5-at-10: NFL power poll, Eli’s double gun salute, Bracket challenge, UT ducks date with Army – Chattanooga Times Free Press


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NFL power poll

So, we're three weeks in and the Patriots, the Chiefs and the Steelers are reeling. The Raiders and the Broncos are rolling.

What is this, 1986?

Across the hall in the NFC, the Cardinals, Rams and Panthers are unbeaten. Seriously.

So three weeks in we know less than we thought we did on Labor Day, which is staggering because as Vader can attest my NFL picks smell like three-week-old gym socks you find at the bottom of your locker.

(Side question: Do kids still have lockers? Is that even a thing in the all-encompassing backpack days of the modern school environment?)

Speaking of picks, and we frequently share some outlandish betting stories from across the sports landscape, but this one was downright incredible to me.

According to David Purdum of ESPN, an Illinois bettor put $8 on a 12-leg parlay. OK, not big news right?

Well it was Sunday. Again, lots going on. On the Ryder Cup, and the bettor turned the price of a No. 1 combo at Chick-Fil-A into $966,290 by nailing every outcome of Sunday's singles matches at the Ryder Cup.

That's right, every single one. So he picked the wins by Americans Daniel Berger, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Scottie Scheffler and Dustin Johnson, as well as European wins by Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter. But wait that's 10, right?

Said bettor nailed — at better than plus-550 odds mind you — ties between Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland and between Jordan Spieth and Tommy Fleetwood.

That's mind-blowing. Like picking Cards-Panthers in the NFC title game.

Like a poli-sci major in mid-October of an election year, let's get to the polls.

1. Los Angeles Rams. The Rams fascinate me, because they are willing to zag while the rest of the league cautiously zigs. What is the most valuable trade commodity in the (cue Ron Jaworski) National FOOTBALL League? By most every measure it's draft picks, because they offer fan bases hope. And more importantly, draft picks, even for the most ardent and impatient fans, offer GMs and coaches time. Time to develop players and the chance to time and time again ask for, you guessed it, more time from franchises and fans. They dealt three picks — including two No. 1s — for Matt Stafford in March and Stafford looks the part of early-season MVP. But draft picks are more of a crapshoot than GMs and Mel Kipers want to admit, and we can look no further than the Rams to prove it. Everyone ooohed and ahhed when the Rams sent two first-rounders and a fourth to Jacksonville for Jalen Ramsay, who is the best at his job on the planet. So the Jags — granted it's the Jags — turned arguably the best cover corner since Charles Woodson in his prime into K'Lavon Chaisson, Travis Etienne and Jordan Smith. Now, who won that deal? Because simply put, as much as we all are fascinated with the draft — I love the draft; you know this — the Rams are dealing hope and possibilities for sure-things, and it's allowed them to craft a star-studded roster.

2. Denver. Too high you say? Maybe. Want to guess who has the best scoring margin in the NFL? It's the Buffalo Bills and, wait for it, your Denver Broncos. Yes, the AFC West is a monster, but this is another example of finding successful zags while others are traditionally zigging. Denver is built around depth and defense, and kudos to their draft team, because they have assembled a slew of workable and likable pieces, especially at the skill positions around a journeyman QB.

3. Arizona. Yes, this may be higher than most have the Cardinals and that's fine, but as we continue an examination of team-building methods and philosophies, the Cardinals are embracing one of the tried-and-true methods. Shoot for the moon with a capable and emerging QB — we see you Kyler Murray — on his rookie deal. And the Cardinals have done it by assembling arguably the best and most diverse collection of wideouts in the league with superstar DeAndre Hopkins surrounded by electric speedsters Rondale Moore and Christian Kirk as well as super steady veteran AJ Green.

4. Tampa Bay. Yes, they are 2-1 and yes, there are other unbeatens out there and I understand and more times than not live by the Bill Parcells ethos of you are what your record says you are. But the Bucs still have the most complete roster, even if they ran into a motivated Rams bunch in an understandably precarious spot with Brady's return to Foxboro a week away. And you may ask whether Tampa is better than a couple of the above teams, but there's no need to ask whether they are better than the Raiders or the Panthers. Is there?

5. Carolina. Wow, who had Matt Ruhle as the college coach best equipped to enter an NFL locker room and find early success? Anyone? Bueller? And man, Sam Darnold's emergence — need a ruling, was Darnold ever good enough in NYC to call this a resurgence? — really kicks dirt on the coaching debacle that was Adam Gase era with the Jets, no?


28. Indianapolis. Ravaged by injuries — especially across an offensive line in which the Colts invested heavily — Indy went from preseason dark horse to a disastrous bagel-and-3 start. The rest of the dregs on the powerless side of this equation were predictable; the Colts being here is almost as improbable as picking all 12 singles matches at the Ryder Cup correctly.

29. Detroit. The Lions are easily the worst team in arguably the worst division in the league. Do we need to say much more?

30. Jacksonville. To be fair to even the hollow human being that is Coach Urban Liar — and the odds are still out whether he makes it through the season — this one season is about finding pieces around and ways to help Trevor Lawrence progress. Period. Whether that's 8-9 or 1-16 or somewhere in between. So let's up[date Lawrence through his first three games as a pro (officially): He's 64-of-118 (54.2 percent) for 669 yards and five scores with seven picks. His QBR — ESPN's rating of quarterbacks on a scale of 1 to 100 — is 23.1

31. New York Giants. When you let the all-but-listless-through-11-quarters Atlanta Falcons rally by you for a fourth-quarter comeback, well, do you need to know any more? And to make matters worse for the Giants, every other team in the NFC East has some solid reasons to feel good about themselves three weeks in.

32. New York Jets. Is there any more that can be said? That needs to be said?

More NFL

Couple other NFL items of intersection. First, the nominations are in and the field is set for the second round of the 5-at-10 Bracket Challenge. You can go here to vote on your favorite Tennessee Titan of all time.

(Side note: We did not include folks who only played for the Oilers. So there's that. But man, did we all not love those Bum Phillips-coached Oilers with Earl Campbell running over everyone and Dan Pastorini and the crew?)

Second, and yes, it feels like lip service, but the three-week standings of the 5-at-10 Survivor Pool will be in Wednesday's program. The Browns and the Broncos moved a slew of you folks perfectly into Week 4. And if memory serves, at this time last year, we had like 7 folks left. We're still comfortable north of two dozen.

Finally, last night's Monday night game was a Cowboys blowout over the rival Eagles. (Is there anyone out there who does not view themselves as the Cowboys' rival at least in some measure? The Jags maybe.)

It also was week three of the Monday Night Manning Megacast, which I very much enjoyed again for the limited parts I saw.

I truly appreciated all the emails, Tweets and texts you folks sent about the broadcast. I did not get back right away because the 12u Signal softball crew was sweeping a doubleheader in Snow Hill for most of last night's game and I was standing in a  third-base coaching box irritating some folks from the north part of our county. But there's at least one mailbag question on the Mannings, and the next time the Mannings take the stage, we'll lock and load and play along on social media. Deal? Deal.

Two takeaways from the Mannings last night: First, they continue to book A-list guests like Carson in his heyday. Last night featured LeBron in the second quarter and Alabama coach Nick Saban in the third among others. Saban was particularly good and was even patient as the Mannings still battled their issues with talking over each other. And while they are new to this game, those issues are as much about trying to pull this off in three different locales as it is the folks involved.

Still, as insightful and great as Saban was, the one irrefutable problem with the current construct of the Manning Megacast was apparent during Saban's segment. The Eagles had easily their best drive of the game, and one that featured quarterback Jalen Hurts making some highlight-reel moves and throws.

There was an amazing downfield throw-and-catch that got the drive started that Saban and the Mannings discussed very little because of the 401-level course of football strategy they were kicking around. Granted, you get the nuts and bolts of the play-by-play on the other channel, and I watch the Manning Megacast for exactly the type of insight and big-picture knowledge Peyton and Saban were discussing. But I can also understand the criticism of barely even discussing the game at hand.

Finally, last night was not without some controversy too. In the fourth quarter with guest Chris Long, Eli discussed the legendary raucous and rough fans of the Eagles. He mentioned remembering seeing a 9-year-old giving him the double "middle fingers" at one game in particular.

And then Eli showed the TV camera the double middle fingers. He apologized later in the broadcast.

Regardless, three weeks in and I'm still a fan and on board with whatever they want to try next.

Vols cancel Cadets

So the University of Tennessee canceled a game with Army next year and rescheduled it with Akron, the biggest patsy not named UConn in the FBS.

It's a terrible look for a program that just put a self-examining exclamation point on its descent into mediocrity.

Yes, Army runs a funky offense. Yes, they are disciplined and downright impossible to prepare for, especially in-season. And yes, they have been the better program over the last handful of years; Under Jeff Monken, Army is 39-16 since the start of 2017 and UT is 22-29 under three coaches in that time.

And yes, I've even seen some say the biggest mistake was scheduling Army in the first place.

But that logic is limited and worse yet, it exposes the extreme lack of confidence from leadership within either the program or the department. And I'm not sure which confidence void would be worse?

If the AD folks — remember Danny White hired Josh Heupel — don't think these Vols can be ready for the Cadets in 12 months, how long will it possibly take for UT to be ready for Georgia, Bama or Florida?

And if the coaches wanted out of this game, well, how would that make you feel as a player knowing that the staff believe in you unless you have to face a disciplined bunch of future Army officers who run an efficient high school offense?

This decision is a lot of things, and few of them present a good look for the 'new' direction of UT football under Heupel.

In fact, maybe we should stick with 'next' direction of UT football for the time being, because we all are way too used to these kinds of head-scratchingly embarrassing moments, aren't we?

We'll reserve 'new' for when UT is ready for all comers, starting with those mighty independents from West Point.

This and that

— Here's today's A2, which was my second option and was inspired, at least in part, by some of the back-and-forth we had around these parts on Monday. So there's that.  

— You know the rules. Here's Paschall on the Vols and the Dogs.

— An awful break for the Giants, as Brandon Belt, who had the most homers for the team with the most homers in the NL, broke his thumb and will miss for sure the rest of the 2021 regular season.

— Braves play a game tonight that simply can't be overstated.


Today's question

True or false, it's Tuesday. (Morning, Ern.)

True or false, I will cuss about Will Smith at some point this evening.

True or false, Eli was even charming with the double middle finger salute.

True or false, the Rams are the best team in the NFL.

True or false, it's embarrassing that UT is ducking Army.

True or false, it's smart for UT to duck Army.

True or false, Saban will be aces as a college football analyst, when/if he ever leaves Alabama.

As for today, Sept. 28, let's review.

"Hey Jude" hit numero uno on this day in 1968 and stayed there for the next nine weeks.

Physical by Olivia Newton-John was released on this day 40 years ago.

On this day 25 years ago, Robbie Alomar spit on the ump.

Rushmore of 'spit' and be creative.

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