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Woody's Winners, NFL Week 5

NFL WEEK FIVE:

Woody ended last week with an even 7-7 record, correctly choosing the Rams in an upset, but blanking by choosing the Dolphins on MNF. That puts me at 34-28 for the year, not bad for a season that’s been wild and wacky one-quarter of the way through. How wacky? Indianapolis has lost two of their first four games, Dallas is in last place in the NFC East, and Kansas City is the league’s only undefeated team. We’ve had TD catches that weren’t, umpires in different spots, several QB flip-flops, and a whole bunch of last-second victories. You want upsets? I predict some upsets. Here's what's in store for Week 5:

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Tampa Bay (2-1) @ Cincinnati (2-2)

The Buccaneers have won three straight road games, and the Florida team will feel at home when they see all the orange up in Cincinnati. (Bucs head coach Raheem) Morris hopes that his finicky defense returns to the form they displayed early in the season. The Bengals won’t run the table on the AFC North this year, thanks to last week’s loss at Cleveland. A solid victory is the only remedy, and It’ll take more than a parrot and an eye patch to make the Tigers do any plank-walking.

Woody’s Winner: Cincinnati

FACT: The Bucs are undefeated in their last five games vs. the Bengals.

Click "more" to see my picks on the other games in Week 5.

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Atlanta (3-1) @ Cleveland (1-3)

The Falcons escaped last week’s matchup with San Francisco by the tips of their talons, but a win is a win. This week, the flock will gather in formation over Lake Erie, ready to dive-bomb a bunch of Browns coming off their first victory of the year. Cleveland has lost three games by a combined 12 points, so the Dawg Defense may hold its own for a quarter or two. But there’s a reason that Georgia’s state bird is the Brown Thrasher.

Woody’s Winner: Atlanta

FACT: The Falcons have the NFC’s longest current winning streak (3 games).

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N.Y. Giants (2-2) @ Houston (3-1)

The Giants defense was off-the-scale awesome vs. Chicago last week, limiting the Bears to 3 points and only 110 yards of offense. They won’t manage those kinds of numbers against the more balanced Texans, who has the personnel to counter most any defensive scheme. With 7 fumbles and 6 interceptions, New York has trouble holding on to the ball, and this tendency may haunt them in front of a hostile house of hollerin’ Houston fans. If Andre (not the Giant) Johnson feels well enough to play, Oiltown may gush with excitement, but Woody senses that it’s time for a return to Earth at Space Center Houston.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): New York

FACT: Last week, the Giants defense recorded 10 sacks and held Chicago’s offense to 0-for-13 on third-down attempts.

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Kansas City (3-0) @ Indianapolis (2-2)

By this time last season, Indy was undefeated while Kansas City was winless, but oh, how things have changed. But let’s be honest; the Colts are better than their record indicates, and the Chiefs won’t be lossless much longer. Fresh off their bye and with two weeks to prepare, the KC Masterpiece saunters into Indy hoping to hang a third “L” on Peyton Manning and crew. They’ll make a game of it, but the tribal leaders won’t be able to catch those speedy young horses.

Woody’s Winner: Indianapolis

FACT: Twice in the last two games, opposing offensive lineman have accused Chiefs DE Shaun Smith of illegally grabbing them in their “privates.”

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Green Bay (3-1) @ Washington (2-2)

QB Donovan McNabb returned to his former home in Philly last week and led the Redskins to a victory. This week, he returns to FedEx Field hoping to deliver a message to the rest of the NFC. Both teams are missing their top running backs, so Woody expects McNabb and the Pack’s Aaron Rodgers to put on a scrambling show as they try to outdo one another. Statistically, Washington has one of the worst pass defenses, while Green Bay has one of the best. The Cheese stands alone.

Woody’s Winner: Green Bay

FACT: The Packers lead the NFC with an average 26.5 points per game.

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Jacksonville (2-2) @ Buffalo (0-4)

After a brutal three-game stretch (Packers, Patriots, Jets), the Bills finally meet an opponent they might be able to corral. Jacksonville had to play a near-perfect game to beat the Colts last week, and the herculean effort may have taken its toll. Buffalo seems to show fire every other week, hanging tough against Miami in Week 1 and New England in Week 3. Here in Week 5, rookie C.J. Spiller gets his first start at RB for the home team, and he’ll kick into high-gear as the star attraction in the Wild West Show.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Buffalo

FACT: Buffalo is the only AFC team that has not recorded a win yet this season.

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Denver (2-2) @ Baltimore (3-1)

Kyle Orton and the league’s top-gaining air attack rumbles into Maryland in Week 5 to face Ray Lewis and the league’s best pass defense. Denver doesn’t pretend to run the ball with Knowshon Moreno out of the lineup, so unless they have some fancy pass plays drawn up, the Broncos will be pondering weak and weary by the time the final whistle blows. The Mile-High Men have never beaten the Ravens in Baltimore, and I don’t believe that will change in 2010.

Woody’s Winner: Baltimore

FACT: The Ravens have held opponents to a league-low 235.8 yards per game.

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Chicago (3-1) @ Carolina (0-4)

QB Jay Cutler is responsible for the Bears’ winning record this season, and his absence in Sunday’s game may just be the “anther” that the Panthers have been looking for. Chicago RB Matt Forte has done most of his damage as a receiver, while Carolina RB DeAngelo Williams has run like a big cat in his last two performances. This is one of three games this week where I’m predicting an 0-4 team to win, so here’s hoping that the Bear hunting is primo in the Piedmont.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Carolina

FACT: The home team has won each of the four previous regular-season meetings between these two teams.

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St. Louis (2-2) @ Detroit (0-4)

It’s rare that the Lions are favored to win a game, even at home. Head coach Jim Schwartz is well aware that his team needs a notch in the “W” column to match their improved statistics. The new-look Rams have impressed this season under rookie QB Sam Bradford, and if Detroit continues to shoot themselves in the foot, it may be another long Sunday in Motown. It’ll be close, but the Kings of the Jungle will score enough points to eke out an all-too-infrequent win.

Woody’s Winner: Detroit

FACT: The Lions have scored 82 points, fourth-most of the 16 teams in the NFC.

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New Orleans (3-1) @ Arizona (2-2)

So it seems that ex-Brown Derek Anderson was not the QB solution in Arizona. (Say it with me: Duh.) Rookie Max Hall took over in the last half of Week 4’s loss, and he’ll get the start this time around. Unfortunately, he’ll be facing the defending Super Bowl champs, whose defense has been salivating at the film of the BYU stud being sacked 6 times (and fumbling once) last week. The Cardinals’ even record is deceiving, having scraped by at home against St. Louis and Oakland. Facing New Orleans takes things to a different level, and even though I’m not Catholic, even I know that Saints outrank Cardinals.

Woody’s Winner: New Orleans

FACT: Despite allowing more than twice as many points (118) as they’ve scored (58), the Cardinals are in first place in the NFC West.

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San Diego (2-2) @ Oakland (1-3)

Just as Arizona’s 2-2 record belies their team’s ability, the Chargers’ identical record is similarly deceiving. San Diego is 0-2 on the road like the Cards, but they were competitive in those games. In Week 5, they head up the California coast to challenge the Silver-and-Black at Oakland Coliseum. New QB Bruce Gradkowski’s willingness to throw the ball downfield has helped open things up for RB Darren McFadden, and the Raiders have shown a spark that hasn’t been there for a while. Sadly, a spark isn’t much when compared to the power of a lightning bolt.

Woody’s Winner: San Diego

FACT: The Chargers’ offense leads the NFL in yardage per game, and their defense is ranked second in the league for fewest yards allowed.

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Tennessee (2-2) @ Dallas (1-2)

It’ll be a warm day in Dallas, but Tennessee hopes to fly in a giant Titan-ic iceberg to cool off the home crowd. Both teams have lost some hard-fought games this season: Dallas has moved the ball but not scored, while the Titans have scored while struggling to get yardage. While no game at this point in the season is a must-win, should the Stars falter this week, the price of steak may go way up as eastern Texas extracts its revenge on beef cattle statewide. But with a stellar 16-5 record after bye weeks, America’s Team will feast on Tennessee veal instead.

Woody’s Winner: Dallas

FACT: Last August during a preseason game, the Titans’ A.J. Trapasso became the first to bounce a punt off the then-new video screen at Cowboys Stadium.

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Philadelphia (2-2) @ San Francisco (0-4)

The 49ers deserved a victory last week in Atlanta, but “should have” doesn’t show up in the standings. Meanwhile, the Eagles have gone from flop to flip to flop again as QB Kevin Kolb returns to the starter’s spot. His line last week was not horrible, but would have been better had Jason Avant been able to haul in a winning TD pass that bounced off his mitts. (Alas, he was Avant-guarded.) Frisco coach Mike Singletary’s job may hinge on his team’s performance at home this week, so he’ll be doing all he can to ready his Gold Miners against the High Fliers. “Dangnabbit, ah hates those varmints!”

Woody’s Winner: San Francisco

FACT: The Eagles scored 38, 38, and 40 points in their three most recent road games in San Francisco.

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Minnesota (1-2) @ N.Y. Jets (3-1)

There’s plenty of drama this week on Monday Night Football. Brett Favre returns to the Big Apple to face his 2008 team, the Jets, and he’ll have recently-acquired Randy Moss lined up at WR for the first time this season. The Vikings had a bye last week, and it’s anyone’s guess whether the time off helped or hindered Minnesota’s chemistry. It’s Woody’s opinion that the Jet stream will keep those Norse ships from docking. And you can’t pillage while treading water.

Woody’s Winner: New York

FACT: The home team has only won two of five Monday Night Football games this season.

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BYE: Dolphins, Patriots, Steelers, Seahawks

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Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, but please be cordial to others; this is all in good fun. Thanks!

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Fumbled: The Story of the United States Football League
davi_deste via eBay
davi_deste via eBay

There were supposed to be 44 players marching to the field when the visiting Los Angeles Express played their final regular season game against the Orlando Renegades in June 1985.

Thirty-six of them showed up. The team couldn’t afford more.

“We didn’t even have money for tape,” Express quarterback Steve Young said in 1986. “Or ice.” The squad was so poor that Young played fullback during the game. They only had one, and he was injured.

Other teams had ridden school buses to practice, driven three hours for “home games,” or shared dressing room space with the local rodeo. In August 1986, the cash-strapped United States Football League called off the coming season. The league itself would soon vaporize entirely after gambling its future on an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League. The USFL argued the NFL was monopolizing television time; the NFL countered that the USFL—once seen as a promising upstart—was being victimized by its own reckless expansion and the wild spending of team owners like Donald Trump.

They were both right.


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Spring football. That was David Dixon’s pitch. The New Orleans businessman and football advocate—he helped get the Saints in his state—was a fan of college ball and noticed that spring scrimmages at Tulane University led to a little more excitement in the air. With a fiscally responsible salary cap in place and a 12-team roster, he figured his idea could be profitable. Market research agreed: a hired broadcast research firm asserted 76 percent of fans would watch what Dixon had planned.

He had no intention of grappling with the NFL for viewers. That league’s season aired from September through January, leaving a football drought March through July. And in 1982, a players’ strike led to a shortened NFL season, making the idea of an alternative even more appealing to networks. Along with investors for each team region, Dixon got ABC and the recently-formed ESPN signed to broadcast deals worth a combined $35 million over two years.

When the Chicago Blitz faced the Washington Federals on the USFL’s opening day March 6, 1983, over 39,000 fans braved rain at RFK Stadium in Washington to see it. The Federals lost 28-7, foreshadowing their overall performance as one of the league’s worst. Owner Berl Bernhard would later complain the team played like “untrained gerbils.”

Anything more coordinated might have been too expensive. The USFL had instituted a strict $1.8 million salary cap that first year to avoid franchise overspending, but there were allowances made so each team could grab one or two standout rookies. In 1983, the big acquisition was Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, who opted out of his senior year at Georgia to turn pro. Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals in a three-year, $5 million deal.

Jim Kelly and Steve Young followed. Stan White left the Detroit Lions. Marcus Dupree left college. The rosters were built up from scratch using NFL cast-offs or prospects from nearby colleges, where teams had rights to “territorial” drafts.

To draw a line in the sand, the USFL had advertising play up the differences between the NFL’s product and their own. Their slogan, “When Football Was Fun,” was a swipe at the NFL’s increasingly draconian rules regarding players having any personality. They also advised teams to run a series of marketable halftime attractions. The Denver Gold once offered a money-back guarantee for attendees who weren’t satisfied. During one Houston Gamblers game, boxer George Foreman officiated a wedding. Cars were given away at Tampa Bay Bandits games. The NFL, the upstart argued, stood for the No Fun League.

For a while, it appeared to be working. The Panthers, which had invaded the city occupied by the Detroit Lions, averaged 60,000 fans per game, higher than their NFL counterparts. ABC was pleased with steady ratings. The league was still conservative in their spending.

That would change—many would argue for the worse—with the arrival of Donald Trump.

Despite Walker’s abilities on the field, his New Jersey Generals ended the inaugural 1983 season at 6-12, one of the worst records in the league. The excitement having worn off, owner J. Walter Duncan decided to sell the team to real estate investor Trump for a reported $5-9 million.

A fixture of New York media who was putting the finishing touches on Trump Tower, Trump introduced two extremes to the USFL. His presence gave the league far more press attention than it had ever received, but his bombastic approach to business guaranteed he wouldn’t be satisfied with an informal salary cap. Trump spent and spent some more, recruiting players to improve the Generals. Another Heisman winner, quarterback Doug Flutie, was signed to a five-year, $7 million contract, the largest in pro football at the time. Trump even pursued Lawrence Taylor, then a player for the New York Giants, who signed a contract saying that, after his Giants contract expired, he’d join Trump’s team. The Giants wound up buying out the Taylor/Trump contract for $750,000 and quadrupled Taylor’s salary, and Trump wound up with pages of publicity.

Trump’s approach was effective: the Generals improved to 14-4 in their sophomore season. But it also had a domino effect. In order to compete with the elevated bar of talent, other team owners began spending more, too. In a race to defray costs, the USFL approved six expansion teams that paid a buy-in of $6 million each to the league.

It did little to patch the seams. Teams were so cash-strapped that simple amenities became luxuries. The Michigan Panthers dined on burnt spaghetti and took yellow school buses to training camp; players would race to cash checks knowing the last in line stood a chance of having one bounce. When losses became too great, teams began to merge with one another: The Washington Federals became the Orlando Renegades. By the 1985 season, the USFL was down to 14 teams. And because the ABC contract required the league to have teams in certain top TV markets, ABC started withholding checks.

Trump was unmoved. Since taking over the Generals, he had been petitioning behind the scenes for the other owners to pursue a shift to a fall season, where they would compete with the NFL head on. A few owners countered that fans had already voiced their preference for a spring schedule. Some thought it would be tantamount to league suicide.

Trump continued to push. By the end of the 1984 season, he had swayed opinion enough for the USFL to plan on one final spring block in 1985 before making the move to fall in 1986.

In order to make that transition, they would have to win a massive lawsuit against the NFL.

In the mid-1980s, three major networks meant that three major broadcast contracts would be up for grabs—and the NFL owned all three. To Trump and the USFL, this constituted a monopoly. They filed suit in October 1984. By the time it went to trial in May 1986, the league had shrunk from 18 teams to 14, hadn’t hosted a game since July 1985, kept only threadbare rosters, and was losing what existing television deals it had by migrating to smaller markets (a major part of the NFL’s case was that the real reason for the lawsuit, and the moves to smaller markets, was to make the league an attractive takeover prospect for the NFL). The ruling—which could have forced the NFL to drop one of the three network deals—would effectively become the deciding factor of whether the USFL would continue operations.

They came close. A New York jury deliberated for 31 hours over five days. After the verdict, jurors told press that half believed the NFL was guilty of being a monopoly and were prepared to offer the USFL up to $300 million in damages; the other half thought the USFL had been crippled by its own irresponsible expansion efforts. Neither side would budge.

To avoid a hung jury, it was decided they would find in favor of the USFL but only award damages in the amount of $1. One juror told the Los Angeles Times that she thought it would be an indication for the judge to calculate proper damages.

He didn’t. The USFL was awarded treble damages for $3 in total, an amount that grew slightly with interest after time for appeal. The NFL sent them a payment of $3.76. (Less famously, the NFL was also ordered to pay $5.5 million in legal fees.)

Rudy Shiffer, vice-president of the Memphis Showboats, summed up the USFL's fate shortly after the ruling was handed down. “We’re dead,” he said.

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Arizona Teen Becomes First Female to Earn a College Football Scholarship
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iStock

In recent years, women have made great strides in male-dominated sports. Currently in the NBA, Becky Hammon and Nancy Lieberman have proven their worth as assistant coaches for the San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings, respectively, while Sarah Thomas made news as the first official female referee in the NFL in 2015. Now, an Arizona teenager named Becca Longo is joining their ranks.

On April 12, Longo, an 18-year-old kicker from Basha High School in Chandler, Arizona, signed a letter of intent to receive an athletic scholarship and play for the Division II football team at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado. She is the first woman to be on scholarship at a Division II school or higher—a fact Longo herself didn't even realize until her high school coach informed her at the signing ceremony.

Longo’s kicking prowess in high school was highlighted by her making 30 out of 33 extra point attempts during her senior season, which caught the attention of Adams’s head coach, Timm Rosenbach. She also sent the school a highlight reel and began following coach Rosenbach on Twitter to show him what she could do.

"She's kind of put herself out there to let everyone know she wants to do this," Rosenbach told CNN. "If she's able to compete at a level we think she's able to compete at, we should afford her that opportunity to do that."

Longo’s persistence led to a visit from Adams’s offensive coordinator, Josh Blankenship, who told the young kicker that the school was interested in her being on the team. But being on scholarship doesn’t mean a spot on the starting roster is guaranteed. The kicking spot is up for grabs, according to Rosenbach, and there are two other kickers who Longo will have to beat out for the job. But despite the pressure, Longo told ESPN, "I'm ready to compete. I don't really have any expectations beyond that."

In addition to the football team, Longo has also committed to play basketball at Adams State next year.

[h/t CBS]

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