Tom Sorensen

Tom Talks: Week 1 NFL picks, anthem protests and college football’s mixed-bag opening

When did you suspect the Philadelphia Eagles, with owner Jeffrey Lurie, right, and head coach Doug Pederson, were headed for a  Super Bowl championship? For some, it wasn’t until the playoffs began, or later.
When did you suspect the Philadelphia Eagles, with owner Jeffrey Lurie, right, and head coach Doug Pederson, were headed for a Super Bowl championship? For some, it wasn’t until the playoffs began, or later. AP

Go to Google, tap Week 1 NFL picks and you’ll be overwhelmed.

Touts and sharpies, celebrities and astrophysicists, calm bookies, pseudo bookies and former players in wide-striped suits offer what are tantamount to Week 1 guarantees.

I guarantee nothing. I do offer a Lock of the Week.

The difference between picks now and picks even three years ago are analytics. No longer are picks about instincts, research and probability. They are about systems, machines and, in the case of one group, multiple graduates of Stanford.

Do not underestimate graduates of Stanford. If you’ve been to Palo Alto, you know.

The one trait most pick-makers share: They’ll tell you everything but how they did last season.

A guy I know from the old days came up to me at Starbucks a week ago Thursday and talked about using my picks for a website he’s considering.

I like the guy. I was flattered. I’ve had really good seasons and some not so good seasons, too. The trick is to figure it out early.

You know that the power structure has changed since Feb. 4, when the Philadelphia Eagles beat New England 41-33. But who improved and who regressed?

AFC South Preview Football.JPG
If anyone, including Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4), tells you they know for certain who’s going to win an NFL game, tell them they need to have their head examined. Colin E. Braley AP

Teams have images and brands. If you can escape reputations and identify not what was but what is, you can be golden. And if on this date a year ago you saw the Eagles winning Super Bowl LII, I salute you. I had no idea.

I had no idea when the playoffs began.

The Eagles embodied everything good about the NFL. They were confident enough to take chances and, man, did they succeed.

I’d love to say I disdain analytics and the machinery behind it. But to assist me with my predictions, I utilize four laptops, a nine-year-old Audi convertible and a microwave.

The laptops are for numbers, the car is for escape and the microwave is to warm up the latte.

Good luck this season.

When Mitch Kupchak was hired as Charlotte Hornets’ general manager five months ago, he said that, in evaluating a player, he’ll go with” instincts over analytics.” That doesn’t mean he disdains analytics. He probably has a microwave, too. Although numbers will help guide him, he’ll make the call.

I will, too.

I don’t look for upsets or loud results that will attract attention, and I don’t try to appease fans of the Carolina Panthers.

I pick the team I think will win, and then check the line.

I use Bovada’s ( Tuesday line.

This week’s picks, with the home team in CAPS:


Atlanta 3 over PHILADELPHIA


BALTIMORE 8 over Buffalo

Jacksonville 3 over NEW YORK GIANTS

NEW ORLEANS 11 over Tampa Bay

NEW ENGLAND 7 over Houston

MINNESOTA 8 over San Francisco

Tennessee 2 over MIAMI

INDIANAPOLIS 3 over Cincinnati

Pittsburgh 5 over CLEVELAND


Seattle 1 over DENVER

CAROLINA 4 over Dallas

ARIZONA 2 over Washington

GREEN BAY 9 over Chicago




Los Angeles Rams (minus-5) 9 over OAKLAND.

Here’s who should take a knee in anthem protest spat

Taking a knee during the national anthem is the most misunderstood act in U.S. sports.

Look at the two athletes at the forefront of the movement — former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and former San Francisco safety Eric Reid.

As a cursory glace at NFL rosters attests, Kaepernick should at least be playing for a team and Reid should be starting for one. That they don’t is a testament to blatant collusion by NFL owners.

Kaepernick Nike (1).JPG
This image taken from the Twitter account of the former NFL player Colin Kaepernick shows a Nike advertisement featuring him that was posted Monday. Kaepernick has a multi-year deal to make him one of the faces of Nike’s 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign, according to a person familiar with the contract , but not an NFL deal. AP

Kaepernick is suing the NFL for collusion. The NFL tried to get the suit dismissed. A judge dismissed the league’s attempt to dismiss it.

The NFL has botched the take-a-knee protest movement as badly as it once did concussions and CTE. Leadership is required and leadership is absent.

Be interesting to see if and how NIKE’s deal with Kaepernick impacts the league. NIKE, of course, has long supplied the NFL with uniforms and other gear, and the contract runs for another decade. NIKE has signed Kaepernick to a multi-million dollar apparel deal.

Almost immediately there are stories of people burning their NIKE gear and boycotting the company.

Boycott away. But instead of burning your NIKE stuff, why not donate it to people that could use any clothing, with or without a swoosh?

NIKE already works with LeBron James and Serena Williams, high profile socially conscious black athletes with something to say. The Kaepernick deal is in the same vein, although riskier. James and Williams play. Kaepernick does not.

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The idea that if you stand for the anthem you’re a patriot and if you don’t you’re anti military and anti police is pretend. Athletes take a knee to quietly and non-violently call attention to social injustices, among them the treatment of blacks by police.

The issue has been hijacked. If all you have to do is stand and salute to be a patriot anybody could be.

The anger and indignation will pass. The furor will fade. NIKE will take a temporary financial hit. Older consumers might stray. But younger consumers likely will stay, and the market will expand.

Some fans have boycotted the NFL boycott because of its on and off anthem non-policies. The boycott has had a minor effect. The major reason the league’s growth ceased is because it couldn’t be sustained.

The NFL’s wild popularity couldn’t continue to grow the way it had. The boycott of Kaepernick and Reid, however, will hurt. It will hurt the NFL.

Lawyers can’t save the league from this fiasco. A new commissioner might.

Good, bad, very bad of college football’s opening weekend

Appalachian State and running back Jalin Moore put a scare in Penn State and thrilled football fans in the Carolinas. Saturday, the Mountaineers play in Charlotte against the 49ers. Abby Drey TNS

N.C. college football teams had a compelling opening week. Lost among the upsets and near upsets was the Charlotte 49ers’ impressive 34-10 victory against Fordham at Richardson Stadium.

The 49ers won one football game last season, which is about what they won in basketball. I thought Charlotte football coach Brad Lambert did a fine job starting and developing the five-year-old program. They had no chance to win as quickly as they jumped in competition, as if kids suddenly were required to play with adults.

But even in that context, last season was a disaster, and I advocated that Lambert be replaced. I like Lambert personally, so I’m willing to be wrong. The 49ers attracted 9,240 fans last week. So opening day was impressive for fans and players.

On Saturday, the 49ers host Appalachian State. You have to work to find a Charlotte bar that does not feature at least one Mountaineer.

Last week Appalachian State had to go to State College, Pa., and Penn State had to go to overtime to win 45-38. Appalachian State could have had the victory, coming so close to ruining the season for most of the 105,232 fans.

Man, can Appalachian State’s Scott Satterfield coach. He’s 45. Who in N.C. does it better? It’s been suggested that he’d be good for East Carolina. I use to love going to games at East Carolina’s Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. But if Satterfield goes to Greenville, it’s because whomever he coaches next plays there.

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East Carolina is not a promotion. The Pirates bottomed out last week in a 28-23 home loss to N.C. A&T. They have become perpetual underachievers.

The Aggies gave up so many yards it was as if the Pirates collected them. But when the Aggies had to be good, when they had to make a play on offense or defense, they did.

The Aggies play with poise, a credit to coach Sam Washington. They this week host Gardner-Webb.

Speaking of underachieving, North Carolina plays at East Carolina Saturday. The Tar Heels have talent, and their offense can be a thing of beauty. And then the game starts. When the game begins, the Tar Heels contract.

Heck of an opening week for so many state schools. Duke and Wake Forest are still undefeated. So is N.C. State. You want a good Week 2 game, head to Columbia, where South Carolina plays Georgia.

I wrote in the fourth paragraph that you have to work to find a Charlotte bar that does not have at least one Mountaineer. On Friday, the number quadruples, much like the face value of a Carolina Panthers-Dallas Cowboys ticket.

An Appalachian State fan asked last week where the Mountaineers will gather Friday night. If you have suggestions, let me know and I’ll let him know. Thanks.

Carolina Panthers have a player who’s about to become a name

All summer, Carolina’s offensive linemen have tended to leave the field on crutches or a cart. This is one reason that on Sunday, the Taylor Moton era begins.

Carolina Panthers tackle Taylor Moton has a chance to make a name for himself this NFL season, as much for his talent as for his opportunity. Jeff Siner

Moton was a name. Against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday, he’ll start at left tackle. That makes him one of the names.

An offensive tackle out of Western Michigan, Moton was Carolina’s second-round pick in the 2017 draft.

You want to know what stands out about Moton? Stand next to the man. He’s 6-5, 325 pounds. That’s blot out the sun big.

Despite those pounds, he’s not fat. If you were a defensive lineman, and he was the guy who was going to attempt to block you, you’d say, “Hey, I’m good. I think I’ll drop back into coverage. You have any receivers who don’t run a 4.3? Where’s Greg Olsen? I think I’ll chase him, or maybe just stay here.”

To leave the practice field in Spartanburg, there’s a hill that leads up off it. The hotter the day, the steeper it gets, and after a few hours in the sun some of the big men struggle to make it. Moton is not one of them.

As wracked by injury as the offensive line is, Moton has a tremendous opportunity. Once you climb that hill, you stay.

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Despite Moton and the other reinforcements, the Panthers will miss starting left tackle Matt Kalil. He hurt his right knee, and the team stuck him on injured reserve.

The earliest he can return is the Nov. 18 Sunday night game in Pittsburgh.

Fans won’t miss him. The main reason for the contempt is his $55.5 million contract, which he didn’t offer himself.

Is Kalil a star? Not at all, but he wasn’t a star when the Panthers signed him before the 2017 season.

The Minnesota Vikings took him with the fourth pick in the first round of the 2012 draft. Kalil started quickly, stellar right away. But he could sustain neither the quick start nor his health. When his right knee is good, perhaps he will be.

Short takes: A game with appeal, a sport with none and more

Every NFL preseason seems longer than the previous preseason. On Thursday, the longest preseason in the history of the world finally will end. The season will begin with the game that has the most appeal of Week 1 – the Atlanta Falcons at the Philadelphia Eagles. Bring it…

NASCAR struggles. We’ve known that for years, and maybe a decade. When attendance began to fall, proponents cited the high price of gas. TV ratings fell, too. How much gas is required to walk to your remote and turn on the TV?

The brief prominence that NASCAR enjoyed was like inflation. It was new to the masses, full of clean-cut drivers that didn’t belong to unions, rarely addressed potentially polarizing political issues and never took a knee. But the sport could neither hang onto the new fans nor win back the old fans that felt abandoned.

NASCAR has been good to greater Charlotte, as the race teams north of town attest. But the economic model on which the sport is based is failing. Proof is Furniture Row racing, a really cool independent that features Martin Truex Jr., one of the sport’s great drivers and good people. When the 2018 season ends, so does Furniture Row.

When 5-Hour Energy turned its back on Martin Truex Jr., it was a sign that NASCAR has to change. But can the sport find a new business model that works? Paul Sancya AP

NASCAR is outrageously expensive, and has a schedule so cumbersome and long that team members should be paid overtime. A new business model is required. How about: Tighten up. Reduce the schedule and enhance the drama. Realize and remember who the fans are. As simplistic is the theory is, NASCAR has yet to produce a better one. …

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I have a birthday coming up. I don’t look forward to it. I like even numbers, and I like the number I am. I earned it. But Robert Plant, the greatest rock vocalist of all time, and a great vocalist regardless of where you want to put him, turned 70 two weeks ago. Seventy suddenly is cool. I’m neither 70 nor cool. But there’s hope. There’s lots of hope. As long as I can make it up the hill after watching the Carolina Panthers practice in the grueling late summer Spartanburg heat, I’m all right. …

Rafael Nadal’s four-hour five-set victory against Dominc Thiem early Wednesday morning was brilliant. This is the reason people turn on their televisions late at night, and can’t turn them off. When the U.S. Open match ended at 2:30 a.m., the classy Nadal leapt over the net and warmly embraced Thiem. A classy end to a stunning exhibition of tennis. …

I covered the tournament once, and the first thing I heard when I walked in was a guy yelling, “Yo Chrissie!” at Chris Evert. Wimbledon this was not.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen