after pausing to think about a push to the U. S. Supreme Court for a decision, decided to drop his case and take the four-game suspension, ensuring that the Pats won’t have him for the start of the year (after that, however, look out…Brady will play with a vengeance).

Thank God the season’s starting…

Like last year, I’m going to make some picks. I didn’t do badly over the course of the 2015-16 NFL season, going 56-39-5 overall. Super Bowl 50 helped to drag that down a bit as I only went 1-2 (picked the Broncos and took the points, only to see them win outright), but missed on the “straight up” pick of the Panthers and missed terribly on the “over/under” of 44 (the final score was Broncos 24, Panthers 10). Despite the problems with the actual results from the game, I nailed six prop bets on the Super Bowl, pretty good by anyone’s standards.

As we get ready to head into the new season, remember, these are for entertainment only. If you’re locale allows for, you know, sports betting, then you can do what you want. By no means should you bet on sports outside of those areas! (OK, someone has to come up with a sarcasm font!) Without further ado, here we go into the season (and we already have some results for this season, thanks to college football).

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Minnesota Vikings vs. TENNESSEE TITANS (+2.5)

The Vikings were a trendy pick this year to actually make some noise in the NFC, but that was before QB Teddy Bridgewater’s knee exploded like the Space X rocket last week. The Vikings front office has shored up the quarterback position by making a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for QB Sam Bradford, but he hasn’t exactly had repetitions under his belt in the Vikings offense, let alone getting used to meeting his new teammates. One teammate he should get acquainted with really quick is RB Adrian Peterson, who might be in his last year of productivity and would like to see something to hang his career on.

The Titans could be one of the surprises in the AFC this year. After an up-and-down rookie year, QB Marcus Mariota is beginning to grasp the concepts of playing quarterback in the NFL and the team has actually put some firepower around him. One of the big pickups in the off-season was the Titans getting RB DeMarco Murray, back after a year wandering in the wilderness of Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia. A reenergized Murray – and an even more overlooked pickup in WR Andre Johnson – and the current Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry could present problems for many teams.

A road team…without their starting quarterback…and the oddsmakers are favoring them? Seems as though the sharps may need a preseason of their own to get things right.

Green Bay Packers vs. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (+5.5)

It would be easy to pick the Pack on this one – QB Aaron Rodgers has probably got his offense at its healthiest to start a season in years – but they’re stepping up in this game against a sneaky Jags team that has quietly built up a decent offensive effort. By catching up to what has been an underrated defense, the Jags should be much more competitive this year. I don’t expect the Jaguars to win this game, but I do expect them to keep it within the spread.

NEW YORK GIANTS (-1) vs. Dallas Cowboys; UNDER 46.5
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (+6) vs. Arizona Cardinals

Here’s a great example of how much the line can swing when just one player is in the mix. Prior to Cowboys’ QB Tony Romo being injured, the Pokes were a 3.5 favorite over the Gotham Giants in their home opener. Now, with rookie Dak Prescott at the helm and Mark Sanchez (now with his fourth team in four years) backing him up, the line swung 4.5 points to the Giants. Regardless of who is playing for either team, they aren’t going to ring up points on the scoreboard, so take the UNDER.

In the second game, the game was a “Pick ‘Em” even after the suspension of Brady was announced. Then came down the four-game suspension of Patriots LB Rob Ninkovich (the quarterback of the defense, essentially), which probably shouldn’t swing the line by a touchdown but did. Any team that has Bill “Dark Hoodie” Belichick as head coach, however, isn’t going to go down by more than a touchdown, thus I’m taking the Pats.

Last week:  3-0
2016 season overall:  3-0

Amid the furor of the start of college football last week, made three picks that came home strong for me. Took Western Kentucky (-16.5) against Rice and won, then made a dual pick of Tulane (+16) and that the Tulane/Wake Forest game would be under the 43 O/U (WAY under as it turned out…the two teams only scored 10 points). While we will concentrate on the NFL the rest of the season, decided to lop these three picks in to get off to a good start!

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What to Expect from Tomorrow’s GOP Debate

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They are beginning to happen so frequently – not only on the Republican side but also on the Democratic – that it is becoming a bit mind-numbing when they come up. For the fourth time in the past three months, however, the Republican Party will be gathering at the Milwaukee Theatre in Wisconsin for another two tiered debate. The debate, hosted by Fox Business Channel and moderated by FBC’s Neil Cavuto, Maria Bartiromo and Wall Street Journal editor in chief Gerard Baker, may appear to be the same on the surface, but there are underpinnings that have changed some of the dynamics.

The change will be apparent from the pregame show, otherwise known as the “kiddie table” debate. Gone from that stage will be former New York Governor George Pataki and current South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who have both been polling in the microscopic digits and were deemed as no longer viable in the race by Fox Business. Despite both candidates complaining that the Republican National Committee is looking to knock out candidates rather than have their constituency decide (Graham stated on MSNBC that the RNC “couldn’t run a one-car funeral”), neither man will be in attendance when former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and current Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal take the stage for the opening act on Tuesday.

It isn’t just going to be Santorum and Jindal on the stage for the pregame show, however (despite the high comedy of how they would attempt to “out-righteous” each other for the evangelical vote). Coming down the ramp like wrestlers in the WWE to battle against The Religious Way (oh, wait…they’ll be looking to join the team!) will be two veterans of the “Main Event,” former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (at a combined weight of 600 pounds!). These two gentlemen have been cast away from the main debate for the same reasons that Pataki and Graham aren’t around anymore; their poll numbers have plunged to a depth that they no longer are considered serious contenders for the GOP nomination.

This will leave eight players – political outsiders Dr. Ben Carson and businessman billionaire Donald Trump (tossing the lead back and forth between each other), Florida Senator Marco Rubio (garnering more support from the “establishment” wing of the GOP as they desert another candidate), Texas Senator Ted Cruz (clinging to the Tea Party vote while he waits for Trump to leave the campaign), former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (losing that establishment vote while eliminating exclamation marks from his campaign slogan in favor of “fixing” something, just what isn’t known), Ohio Governor John Kasich, former businesswoman Carly Fiorina and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul – to take the stage for the “Main Event” on Tuesday night. Debate organizers probably could have cut Paul, Kasich and Fiorina (who has plummeted after making her run out of the “minor leagues” to the Adult Table due to her inability to find a subject to run on) for the same low poll numbers that they have been using in dismissing others, but they (and the RNC) probably didn’t want to appear that they were trying to manipulate the game too much. As such, they will be trying to wedge themselves into discussion amongst the Top Five candidates, who are viable in that they control roughly 75% (76.6% to be exact, according to Real Clear Politics) of potential GOP voters.

Not only have the dynamics of the participants changed for this fourth debate, there will probably be noticeable changes to the general tenor of the questioning from the Fox Business Channel moderators and staff.

The first debate, basically a “get your feet wet” affair, was on the home turf of Fox News Channel, but some of the candidates still found something to bitch about even though their questioning was rather low-key. The second debate, conducted by CNN, amped up the pressure on the candidates over a three hour span (the longest debate so far of the 2015-16 primary season) and has generally been recognized as the best debate to this point. The candidates complained – especially Trump and Carson – that the debate was too long (in reality, it actually forced them to have substance rather than fluff to their statements in requiring explanation). Then there was the debacle of last month’s CNBC debate, an unruly affair that featured inane questions from the panel and outright refusal to answer questions from the candidates.

That CNBC debate, however, will hover like a smoke cloud over the Fox Business proceedings. The ineptitude of the CNBC moderators will probably remove any character questions from the Fox Business panel’s repertoire, meaning that there will be no answers to Carson’s consistently false claims in his books and in his speeches. Carson, who has come under fire for inaccuracies and perhaps fabrication of some of his past actions and achievements (most people do this but, then again, most people aren’t running for President; for the ultimate job interview, you pretty much have to be scot-free of scandal nowadays or at least have “plausible deniability”), has continually ducked those questions. Cavuto, Bartiromo and Company aren’t going to be able to query Carson on these inaccuracies lest they be besmirched with the Scarlet “G” of “gossip.”

This also means that the panel will not be able to point out differences between the candidates regarding their policies. They will probably stay far away from any sparring sessions between Trump and…well, anyone on the stage…regarding his draconian plans on immigration. There is the slimmest of possibilities that there will be some discussion between the candidates as they delve into their differences, but Fox Business doesn’t want to give the candidates the ability to say they were “set up” to fight with each other (as Cruz alleged in the CNBC debate).

Although there won’t be the circus atmosphere on the stage in Milwaukee, this is a chance to see some actual discussion on the issues (that is, if the candidates will answer the questions as they are presented to them). I WOULD like to see Trump’s feet held to the fire regarding how he plans to round up 11 million people without it looking like he’s sending an entire race to the gulag. I’d like to see Trump explain where the money is coming from for this and his other fantasyland projects such as the Great Wall of Mexico. I’d like to hear from Carson how his tax plan isn’t going to put an even larger crater in the national debt; hell, this is something I’d like to hear from all the candidates in how, if they cut taxes to the bare bones, how it is supposed to translate to more revenues actually coming into the government (the “trickle down” economics from the Reagan Administration have been proven time and again to be false).

In this explanation, I want more than “increased buying power of customers,” “repatriation of money from overseas companies” and “small business growth” as platitudes. Explain in simple terms how cutting taxes without an appropriate or deeper cuts in the spending is supposed to either stanch the growth or lower the national debt. Then also explain to me what some people are to do when those cuts are so deep that they can no longer keep their heads above water and stay in the game (re:  actually stay alive).

Rubio, Cruz, Bush, Paul, Fiorina, Kasich…there are a host of inquiries about policies that they have stated to the public that could be the basis of a myriad of questions from the hosts at Fox Business. My only hope in the debate is that we don’t get a castrated Fox Business panel that either can’t or won’t ask the tough questions in fear of “offending” the candidates. This is a Presidential debate, for fuck’s sake, and not a coquette’s debutante ball. The questioning is supposed to be harsh, unnerving and probing…you are going to be leading the strongest nation in the world and, as such, you’d BETTER be able to handle the heat of the job rather than running to a pulpit to seek permission from a “higher authority.”

Unfortunately, this is what I believe we are going to see on Tuesday night. Cavuto will have a choker on him from the Fox Business brass (or perhaps even Fox News chairman Roger Ailes himself will have his hand on the jerker chain) and will have all the strength of a neutered Chihuahua. Bartiromo will bat her eyes as she “seriously” looks into the numbers, while Baker will rubber stamp things as long as he can lock up the candidates for an op-ed in the WSJ in the near future. The debate will not be providing anything substantive that people can examine in depth, allowing the candidates themselves to crow about how “they have control of the message” (what that message is really is anyone’s guess), at least until the next debate.

Those looking to be a leader of ALL people, not just one segment of the people, have to be able to answer the hard questions and with something more than platitudes or dismissals. If a group isn’t challenged to show their abilities in leadership, then they don’t earn that chance to be a leader. If those that question them – and those that listen to the answers to those questions – allow them to bypass this process and immediately put them into leadership because of other non-leadership qualities, then you get what you asked – or didn’t ask – for.