College and Pro Football: This Weekend's Best Bets

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Parker Anderson via Flickr
Normally, this is the portion of the Best Bets post where I complain (or, even on a rare occasion, brag) about how I did the week before.

But this week, no complaining and no bragging, and that's for two reasons.

First, I went 3-3 for a second week in a row, so I'm settling into that meaty part of the curve where there's nothing really compelling about how I'm picking games right now. I'm just kind of muddling along at .500 and hoping for the best. (Appropriate that I live in Houston, I suppose!)

Second, this gives me a chance to embed the video of Marcus Luttrell's pep talk to Alabama in this space. Luttrell, of course, is the Navy SEAL who was the subject of the movie Lone Survivor.

Guaranteed, you will feel like a total zero for ever complaining about anything after watching this video....

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UPDATED It's Perfect Football Weather This Weekend

Just because ESPN's College Gameday isn't coming to Houston doesn't mean they're not playing football this weekend

Update 11/21 at 11 a.m.: UH announced this morning they've moved kickoff to 11:00 a.m. due to weather.

The weather's supposed to be wet and stormy this weekend. Just the perfect November weather for college football teams to slip and slide in the mud while dodging puddles on the field and scrambling to retain traction. Just the right conditions for the fans to travel to Rice Stadium and TDECU Stadium to watch the Rice Owls and Houston Cougars host important games. Rice kicks things off tonight, hosting UTEP at 7:00 (on FS1) while Tulsa comes to TDECU for a 2:00 11:00 a.m. kickoff (ESPN3) tomorrow.

It's the final home game of the season for both, and they're both hoping to put aside embarrassing losses in their last games. The Owls' (6-4) hopes of again being CUSA champs were pretty much destroyed last week after the team's 41-14 loss to nationally-ranked Marshall. The Cougars (5-4) meanwhile snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, giving up a 17-14 halftime lead in a 31-24 loss to 3-6 Tulane. And while Rice can claim to be bowl eligible, the Cougars still find themselves one win short of that magical six win bowl qualification number.

The weather might play to the Cougars advantage as UH has seemingly abandoned its trademarked high-flying Air Raid offense for something bordering on a power run game but more often resembling a reaction-inspired mess willing to take anything a defense will allow it to take. Head coach Tony Levine has stated on occasion that the team's offensive game plan is to see what the defense does then react, rather than to go out and dictate the play. That often leaves the scrambling offense looking for any opening to exploit, and it's not always effective.

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College Football Playoff Rankings v 4.0: Welcome to the Party, Bama

And then there were seven. Okay, maybe eight. Nine? All right, I'll draw the line at ten. Ten teams that still have mathematical hope of getting into the four-team playoff.

Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Mississippi State, TCU, Ohio State, Baylor, Ole Miss, UCLA and Georgia.

Ten teams, which is way more teams than would be in the mix in a two-team BCS Title Game Era season, and nothing feels cheapened or minimized. My team (Notre Dame) is out of it now officially (Brian Kelly, with Lindsay Lohan-level decision-making in an overtime loss to Northwestern on Saturday, took care of that), and yet I'm as excited for multiple games this Saturday as I've ever been.

The new playoff system has done the exact opposite of what the charlatans behind the BCS and the bowl system said it would -- it's made college football even more compelling, with a ton of games directly involving potential playoff teams, as well as games involving teams (Minnesota-Nebraska, Arizona State-Utah) that have strength of schedule implications for contenders.

In the meantime, we continue to gain awareness of the prism through which the committee views these teams and their performances. Let's look at the latest College Football Playoff rankings, released Tuesday night:

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Adrian Peterson Suspended Through the Rest of the 2014 Season

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Mike Morbeck via Flickr
The Adrian Peterson child abuse saga was adjudicated in a court of law two weeks ago, with Peterson pleading no contest to a misdemeanor of reckless conduct. For the last two weeks, we've waited (and waited) for it to be adjudicated in the court of Roger Goodell, which is a far more capricious, arbitrary, and random court.

Since Peterson's placement on the Commissioner's Exempt List after Week 1 of the NFL season, we kind of knew that eventually the legal case would reach a resolution that would keep Adrian Peterson out of jail (and it did), but how would the league handle Peterson's transgressions, especially in light of one of the most horrific spate of domestic assault incidents involving players in league history?

In this very space, we surmised two weeks ago:

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Texans-Browns: Individual Player Ratings, Offensive Line Dominates

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Photo by Marco Torres
J.J. Watt scores a 4.9 defensively and we're like "Oh, ok, whatever..."
While I wouldn't call myself a true sports "analytic," I do dork out over statistics. Always have. Back in the day, for true stat geeks, numbers were like nudity. There was no internet, so you had to work to find statistical information, and the team-by-team numbers in the weekly issues of The Sporting News were like a numbers dork's version of Playboy.

Now, of course, that's all changed. The same way a bare bosom or six person orgy is mere keystrokes away in a search engine, so, too, can you get virtually any advanced analytical number in a matter of seconds.

Among my favorite "statistical porn" websites this time of year is Pro Football Focus, as you were probably able to ascertain in my "Who's Better, Who's Worse" post from last week.

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Rockets Recap: Despite Record, Cracks Beginning to Show

Categories: Basketball, Sports

The Mexico City curse seems to be in full effect.
Last week, the Rockets made an early season trip south of the border to play a game in Mexico City. Basketball is an international game and like NFL games in London, sending NBA teams to other countries is good business. The Rockets took care of the Minnesota Timberwolves, but it would seem Mexico took care of them.

Since they returned from Mexico, they have slogged around the floor like they are suffering from Montezuma's Revenge. They have won two of three games, but not in impressive fashion. They survived the lowly Sixers and managed to score only 69 points in a near loss to the ailing Thunder. But, when they got to Memphis Monday night, they came up against an opponent that would capitalize on their offensive struggles and hand them their second loss of the season in a 119-93 drubbing that wasn't close by the end of the first quarter. Not exactly the best way to launch your new sports network, especially considering how a great deal more than 40 percent of the city can see you for the first time.

Despite one of the best records in the NBA, the Rockets are not one of the league's best teams, not by a long shot. They have feasted on weaker teams and beaten all of them, including a Spurs team resting its stars. Their only quality win was against the Heat and their two losses have come against Western Conference rivals Golden State and Memphis. In short, they may be winning games, but they aren't winning many that matter.

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Rockets Fans, Meet Your New Best Friend: Root Sports Southwest

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Tonight I will leave work after my show is over, I will settle in, fix myself a plate of whatever tasty treats my girlfriend Amy has prepared for dinner, sit down on the couch and do something that I've been unable to do since the end of the 2011-2012 NBA season:

I will watch a local Houston Rockets broadcast from the comfort of my own home!

It almost sounds weird to say it, it's been so long since I've been able to do this, and I feel like Red in Shawshank Redemption. I mean... Bill, Clyde, and Bull, complemented by the dulcet tones of Kevin Eschenfelder and Calvin Murphy on the pre and post game shows.... I mean.... This is the excitement only a free man can feel!

And damn if it isn't a great game on tap tonight as well, a battle between the teams with the two best records in the league, the Rockets and the Memphis Grizzlies!

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Texans 23, Browns 7: 4 Winners, 4 Losers

Consuming sports in 2014, it's almost impossible to 100 percent live in "the now" during a sport's given season.

The wealth of information and conjecture at our fingertips combined with the perpetual misery and self-pity that 95 percent of fans wallow in during the season because their team is somehow flawed make looking ahead to next season practically a sport unto itself.

We see it in the NBA all the time, where in many cities the play of their team on the court is merely a backdrop to incessant chatter about who on their team is coming or going by the trade deadline, or the two year cloud that hangs over anything related to Kevin Durant's place of employment in 2016.

The NFL has a similar quality, at least in cities where their quarterback of the future isn't on the current roster. Houston is one of those cities, which means until they commit to somebody long-term under center, we are going to be subject to stories like this one planted by Brian Hoyer's agent on Sunday morning:

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Astros Contemplating Ball Park Changes

Categories: Baseball, Sports

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Astros trying to win back fans
The Astros announced a couple of weeks ago that they're considering possible changes to Minute Maid Park. Changes such as finally bulldozing that monstrosity known as Tal's Hill, providing more high-end food options, and moving the bullpens. And there's also a discussion about starting an Astros Hall of Fame.

Some of the changes are needed. Tal's Hill is one of those mistakes that should have been erased from the blueprints in the park's design phase, and it's amazing that it has survived as long as it has. The bullpen layout has always been kind of strange -- sticking the visiting bullpen in a dark cave just always seemed a bit off. If the changes mean a better environment for baseball, and for fans, then let's do it. (Though the craving of some fans for a high-end dining experience at a baseball game makes absolutely no sense.)

But the Astros Hall of Fame idea is a bit much. There's already the Walk of Fame. The team's already seemingly retired the jersey of just about every player to ever wear the Astros jersey for more than two seasons, so a Hall of Fame seems kind of redundant when added to everything else. Of course, the real reason for the Hall of Fame idea is to get fans to come back out and cheer on the team by celebrating team greats. It's exactly what Drayton McLane did when he went about retiring the jerseys of all of those team icons, and Minute Maid Park would undoubtedly be packed by fans once again longing to cheer Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio and Nolan Ryan and Lance Berkman and so on.

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New QB, No Arian Foster? No Problem as Texans Beat Browns in Cleveland

Categories: Basketball, Sports

Nice win for some new faces.
There was a moment in the fourth quarter Sunday when Brian Cushing laid his second bone-crushing hit of the day on Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer that it appeared the "Battle of Tom Brady's Backups" would become the debut of Johnny Football. To Hoyer's credit, he hung in there, but it did no good as the Texans, led by another brilliant performance from JJ Watt, beat the Browns 23-7 in chilly Cleveland.

It would turn out to be a rather improbable win considering Arian Foster was ruled out with a groin injury and recently promoted backup QB Ryan Mallett, along with Hoyer a former Brady understudy in New England, got the first start of his four-year career. Mallett acquitted himself nicely with a 20-30 for 211 yards performance to go along with two touchdowns and one interception. But, it was rookie running back Alfred Blue who stole the show carrying the ball an unbelievable 36 times for 156 yards. The Texans ran roughshod over the Browns defense, racking up over 200 yards on the ground.

On the other side of the ball, the story lines included a ridiculous game from Watt (one sack, three tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery to go with back-to-back boneheaded roughing the kicker calls) and the return of Brian Cushing, who made his presence felt for the first time in weeks. The secondary was also very good despite missing Kareem Jackson, who is out with a knee injury.

No doubt, fans will be talking mostly about Mallett. For now, it is impossible to say what he will become, but his poise, command of the offense -- which was played in hurry-up mode all day long -- and cannon of an arm was a pleasant surprise. It is too soon to tell if he will ultimately be the answer for the Texans at the quarterback spot, but his first start was a good one and, most importantly, it resulted in a win.

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