If the postseason began today, 4-5 New Orleans would host a playoff game, while 6-3 Green Bay would miss the postseason and winning teams Baltimore, Buffalo, Miami, Pittsburgh, Santa Clara and San Diego would be shut out of postseason play.
Right now the entire AFC North is at least two games above .500 -- the first time since the 1970 merger an entire division has all teams at least two games above .500 this late in the season. Meanwhile the entire NFC South is below .500. Clustering of victories in one division and losses in another -- one reason is that these two divisions play each other this year, and so far the AFC North is 7-1-1 versus the NFC South -- exacerbates the NFL playoff format's distressing habit of rewarding a mediocre team while leaving a strong team on the couch for the postseason.
Because the NFL postseason format grants eight of its 12 invitations -- and all its opening-round home games -- to division winners, the NFC South is assured of a playoff prize while the AFC North is assured of at least one team, and likely more, not invited to the party. The fact that the AFC North is clobbering the NFC South on the field won't matter when playoff goody bags are distributed.
The 2014 season is shaping up like the 2008 season, which ended with all teams in the NFC East and NFC South at or above .500 and all teams in the AFC West at or below .500. When the NFL postseason formula was applied to 2008, the result was that 8-8 San Diego hosted a playoff game while 11-5 New England was not invited to the party. There are many games remaining to be played in 2014, but an outrageous 2008-style outcome may be in store.
The NFL has been mulling adding two more wild-card teams following the 2015 season. The more the merrier. NFL playoff games are pro football at its best, yet after 256 regular-season contests, a mere 11 postseason games are staged.
Better than expanding the current division-based field would be a seeded tournament. Divisions could still be used to organize schedules; postseason assignments would be determined solely by merit, that is, by won-loss records. The old fixation with whether the NFC or AFC wins the Super Bowl is ancient history -- 99 percent of football enthusiasts would rather see the two best teams meet in the final contest. Big-college football is about to dip its toes into the seeded-tourney concept. The NFL should follow.
In scoreboard-spinning news, after two consecutive NFL weeks in which a quarterback threw six touchdown passes in a game, Aaron Rodgers called and raised, throwing six touchdowns in the first half. Since advising Packers fans to R-E-L-A-X, Rodgers has thrown 20 touchdown passes and two interceptions. So far Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger have combined for 99 touchdown passes versus just 18 interceptions. Two touchdown passes for each one interception is among the definitions of a good quarterback. Rodgers, Brady, Peyton Manning and Roethlisberger are at very nearly a 5-to-1 ratio. Is the NFL becoming the Arena League?
In sked news, next Sunday offers an outstanding set of pairings -- 7-2 Detroit at 8-1 Arizona and 7-2 New England at 6-3 Indianapolis. The Dolphins came into Detroit averaging 30 points in their past five games, and were held to 16. The league-leading Detroit defense seems real, making Lions at Cardinals a monster defensive struggle, with the added subtext of whether Arizona can sustain the league's best record without Carson Palmer. The Colts have lost four straight to the Patriots -- but all those contests were in New England. Indianapolis knows this game may foretell the team's postseason prospects.
Stats Of The Week No. 1: Michael Vick became the first NFL quarterback to rush for more than 6,000 yards. That is more career rushing yards than tailbacks Chuck Foreman, Greg Pruitt or Mike Garrett.
Stats Of The Week No. 2: John Harbaugh is 12-1 as Ravens head coach at home in November.
Stats Of The Week No. 3: The Giants opened the season going 0-2 and being outscored by 32 points; then went 3-0 outscoring opponents by 54 points; since are 0-4 being outscored by 74 points.
Stats Of The Week No. 4: The Seahawks are on a 21-2 home streak.
Stats Of The Week No. 5: In their past two first halves, the Bears were outscored by a combined 80-7.
Stats Of The Week No. 6: Stretching back to the 2013 season, teams with Matt Schaub are on an 0-23 streak. Noted by reader David Tipps of Houston.
Stats Of The Week No. 7: Since meeting in Week 1, Jersey/B and Oakland are on a combined 1-17 streak. Noted by reader Colin Size of Buffalo, New York.
Stats of the Week No. 8: The last time the Cardinals were 8-1 was 1948, when they were the Chicago Cardinals.
Stats Of The Week No. 9: Jersey/B had more takeaways versus Pittsburgh (four) than in its previous nine games (three).
Stats Of The Week No. 10: The Raiders are on a pace for 994 yards rushing. The lowest total in a 16-game season was 1,062 yards by the Chargers in 2000.
Sweet Play Of The Week: Things were looking dicey late in the third quarter for the Arizona Cardinals. St. Louis led 14-10 and had the ball on the Cardinals' 36, within range of Les Mouflons' long-legged place-kicker. Then Calais Campbell got a sack off a three-man rush, when Rams tackle Joe Barksdale barely brushed Campbell then turned around to watch the play. Pushed out of field goal range, Les Mouflons punted. Things were about to get sweet.
Backup quarterback Drew Stanton heave-ho'd deep and John Brown of Division II Pittsburg of Kansas, whom TMQ has been touting all season, made a leaping catch for a 48-yard touchdown.
Then Patrick Peterson "called his shot." Steamed for being flagged for illegal contact, before the next snap he wildly pointed to the crowd and then to himself, as if to say: "Watch this." Snap, and Peterson intercepted the pass. Adding a pick-six on the next Rams possession, Peterson tempted the football gods by waving the ball around well before the end zone.
Often football is about the fourth quarter. Sunday, NFC West stalwarts Arizona and Seattle combined to outscore opponents 42-0 in the fourth quarter.
When the Steelers lost to Tim Tebow's Denver Broncos in the 2011 playoffs, Bruce Arians, then Pittsburgh offensive coordinator, was a convenient fall guy -- he'd bounced around a lot and was perceived as never really successful. Pittsburgh scapegoated Arians for the loss and fired him. Now Arians is coach of the Cardinals, the team with the NFL's best record going into the homestretch, and has a chance to be the first coach of a Super Bowl team playing in its own stadium.
Sour Saints Plays Of The Week: Leading Cleveland 24-23 in September, New Orleans had the Browns on its 39 with 13 seconds remaining. No professional defense could possibly not cover a deep receiver in this situation. Yet no one at all from the Saints covered Andrew Hawkins of Cleveland as he sprinted down the field for the 28-yard reception that positioned the hosts for the winning field goal. This week it was New Orleans leading Santa Clara 24-21, the Niners facing fourth-and-10 from their own 22-yard line with 1:34 remaining in regulation. No professional defense could possibly not cover a deep receiver in this situation. Yet no one at all from the Saints covered Michael Crabtree as he went deep down the middle for the 51-yard reception that positioned the visitors for the field goal that forced overtime.
Now it's overtime, and New Orleans has fourth-and-1 on the Santa Clara 43. One of the reasons this column extols going for it rather than punting is that possession of the ball is more important than field position. In the NFL overtime format, possession of the ball is everything! When the punt unit trotted in, the skies darkened above the stadium -- which is domed, so you couldn't actually see the skies darken -- as the football gods showed their displeasure. It's overtime, you need to gain one yard on the other team's side of the field, you averaged 5.3 yards per offensive snap on the day, why are you punting? Santa Clara required just two snaps to pass the point where the ball would have been spotted had New Orleans tried and failed. And needless to say, Santa Clara went on to victory.
For Santa Clara, the difference between leaving New Orleans 5-4 or 4-5 made the game close to an elimination contest. Since the current postseason format was instituted in 1990, only 13 percent of 4-5 teams have reached the playoffs, while 51 percent of 5-4 teams have, according to Elias Sports Bureau. For the Saints the drop to 4-5 was annoying but left them in first place of the woeful NFC South.
Sweet 'N' Sour Fourth-Down Plays: Trailing 13-3 at Buffalo early in the fourth quarter, Kansas City faced fourth-and-1 on the Bills' 39. The Chiefs went for it; for some reason Buffalo was expecting a punt and had the wrong personnel on the field. Rather than call timeout, Buffalo rushed in defenders who were out of position at the snap. Kansas City ran a misdirection flip, 39-yard touchdown. Sweet for the visitors, sour for the home team whose coaches simply stood around watching rather than call time.
Now Buffalo has the ball and reaches fourth-and-1 at midfield. The Bills go for it; Kyle Orton barks a hard count trying to make Kansas City jump offside; the Bills jump offside.
With seven minutes remaining in the game, Kansas City leads 17-13 and Buffalo faces fourth-and-1 at its 41. The Bills punt. Sure they botched fourth-and-1 on the previous possession. But that was then, this is now, what happened the last time means nothing to this time!
Still trailing 17-13, the Bills reached first-and-10 on the Kansas City 15 with a little under three minutes remaining, holding all three timeouts. Ideal tactics would be to advance slowly and score as the clock is almost expired, so the Chiefs have no time to reply. Instead Buffalo went incompletion, incompletion, incompletion, incompletion -- all on throws to the end zone, as if time was almost out. Huh?
By a schedule quirk, the Chiefs also played at Buffalo last season. In those two games the Bills combined for a total of seven red zone possessions -- yielding no touchdowns.
2014: A Space Oddity: It would take approximately three years to reach Saturn sustaining the highest speed so far attained by a manned spacecraft, and seems to take about that, or at least a long time, in the initial space scenes of "Interstellar." Yet once the noble explorers go through the wormhole into another galaxy, planets seem only a hop, skip and a jump apart. Huh? Then the whole thing collapses in a time-travel plot, and as TMQ has been noting, Hollywood likes time travel because not only does it not need to make sense -- it can't make sense.
In "Interstellar," mid-21st century society can build spaceships capable of reaching other galaxies, yet can't grow wheat. In the "Hunger Games" franchise, a future society has hovercraft and force fields, yet doesn't know how to grow vegetables. In the big-budget TV series "Terra Nova," 22nd century society could build a time machine but couldn't restrict air pollution, which is already in decline now. Likewise in the big-budget flick "Elysium," 22nd century society can build a luxurious space station the size of New Hampshire, but doesn't know about using catalytic converters to prevent smog. In the big-budget TV series "The Event," some space aliens can't make their starcruiser work but do know how to teleport their entire planet into our solar system. The bumbling giant toys of the "Transformer" movies can't repair spare parts but can also teleport to an entire planet.
TMQ's favorite on this score is the Colin Farrell remake of "Total Recall." In it, future society doesn't know how to clean up damage from a chemical war, yet is able to build a subway tunnel directly through the center of the Earth. Not only would this entail engineering in unimaginable pressure and heat, the through-Earth's-core trips described would require speeds on the order of 30,000 miles per hour. Since passengers are comfortably seated during acceleration and braking, that means the future society has devised inertial damping -- a sci-fi standby almost as hard to imagine as time travel -- yet can't clean up chemical spills.
Just what is the catastrophe that's making Earth uninhabitable in "Interstellar"? Something to do with wheat rust triggered by climate change, though it's never explained how the biosphere completely loses the regenerative powers that have kept it alive for billions of years through ice ages, comet strikes, eras of mega-volcanism and other assaults. Hollywood keeps cranking out movies in which calamities are caused by greenhouse gases. This is politically correct, but may serve only to convince audiences that climate change is just more Hollywood nonsense.
Can Gerrymandering Be Stopped?: Last week's big election news was the Senate, where gerrymandering is not a factor. Increasingly sophisticated gerrymandering rules House races -- "All House Incumbents Re-elected" was a common headline sentiment around the nation last week, with hardly any House incumbents defeated nationwide. In this bull's-eye piece, David Brooks details how use of data is strangling politics by leading to prepackaged key-word-based appeals to interest groups.
The worst abuse of political data is in gerrymandering.
Conventional wisdom says that only the states can deal with this issue. Steve Calabresi, a law professor at Northwestern University and one of the original legal thinkers of his generation, notes that Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution gives Congress a strong tool against gerrymandering. It specifies that states may regulate the "manner" of national voting -- this is why there are so many different election-day rules -- but that "Congress may at any time by Law make or alter" state election rules. So Congress could put an end to gerrymandering. The trouble is the House would need to agree, and members of the House are the beneficiaries of gerrymandering. The public certainly does not benefit.
Paper Can Be Shredded But Data Files Are Forever: Now that the election results are in, officeholders who received the old heave-ho will want to destroy files before prosecutors arrive to have a look. Maybe that's why Montgomery County, Maryland, just outside Washington D.C., and a key bedroom suburb of the nation's government, will be holding a paper shredding event this weekend.
Maybe It's Just As Well Bulldog Turner Didn't Live To See This: Packers first-half possession results versus Chicago: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, fumble, touchdown. Game scoreless, Green Bay went for it on fourth-and-goal at the 1. The Packers sent in three tight ends. Tight end Brandon Bostick, lined up as the slotback right, dragged low to the left after play fake, touchdown. Just a few snaps later, Green Bay was back at the Chicago 4. This time tight end Andrew Quarless dragged right for the touchdown. Little things like this -- constant variation in who's coming at the defense from where -- are a factor in Green Bay's offensive success.
The Packers are on a 10-2 streak versus the Bears, and outscored them 93-31 in two meetings. Chicago now gets five of its remaining seven at home, which could be disastrous news since the Bears have yet to win at home this season.
Three Cheers for Gina: One-sentence theories abound regarding the Republican landslide in last week's voting. Here's mine: Democratic leadership presided over a near doubling of the national debt, yet thought there would be no consequences. Considering the $4.5 trillion in bond purchases by the Fed since 2008 ("quantitative easing," wonk-speak for printing money), in his six years in office, Barack Obama has had seven federal budgets to spend -- and can the average person point to anything that's been built with all that money? Some political consultants say "debt doesn't poll," meaning voters refuse to think about the red-ink issue. Your columnist thinks at either the conscious or subconscious level, voters across the spectrum are spooked by combination of rising debt and no evidence of anything being built. Certainly the sense that Democrats have been careless with public money was a factor in deep-blue states Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts choosing Republican governors. National debt is the reason why, to your columnist, the exciting race of the November 2014 midterms was Gina Raimondo becoming governor of Rhode Island. This column has been touting Raimondo because she is a liberal Democratic woman who is a deficit hawk. Hers could be exactly the combination of leadership qualities the nation needs. Someone has to slay the debt monster -- and the arguments for fiscal reform may be more credible coming from a Democrat.
Adventures In Officiating: At Buffalo, Alex Smith of the Chiefs scrambled and was running toward the first-down marker. Aaron Williams of the Bills closing in, Smith did not begin a hook-slide until Williams was about to hit him. Williams pulled back, but brushed shoulders with the Kansas City quarterback. Personal foul, automatic first down. Smith was not in a passer stance, he had become a runner, and the instant Smith gave up on his run, Williams pulled back. What was the defender supposed to do, make his body disappear?
Before Atlanta's first touchdown at City of Tampa, the Bucs were called for pass interference in the end zone, changing what would have been fourth down into first-and-goal on the 1. The Bucs defensive back touched the Falcons receiver as the ball was approaching, but the contact seemed incidental. The rule of defensive pass interference says, "If there is any question whether contact is incidental, the ruling shall be no interference."
The offensive pass interference call that negated the Saints' seeming winning touchdown on the final play of regulation was unquestionably the correct call. Santa Clara's Perrish Cox executed the best flop in football annals -- when Jimmy Graham pushed off, Cox hurled himself through the air sideways. Not only was the offensive pass interference correct, it showed integrity by the officiating crew, going against the grain of TMQ's Parking Lot Theory -- that if a call on the final play decides the game the home team gets the call because zebras don't want to be hassled in the parking lot.
Prize-Linked Savings Accounts: Readers know my compromise with my Baptist upbringing is to be pro-topless but anti-gambling. Therefore I am depressed that last week three of five state referenda to allow expanded casino gambling were passed, and the two losses came where existing casinos lobbied against competition. Casinos sell a false dream of instant wealth. No one cares if the Donald Trumps of the world take a bath at the roulette wheel. Most casino marks are people who can't afford to lose.
More disturbing than casinos, which one must make an effort to enter, are state-run lottos marketed to the poor and working-class via tickets sold at convenience stores. As TMQ has noted, "Governors and lawmakers of lottery states say they want to help average people. Yet they sponsor lottos that pick the pockets of average people. In 2010, Americans spent $58 billion on Powerball games run by state governments. Did the states extend that much in aid to average people? When state and local income taxes, sales taxes, energy taxes and property taxes are combined with billions wasted to buy state lottery tickets, it may well be that on balance, the poor and working class are harmed financially, rather than helped, by state and local government."
Is there no hope? This 2012 column praised an alternative to lottos, the "prize-linked savings account." In these accounts the "lottery ticket" is a $25 savings deposit that the account holder keeps no matter what, while each month, some prizes are distributed based on a draw. Such accounts scratch the urge to gamble, while helping average people increase their savings, not squander them on lotto tickets that go straight into the trash. So it's great to hear, via Patricia Cohen, that prize-linked savings accounts are beginning to catch on.
Whom do they help? "In a recent survey of Save to Win members, between 42% and 59% (depending on the state) described themselves as 'non-regular savers,' and between 35% and 55% said they earned less than $40,000," Blake Ellis reports.
New Orleans, which lost at home for the first time since 2012, stays in the Authentic index despite its losing record because New Orleans leads the division with a losing record.
My formula attaches value to the number of high-quality opponents faced, even if the result is a loss. Thus Arizona's 4-1 record and Denver's 5-2 are superior in Authentic Games terms to Detroit's 3-0. The Oakland Raiders match the Broncos for most Authentic Games played so far, at seven. Too bad Oakland lost them all.
'Fly Eagles Fly' Finally Apropos: In the second quarter on "Monday Night Football," on an Eagles play to the Carolina 13, the runner was down at 11:53. Philadelphia snapped at 11:37. The play was a nicely thrown touchdown pass to rookie Jordan Matthews, but the impressive part was: 16 seconds. That was not the amount of time between when officials spotted the ball ready to play and the next snap; that was the span between the moment the runner was down and the next snap. Many people -- your columnist, NFL officials -- thought Chip Kelly couldn't achieve a Blur Offense pace in the NFL. Apparently it can be done.
The Eagles are 17-9, including the postseason, under Kelly, impressive considering football-factory coaches often don't transition well into the NFL (Steve Spurrier, Butch Davis). The Nesharim's nine touchdowns on kick and turnover returns are also impressive. But the Eagles have been beating up on the second echelon, only 1-2 in the Authentic Games Index. Monday night, Philadelphia blitzed often versus the troubled Cats. Philadelphia's next opponent is Green Bay -- and there's nothing Aaron Rodgers likes more than constant blitzing.
Wasn't it just a couple of weeks ago that the Panthers had a bye and were hosting a divisional game? Cam Newton's three first-half interceptions were not so much bad throws as plays on which either the receiver ran the wrong route or the quarterback threw the wrong route. On the Darren Sproles untouched touchdown run, the whole Carolina defense was fooled by a routine counter step. Newton was 14-0 as a starter in college, and is 28-30-1, including the postseason, as a starter in the pros. College seems so, so long ago.
Ten-Hut!: Today is Veterans Day, which is about recognizing military service. But the NFL seemed to go overboard by having many coaches dress in quasi-fatigues, as if to suggest that NFL coaches are like military officers. As TMQ noted last spring, "Football has absolutely nothing to do with national security." It's cynical to imply otherwise.
This year the NFL has an "official military appreciation sponsor," the USAA insurance company, which mainly insures veterans and their families. Your columnist is a longtime satisfied customer of USAA. But what does the NFL taking a marketing fee from USAA have to do with "military appreciation"? Nothing that I can discern.
The NFL rolled the drums for a "Salute to Service" catchphrase, which suggested pro football owners were digging deep to make donations to veterans groups. The pace of donations projects to a total of about $400,000. That's better than doing nothing, but considering the NFL and its teams receive roughly $1 billion a year in public subsidies (as tax exemptions and construction and operating costs for stadia), the veterans-donation program represents giving back less than a tenth of a percent of the league's public windfall. If the NFL really cared about veterans, as opposed to using military imagery for promotion, the league would donate a significant amount.
Wacky Food of the Week: Recent TMQs have noted that New York City foodie culture is being swept by fads for high-end Texas barbecue and fusion-inspired chicken wings. Now comes word that Manhattan and Brooklyn foodies are lining up for high-tech doughnuts. The fad includes a food truck that makes only one style of doughnut, fried to order; an ultra-chic shop where pastry chefs, not bakers, produce the doughnuts; and doughnuts that may only be ordered online. Note the article linked claims there are 8,000-year-old fossilized doughnuts.
Worst Crowd Reaction: Since the juncture at which the West Virginia University home crowd began to boo its own team when ahead by 9 points in the fourth quarter versus then-seventh ranked TCU, the Mountaineers have been outscored 43-16 and dropped two straight.
And God Said, Let There Be Chrome: Does this object explain the origin of the universe? Social commentator Mickey Kaus says it looks like "a rejected Chrysler hood ornament."
Last week's column proposed that the Hollywood obsession with the "new time stream" -- recent "X-Men" and "Star Trek" movies -- reflects "an idea that exists in the special-effects department but not in physics." Many readers replied there is academic support for "multiverse" conjecture, the notion that there are many, perhaps an infinite number, of universes. Because by definition the multiverses cannot be observed from our universe, this conjecture is conveniently impossible to falsify. At any rate, multiverse conjecture differs from "new time stream" conjecture. In a multiverse, there are many universes moving away from each other in unknown dimensions (and thus conveniently impossible to observe). In a new time stream, an existing universe (Universe/A) is altered by time travel, resulting in Universe/A continuing as before while a brand-new reality of 100 billion galaxies is created (Universe/B) with different circumstances contingent on the time travel. Then if time travel occurs in Universe/B, another brand-new reality, Universe/C, comes into being and so on. This concept is just as nutty as multiverse conjecture, but nutty in a different way.
Postscript 1: Some academics like the multiverse concept because it seems to explain how our universe could be suitable to organic life, entirely by calling on random chance -- there are millions or billions of universes, most are hostile to life, purely by chance ours has the physical laws and natural constants that are necessary for life. Years ago your columnist did a big piece for Science magazine (paywall site) on the overlap between scientific and religious notions for creation. For the piece I interviewed, among others, Charles Townes, a Nobel Prize winner for his contribution to the invention of the laser. His line: "To get around the anthropocentric universe without invoking God may force you to extreme speculation about there being billions of universes. [This] strikes me as much more freewheeling than any of the church's claims."
Postscript 2: Also years ago I noted that the sun has a name (Sol), our galaxy has a name (the Milky Way), yet the universe has no name. I asked readers for nominations. Many clever names were proposed. The winner: Miss Universe.
The Football Gods Chortled: On the last snap of the first half at City of Tampa, the Falcons missed a long field goal attempt. But wait -- Lovie Smith called an icing timeout just as the ball was snapped. Granted a second try, Atlanta hit the kick.
Trailing Detroit 20-16 on the final snap of the game, Miami had the ball on its 40 for a Hail Mary. Miami attempted a Stanford Band play, and lost 14 yards. There were back-to-back interceptions in this contest, the second a fantastic athletic play by undrafted Brent Grimes of Miami.
Hidden Plays of the Week: Hidden plays are ones that never make highlight reels, but sustain or stop drives. Santa Clara leading 21-10 at New Orleans, on third down Marques Colston was behind the Niners' secondary for a sure touchdown and dropped a perfectly thrown pass. The hosts punted, then went on to lose in overtime.
Buffalo leading Kansas City 10-3 in the third quarter, the Bills' Bryce Brown was in the clear for what seemed a certain touchdown when Ron Parker of the Chiefs tomahawked the ball loose at the Kansas City 5. The ball rolled through the end zone, Kansas City touchback. Buffalo went on to lose by four points.
Dolphins and Lions tied at 13 late in the game, the Genetically Engineered Surimi had third-and-goal on the Detroit 2. Tight end Charles Clay dropped a well-thrown pass in the end zone. Miami settled for a field goal and went on to lose by four points.
Unified Field Theory Of Creep: Many readers including Molly Black of Brooklyn, New York, noted this year's Rockettes Christmas show began on Nov. 7 -- before Veterans Day. In December there are six shows each Saturday, the first kicking off, as it were, at 9 a.m.
Swagger Update: Now that the Jets are 2-8, how soon until Rex Ryan resumes boasting? Leading Pittsburgh 3-0, Jersey/B had first-and-10 on its 33. The Jets lined up in a power-rush set with three tight ends. Michael Vick play-faked and rolled left. Defenses want to force Vick to the right. Because he's left-handed, he's considered more dangerous running left. Seeing Vick sprint left, Steelers safeties came up. Vick stopped on a dime and threw a 67-yard touchdown pass to castoff T.J. Graham running a skinny post.
The NBA Has No Shame: The Financial Times reported that uber-billionaire Steve Ballmer, who paid $2 billion for the Los Angeles Clippers, may get back about $1 billion at the present value of tax exemptions over 15 years. The original story is behind a paywall; here's a report of the report. From the FT: "Under an exception in U.S. law, buyers of sports franchises can use an accounting treatment known as goodwill against their other taxable income. This feature is commonly used by tax specialists to structure deals for sports teams."
In tax law, "goodwill" is the intangible value of names, trademarks and public-relations associations (rather than of specific assets) a buyer may acquire when purchasing a firm or product. If, say, Tuesday Morning Quarterback Enterprises acquired ESPN, part of what I'd be buying is that sports fans think good thoughts when they hear "Worldwide Leader" or see the logo in its ESPN bold italic font. (That's unless they throw something at the television.) Needless to say, "goodwill" is a squishy concept. Why should this write-off apply to sports teams, which already are heavily subsidized by taxpayers and create no benefits for society?
Do As We Say, Not As We Do: Last week the federal government fined automakers Hyundai and Kia for overstating the mileage performance of their products. Yet the federal government itself routinely fibs about mileage numbers. For the 2013 model year, new cars and "light trucks" (pickups and SUVs) were supposed to average a combined 29.7 mpg. See Federal Register Page -- I am not making this up -- 25,331. The EPA certifies if the auto industry is in compliance with that rule, but the actual average for 2013 was 24.1 mpg. Overall new-vehicle fuel economy is supposed to reach 32.7 mpg by 2016. That's a 36 percent improvement over the actual number for 2013 -- all but impossible. Yet while Washington, D.C., exaggerates about fuel savings, government fines automakers for doing the same.
If a combined fine of $350 million to Kia and Hyundai is deserved for overstating mpg, and a fine of $1.2 billion to Toyota was deserved for the company's misleading statements about defects, some of which turned out not to exist, what will be the proper fine for General Motors' years-long cover-up of a deadly defect linked to at least 29 deaths? The Toyota precedent suggests General Motors should pay many billions, if not tens of billions, of dollars.
Here the politics of the two automakers come into play. Toyota recently moved its North American headquarters from very blue California to mostly red Texas, so there's not a lot of sympathy for the firm in a blue administration. General Motors, by contrast, is the stronghold of the United Auto Workers, which donates extensively to Democratic causes and candidates. Any fine against GM that's even in the general zone of the Toyota precedent would clobber both the company and the UAW. But after the Toyota precedent, a slap on GM's wrist would be hypocritical. Don't be surprised if the White House and Justice Department drag matters out in order to leave this problem on the desk of the next administration.
The Browns Paradox: Should TMQ consider the Cleveland Browns for the Authentic Games index? Cleveland is 6-3 and just pasted the Bengals in Cincinnati, where the hosts entered on a 13-0-1 regular-season streak. Andy Dalton looked like he'd forgotten how to play football -- could Dalton go from Pro Bowl to benched? It wasn't just the three interceptions. It wasn't just his hard-to-believe passer rating of 2. (The league listed Dalton's rating as "2.0" as though this is somehow different from 2.) Browns leading by a touchdown, Cincinnati faced third-and-2. Cleveland shifted to an eight-man front. Dalton audibled -- to a run, which lost yardage. Audible to a run against an overstack!
This season the Browns have posted decisive wins versus powerful rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, yet lost to Jacksonville while struggling to defeat the Raiders and Buccaneers. What to make of the Browns?
Nick Saban's Subsidized House: Last week I asked if any reader with a tax-law or CPA background could explain the likely tax treatment of Nick Saban's home, which was purchased, for about $225,000 more than he paid for it, by a sports promotion foundation and where he now lives rent-free. Numerous readers replied that Saban can exempt the $225,000 gain from capital gains taxes (the exemption level is $250,000 for an individual, $500,000 if married filing jointly) but would need to declare the fair-market value rental value of the home each year and pay ordinary income taxes on that. Jake Peters of Evansville, Wisconsin, put it in haiku:
Sale? Capital gain.
Rent value taxed as wages;
cap gain excluded.
Lee Schwarz of Zebulon, North Carolina, added that the Crimson Tide Foundation is a tax-exempt entity under this IRS rule: "The exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3) are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals." Education, science, religion -- there are good reasons these are tax-free. "Fostering national or international amateur sports competition" should be tax-free? Sports are wonderful, but don't serve any public purpose. To the extent tax-deductible donations to the Crimson Tide Foundation were employed to pay off Saban's house, he is a member of the 1 percent whose rent is paid by the 99 percent.
Still More Subsidies For Football: John and Tracy Eddy just gave $700,000 to Arizona State to fund a football scholarship reserved for a linebacker. Good for them, but if the Eddys are in a high tax bracket, which seems likely, and if they claim the deduction, they actually gave about two-thirds of the announced amount. Taxpayers will cover the balance. Why should taxpayers be compelled to fund football scholarships, at Arizona State or anywhere?
Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk (Pro Edition): The heavily favored Steelers trailing Jersey/B by 20-3 on the first snap of the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh faced fourth-and-2 at the Jets' 5. Mike Tomlin sent in the field goal unit; outraged, the football gods pushed the try aside. Just to prove it was no fluke, still trailing 20-3, Pittsburgh faced fourth-and-9 at the Jersey/B 9 with 7:25 remaining. Again Tomlin sent in the field goal unit. This one hit: the football gods, disgusted, had changed the channel.
Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk (Football-Factory Edition): Trailing TCU 31-14 late in the third quarter, Kansas State punted on fourth-and-4 in Horned Frogs territory. Kansas State went on to lose by 21 points.
Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk (Mid-Majors Edition): Trailing Ohio University by 10 points, the oddly named University at Buffalo punted on fourth-and-2 in Ohio territory. The Bulls went on to lose by 23 points. TMQ continues to think the oddly named University at Buffalo should style itself UATB.
The 500 Club: Hosting Texas A&M, Auburn gained 582 yards and lost. Hosting Yale, Brown gained 526 yards and lost.
The 600 Club: Hosting Boise State, New Mexico gained 627 yards, committed no turnovers, had three touchdown plays of at least 75 yards, and lost.
Obscure College Score: Paine 45, Benedict 34. The Tigers of Benedict College gained 521 yards and lost. Located in Augusta, Georgia, Paine College began competing at football this season after a half-century absence from the sport. One reason colleges field football teams is to get their names into the news ... which seems to have worked here.
Single Worst Plays Of The Season -- So Far: On Marshawn Lynch's first touchdown run against Jersey/A, Lynch barreled straight at Giants cornerback Zack Bowman -- who froze and let Lynch go by. On Lynch's fourth touchdown run, Lynch again barreled straight at Bowman, who again just let him go by. Bowman only needed a red cape and he could have cried "olé!" as he stepped aside.
Letting the opponent's tailback run past you unchallenged is a pretty good plan for being outrushed by 296 yards, which happened to Jersey/A at Seattle -- and is a stat that sounds like Wisconsin versus Bowling Green, not an NFL contest. Bowman would hold the Single Worst Play of the Season -- So Far distinction except that he's a backup and was on the field only because of injuries to others.
Worse than giving up 350 yards rushing to the defending champions is a team surrendering six touchdown passes in the first half. That was a team effort by the Bears -- everyone on the defense pulled together to be terrible.
With Green Bay leading 14-0 and facing third-and-11, the Bears for some reason were in Cover 1, with rookie Brock Vereen as the sole high safety. That's on defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, who called the wrong defense. Lined up across from Jordy Nelson, veteran corner Tim Jennings simply stood there like topiary, letting Nelson blow past for an uncovered 73-yard touchdown reception. In a Cover 1, the corner can't let his man go! Next Green Bay possession, Jennings again lines up across from Nelson and again just stands there as Nelson blows past for a 40-yard touchdown. This time the Bears were in Cover 2, a defense that may have receivers covered by the corner short and the safety deep. But twice the man across from the other team's best receiver simply did nothing on a long touchdown pass.
Chicago Bears defense, you are guilty of the Single Worst Plays of the Season -- So Far.
Next Week: Can kale doughnuts be far behind?