Posted on: February 23, 2012 10:42 pm

Coast to Coast: 1st Half Thoughts

Primetime Thoughts 

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The first half of the NBA season which almost never happened was a roller coaster with ups and downs across the board.  From Linsanity to sub-70 point outings with plenty in between, the lockout-shortened season has been eventful to say the least.

Lockout Basketball Rearing Its Ugly Head-While a condensed 66-game season is better than no season, it certainly comes with its duds.  It’s grueling enough for teams to play back-to-backs or 4 games in 5 nights, but how about a back-to-back-to-back stretch or 6 games in 8 days?  The likely result?

Really. Bad. Basketball.

The most glaring example?  The Orlando Magic had a stretch from January 23-January 30   in which they played six games, losing five of them.  In three of those losses, they scored below 70 points, including an impressive 56 against the Boston Celtics January 23.

Dwight-A-Palooza-Speaking of the Magic, we have an unusual development, you know, the one where the star player has trade rumors following them around like flies in a dumpster, and instead of diffusing the media frenzy that results from this, the player does everything but.

You know, the development that’s becoming a troubling trend in the league.

Dwight Howard is the latest superstar to “reportedly” want out of his longtime basketball home in hopes of landing a better championship support group.  Despite recent claims in which he professes his love for Orlando and desire to bring a championship to Orlando, he has kept his options open and left the extension offered to him on the table.  The one that would keep him in Orlando and put an end to the daily discussion of where Howard will play next.

Despite the distraction, Orlando is sitting third in the east, with the fifth-best record in the NBA.  Note to Howard: you want to have a say in player personnel and management to put a better support group around you, but there’s one problem with that:

No one will bother looking at Orlando while you continue to waffle.

Why would anyone take a look at your team when you have not made any indication as to whether you will stay or go?

They wouldn’t.

Early Favorites Riding High-Two popular favorites, my NBA finals prediction, Chicago and Oklahoma City, have stormed off to the top records in their conferences.  As expected, both teams have taken advantage of the rest of their league thanks to youth and familiarity (again, lockout left teams with high turnover little time to mesh with one another).  Derrick Rose has continued where he left off last season while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook  have become an even more formidable 1-2 punch.

Heat Index Remains High-Last season’s most popular headline has taken a backseat of late to New York’s finest Air Dumplin, the Miami Heat have come out with a vengeance, having won 16 of their last 18 games, the last 8 by 12 points or more.  LeBron James, whether by his own doing or simply not as appealing by the media (although he recently didn’t rule out a return to Cleveland), has avoided scrutiny for the most part.  Maybe it’s because LeBron doesn’t have anything to prove until playoff time, because James is currently performing at a historic rate according to his player efficiently rating.  Questions remain regarding depth and interior presence, but Miami looks poised to make a deep playoff run.

New York KnickerLins-A record of 17-18 at the break is nothing to be too excited about, but Jeremy Lin’s arrival has turned around a once-feared lost season.  Prior to the linplosion, New York was sitting at 8-15 and critics swarming around Carmelo Anthony’s field goal attempts.  Anthony went down with injury, Head Coach Mike D’Antoni figured he had nothing else to resort to.  That dark cloud you see looming around the Knicks in the distance, that’s Isiah Thomas, and Knick fans get chills at the mere thought of him.  So D’Antoni throws in Lin, the undrafted player out of Harvard just looking for playing time and the rest is history.  Nearly three weeks later, Lin has become a phenomena.  It’s a true underdog story that Knick fans are willing to cling to, but expectations should be held in check.  Lin has played out of his mind, a rate which even the elite would be hard-pressed to produce consistently.  Lin has solidified himself as a player worthy of a NBA roster with his overall skill-set.  What has impressed many is his pure point guard play and ability to consistently make the smart play, getting others involved.  That being said, Lin needs to sustain this level of play or at least something close in order to be a viable starting point guard for years to come instead of being a quality backup for 20 minutes a game.  The turnovers also need to be fixed, as good as Lin has been setting up teammates, he has averaged almost 7 turnovers a game. 

Posted on: January 29, 2012 10:07 pm

Peyton’s Health in Question, But Keeping a Health

Primetime Thoughts

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            Days away from Super Bowl XLVI, reports continue to swirl about Peyton Manning’s future with the Indianapolis Colts.  While brother Eli prepares to potentially surpass Peyton with a second Super Bowl win in Lucas Oil Stadium, the house that Peyton built, discussions remain prevalent regarding the uncertainty surrounding the future Hall of Fame quarterback.  While Manning’s health is still up in the air, the public has been lead to believe that Manning will not be returning to Indianapolis.  Colts Owner Jim Irsay has done his best to downplay this notion, tweeting on Friday, "No he hasn't been released nor was a decision reached weeks ago."

            After finishing a league-worst 2-14, Indianapolis will have the first pick in the NFL draft this April.  The Colts are expected to select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.  For months, it has been concluded that the Colts couldn’t draft Luck and keep Manning.  Considered to be the best prospect since John Elway, Luck is thought to be ready for the NFL, needing no time to learn from the sidelines.  Generally, the path should be cleared when a franchise player is on the way. 

            Peyton Manning is an exception to that rule.

            If Manning’s neck doesn’t heal and doctors don’t clear him for football activities, then there is no discussion; Manning retires and goes to Canton, Ohio five years from now.  If, and it’s a big if, Manning is healthy enough to resume playing, Indianapolis should not hesitate to have Luck sit and learn behind one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.  Forget that Manning has been the face of the Colts franchise since 1998; loyalty in sports is a thing of the past.  Manning, 35, has always kept himself in pristine shape while keeping the hits from defenders to a minimum over the years.  If Manning is able to return to the field, that immediately makes the Colts a Super Bowl contender next season.  That speaks volumes about Manning’s abilities when you consider how dreadful Indianapolis was without him. 

            Luck looks to be a solid quarterback in the NFL.  That being said, there’s no guarantee of success; just look at any list of all-time busts of past first round draft picks.  Luck may be able to grow on the fly like Cam Newton or Andy Dalton.  Or they may take their lumps and struggle during their first few seasons.  Either way, there is uncertainty.  Manning, when healthy, is one of, if not the best quarterback in the league.  The PR nightmare would be tough enough if Manning is healthy and then plays elsewhere next season.  If Manning were to lead that team to a Super Bowl, Irsay would never live that down. 

            Irsay will do his best to win over the public opinion, but Manning can’t lose this battle.  “I don’t want to get into some kind of fan campaign with the owner, but I think it’s well documented that I want to play in the same place my whole career,” Manning said. “It’s been a privilege to play here. I love the fans, the city.”  Manning will be an icon in Indianapolis till the end of time.  Understandably so, Irsay and the Colts are reluctant to pay Manning his 28 million dollar bonus March 8 due to health concerns. 

Manning’s health remains in question, leaving the Colts unsure.  It seems like a no-brainer that if Manning is healthy, the Colts would be foolish to let him go elsewhere.  However, it looks as if the two are headed for a split.  While Manning will have plenty of suitors looking for the final piece to their Super Bowl puzzle, the Colts will simply hope for a little bit of luck.   

Posted on: January 16, 2012 5:37 am
Edited on: January 16, 2012 1:25 pm

Eli No Longer Simply Peyton’s Brother

Primetime Thoughts

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I could be one of the gazillion websites and networks to draw comparisons of this Giants team to the one that won the Super Bowl in 2008.  I will spare you all from what you’ve already heard countless times: New York won in Green Bay on its way to the Super Bowl, New York faced the same team in the postseason that had provided late-season momentum albeit in losing fashion, which happened to be the top team in the league both times, etc. 

I’m here to tell you it’s time to give credit where credit is due, and Eli Manning is long overdue. 

For a player that A) has a Super Bowl win and B) needed to lead the offense down the field in the final minute to win that Super Bowl, Eli has taken too many undeserving jabs.  Whether its because he shares Peyton’s last name or his goofy demeanor is not one which lines up nicely with the swagger New York sports tends to call for, Eli’s play is often overshadowed because he isn’t as smooth as big brother or his awe-shucks persona isn’t as charming as Tim Tebow’s. 

The sports world collectively scratched their heads when Eli said he belonged in the same class as guys like Tom Brady on a radio interview.  Not only is it ridiculous for anyone to expect him to lack self-confidence, but any doubts about Eli’s place in the quarterback ranks can’t be questioned.  As of this post, only 5 of 32 starting quarterbacks this season have won a Super Bowl (Peyton Manning excluded), and only Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady have more rings than Eli. 

When you consider the circumstances, it makes this season’s career year all the more impressive.  Manning plays in a system which has been all but forgotten in today’s league, one that heavily emphasizes the run.  Only when the run has failed, which it has more than New York would like, does Eli take the reins and work his magic.  Manning has shown a propensity to deliver in two-minute drills and the no-huddle offense.  However, where Brady and Drew Brees have the ability to call all the shots, Manning is initially saddled with a ball-control offense. 

Also take into account that Manning had lost key receivers in tight end Kevin Boss and Wide Receiver Steve Smith.  Those two were replaced with Jake Ballard and Victor Cruz.  Both have paid off, but with the lockout shortening training camp, Manning had little time to develop a rapport with these two new guys.  Manning went on to throw for a career-high 4.933 yards. 

What adjustment period?

Manning broke the single-season record for fourth-quarter touchdown passes with 15, a record previously held by brother Peyton.

Manning never becomes an emotional roller coaster like we’ve seen with many quarterbacks.  No matter the situation, Manning keeps his composure during extreme highs and lows.  Critics will point to this as a lack of passion, intensity, whichever word tickles your fancy.  While you were thinking of the most fitting word, Manning just led another fourth quarter comeback, a recurring trend as Manning has 6 to his name this season alone.

Aaron Rodgers, America’s Sweetheart nowadays, Tebow aside, was outshined by Manning Sunday afternoon.  Rodgers may be more loved nationwide with his discount double check and all, but Manning won’t mind having to pass on commercial shoots.  He’s still got practice for a big game or two if I’m not mistaken.

Remember Tiki Barber questioned Eli Manning’s leadership skills the summer before the Super Bowl win over New England?  He ate quite a bit of crow for that whole ordeal, among other things.  Barber had his humble pie and it’s now the sports fan’s turn to have a slice.  Manning gets lost in the shuffle, either by the GQ model who shares a stadium with Eli, who in his third season, has done little, if not regress as a quarterback, Peyton’s ongoing saga in Indianapolis, that Brady’s so hot right now, or Tebow Time.  Manning continues to go out and produce results like the rest of the elite quarterback pack, whether the praise is there or not.  The way things are looking right now, Peyton might just be looking up to Eli in the ring department if Eli can lead the Giants to two more wins. 

Peyton supporters, rest assured if Eli does win a second Super Bowl and surpass Peyton.  He will never catch Peyton in the commercials department, which is all that really matters in this media-frenzy society we now live in, right?

Maybe so, but Eli won’t mind.  He stepped up to the plate in August and said he belongs in the big boy discussion, doing just that in supporting his cause.  Like they say, you can’t spell elite without Eli.

Posted on: January 7, 2012 4:38 pm

In The Trenches: NFL Playoffs Preview

Primetime Thoughts

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The Second Season..

Green Bay Packers-
It was a storybook season for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, the loss to Kansas City aside, as Rodgers set a team-record with 45 touchdown passses.  Green Bay lit teams up on a weekly basis, scoring 33 points or more in 11 games.  At 15-1, the Packers clinched the top record in the league and home-field advantage.

Why They Win-Green Bay went an entire calendar year without losing a game, that’s serious business.  Rodgers’ aeriaul assault is an impressive one, one that only Drew Brees could truly keep up with.  Points come in bunches with this team and anyone would be hard-pressed to keep up.  Even with a quality defense, if you can hold this team to under 30 points, it would be a major victory. 

Why They Won’t-The defense has been a liability for most of the season.  Their excuse has been that they are an agressive unit, one that is able to take chances thanks to it’s high-powered offense.  There are playmakers in Clay Matthews, A.J. Hawk, and Charles Woodson, but too often they have allowed teams to come back in games which were seemingly out of reach.  Rodgers doesn’t have many off days, but a game like they had against the Chiefs would smell trouble if the defense is needed to save the day.

San Francisco 49ers-It was a renaissance season for the 49ers as rookie Head Coach Jim Harbaugh changed the culture in the locker room along with providing a stout defense and a steady offense to complement it.  The likely coach of the year led San Francisco to a 13-3 season and a bye week as the No. 2 seed.

Why They Win-Defense wins championships and this one is one of the better ones, if not the best defense in the playoffs.  Alex Smith has had a career year under Harbaugh.  Not one with the glitz and glamour ala Rodgers and Drew Brees, but completed over 60 percent of his passes and only 5 interceptions.  Smith also has a nice runnning game to work with in Frank Gore and two nice weapons in Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree.

Why They Won’t-The NFC is loaded with high-octane offenses, and the 49ers will likely have to face New Orleans and/or Green Bay to get to the Super Bowl.  The defense may be able to contain them slightly, but as mentioned earlier, holding either under 30 would be a great accomplishment.  That being said, the 49ers offense is not built to win shootouts, so falling behind early won’t bode well for Smith, who would have to step out of his element and go into a heavy passing mode.

New Orleans Saints-After a terrible loss to the then-winless St. Louis Rams, New Orleans reeled off 8 wins to end the season as Drew Brees had a season for the ages, surpassing Dan Marino’s passing yards record with 5,476.  Brees play the last 2 months puts him in what will be a tight race for MVP with Rodgers.  The Saints won the NFC South at 13-3.

Why They Win-The script is no different for the Saints than the Packers.  Their offense can score with the best of them and Brees rarely has an off game.

Why They Won’t-Again, much like the Packers, it will be interesting to see what the defense has to offer.  If they can simply contain opponents, they should have no problem rolling into the Super Bowl.  If they have a letdown circa Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Seahawks last season, they’ll be doomed.

New York Giants-It was a roller coaster season for the New York Giants.  A 6-2 start while sitting atop the NFC East was followed by a 4 game losing streak, which was then followed by an improbable come-from-behind win against Dallas Week 14 which saved their season, only to fall flat on their face against the Redskins the following week.  The Giants recovered, winning their last two, the final one against the Cowboys, to clinch the division at 9-7.

Why They Win-Momentum has proven to be significant heading into the postseason, often playing a bigger part then seeding in recent memory.  The Giants aren’t a Wild Card team that snuck in, but their backs were against the wall much like one for much of the second half.  Eli Manning is playing arguably his best football right now and has developed a nice rapport with Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, and rising star Victor Cruz.

Why They Won’t-Inconsistencies at defense and in the backfield can hold the Gmen back.  The defense has shown flashes at times, but has gotten lit up by teams like the Packers and Saints, understandably so.  With that, can Manning keep up with either of those two?  They couldn’t in the regular season.

Atlanta Falcons-My Super Bowl pick got off to a rocky start, but rounded into form during the second half on their way to an 11-5 record.  Julio Jones recovered and gave the Matt Ryan a nice toy on offense that he hasn’t had in the NFL. 

Why They Win-The Falcons have transformed into an offense that leans on the pass, but the running game is one of the more formidable ones in the playoffs with Michael Turner.  Head Coach Mike Smith makes the aggressive play, which has cost him in the past, but bold moves will also lead to bold rewards.

Why They Won’t-Their defense is middle of the pack and their offense doesn’t look to be able to compete with the Saints and Packers.  Ryan has elevated the passing game, but it still pales in comparison to the aforementioned ones.

Detroit Lions-A great season for the Lions which ended a long playoff drought was soured by a weak finish to the season.  The Lions finished 10-6, but lost the 5 seed after losing to the Packers sans Rodgers.  Matt Flynn may be a quality quarterback, but Detroit had everything to play for in locking up the 5 seed.  The 5 seed would face the Giants and 49ers assuming the Saints win, a far more desirable path than the Saints and Packers.  Flynn, a backup quarterback, couldn’t be stopped, good luck with Brees.

New England Patriots-
The defense left plenty to be desired, but Tom Brady was, well, Tom Brady, and would win MVP any other season if not for guys like Rodgers and Brees.  The Patriots snagged the top seed in a conference that was up for grabs until mid-December.

Why They Win-Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have done this before, having won 3 Super Bowls.  Experience is invaluable, which can compensate for a shoddy defense which will likely have to withstand at least one high-powered offense to win a 4th title.  Brady’s offense is no slouch, as he has Rob Gronkowski, arguably the most dynamic weapon in the game.  As far as we know Gronk is human, but it would surprise noone if we found out he was in fact, man-made.

Why They Won’t-The Patriots offense lacks a vertical threat for Brady to expand the field.  Chad Ochocinco never lived up to that role, leaving New England with an intermediate passing game.  The defense may be the worst Belichick has ever had in New England, which has been an issue all season.

Baltimore Ravens-Believed to be the most complete team in the AFC, Baltimore won the AFC North at 12-4.  The Ravens toyed with experts throughout the season, dashing positive momentum time after time with mind-boggling road losses to the Titans, Seahawks, Jaguars, and ChargersJoe Flacco was more of the same this year, consistently inconsistent, showing flashes of being a potential top-10 quarterback only to throw in games with completion percentages hovering around 40.  Ray Rice was ol’ reliable in the backfield, piling up 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Why They Win-The Ravens are the most complete team in the playoffs, a stiff defense anchored by seasoned veterans Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Ed Reed along with a run-heavy offense behind Flacco.  Rice can carry the load when given carries, controlling the clock and sitting on leads they build.  Although inconsistent, Flacco has shown signs of dominance under center, and can be counted on when playing ahead.

Why They Won’t-A road game is possible down the road, and as we’ve learned with Baltimore, anything goes once they leave home.  Rice at times has been inexplicably forgotten by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.  So it’s not safe to assume Rice will be heavily involved with Cameron calling plays. 

Houston Texans-The team’s best season in their short history took a turn for the worse as players dropped like flies throughout the season.  Matt Schaub was lost for the season in November from a foot injury, Mario Williams has been out since October, and Andre Johnson is returning, albeit in a limited role.  The defense has carried the team since while Arian Foster and Ben Tate have become the team’s main outlet on offense.  T.J. Yates and Jake Delhomme are Houston’s options under center, yikes.

Why They Win-It would oppose what the NFL has become, but it would be all about the defense and the ground game.  Houston boasted an elite defense all season and managed the clock game behind Foster and Tate.  Yates and/or Delhomme would be best suited when not being relied on for more than 15, 20 passes.

Why They Won’t-The defense has little room for error as the run-heavy approach with no quarterback leaves them unable to compete in shootouts.  If a team puts up 21 on the Texans, say goodnight.

Denver Broncos-The most unlikely playoff participant, the Denver Broncos will be hosting a playoff game as the Pittsburgh Steelers come to town.  Tim Tebow is the story here and one of the biggest this past NFL season.  His unconvential style of play at quarterback has been discussed enough to last us a lifetime by now.

Why They Win-Denver’s run to the playoffs ranks among the most improbable as Tebow led the Broncos to one unlikely win after another.  The storybook ending calls for a championship and for Tebow to put all the doubters in their place.  Now in all seriousness, Tebow cannot be relied on to take the Broncos far with his arm, so a heavy dose of the running game along with the defense contuining its solid play is a must.

Why They Won’t-The defense is not capable of shutting teams down entirely, especially elite offenses, and Tebow hasn’t shown that he’s capable of beating teams with his arm.  Until he can solidify the passing aspect to his game, the Broncos won’t go far.

Pittsburgh Steelers-It was a solid campaign for the Boston Celtics of the NFL, a team many deemed aging and on the decline.  Only head-to-head losses to Baltimore prevented the Steelers from winning the division as they finished tied at 12-4.  Pittsburgh comes into postseason play hit by the injury bug.

Why They Win-Experience is present here much like New England, where Ben Roethlisberger has won 2 Super Bowls and played in a third last season.  The defense is among the best remaining and is capable of shutting opponents down.  That leaves Big Ben to work his magic, albeit on a gimpy leg. 

Why They Won’t-Injuries coming at the worst time.  Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL and will miss the playoffs.  Isaac Redman will replace him and looks capable of matching Mendenhall’s production.  Roethlisberger is the biggest concern.  Since the high-ankle sprain against Cleveland, Roethlisberger has been limited to say the least.  It’s especially restrictive considering Big Ben works best while on the run and adjusting to the defense. 

Cincinnati Bengals-The Bengals came out on top in the battle for the final Wild Card spot over the Jets, Titans, and Raiders.  A rookie duo of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green highlighted the team’s unexpected success. 

Why They Win-This team isn’t going to win any shootouts, but they play a style of football much like their AFC North counterparts, strong defense and heavy doses of running.  Sprinkle in some production from Dalton who has proven to be clutch down the stretch in games and there’s potential for a Cinderella story.

Why They Won’t-Inexperience and a lack of firepower to compete with the elite will likely do them in.  They face a depleted Texans team which they may be able to take down, but I don’t like their prospects against the rest of the field.

Prediction-Baltimore over New Orleans
The Ravens are the most complete team in the field and put aside their road woes.  New Orleans gets past Green Bay as the Saints are on the upswing while the Packers have seemingly slowed down.  My original pick of the Falcons, don’t feel so good about them anymore.

Posted on: December 23, 2011 11:35 pm

Coast to Coast: NBA Season Preview

Primetime Thoughts

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It brings me great sadness to shift the discussion from BRI and mid-level exceptions to actual basketball, like the new kid on the block in Hollywood.

Move Over Lakers-An afterthought in Los Angeles and the butt of many jokes for years, the Clippers have been the league’s doormat as long as we can remember.  Blake Griffin made the Clippers exciting for a change and looks headed for eliteness.  Even with Griffin, the Clippers seemed headed for a steady climb up the Western Conference in the next few seasons.  Until Los Angeles partnered Griffin with Chris Paul, giving the Clippers what looks to be the best duo in the league.  The Lakers, the other Los Angeles team, actually had a deal in place for Paul, but David Stern nixed the deal citing “basketball reasons.”

After years of overshadowing the Clippers, the Lakers and Clippers look to be headed in opposite directions.  Kobe Bryant is dealing with a torn ligament in his wrist, let alone degenerating knees.  Bryant intends to play through the wrist injury, but time is not on his side and he’s got some mileage, entering his 17th season.  The Lakers also had a deal for Chris Paul which was reportedly finalized, only to be nixed by David Stern/New Orleans Hornets owner.  Los Angeles is still in the hunt for Dwight Howard, but Orlando may be trying everything in their power to retain their star.  Then there’s the Lamar Odom deal which only Isiah Thomas would be proud of, as Odom was dealt to the Dallas Mavericks for a draft pick.  Not only did they trade their most versatile player, a guy close to seven feet who can defend, rebound, and score all over the court, but they traded him to the defending champs, who also swept them out of the playoffs last May.  All of this while the Clippers put together a formidable duo for the rest of the decade, and the Clippers look like they will be stepping out of the Lakers shadow.  Where these two finish it remains to be seen.  The Lakers get the nod based on experience and chemistry which the Clippers don’t have as a newly-formed roster.  But it won’t be long until Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are pushing Tim Tebow for the lead on Sports Center.

Mavericks Defend Title-They won’t open the season as champions typically do, the lockout had something to do with that, but the Mavericks will unveil their first-ever championship banner with the Miami Heat in town.  Several players are gone – Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson and J.J. Barea in free agency, Tyson Chandler in a trade, Peja Stojakovic to retirement – but the Mavericks will be locked and loaded to defend their championship.  Unlike the Miami Heat, Dallas’ roster is arguably 9, 10 men deep.  Vince Carter was signed to fill the role of “aging veteran in search of a title”, also known as the guy on his last legs who can be counted on for15-20 minutes a night.  Dallas made out like bandits, poaching Odom from the Lakers.  What his role will be with the Mavericks is to be determined, but teams will have fits handling both Odom and Dirk Nowitzki when they are on the court together.  Rodrique Beaubois will take on a bigger role with the three guards gone.

Miami Heat, Year 2-Last season’s biggest draw, the nation was overcome with joy when the Dallas Mavericks took down the Miami Heat experiment in 6 games.  Afterwards, LeBron James made it clear that all the haters who took joy in his demise will have no choice but to go back to their ordinary lives.  It was the end of a PR nightmare for James and the Heat, who never shook the target off his back after ”The Decision.”  Whether it was due to the lockout or James smartening up, there hasn’t been any headscratching moments for James.  James has done several interviews, claiming that he played angry and it took over his game, changing the way he played.  While it seems logical, James will only silence the critics, Cavs fans aside – they get a free pass - with a championship.  Not just a championship, but one where James rises to the occasion, raising his level of play during crunch time.  It makes sense, as James was only giving back 3 quarters on the dollar, a rate noone would be happy with.  The Heat come into the season as one of the favorites to win the title, but my stance hasn’t change from last season, that Miami doesn’t have enough depth to win it all.  Shane Battier was a great acquisition, providing Miami with an outside shooter, solid perimeter defense and a veteran leader.  But the gaping hole at center leaves the paint area as a giant question mark, on both sides of the court.

Knicks D Up-Rumors swirled, linking the New York Knicks with Chris Paul.  Asides from Isiah Thomas’ perspective, this was an irrational conclusion for many reasons.  This dissertation for another time, but in short: the Knicks had no assets to offer the Hornets in a trade; it would have to be a 3-team deal, and who would rush to the Knicks aid in their pursuit of Paul?  Through free agency, the Knicks have already tied down Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony with max money, leaving little money left to sign Paul and surround the three with bodies, much less quality ones.  Before I move on, if you’re wondering, Thomas’ line of thinking I believe calls for Paul, Anthony, and Stoudemire to take the court by themselves and take teams on 3-on-5.

Paul went to the Clippers and the rest was history.  New York set their sights on Tyson Chandler, acquiring him via trade from the Dallas Mavericks.  The move gives the Knicks their first legitimate defensive presence in the paint since Patrick Ewing pre-degnerative knees (Yes, I’m leaving out Eddy Curry and Jared Jeffries, two of Thomas’ prized acquisitions during his tenure with New York).  Chandler teaming up with Stoudemire and Anthony makes one of the best, if not the best, frontline in the NBA.  Stoudemire and Anthony are not known for their defense, although I expect them both to step up their efforts on that side of the court, and Chandler will compensate for the slip-ups that last season’s Knick defense was prone to.  The backcourt is a little thin, but the Knicks were able to sign Baron Davis for this season at a great rate, $1.4 million.  Davis is recovering from a herniated disk and his effort has been questioned in the past.  That being said, if Davis can stay on the court, he could thrive in an offense with two super stars and an athletic center.  Depth remains a question mark, as it remains to be seen what the Knicks will do to fill out the roster.  New York’s talent alone puts them among the East’s top 4, but it will remain to be seen if the Knicks can go far in the playoffs with such little depth.

Will he Stay or Will he Go?-It’s safe to say we’ve become sick of these type of sagas.  The one where the star player publicly claims to be weighing all his options while inside sources know the team is aware the player will not resign in the offseason.  Howard is the latest example, and let’s hope he was the last.  One of the owner’s goals during the lockout was to make it easier for small market teams to keep their star players.  The lockout eventually ended, and Chris Paul trade rumors began to swirl soon after.  Howard has said time and time again he is looking at all his options.  Most sources see Howard being traded before the trade deadline, with the Lakers as the favorite.  I’m a sucker for players remaining with one team their entire career, so I’d like to see Howard remain with the Magic.  Unfortunately, I wouldn’t bet on that.

Atlantic Division-
New York, Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Toronto
The Knicks big three rises to the top while we finally see the Celtics age catch up to them after speculating for several years.  Deron Williams shows the Nets potential if they can surround him with talent, but they struggle with little talent around Williams, especially after Brook Lopez fractured his foot and will be out 6-8 weeks.

Central Division-Chicago, Indiana, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland
Chicago runs away with one of the weaker divisions in the league.  Indiana came on late last season under Head Coach Frank Vogel.  They have a nice core of Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, and newly acquired David West.  They should approach 36-38 wins.  Milwaukee, Detroit, and Cleveland will compete for .500 records, the Cavs and Pistons have their lumps in a rebuilding year.

Southeast Division-Miami, Atlanta, Washington, Charlotte, Orlando
This is based on Howard being traded early in the season.  Miami’s talent supercedes anything going on in this division.  The Hawks have seemingly cemented middle-of-the-road status.  They have a nice core, but one that seems to have reached its ceiling as a second-round playoff team.  John Wall makes strides in his second season and makes the Wizards competitive as they fight for a playoff spot.

Southwest Division-Dallas, Memphis, San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans
One of the most competitive divisions in the league, only New Orleans is lottery-bound for sure.  Dallas picks up where it left off while Memphis builds off of last season’s suprising rise to the second round.  The Spurs are aging, but have a veteran group with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, and Head Coach Gregg Popovich.

Northwest Division-Oklahoma City, Denver, Portland, Minnesota, Utah
Kevin Durant paces the Thunder with Russell Westbrook while the Nuggets do well with the bevy of talent they have.  Utah regresses in a rebuilding year while Head Coach Rick Adelman makes use of the talent in Minnesota and takes them out of the cellar.

Pacific Division-Clippers, Golden State, Lakers, Sacramento, Phoenix
The tide will turn in Los Angeles.  The Warriors under Head Coach Mark Jackson sprinkle some, key word some, defense with their high-octane offense and climb the standings.  Bryant struggles with injuries and durability as the Lakers slip.  In anticipation of Steve Nash being traded by the deadline, Phoenix will regress.

Final Four-New York, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Clippers
Derrick Rose continues to grow as his perimeter game becomes yet another facet to his game while getting more contributions from Carlos Boozer.  The Knicks trio meshes well and takes down a Heat squad similar in makeup, but not as diverse.  The Thunder return to the confernce finals as Durant leads a young, but experienced group while the Clippers duo become this season’s top story as Paul and Griffin being in a new era of Clipper basketball.

Finals Prediction-Oklahoma over Chicago in 6
Two very similar teams square off in a team-oriented series.  Durant and Rose square off as both vy for their first title.  The two of them will negate each other, but what Durant has in Westbrook, Rose does not have in anyone on his team.  Westbrook makes the difference, giving Oklahoma City more firepower.

Posted on: December 20, 2011 12:45 pm

In The Trenches: Week 15 Thoughts

Primetime Thoughts

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Change in the script.

Undefeated No More-I think I speak for everyone in saying that Kansas City was the team most likely to give Green Bay its first loss on the season.  Just kidding, now in all serious, where did that come from?  The Packers offense has torched every defense they’ve faced, it seemed close to impossible that a decimated Chiefs team, a vastly depleted unit with an offense working around no-name quarterbacks and third-stringers across the board on both sides of the ball, could even put a scare into the Packers.  This was pegged as a race to 17 points, one that the Packers could win in their sleep.  At least that’s what everyone thought.  Whether it was Romeo Crennel providing a spark, or everyone taking the Packers game as their Super Bowl, Kansas City stepped up in a major way.  The Chiefs had scored 10 points or less in their previous 6 games, or a total of 45.  That’s an average of 7.5 points a game, or roughly how many points Aaron Rodgers will lead Green Bay to on his first few drives, if not more.  The rest is history, Mercury Morris pops some champagne and Green Bay got a serious wake-up call.  This may not be the worst thing for the Packers.  Not that it has become evident, but when you haven’t lost a football game in over a calendar year, it’s quite possible to become a tad complacent in thinking you can’t be touched.  The concern and media frenzy around the undefeated season is over, which will benefit Green Bay.  Any player from the 2008 New England Patriots Super Bowl team can tell you that much.

Up Goes Colts-It was a day of firsts, as Indianapolis ended any possibility of becoming winless team No.3 in NFL history with a 27-13 win over the Titans.  The only news here is that the Colts allowed the St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings to pick up a game, as both are one back of the top pick in the draft at 2-12 with two weeks left.  This race for the cellar may come down to the final week after all.  On the other hand, I’ve been skeptical of Tennessee being a playoff contender all season.  I don’t think anything speaks to that more than losing to a winless team by two touchdowns.  The Titans are only 1 game out of the playoffs, but I’m ready to send them on their merry way.

Down Goes Tebow-Who was suprised to see SportsCenter lead Monday’s showing with questions about Tebow being the long-term answer in Denver?  That would be nobody.  The Broncos magical run took a screeching halt after Tom Brady and Bill Belichick handed it to them, 41-23.  It was highly unlikely Tebow would be able to keep up with Brady as the two styles of offense are not anything close to each other; Tebow with a run-heavy approach, Brady with the aerial assault.  This comes as no shock, but it’s a shame to see all the backlash Tebow is receiving, none of which is his own doing.  While I don’t feel he is ready to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, I can still respect the dedication and effort he puts in to the game.  It’s not his fault that ESPN is so inclined to lead with Tebow every day, whether it’s the day after a game or the middle of the week.

Oh When The Saints Go Marching In-One of the best passing attacks in the NFL vs one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL.  The over/under for the Saints Vikings game was 53.5.  The only question was whether the Saints alone would surpass that margin.  They fell up just short in their blowout win, 42-20, over the Vikings.  Drew Brees was okay, going 30-for-42 with 412 yards passing and 5 touchdowns.  The game itself didn’t give us any lessons we didn’t know already; the Saints are a threat to the Packers in the NFC while the Vikings are not.  But with the Packers loss, Drew Brees becomes a threat to Rodgers for the MVP award.  His numbers are comparable to Rodgers, if not better. 

TD’s: Rodgers- 40 TD’s, Brees- 37. 
Yards: Rodgers- 4,360 yards, Brees- 4,780. 
Completion %- Rodgers- 68.1, Brees- 71.5. 

Big Rotten Apple-The New York Jets and New York Giants were both in position to strengthen their playoff aspirations.  Both decided not to show up.  As bad as both are, one of them will probably win next week.  No, not because I’m that confident in either, but because they faceoff next week.  The Giants lost miserably, 23-10, to the Redskins in a game believed to be theirs for the taking.  Hakeem Nicks dropping a touchdown pass early had to be an omen for the GMen.  Santonio Holmes gets the dunce cap this week, not only for his two turnovers, the interception goes to Mark Sanchez, but Holmes dropped a catchable ball, but for his excessive celebration penalty.  Santonio, if you’re going to celebrate, not only should you be winning, or not losing by three scores, but you should probably learn the dirty bird first.  That was ghastly.  Presumably, one of these teams leaves MetLife Stadium with a win next Saturday. But we can’t put a tie past these two bumbling, stumbling teams.

Bears? More Like Cubs-This 4-game losing streak has all but ended the Chicago Bears playoff hopes at 7-7.  But one things for certain: Jay Cutler and Matt Forte are the heart and soul of the Chicago Bears offense.  Without them, Chicago is, well, inept.  That much was clear after the Seattle Seahawks stomped all over them, 37-14.

Texans Trip Up-Cam Newton knows how to put points on the board, so you figured Houston would allow a few scores, but the Texans offense was expected to score on the Panthers offense-friendly defense.  Except they didn’t, at least not enough, as Houston lost, 28-13.  The Texans are a game back of New England for the top seed in the AFC, but are still in contention for a bye week.

Buffalo No Soldiers-That 5-2 start is a distant memory, right besides those Jim Kelly days.  Head Coach Chan Gailey continues to stick by Ryan Fitzpatrick despite his struggles since signing the contract extension.  That makes him one of, a few supporters remaining?

Lions Pull it Out-The Lions are one win away from clinching the playoffs after yet another comeback win.  Where this one ranks, I’m not sure, but a 98-yard drive in 1:35 has to go pretty high on the list.  The Lions passing attack is no joke as Calvin Johnson is a man among boys while Stafford looks to be on his way to becoming an elite quarterback.  Johnson had a madden-esque 9 catches for 214 yards and 2 touchdowns in the 28-27 win.  As for the Oakland Raiders, you remain one game out of the playoffs, but when you blow a two touchdown lead with less than 8 minutes left in the game, do you really deserve to make it?

Ravens, Roadless Warriors-Talk about being homesick, the Baltimore Ravens have a bad case of just that.  All four losses by Baltimore have been on the road, the latest a 34-14 drubbing by the San Diego Chargers.  The Ravens got a treat from Head Coach John Harbaugh’s brother Jim as San Francisco beat Pittsburgh.  Baltimore has the tiebreaker from sweeping the season series.  It’s a lucky break because the Ravens don’t look to be much of a threat in the playoffs if they have to do it on the road.

Posted on: December 14, 2011 12:48 pm

In The Trenches: Week 14 Thoughts

Primetime Thoughts

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Now trending: Young Quarterbacks on the rise.

Yates Leads Comeback-Houston isn’t supposed to pull off late-game comebacks, let alone win games with T.J. Yates at quarterback.  But Yates did just that on Sunday as Houston clinched its first-ever playoff appearance with a, 20-19, victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.  The Texans won their first AFC South title, thanks to Yates’ efforts on their final possession, a 13-play, 80-yard drive, including a 17-yard scramble by Yates on 3rd and 15 at Cincinnati’s 40.  Yates will not be asked to do much with a two-headed monster in the backfield in Arian Foster and Ben Tate along with a top-tier defense.  If Yates can provide Houston with even a smidge of balance on offense, Houston’s once-promising Super Bowl aspirations will seem more feasible. 

Tebow’s World-By now you are all likely familiar with the weekly script the Denver Broncos have fed us during Tim Tebow’s tenure as starting quarterback.  You know, the one where Tebow and Denver does little to nothing on offense all day, only to storm back late in the game when it seems like nothing more than a last-ditch effort.  Except Tebow leads the unlikely comeback and Mile High rejoices after an unlikely Broncos win.  Yet again, Denver had the ball down 10-0 with 4:34 left in the game.  Tebow led the Broncos to their first score with 2:08 left in the game, trailing, 10-7.  Even then, Chicago recovers the onside kick with no timeouts left on the Denver sideline.  Best case scenario, Denver gets the ball deep in their territory with less than 20 seconds left.  Marion Barber decides to run out of bounds and preserve an additional 40 seconds.  Again, Tebow leads Denver down the field for the, wait for it, game-tying 59-yard field goal.  Yes, 59 yards, albeit in Denver, but 59 yards is 59 yards.  Once again, Chicago won the coin toss and had been closing in on field-goal range, only to give Denver the ball back as Barber fumbled on a run in which he looked headed for the end zone.  We’ve yet to find an explanation for this seemingly divine intervention.

Eli, Romo, Save Giants Season-Losers of four straight, the New York Giants season hung in the balance as a loss to the Cowboys would’ve all but eliminated them.  Eli Manning, a fourth-quarter specialist with 5 game-winning drives this season, was given life after Tony Romo was unable to seal the deal.  With 2:25 remaining, Dallas was faced with a 3rd and 5 at their own 25.  The Giants sent an all-out blitz, leaving single coverage on Dallas’ wide receivers.  Miles Austin beat his man and had a clear path for a touchdown and the game-clincher, the dagger to New York’s season.  Only thing was, Romo overthrew him, giving the Giants life.  Manning did what he’s done all season, lead the Giants down the field in crunch time, giving New York the lead for good on a 6-play, 58-yard drive capped off by a Brandon Jacobs touchdown.  Dallas lost in grand fashion, a failed field goal attempt for a second straight week as Dan Bailey’s attempt was blocked by Jason Pierre-Paul.  Dallas’ late-game collapses are hard to explain, as this has become a trouble pattern for the Cowboys.  One possible explanation: Dallas seeks LeBron for change of a dollar, leaving them with no fourth quarter. 

Packers 13-0-The game became out of reach rather quickly, as Green Bay led, 31-0, midway through the second quarter.  The offense remained its usual, productive self, but the defense was impressive, containing an Oakland Raiders unit that had become more proficient, albeit without several stars on offense.  Green Bay avoided a major scare when Greg Jennings left the game with a knee injury.  What was feared to be a torn MCL was only a sprain as Jennings will likely sit as Green Bay will have Jennings rest until their Divisional Round game.  Since Green Bay clinches the top seed in the NFC with one more win, the only thing in question is the Packers pursuit of an undefeated season.  Do they continue to pursue history while keeping everyone in rhythm, or do they rest players down the stretch to avoid potential injury scares?  Stay tuned.

49ers Slip Against Cardinals-Up 19-7 midway through the third quarter, San Francisco seemed headed towards another victory while keeping pace with the Packers for the top seed in the NFC.  Then San Francisco slipped up and got caught as Arizona stormed back for a, 21-19, upset win.  A troubling game for the 49ers as they sat on a comfortable lead for most of the game and their defense failed to maintain it, against the Cardinals?  When San Francisco fell behind and needed a score late in the game, Alex Smith and the 49ers offense stalled in the fourth quarter.  It’s a troubling sign for San Francisco because with the potential to face teams like the Packers, Saints, or Giants, teams who can light up scoreboards, the defense is given little to no room for error with an offense that seems incapable of rallying late in games.

Jets Make It Look Easy-Granted, it was against the Kansas City Chiefs, but the Jets look like they’re hitting their stride after a 37-10 romp.  The blowout has to be taken with a grain of salt as Kansas City is 5-8 and not much of a challenge at this point of the season.  On one Jets touchdown drive, the Chiefs were penalized five times for 81 yards.  That being said, New York is rounding into form and may sneak into the playoffs after Oakland, Tennessee, and Cincinnati all lost Sunday, giving the Jets a one game lead for the final Wild Card spot with three weeks left.

Patriots Survive Redskins-More of the same from the Patriots, Tom Brady was Tom Terrific and Rob Gronkowski was impossible to bring down once more; on a 49-yard reception, DeAngelo Hall didn’t even try to tackle Gronkowski, he knew it was of no use.  The defense, too, was more of the same, as they made Rex Grossman look like a viable starting quarterback.  New England was bailed out by Santana Moss, as Washington was inside New England’s 10 with less than 2 minutes to go.  Grossman hit Moss cutting across the field with a touch pass.  Moss tried to haul it in, but inadvertently shoveled the pass to a New England defender who held on for the interception.  Next up, the Denver Tebows.

Lions Hold On-A win is a win, but this one wasn’t Detroit’s most inspiring.  Detroit kept pace with the rest of the NFC teams fighting for a Wild Card spot, with a 34-28 victory over the Vikings.  The Lions actually led this game by 21 points, but allowed Minnesota to claw back into this game, as the Vikings were actually in position to pull off the comeback win.  Minnesota had a 1st-and-Goal at Detroit’s 1 yard line, but Detroit held on, or got away with a no-call by the officials, depending on how you look at it.  Joe Webb, who replaced Christian Ponder in the third quarter, fumbled after DeAndre Levy all but ripped off Webb’s facemask.  How the officials missed that call, nobody knows, but the Lions will take it. 

Chargers Rounding Into Form-Either the talk of losing his job sparked the team, or San Diego is up to its old tricks, turning up their play in December like they always do.  Head Coach Norv Turner is looking to save his job, but it might be too little, too late.  San Diego blew past Buffalo, 37-10, as Philip Rivers and the offense gave everyone what was to be expected on a weekly basis.  The Chargers stand at 6-7, two games behind the Wild Card and the Denver Broncos in the AFC West.  Had the Bears held on against Denver, San Diego would’ve been one game back.  Unless Tebow and the Broncos fall flat on their face the final three games, San Diego will miss the playoffs and Turner will likely be gone.

Colts Lose, Again-There’s not much to say here, asides from Indianapolis ruining many bets with a backdoor cover, losing, 24-10.  As for the Peyton Manning-Andrew Luck situation, good luck to having your cake and eating it too.  If Manning is healthy and able to provide several more years of Hall-of-Fame ability, Indianapolis can’t trade him to see him possibly win a Super Bowl(s) elsewhere.  Luck would definitely benefit from learning under one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.  But how long is he willing to sit and wait for his turn?  We’re months away from this playing out, but what else is there to talk about regarding the Colts?  They, are, atrocious.

Posted on: December 5, 2011 12:03 am

In The Trenches: Week 13 Thoughts

<span style="color: #6e8dcf;">Primetime Thoughts

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San Francisco 49ers: NFC West champions after Week 13?

49ers Break Dry Spell-After a steady 26-0 shutout victory over the St. Louis Rams, the San Francisco 49ers clinched the NFC West, despite having 4 games remaining.  San Francisco returns to the postseason for the first time since 2002.  A secured playoff spot at this point in the season can be a double-edged sword, as there’s potential for complacency to settle in.  They’re still chasing the Packers for the top seed in the NFC, but Green Bay doesn’t look like they’re losing anytime soon, with games against Oakland, Kansas City, and Chicago.  We’ve seen a tendency where the teams that go into the postseason on fire carry that momentum throughout January.  We’ve also seen teams lock up positioning with a week or two remaining, become rusty after their bye week during the Wild Card round, only to lose to the hotter team in the Divisional round.  Potentially projecting a bit on my part, but as far as the present goes, Alex Smith looks to be developing a rapport with Michael Crabtree, which will greatly help balance the offensive attack.  Frank Gore would probably appreciate having fewer defenders in the box.

Packers Strike Again-The Giants played them down to the wire, as Eli Manning led a game-tying drive with under a minute to go.  Aaron Rodgers proved to be too much once again, throwing for 369 yards and 4 touchdowns.  Arguably their toughest test remaining on their regular season schedule, Rodgers and Co. seem headed for a 16-0 regular season, barring some unforseen circumstances.  The MVP award also looks to be all but locked up.  In other news, Brett Favre is surprised that Rodgers and Green Bay didn’t reach 12-0 faster.

Texans Carry On-Apparently it doesn’t matter who plays quarterback for the Houston Texans.  When you have a workhorse running back and a top defense, your quarterback has the luxury of playing the role of game manager.  T.J. Yates, the third-stringer for Houston, was serviceable in his first start as the Texans held off the Atlanta Falcons, 17-10.  Yates was helped by Arian Foster, who ran for 111 yards and a touchdown, along with the defense who held the Falcons offense to 70 yards rushing.  Andre Johnson went down with an injury to his other hamstring, though this injury doesn’t appear to be as serious.  Despite the injury-bug, Houston is tied for the top seed in the AFC.  With their four remaining games against Carolina, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Tennessee, Houston has the potential to finish 13-3, their best regular season mark in franchise history.  If Houston has Super Bowl plans, they’ll have to do so going against the grain.  In a league dominated by aerial assaults, Houston’s winning formula will be reliant on a defense to go with a heavy rushing attack.

Jets Keep Pace-The Jets are in a tight spot right now, fighting for the last Wild Card spot with Tennessee, Denver (how we’ll never know), and Cincinnati.  The one thing New York has going for them is their schedule, the weakest amongst the teams mentioned.  That being said, the Jets have been known to not show up on game day every so often.  Midway through the fourth quarter, it looked to be just that as the Jets trailed the Redskins, 16-13.  Then, shocking us all, the offense showed signs of life, after appearing to be half asleep for most of the game.  The final score, 34-19, indicates a wallop, but the Jets were messing around for the first 55 minutes, and nearly gave this game away.  When you’re facing Rex Grossman, you’re never out of a game. 

Bears In Trouble-Jay Cutler breaks the thumb on his throwing hand, so the Bears just resort to an even heavier workload for Matt Forte.  Forte then leaves the game with a sprained MCL, which leaves the Bears with either Caleb Hanie to air it out or Marion Barber to flash back to his Dallas Cowboy days when he could muster more than 3.7 yards per carry.  The result was to be anticipated, as a field goal was all the Bears could put on the scoreboard.  Then take into account that it was against the Chiefs and you thought maybe that would be enough for Chicago to win the game.  Except Kansas City snapped their touchdown drought, which had been 3 games, on a hail mary pass before halftime, to win, 10-3.  The Bears are tied with the Falcons at 7-5 for the last playoff spot and only a game up on the Giants.

Tebowing Again-I wish I could offer you some explanation for Tim Tebow being 6-1 since being inserted into the starting lineup.  A 35-32 victory over the Minnesota Vikings was Tebow’s latest display of being a winner.  I  can’t take that away from him, but it’s hard to see that translating at the quarterback position where so much lies in the hands of that player.  If Tebow were a skill player who had his number called a handful of times for a particular role, I could make sense of that.  I could focus on the fact that Minnesota’s defense is atrocious while their run defense is much better, explaining Tebow’s 13 yards rushing, but 202 yards and 2 touchdowns on 10 completions.  Not yet sold on what is going on in Denver despite being tied for first in the AFC West, I look at Denver’s 6-1 run like I would the guy at the blackjack table who keeps hitting on 19 and scoring that 2.  Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

Ravens Break Trend-A Cleveland Browns victory today would’ve been fitting given the Ravens pattern this season.  Take down a big-time opponent one week, lose to a doormat the following week.  Coming off a big win over the 49ers, a let down against the Browns had to be a concern for Head Coach John Harbaugh.  Whatever he told them before the game, he should probably stick with that routine, as the Ravens took care of business, 24-10.  Another troubling trend we’ve seen with the Ravens was avoided as Ray Rice had 29 carries for 204 yards and a touchdown.

Lights, Cam, Action-The Carolina Panthers aren’t going anywhere this season.  But they won’t have to look hard to find optimism about the direction their franchise is headed.  After an offseason with many doubts and questions about his ability to be a franchise quarterback, Newton has squashed that talk as Newton led a blowout win over Tampa Bay, 38-19.  Newton ran for 3 more touchdowns, giving him 13 rushing touchdowns, a new record for quarterbacks.  Surround this man with a young receiver to grow with him and a defense that won’t rank near the bottom of the pack, it won’t be long before Carolina returns to the postseason.

Cowboys Fade Late-Nothing feels worse than calling a timeout to freeze a kicker who misses the first kick, only to make the second kick because of your strategy.  Except when you call a timeout when your kicker makes the first kick, only to miss the second.  Head Coach Jason Garrett pulled off just that as Dallas lost, 13-19, in overtime to the Arizona Cardinals.  Garrett said he was concerned about a potential bad snap as players were still settling into their position when he called timeout, but this is a game he’d like to have against a weak Cardinals team.

Colts Lose, But Win-A three-touchdown underdog, the Colts stood no chance to win this game.  Unless of course, Peyton Manning put a helmet and pads on.  That didn’t happen, but Indianapolis covered that spread and scored many garbage-time points to make the final score seem competitive in defeat, 31-24.  It wasn’t that competitive, but credit the Colts for trying and padding fantasy stats along the way.

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