I once heard a server at a restaurant describe their Grand Marnier Souffle as “50% air, 50% sugar and 50% fun”…adding that “it makes no sense but somehow the math adds up. He was right…and along those lines a 1-2 start in the NFL somehow feels five games better than 0-3, despite the actual math at work.  Despite rumors of their demise, the Burgundy & Gold season is alive and well after a 29-27 win at the New York Giants.  You read correctly here…they actually won a game at Met Life Stadium for the first time since 2011.  It’s morning in Ashburn!  

Captain Kirk- the face of the franchise completed 21 of 35 passes for 296 yards and 2 touchdowns…directing scoring drives on 7 of 10 possessions before the end of game kneeldown.  Yes, the brain freeze at the end of the first half that took at least 3 points off the board wasn’t ideal.  But despite a defense and running game that have been somewhat suspect this fall, Cousins’ 989 passing yards after three games ranks him second in the league behind Drew Brees (another victim of dissolving defense and reluctant running game).  Cousins may  have saved the season with his 44-yard scoring strike to DeSean Jackson in the 2nd quarter (sparking up a 20-6 run that would finish the game).  Star Trek episode?  “A Private Little War”- Kirk deals with an injured Spock, Klingons, and a Vietnam Conflict parallel all within a 60-minute sequence.  Not great, but more than worth watching…

Running In Circles- at least they ran the ball more than 20 times this week.  Matt Jones carried 17 times for 65 yards…while the mixer of Chris Thompson added 23 yards on 6 tries. Robert Kelley notched his first regular season carries…only to slip and slide all over the MetLife Stadium turf.  After three weeks the Skins rank 29th in the league in carries and rushing yards (while their 3.8 yards per carry is 22nd in the NFL).

Posse Posers- they might not be the equal of Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders just yet…but the Receiving Firm of Jackson, Garcon & Crowder tallied both of the Skins’ touchdowns.  DeSean Jackson (5-96 and a TD) stretched the secondary while Garcon was in his chains-moving mode (5-59).  Jamison Crowder made things happen after the catch–taking a screen pass 55 yards for paydirt in the second half.  And let’s not forget Jordan Reed (4-56) as the chess piece every defense has to gameplan around.

Third and Progress- 7 of 16 isn’t the stuff dreams are made of…but there are bright spots.  Kirk Cousins completed 8 of 11 passes on the money down for six conversions…while the Skins ACTUALLY RAN on a third and short twice!  Matt Jones burst one for a ten yard gain …while being stuffed for -2 on another play.  Cousins was also stuffed on a quarterback draw to set up a field goal…and was sacked as the first half expired inside the Giants ten. The top target?  Jordan Reed (4 with 3 catches and 3 conversions), followed by Pierre Garcon (3 targets with 2 catches and conversions).  Yardage breakdown:  1-3 on third & short, 4-9 on third and medium (between 4 and 6 yards needed) and 2-4 on third & long.  It’s nice to see 63% of their third downs needing less than seven yards.  Major progress over the first two weeks.  So the Skins moved the chains in key situations to get into scoring position.  Now they just have to convert in the Red Zone.  Ugh.

Red faced in the Red Zone- somehow things just don’t work out when they get close to the goal line…as the Skins went 0-4 Sunday.  Their touchdown percentage of 21% ranks 31st in the NFL.  Thank goodness for Dustin Hopkins…

D earns a C+ thanks to a pair of INT’s- they allowed 457 yards but kept the Giants out of the end zone for the entire second half.  They gave up 350 yards to Eli Manning but picked him off twice in the fourth quarter.  Strong safety David Bruton Jr. (8 tackles plus an assist) and cornerback Josh Norman (6 total stops) led the hit parade…but I’m never comfortable with defensive backs leading a team in tackles.  The Giants gained almost 6 yards per carry and Manning was sacked twice on an afternoon where he threw 38 passes.  The D Line still needs to find itself.

Flying Flags- 8 infractions this time for 70 yards…as the season total of 25 ties the Skins for 6th most in the league with Cleveland.  Thank goodness the Giants were even more careless (11 flags for 128 yards).  This week saw a true split with four penalties on offense (2 holds and 2 false starts) and the other four on defense (holding, unnecessary roughness, roughing the passer and illegal contact).  Josh Norman’s two flags (on the same drive) gives him a team-high 4 for the season….and those infractions would have been much more costly were it not for Quinton Dunbar’s interception in the endzone.  Let’s just say Josh owes one of his teammates dinner.  Most costly flags?  In the second quarter on consecutive plays Su’a Cravens and Trent Murphy were whistled.  Cravens illegal contact turned what would have been a 4th and 2 on the Giants 45 into 1st and 10 from the 50… and Murphy’s roughing the passer turned a 1st and 10 from the Skins 32 into a 1st and 10 from the 17.  The Giants would tally their final touchdown of the day two plays later.

Super Special Teams- first you have Dustin Hopkins making all 5 of his field goal attempts to capture the NFC’s Special Teams Player of the Week Honor.  Then you have Jamison Crowder’s 50-yard punt return setting up a field goal.  But the play of the day was Tress Way’s fake punt pass to Quinton Dunbar for 31 yards and a first down.  Way also averaged 46 yards per punt to make up for his blocked kick (that was negated thanks to a Giants penalty) and Dunbar’s fourth quarter interception made up for his muffed punt return in the first quarter (although you could say he was pushed into the ball).

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia’s miracle run now includes a 34-3 Keystone State crushing of Pittsburgh…as the 3-0 Eagles lead the NFC East.  Despite Sunday’s loss, the New York Giants are in second place thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker with Dallas.  For the moment the Redskins are still in last place…but 1-2 is soooo much better than 0-3.  After three weeks the NFC East boasts an 8-4 composite record… which along with the AFC West is the best early showing.  The worst?  Both conference’s Souths are 4-8…and might not even be that good.

 

 

 

 

 

There are four major steps to winning a World Series (actually a fifth if you take the wildcard route, but why bog ourselves down further?)…and winning the division is perhaps the most arduous.  I’m not saying that winning 3 of 5 or 4 of 7 games against a top-flight ballclub isn’t a challenge; nor is prevailing in a winner-take-all one game wildcard showdown (I thought we weren’t going there).  But to be the best team over 162 games with all its ebbs, flows, peaks, valleys, and sideways lurches takes a certain grit.  The 2012 and 2014 Nationals had that grit…and so does the current edition.  Bring on the playoffs…as they begin the mopping-up segment of the season.

Playoff Possibilities, Senior Circuit- the Nats will play the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Divisional Series as the Chicago Cubs already have home field locked up.  They lead LA by a game and a half for home field in that series.  The Cubs will play the wildcard winner…currently the New York Mets lead San Francisco by one game for home field for that game, while St Louis is one half game behind the Giants.  Should the three teams tie for the two playoff spots there would be a musical chair situation that would have either the Cardinals or Mets hosting the first game with the other team getting to choose to host the second game or be on the road for game one.  The two winners would then meet for the wildcard. I’m going to need a nap.

Playoff Possibilities, AL Version- the Orioles had a chance to catch Boston for the AL East lead this past week but instead were swept at home by the Red Sox (going 2-8 at home to Boston this year).  They were bedeviled once again by David Ortiz (.333, 8 HR & 19 RBI this year vs BAL) and Mookie Betts (.408, 9 HR & 21 RBI).  If somehow the O’s face the Sox in the playoffs…a little hint: DO NOT PITCH TO EITHER OF THESE MEN.  Roll the ball to the plate if you need to.  The Orioles currently own the second wildcard spot in the AL, one and a half games behind Toronto in the race for home field and one and a half games ahead of Detroit in the race for not going home for the winter.  AL West champ Texas awaits the winner–although Boston could easily slip past the Rangers in the race for home field (they’re tied at 92-64, with TEX holding the tiebreaker of best intra-division record) advantage.  Cleveland’s magic number to win the Central is one.

Last Week’s Heroes- Wilson Ramos hit .409 while Danny Espinosa led the team in runs scored (4), homers (2) and RBI (6).  Tanner Roark despite being tagged with a loss allowed just one run over seven innings in his lone start of the week.

Last Week’s Humbled- the injury bug has turned into a major virus.  Bryce Harper’s thumb, Daniel Murphy’s leg and Stephen Strasburg’s elbow remain under the microscope. While many were already writing off the Nats pitcher for the postseason, they can ill afford to lose either one of their most productive bats for any stretch of October.

Game to Watch- Tuesday Max Scherzer pitches against the organization that drafted him.  The Nats ace’s pursuit of 20 wins remains alive… with there always being the chance of something special each time it’s his turn in the rotation.

Game to Miss- Miami comes to DC for the final weekend of the season…and rookie AJ Cole starts the series opener.  Just as a team assured of a playoff berth sets up its rotation and lineup for the postseason, you should set your viewing habits in rhythm.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Fear, fear for Old Notre Dame.  The Fighting Irish find themselves 1-3 entering October with their preseason #10 ranking a distant memory.  It’s one thing to lose in double-overtime at Texas, another to lose at home to a top-20 Michigan State.  But to Duke?  At home?  What in the name of Gerry Faust is going on?  This was a program that finished a field goal away from making the College Football Playoff last fall…and instead has fallen on tough times.  Look no further than a defense that’s allowed 35+ points in five of their last six games dating back to last November.  Bad news for Defensive Coordinator Brian VanGorder…who gets the pink slip.  Coach Brian Kelly turned around the mess he inherited, but has more five-loss seasons that double-digit win campaigns in South Bend.  His most impressive bowl win with the Irish?  Not to talk smack about the Music City or Pinstripe Bowl, but you have to go back to the Sun Bowl.  For a fan base that is largely non-alumni and thus doesn’t understand the academic mission or difficulty getting Florida kids to want to play in a small northern Indiana city, patience is not a virtue. 

Maryland (3-0) and Navy (3-0) had the week off…while another local school reaches the 3-0 mark. Georgetown beats Columbia 17-14 to move within one victory of last year’s total. Credit a defense that’s allowing just 15 points a game…as well as the smart play of senior quarterback Matt Barnes (59% completion rate with a 6 to 2 TD to INT rate). Two more games against Ivy League foes precede Patriot League play.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange bounce back from two tough home losses to post a victory at UConn.  Eric Dungey throws for major yardage again and the defense plays in a way that makes one realize that autumn Saturdays are the wrong days to stop sniffing glue.  But 2-2 after one month is welcome in light of recent falls…although October could be more tricks than treats with Notre Dame and Virginia Tech on the slate.  Brace yourselves…

Virginia (1-3) avoided disaster by holding off a Central Michigan rally…notching the first victory of the Bronco Mendenhall era with a 49-35 triumph over the Chippewas.  The Wahoo faithful can rest easy…for a few minutes.  Cavalier Congrats-Kurt Benkert threw for 421 yards and 5 touchdowns.  Olamide Zaccheaus notched 8 catches for 141 yards and 2 scores-with his 82 yard scoring strike turning the game around in the second half.  Linebacker Zach Bradshaw tallied 6 tackles, 3 assists, 2 pass breakups and a sack.  The moscato glass is definitely half full!  Cavalier Concerns- the porous pass defense allowed over 400 yards and had trouble getting off the field on third down (CMU converted 9-19).  And they blew a 28-point first half lead.  Not ideal as they enter conference play.  Thank goodness UVa plays in the Coastal Division.  Next- Saturday at 2-2 Duke, 12:30 p.m.  Didn’t the Blue Devils just win at Notre Dame?

Virginia Tech (3-1) put away the ghosts of Upsets Past with a 54-17 thumping of East Carolina.  The Pirates have played VT close in each of their previous four meetings this decade…winning the last two years.  No such September stagger this time.  Hokie Highlights- Jerod Evans threw for 282 yards and 3 touchdowns while running for 97 yards and another score.  Ken Ekanem tallies two sacks while Chuck Clark leads the defense with 11 tackles as ECU converts just 3-14 third downs…and gets just one score in 3 trips to the red zone.  Greg Stroman got things going with an 87-yard punt return for a TD.  One thinks he may get to wear #25 in practice this week. Hokie Humblings- tough to find blemishes in an impressive game where they led 38-0 at the half.  The offense was held to 5-14 on third down…and two deep touchdown passes allowed in the second half is never ideal.  Next- October 8th at 3-1 North Carolina.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

The final week of September means many conferences begin league play in earnest…even though many schools like Navy and Virginia Tech have already played their conference openers and 12 of 14 SEC teams have had league games.  How do the Power Five stack up?

Big Ten: 30-8 with eight unbeatens, five ranked schools and three in the top ten.  Best win?  Michigan State at Notre Dame and Ohio State at Oklahoma were made for prime time, but Wisconsin’s 16-14 victory over LSU gives the Big Ten a leg up on their nemesis to the south.  Worst loss?  Northwestern’s defeats to Illinois State and Western Michigan are embarrassing for the conference but almost expected with the Wildcats history.  But then-#13 Iowa’s 23-21 defeat to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State robs the league of an unbeaten…and means the Hawkeyes don’t have the chance to sneak up on the nation like they did last year.

SEC: 27-7 with six unbeatens and eight ranked teams that includes #1 Alabama.  Best win?  Arkansas’ 41-38 shootout victory at then-#15 TCU.  Always nice to beat a former SWC doormat that thinks it’s royalty all of a sudden.  Worst loss?  Mississippi State’s 21-20 defeat to South Alabama.  We know the Bulldogs take aren’t the #1 school in the state and are a second-tier Bulldog in the conference, but South Alabama too?

ACC: 23-9 with five unbeatens and four ranked teams (most notably #3 Louisville and Heisman Trophy Candidate Lamar Jackson- yes that is his full name).  Best win?  Florida State’s 45-34 Labor Day rally past then-#11 Ole Miss.  Quieted the SEC jawing about how they’re so superior…for at least a few days.  Worst Loss? Syracuse’s 45-20 Homecoming humbling against South Florida after leading the Bulls 17-0.  I’ve also been told that they served ranch dressing with the wings at the Alumni Reception.

Pac-12: 23-9 with four unbeatens, three ranked schools and one hot mess in USC.  Best Win?  Cal’s comeback in a 50-43 triumph over then-#11 Texas.  Another classic 10:30 Saturday night special.  Worst Loss?  USC’s 52-6 dismemberment by #1 Alabama was tough to stomach, but how does Washington State lose 45-42 to Eastern Washington?  And then a 31-28 defeat at Boise State?  At least they pounded Idaho 56-6 (it was probably closer than the score would lead you to believe).

Big 12: 15-11 with two unbeatens (Baylor and West Virginia) and three ranked schools, none in the top 15.  Best win?  While Texas’ double-overtime win over then-#10 Notre Dame was pure theater, Baylor’s defeats of SMU and Rice brought you back to the Southwest Conference before rampant cheating blew that league apart.  Worst Loss?  So many options- from Oklahoma State falling to Central Michigan 30-27 on the game’s last play to Iowa State slipping to Northern Iowa 25-20.  When do they invite Houston into the league?

 

Maryland (3-0) and Navy (3-0, 2-0 AAC) both have the weekend off…and these early-season byes actually come at decent times for both teams.  Terps quarterback Perry Hills injured his shoulder in their double-overtime win over UCF…and an extra week to heal could spell the difference for a quarterback still looking to find his stride.  The Midshipmen get an extra week to practice for Air Force’s option…and another set of practices to get quarterback Will Worth reps with the first team offense.

Alma mater Update- Big East Flashback time has the Orange battling UConn  with memories of six overtimes and last-second Gerry McNamara shots.  SU hits the road for the first time under coach Dino Babers…possessing the #1 passing offense in the ACC but also being unable to stop anyone.  The Huskies have been the Cardiac Kids of college football this month– needing a late field goal to top Maine, coming up short on the last play of the game inside the Navy 5, and prevailing over Virginia when the Cavaliers kicker missed a rushed 20-yarder on the final play of the afternoon.  The Orange?  Their closest halftime score was an 11-point margin.  Might have to go breaded wings and wedges with Sal’s Birdland sassy sauce to mix things up this week…

 

Virginia Tech (2-1) entertains East Carolina- the Pirates have been a major pain to the Hokies as of late, with wins each of the last two seasons while both of the Hokies wins in the series this decade have come by a touchdown or less.  After three games coach Justin Fuente’s team leads the ACC in pass defense and total defense…they’ll need it against Pirates QB Philip Nelson (79% passing) and his top target Zay Jones (22 catches last weekend).  ECU almost beat South Carolina in Columbia last weekend…and is more than capable of leaving Blacksburg with a W.  Hokies hang on, 27-21.

Virginia (0-3) hosts Central Michigan- what sort of schedule is this?  They finally have a home game against a Non-Power Five FBS school and it’s the unbeaten Chippewas?  Let the record show that CMU’s win at Oklahoma State came on an untimed extra down  they shouldn’t have had…but Cooper Rush is directing an offense that averages 38 points per game.  If there’s one thing UVa doesn’t do well this fall it’s stop the pass (96th out of 127 FBS schools).  Kippy & Buffy wrap up their non-conference slate of white wines with Linden Vineyards 2015 Riesling Vidal: “floral, lavender and lemon zest aromas.  Palate is dry and dense with good length.”  Break out the Colby cheese on Club Crackers.  Cavaliers come up short, 38-34.

 

Howard falls to Morgan State, Georgetown beats Columbia, Richmond edges Colgate, William & Mary tops Elon, James Madison gets by Maine.

Last Week: 7-2.

Overall: 25-3.

The last time the Redskins won the NFC East, they began the following season 0-2 that included a Monday night home loss to a division foe.  This year they just separated the Monday night defeat from the home loss to the division foe.  The 27-23 loss to Dallas leaves the team 0-2 for the third time in 15 years (Martyball 2001 being the other season)… with a few questions you don’t want to ask and more answers you don’t want to hear.

Captain Kirk- the face of the franchise completed 28 of 46 passes for 364 yards and a touchdown…but also tossed an interception in the end zone and was sacked twice.  He missed an open Jermaine Crowder early and forced the ball into an area of the end zone that resembled the Cowboys sideline due to the preponderance of white jerseys in such a small area.  What’s important is that after calling Cousins out on FOX yesterday during his halftime interview segment with Pam Oliver, coach Jay Gruden is behind his QB and has faith in him.  For better or worse, this remains Kirk’s ship.  Trek Episode Equivalent for Sunday?  “All Our Yesterdays”, which features intriguing moments (time travel, Mariette Hartley) but at the end for the most part feels disappointing.

Griffin’s Ghost, aka the Continuing Tragedy of Robert III- the House of Griffin remains inactive in exile.  The shoulder now won’t return for 10 to 12 weeks…if at all.  His backup, Josh McCown, is now on the shelf with a battered left shoulder (what is it with left shoulders and Browns QBs?) meaning that Cody Kessler-aka Prince Hal-is the likely starter for week three at Miami.  If that’s the case then Kessler will be the fifth starting QB in five games for the Faulty Franchise by the Lake.  Will he be the starter in week four at Fed Ex Field?  “Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises; and oft it hits where hope is coldest, and despair most fits.” (All’s Well That Ends Well:  Act 2, Scene 1).

Saved by the Back, the Next Generation-  Matt Jones ran for 61 yards on 13 carries while tallying the Skins’ first TD of the day on a 14-yard scamper.  Unfortunately despite the game being a one-possession affair for most of the afternoon there were only two other carries by a Skins runningback:  and Chris Thompson gained just one yard on those two attempts.  Meanwhile, back at Bayside to score the game-winning touchdown for the Cowboys was Zack Attack himself, the Mr. Morris who went by Alfred the Great while playing in Burgundy and Gold (before eventually becoming Alfred the Underused and then Alfred the Unwanted).  Much like the “Next Generation” episode that saw Mark-Paul Gosselar and Lark Voorhees return to advance the plot and also underscore how pointless the sequel show was.

Third and Misleading- the offense converted 5 of 12 third downs which in theory is an improvement over the previous week (3-10) but two of those conversions were on the final possession of the game after the Skins seemingly seen their last chance fade away at the two-minute warning.  Both Cousins completions at the end of the 4th quarter were to Chris Thompson-and while he made the first down the runningback was tackled in bounds.  For the day, Cousins completed 6 of 11 passes on the money down…but what will haunt him is that interception in the Cowboys end zone.  His top target?  Thompson three times (three completions and two conversions), Jermaine Crowder twice (one catch and conversion) and Pierre Garcon twice (both incomplete with one an interception).  Garcon was also the target on an incomplete fourth down and 1 pass.  Three of those third downs were in a second-half sequence that saw the Skins have the ball inside the Cowboys’ 30-yard line three times–only to wind up with two field goals and an INT.  Yardage breakdown: 2-3 on short yardage (under 4 needed), 1-4 on medium yardage and 2-5 on long yardage (7+ needed).  The only called run was a 3rd & 1 where Chris Thompson got stuffed for no gain.  His body type doesn’t exactly scream “short yardage”.

D earns another D- lineman Ricky Jean-Francois said after the game that adjustments were not being made…and then said Monday that he was being quoted out of context.  That said, for the second straight week the Skins’ D allowed an opponent to come into Fed Ex Field and convert 50% or more of their third down attempts.  Rookie Dak Prescott moved the chains on 3rd & 8, 3rd &9 and twice on 3rd & 11.  Bashaud Breeland led the team with 10 total tackles…which is nice until you remember that he’s a cornerback and the usual reason a DB has that many stops is there were too many completions allowed in the secondary or the front seven wasn’t great at stopping the run.   The unit that ranked 28th last year is tied for 27th after two weeks…28th against the run and tied for 29th in scoring defense.  I know what you’re thinking- coordinator Joe Barry’s unit is spending way too much time working on a pass defense that ranks 20th.

Flying Flags- eight penalties for 51 yards…giving the Skins 17 infractions for the year (6th most in the NFL).  This week three were on offense (2 false starts and an illegal formation) while the other six were on defense (everything from neutral zone infractions to pass interference).  The only repeat offender this week was Preston Smith with a pair of defensive offsides (one was declined).  Which penalty hurt the most?  A tie on the Cowboys game-winning drive between a Mason Foster roughing the passer that turned a 3rd & 5 from the Skins 44 into a 1st & 10 from the 29…and a Josh Norman illegal use of the hands that turned a 3rd & 8 on the Washington 27 into a 1st  & 10 on the 23.  The winning score came on that drive.  Kory Lichtensteiger’s false start in the final minute of play also cost the team a ten-second runoff, meaning instead of 2 plays to score from the Dallas 36 they had one from the 41.  Almost half of the Redskins flags (7 of 17) have been false starts this fall.

Special Situations- another solid week from the kicking game as Tress Way plants a 32-yard punt at the Cowboy 6 while booming this other kick for 42 yards.  Dustin Hopkins nails all three field goal attempts to stay perfect at 6-6 on the season.  Jermaine Crowder had a decent day returning punts (2 for 30 yards with a long of 21).  The kickoff return team lucked out when a Cowboys onside-kick didn’t travel the necessary 10 yards.

Dissecting the Division- the loss drops the Skins to last place at 0-2.  Far from unfamiliar ground as the team has finished last 8 of the previous 12 seasons.  The New York Giants (next week’s opponent) is in first at 2-0 with two conference wins and one division victory while Philadelphia’s 1-0 NFC mark keeps them out of the top spot despite a 2-0 start.  Dallas at 1-1 is in third…while the Burgundy and Gold hold down the fourth and final position in an NFC East that is off to a 5-3 start (tied with the AFC North and West for the best thus far).

 

The NL East remains technically in doubt…but the Nationals in taking two of three from the New York Mets last week pushed the defending division champs to the precipice of playoff elimination.  The quirky crew from Queens can still qualify for the postseason as a wildcard, but barring a major collapse the Nats are en route to a third division title in five years.  That in conjunction with the current road trip means that several cases of champagne will be on hand as the team goes from Miami to Pittsburgh this week.  With the magic number standing at six…they could conceivably wrap it up in the sunshine state (the Marlins at 74-75 are already out of contention for the division) with a sweep plus a Mets implosion.  Most likely the spraying will occur this upcoming weekend in Pittsburgh.  Is there an Iron City Sparkling Wine?

Dissecting the Division- the Nats lead the Mets by eight games…and the defending division champs bounced back nicely from dropping two of three in DC to sweep Minnesota.  The hot bat on the ballclub belongs to Curtis Granderson…who despite hitting .208 this month is clubbing 6 homers and 13 RBI.  Ageless Bartolo Colon is 2-0 this month with a sub-2 ERA while Seth Lugo has won four straight starts.  Could the division still be up for grabs when the Nats come home next week?

Playoff Positioning- if the postseason began today, the Nats would have home field advantage over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS.  The Chicago Cubs would host the wildcard winner (New York Mets hosting San Francisco).  St. Louis is the only other NL team with a winning record; the Cardinals are one game behind the Giants and two games in back of the Mets.  The American League matchups would have the Orioles hosting Toronto in the Wildcard game with the winner facing Texas…while Cleveland would own home field advantage over Boston in the other Divisional Series.

No Scully Sightings- Sadly, Vin Scully will not be announcing any postseason games this fall-preferring to finish his Dodgers broadcasting career by the Bay in the regular season finale.  Interestingly enough, he was once a prime announcer for the NFL on CBS before losing the #1 job (and pairing with John Madden) to Pat Summerall in 1981.  Vin’s final football game?  The classic 1981 NFC Championship Game (Montana-to-Clark) at Candlestick Park.

The Wild Wildcard Race– while the Orioles can still win the AL East (they have four games with Boston this week), the Birds have plenty of company scraping for the final two playoff spots in the AL.  Toronto’s one game back…while Seattle and Detroit are two games behind the Blue Jays.  Houston remains in the mix one game behind the Mariners and Tigers while the New York Yankees getting swept by the Sox pushes the pinstripes to the precipice.  Defending World Series champ Kansas City is technically in contention…with a tragic number of nine.

Last Week’s Heroes- Trea Turner bats .462 and scores 8 runs while notching 3 HR and 4 RBI.  Daniel Murphy makes his former team rue the day they let him go by getting a hit in all 19 games played against the New York Mets this year.  Tanner Roark ties a career high with his 15th win of the year…striking out 7 over 7 scoreless innings.  Max Scherzer wins his 17th while striking out 8 over 7 innings of work.

Last Week’s Humbled- Gio Gonzalez lost for the first time since July…but for the second time in three starts the lefthander failed to reach the sixth inning.  Bryce Harper walked 7 times but went 1 for 17 at the plate.  Ryan Zimmerman (.211) is still searching for his swing while Danny Espinosa is hitting .120 in September.  Will the back end of the lineup be able to bounce back by October?

Game to Watch- Tuesday in Miami it’s matching 15-8’s.  Tanner Roark pitches against Jose Fernandez.  While this game won’t be for the division title, it’s the best mound matchup of the week.  And it falls on a non-football night.

Game to Miss- Sunday AJ Cole (1-2) squares off against Pittsburgh rookie Steven Brault (0-3).  Don’t be surprised if both bullpens get emptied as each manager maximizes his 40-man roster.

When Louisville replaced Maryland in the ACC, many chose to see the basketball bonus as Rick Pitino’s team was a force to be reckoned with in the suddenly splintering Big East.  Football was merely an afterthought.  No more.  Saturday saw the emergence of a new bully on the ACC football block…as the 10th ranked Cardinals crushed #2 Florida State 63-20.  To be truthful, it wasn’t even that close.  All of a sudden the Seminoles and Clemson have company in the Atlantic Division.  Meanwhile, the North Carolinas and Virginia Techs are thanking their lucky stars for being in the Coastal Division.  The blowout also saw the proper introduction of Lamar Jackson, now to be known for the next two months by his full name: “Heisman Trophy Candidate Lamar Jackson”.  The sophomore turned the Seminoles inside out all afternoon…rushing for four touchdowns while adding a score through the air.  It’s one thing to shine against Charlotte and Syracuse, but against FSU?  It’s a good thing Bobby Bowden is long gone from the sidelines, because fans and alums would chime in about how the game is passing him by. 

Alma Mater Update- Oh my. Talk about a bad batch of wings with spoiled bleu cheese.  A classic come-from-ahead 45-20 blowout loss to South Florida.  NOT Florida, Florida State or even Miami of Florida.  South Florida.  Despite outgaining the Bulls the Orange turn the ball over three times and waste a 17-0 first half quarter lead.  Ten penalties is enough to stifle even a good team…let alone one that’s rebuilding.  Eric Dungey continues to put up good numbers (350 yards passing) and sophomore runningback Dontae Strickland had a breakout game (127 yards rushing)…but the process is not a pretty one right now.  When exactly does college basketball start up?

Maryland (3-0) needed double-overtime to dispose of UCF, 30-24.  The Terps conclude non-conference play unbeaten but enter their bye week with questions surrounding quarterback Perry Hills’ shoulder.  Terrapin Triumphs- true freshman Tyrrell Pigrome came off the bench in double-overtime to score the game-winning touchdown.  Lorenzo Harrison tallied 77 yards on 15 carries to pace a ground game that hit the 200 yard mark for the third straight week.  Jermaine Carter Jr. anchored the defense with 11 tackles, a forced fumble and a sack.  Still no giveaways for the Terps offense after leading the nation last year.  Terrapin Troubles- the passing game was less than productive as Perry Hills completed under 50% of his passes while getting sacked 5 times.  The offense converted just 5 of 17 third downs.  Defensively they had problems containing UCF wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith (8 catches, 114 yards and a touchdown).  How will they fare against Big Ten passing attacks?  Next: October 1st vs Purdue.

Virginia (0-3) snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, wasting a seven-point halftime lead in a 13-10 loss at UConn.  The Huskies are making their case as the cardiac kids of 2016 with all three of their one-possession affairs being decided in the final minute of play.  Cavalier Congrats- the defense had their best effort of the season, notching four sacks plus an interception and a fumble recovery while holding the Huskies to 3-13 on third down.  The firm of Kiser & Blanding (11 tackles apiece) set the tone again (Micah Kiser adding 1.5 sacks to the mix).  Albert Reid notched 73 yards rushing while scoring the team’s lone touchdown.  Cavalier Concerns- armed with a 7-point halftime lead, UVa gained just 35 yards on their first four possessions of the second half.  Ten penalties for 91 yards.  And the final play of the game had a Keystone Cops/Benny Hill theme to it as the Cavs rushed a field goal attempt that Alex Furbank missed from 20 yards out. Next:  Saturday vs 3-0 Central Michigan, 12:30 p.m.

Virginia Tech (2-1) opened ACC play with a 49-0 rout of Boston College.  While one had an idea the Eagles might not be that good this fall, coach Justin Fuente’s team made a major statement about how good they might be.  Hokie Highlights- Jerod Evans was on fire, completing 16 of 23 passes for 253 yards and 5 touchdowns (2 to Isaiah Ford).  Five touchdowns in five visits to the red zone.  The defense dominated- holding the Eagles to 1.6 yards per carry and 31% passing.  BC had the ball 15 times-and the VT defense notched 10 three and outs…while on two of the possessions the Eagles did record a first down they would later turn the ball over.  Hokie Humblings- tough to find anything wrong in a 49-point rout… unless you’re hyper-focused on punting.  Just 36.7 yards per kick…even though Michael Ludwig landed 4 of his 6 kicks inside the 20 and had no touchbacks.  Can I take that one back?  Next:- Saturday vs 2-1 East Carolna (the Pirates a recent non-conference nemesis of the Hokies), 12:30 p.m.

Navy (3-0) stays unbeaten with another close contest-this time a 21-14 win at Tulane.  While one likes the Mids’ ability to win the close games, one-possession affairs against the likes of the Green Wave and UConn the week before do not give one a ton of confidence for upcoming matchups against the likes of Houston and Notre Dame.  Midshipmen Medals- Will Worth runs for 111 yards and the game-winning touchdown.  Jamir Tillman does his best to keep defenses honest with 3 catches for 47 yards.  The Mids own third down again- converting 9 of 14 chances while holding the Green Wave to 2-12.  Midshipmen Miscues- 5 of 12 passing is less than ideal…and two fumbles will definitely get coach Ken Niumatalolo’s attention during their bye week.  Next: October 1st at 2-0 Air Force.