How did they not know?

Steve Brownlee

I was thinking a bit more about the University of Michigan sign-stealing situation, but I didn’t want to harp on the subject every week in this NFL picks column.

Thought I’d take it on one more time today, though, then let it go for all the bigwigs in media to handle it after this. I’m sure — very sure — they know a lot more about it than I do.

What I’m really questioning is all the higher-ups in the Wolverines program denying any knowledge of the scheme before it was revealed.

If this had been a different kind of situation, say athletes taking performance-enhancing drugs from someone outside the program, it would be easy to see how Jim Harbaugh and Co. might not know about it.

But with this encrypting of signs, what good would it do anybody if it wasn’t provided to the coaches? Could there be a rogue student sitting at the 50-yard line during home and away games flashing signals — like with a mirror using Morse code — to quarterback J.J. McCarthy?

That seems pretty impossible. especially without electronic equipment in players’ helmets. So would Connor Stalions — the one who was organizing others to go to U-M opponents’ games and record their signs — hand Harbaugh or the offensive coordinator a sheet on the sideline during the game against, say, Ohio State’s signs outlined in quite lurid detail?

“Where’d you get this, young man?” Harbaugh might say when handed the sheet. “Aw, never mind, you must’ve just been watching their first series (or the first quarter). You’re pretty good at that, we’ll have to get you a better position with our team.”

Sorry, even that seems pretty fanciful. Harbaugh or whoever else would want to know where those signs were coming from, if for no other reason than to make sure they could keep getting them on a consistent basis.

Since investigators seem to have plenty of evidence that Stalions provided funds and tickets for people to sit at other Big 10 team’s games and that they’re seen on crowd videos as filming with their phones from their seats during the games, that ship has sailed.

To me, U of M’s best defense is that is was just doing what every other major team was doing, maybe to more of a degree that most others.

It’ll have to be that the NCAA’s rules were antiquated, kind of like old recruiting and player income rules that suddenly went out the door when they made just about everything legal with one snap of somebody’s fingers, prompted by federal lawmakers’ threats to keep the NCAA from enforcing those rules anymore.

OK, I’ll step down from my soapbox and offer up some NFL predictions. By the way, this is the second-to-last of byes, six teams getting them this week and two more next week:


Today, 8:15 p.m.

Seattle at Dallas — Everybody’s talking this up as a trap game as Dallas hosts Philadelphia next week with the possibility of the Cowboys moving into a tie atop the NFC East at that point if things work out for them. Fine, but it should be easy even for Dallas coach Mike McCarthy to point out if their team doesn’t win this one, that tie will never happen. If this game was in Seattle, maybe, but at home I’ll take the Cowboys, 33-29.


Sunday, 1 p.m.

Los Angeles Chargers at New England — The Chargers are a fine grouping of individual players, I’m told — apparently they have three defensive players each making $19 million this season, not to mention Justin Herbert at QB. It’s just they can’t get out of their own way. But with so much talent, this 4-7 team shouldn’t end up at 4-13; instead, a 6-11 or 7-10 mark might be enough to get their head coach Brandon Staley fired. Here’s one of their wins down the stretch. Chargers, 28-25.


Detroit at New Orleans — I’m trying to resist the ol’ “same ol’ Lions” mantra after their Thanksgiving debacle against the Packers. Here’s thinking I’ll trust Lions’ QB Jared Goff not throwing the ball directly to the defense more than I’ll trust the Saints’ Derek Carr not to do the same. You also have to think the extra three days rest helps Detroit. Taking a deep breath, I’ll take the Lions, 37-33.


Atlanta at New York Jets — As things are going down the tubes for the Jets at 4-7, it must be a bright, sunny day in Atlanta as the Falcons are a wonderful 5-6. Wonderful? Yes, that record is good enough to sit atop the NFC South, joining New Orleans with that record. Feeling that New Yorkers are “hangry” (get a Snickers bar!) and that Robert Saleh & Co. need wins to save their jobs, I’ll take the Jets, 24-17.


Arizona at Pittsburgh — Egad, the Steelers with a new offensive coordinator just this past week outgained a team for the first time this season, even as Pittsburgh now has a 7-4 record. Not the right time for the Cardinals. Steelers, 27-16.


Indianapolis at Tennessee — How bad is Tennesse, a team I never hear anything about? They beat Carolina last weekend 17-10. Afterward, the Panthers fired their coaching staff and are No. 2 in worst point differential in the league (only the idle Giants are worse). As not one of the worst teams in the league, I’ll take the Colts, 27-19.


Miami at Washington — In my research on Carolina, I see the Commanders are challenging for worst point differential in the league at minus-104. By itself, it means nothing, but what it does indicate is that Washington is out of a lot of games, especially with its not-so-terrible 4-8 record. The Commanders had to “overcome” outscoring its opponents in four games (the wins) by what I see is a total of 17 points, so that means they’ve been outscored by 121 points in their eight losses. And Miami is the kind of team that can deliver a beatdown, just ask Denver after the 70-20 debacle early this season. Dolphins, 47-23.


Denver at Houston — Who’da thunk it? The Texans to start the season and Denver five or six games in were probably thought of as the two worst teams in the AFC, hands down. Now they’re both fighting for playoff positions, tied for the third wild-card spot, each at 6-5. I’m hearing that the Broncos are dead last in the NFL in defensive yardage but are great with creating turnovers. But Houston’s C.J. Stroud has been good at protecting the ball, so I’ll take the Texans, 34-28.


Sunday, 4 p.m.

Carolina at Tampa Bay — You wonder about the one-week bounce a team gets from replacing its coach — the Raiders had two pretty good weeks after Josh McDaniels was canned — but the Panthers will look refreshingly good if they’re just simply competitive. I’ll buy it in a close one, Buccaneers, 24-20.


Cleveland at Los Angeles Rams — I’m thinking about the reports of chickens with their heads cut off at the farm — they keep running around with no idea where they’re going. That’s what the excellent Browns’ defense would seem to be with their offense likely working with third-string QB P.J. Walker. Give me a Matthew Stafford-led Rams, 20-16.


San Francisco at Philadelphia — This one could even put the Eagles-Chiefs or Eagles-Bills games of the past two weeks to shame. Quite a gauntlet for Philly, and I think the 49ers have more to prove after having no QB and losing to Philly in the NFC championship game last season. San Fran also had an extra three days rest, playing on Thanksgiving. 49ers, 29-26.


Sunday, 8:20 p.m.

Kansas City at Green Bay — Don’t know if you remember my “reverse momentum” theory of picking a team coming off a loss rather than a team coming off a win. Though both are coming off victories in this matchup, the Packers had to breathe a bigger sigh after winning at Detroit on T-Day. And it’s got to be scary seeing KC finally figuring some things out with its offense. Chiefs, 32-26.


Monday, 8:15 p.m.

Cincinnati at Jacksonville — I’ve seen nothing that shows Cincy QB Jake Browning can win against a decent team after Joe Burrow was knocked out for the season a couple weeks ago, and Jacksonville is usually more than decent. Jaguars, 29-20.


Last week — 11-5, 69 percent. Season — 113-67, 63 percent.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 552. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.


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