Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Keystone State Bowl.... - Patriots: Bull's eye on Bettis -- Steelers' ground game No. 1 target

Well, this weekend the NFL will have both the NFC and AFC Championship games at opposite ends of Pennsylvania as the Steelers host the Pats and the Iggles host the Falcons. Let me start with a quick brief on the NFC game in beautiful South Philly (I feel obligated as I spent a brief time last year working for the South Philly Review).
There's going to be a lot of pressure on the Eagles to win this one - ask Jim Kelly, he'll tell ya that no matter what the Eagles are saying, it is what they're feeling and he should know. The Falcons come into the game with one of the top rushing attacks in the league, and the Eagles run defense has been suspect at times this year.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, Vick struggles in the passing game in the best of conditions and the Falcons won't be playing in a nice, climate controlled dome. Unless the Falcons find someway to rush for 300+ yards in Sunday afternoon's contest, don't even look for this to be close, because the Eagles are going to force Vick to beat them in the air in the cold and snow.

The Main Event is happening in Pittsburgh. We're talking knock-down, drag-out, kick-'em-in-the-gut-while-they're-down, all-out rumble. This is going to be close, this is going to be violent, and man-oh-man is it gonna be pretty. I think that the Pats will edge the Steelers in this one, and not just because I'm a New England fan.

I realize that the Steelers gave the sixty-minute-men a spanking in October. I realize that the Steelers are taking the underdog roll to heart, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them win, but here's why it won't happen -

1) Football coaches like to publicly say that past performance doesn't matter, that the team is focused on the upcoming game, but the reality is that coaches are obsessed with the past. They crunch numbers, they study film, they work in the past to identify the weakness of tomorrow. NFL history is full of trends and aberrations - many people like to say, if it hasn't happened at least three times, it's not a trend. Well here are some numbers to ponder -

a) No team that has carried a 15 game winning streak into the Championship Game has lost the Super Bowl, however, only 2 teams have brought a streak like that into the final divisional contest - 72 Dolphins and last year's Pats. Overall - irrelevant.

b) Bill Cowher - 1 - 4 record in AFC Championship games played in Pittsburgh.

c) Bill Belichick - 13 - 0 record since joining the Pats as head honcho when facing a QB for the second time in a season.

d) The Boys of February - Only two previous Super Bowls have been played in February. The winner of both - the Patriots (only 2x's - irrelevant).

e) Since the Halloween horror show in Heinz, the Patriots have only allowed to RB's to rush for more than 85 yards in a game.

f) The Bus - Getting the start this weekend, Bettis only has a career yards-per-rush average of 3.1, this includes the day he had against the Pats back in October when he had 4.3 yards-per-attempt. Against a Belichick coached team, that career day won't happen again.

I guess the bottom line is, I think for the most part the talent is a wash - both teams have good receivers (they play a different game, but both corps are deep and talented); both teams have good, blue-collar types in the trenches; both have goodrunning backs, linebackers and safeties. The corners are a wash, and while Roethlisberger outplayed Brady in the first meeting, that won't happen twice against a Belichick-Crennel defense and considering the Pats O-line and starting running back are healthy this time around.

My guess is that we're going to see scoring in the high teens or low twenties in this one with the Pats on top in the snow and cold on Sunday night.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

More quick hits

IS it just me, or is George Steinbrenner the sports equivalent to C. Montgomery Burns?

Speaking as a former football coach (2 years with receivers, one with special teams in a semi-pro women's full contact league, and 2 years as the head coach at a middle school running a defense that gave up less than 7 PPG through the two years) and former player (HS, semi-pro), the worst thing that has happened to football commentary has been the advent of the fantasy league.
The fantasy league has spawned the football ingenue. We are besot with people that think they know about football because they can put together a winning rotisserie team. Those same people don't get why this Sunday's late game is a football purist's wet dream.
To them, this Sunday's AFC title game is going to be a "boring defensive struggle."
I grew up watching the Steel Curtain and the Big Blue Wrecking Crew. Whenever possible I watched film of Lombardi's Packers and I watched Paterno's Nittany Lions. I'm all about the punishing defense. Anyone that truly knows football is looking forward to that.
It's going to be a football smackdown - two of the most punishing D's in the league are going to make the opposing O's earn every inch. Forget Baltimore, they're overrated - Ray Lewis got to the Pro Bowl on rep alone (Tedy Bruschi had the better season, don't believe me, look it up), and Reed - got smoked by Corey Dillon in the match-up in the mud - possibly the best stiff arm I've ever seen, sent Reed, literally head over heels.
Sunday is the Rumble at three Rivahs, the Thrilla on the Manongahilla (I don't think I spelled that right, but you get the point), it is simply going to be the best game of the season.

I spent 8 seasons playing some form of hockey or other while growing up. I was a fan at the Beanpot tournament more than once and have sat center-ice row 6 for Bruins games. Somehow I just won't be too crushed if hockey up and goes away.
Management of the league over the last 20 years has been disastrous, and while the players' union is busy trying to point this out and garner sympathy, I have none for a group of people who are trying to perpetuate a system that will ultimately cause their paychecks to go away completely. Hockey in its most recent model is not economically viable and it doesn't matter whether or not the players like it, or want it to be otherwise, the only people left to make a sacrifice to save the league are the players.
Personally, I think its too late for that anyway.

In light of the Colts recent struggles at Gillette, maybe people should begin thinking about nicknaming the stadium the Glue Factory.

Isn't it appropriate that in a season during which Massachusetts senator John Kerry runs for President, that the Patriots end up in Heinz Field during the playoffs?

Overall, in light of last season, I trust Theo Epstein, but David Wells?

Read the novella "Bleachers" by John Grisham over the holidays. It was a quick read, but not overwhelmingly compelling. The characters mostly lacked depth and the story itself was like Grisham had watched Varsity Blues and decided to write about what had happened to those characters fifteen years later (you can pick out story line elements that parallel VB maybe a little bit too closely). Can't say as I would recommend it unless you were looking for something to read on a flight that wouldn't tax your brain too much.

Thursday I will break-down this weekend's AFC game.

Sunday, January 16, 2005 / Sports / Patriots 20, Colts 3 and other stuff... / Sports / Patriots 20, Colts 3

Issues from the last seven days....

I do believe that I did mention something about the Patriots linebackers....did the pundits believe me? No, just like last year, they got caught up in the excitement of a team that seemingly could score alot, but were unwilling to acknowledge that the Patriots did this for more than half the year without Ty Law or Tyrone Poole. THIS WAS NO FLUKE.
Back in October I said that the Pats were gonna see the Steelers again, I was just hoping it would be in the razor. Guess you can't have everything. Look back here later for a breakdown on the two teams.

In defense of Anna Kournikova - Kournikova, while not a great tennis player, won enough to attain the rank of 8th in the world, but was repeatedly ridiculed and scorned for her choice to parlay her tennis success into a modeling career. At least she won something on the pro-level, and was smart enough to shift gears when she saw players like the Williams sisters come along - much more physically dominating presences on the court.
That being said, can someone explain the hype and hoopla over Michelle Wei, the precocious 15-year old golfer who seems to get PGA sponsorship exemptions about as regularly as she gets beat by girls younger than her on the amateur circuit who are not as highly regarded? Someone? Please?

I don't have an ethical issue with the Randy Moss "mooning" celebration, and I don't particularly care if the cheese-heads moon players on their way out of the parking lot. My issue with the play is that it practically defines unsportsman-like conduct and a flag should have been thrown.
If the league really wants to crack down on the show-offs and get rid of these stupid and inane "it's all about me" end-zone celebrations (like the cell phone and the signs) then this is the way the personal foul for excessive celebration will work - flag is thrown, penalty is announced, touchdown is revoked and the refs march off 15 yards from the original line of scrimmage. The first time one of the hot dogs gets a TD called back will be the last time you see that penalty called.

Am I the only one that looks at what Steinbrenner is doing and wonder why he's going almost entirely with a pitching staff that qualifies for an AARP discount. Not that I'm complaining, I'm a BoSox fan. I think I might be the only person who doesn't see the acquisition of a 41-year old lefty with a history of back problems and a balky knee as the ingredient the Bombers need to get over the hump. If you look at the playoffs, the starting pitching did the job through five games, but twice their aging bullpen failed to hold the lead, and then the pitching was exposed.
If the bullpen pulls out game four, the Yanks go into the Series with a fresh rotation against a weak and depleted St. Louis staff that would have gone through a longer and more difficult series.
Guess that's the Boss for you.