Monday, January 24, 2011

Let's Make A Deal: Cavs, Suns, Hawks, Blazers, Knicks and Nuggets

Today could not have started any better. After waking at 5 a.m. with a rejuvenated zest for all things morning, I headed off to the gym to run five miles and swim another two, but not before I lifted some heavy iron in an attempt to strengthen and define my muscles.

Am I lifting weights in the pool?

At around 9 a.m., after a shower and shave, I traveled across the state to have dinner with my ex-mother-in-law. She’s also my boss, and was my third-grade teacher.

Wait. What?

If this meeting with her goes well, I should be able to get a promotion, and then I’ll be able to fall back asleep, just in time to watch the Super Bowl yesterday.

O. K. Wait one second. Would you mind telling me, Harry, just what in the world you are talking about? I’m starting to that think you don’t respect me.

And then I woke up, alarm blaring, birds chirping. Half confused, a quarter disappointed, and a hundred percent sure I cannot remember a single detail of my subconscious state, I roll out of bed and start writing.

The Super Bowl is not yesterday. Or is it?


While the reality is I cannot force NBA teams to make trades that could be beneficial to both teams, therefore inspiring not only new hope for fans, but plenty of debate for analysts and fans alike, I can dream about it.

Here are 3 trades that would curl my toes:

(Justin Case: As much as I would like to pretend to be a salary-cap guru, I do not have full knowledge of the intricacies of the trade/salary-cap dynamic. However, I do know that the salaries meet the requirements, and, more importantly, the players make sense.)

These trades are in order of size


1. Antawn Jamison from Cleveland to Phoenix for Goran Dragic, Josh Childress, and Channing Frye.

Why it makes sense for Phoenix:

While they may be older than a forgotten Fourth of July burger this time of year, the Suns starting five would feature Steve Nash, Vince Carter, Grant Hill, Jamison, and Lopez/Gortat.

The bench will lose its only PG, but Carter or Hill can handle the duties while Nash rests.

Of course, the defense will suffer a- oh yeah, we’re talking about Phoenix.

The Suns will now have a better chance of outscoring their opponents, and experience, in the playoffs or otherwise, should not be underestimated.

Why it makes sense for Cleveland:

I do not know, or care, frankly. Sorry.

I will just say that Dragic could be a starter in this league, and both Frye and Childress are versatile and athletic enough to be serviceable role players or sixth men. Why not Cleveland?


2. Andre Miller and Marcus Camby from Portland to Atlanta for Jamal Crawford, Jeff Teague, and Zaza Pachulia

Why it makes sense for Portland :

The Blazers, bit by the injury bug with the same ferocity of two rams, ramming each other, on an open field, just ramming their rams for ram’s sake, ramming away, can afford to mix-up their roster. While I am all for competing for the “now”, they are not going to beat the elite in the West with their current crew.

Crawford provides versatility at the guard position and can fill the void left by Miller. He gives them another outside scorer, along with Wesley Matthews, to compliment LaMarcus Aldridge’s inside presence.

Camby may be one of the better defensive Cs in the game, but a team effort from Zaza and Joel Pryzbilla, along with Aldridge at times, can offset his loss.

Next year could feature a starting five of Crawford, Roy, Nicolas Batum, Aldridge, and Greg Oden, which, IF healthy, could compete with the top teams in the West.

But this year is not necessarily lost. Look at what the Houston Rockets were able to do in the ’09 playoffs after losing Tracy McGrady early in the season and Yao Ming towards the end. Upsetting your 1st round opponent and taking the defending conference, and eventual league, champions to 7 is not too shabby (Justin Case: Normally, “Not too shabby” really means “nothing to brag about” or “pretty bad, ak chewa lee”, but not in this case. The Rockets’ effort that postseason was, indeed, not too shabby.)

Why it makes sense for Atlanta :

The Hawks, one of the more entertaining, if not disappointing, teams in the league, are one move away from truly joining the best the East has to offer.

Al Horford and Josh Smith form arguably the most athletic PF/C combo in the league. The problem, despite the moderate success in recent years, is that they are playing out of position.

Camby’s arrival would allow Horford to move down to his more natural PF position and enable Smith to roam the outside more freely. Scary, yes.

In Miller, Atlanta would receive a true point guard who can lead what is already a freight train of a fast-break. This would also allow Mike Bibby and Marvin Williams to come off a suddenly deep bench.

A starting five of Miller, Johnson, Smith, Horford, and Camby? I like my chances-- and not just in the East.


3. Carmelo Anthony and Al Harrington from Denver to New York for Danilo Gallinari, Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike, and Eddy Curry.

Why it makes sense for Denver :

This season is lost for the Nuggets. They have the talent to make a serious run in the playoffs, as they did in ’09 while reaching the conference finals, but the distractions caused by the constant trade speculation has become more than those players can handle.
Denver has no logical choice other than to trade their superstar and get as much back as possible.

With Dino, the Nuggets receive a young sharp-shooter who seems to enjoy the challenge of guarding the other team’s best player. Picture a more athletic Dirk Nowitzki. Anthony Randolph has shown signs of potential and could, along with the Birdman, serve as nice back-ups to Nene and Kenyon Martin.

Denver could start Chauncy Billups, Aaron Afflalo, Gallinari, Martin, and Nene, with Ty Lawson, JR Smith, and Randolph/Birdman off the bench.

Billups, a Colorado native, would inherit the status of team leader. That didn’t work out so badly for Detroit in ’04, when he was named Finals MVP after helping lead his team to an upset win over Gary Payton, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, Shaq, Phil Jackson and Co.

Why it makes sense for New York :

While there was speculation of new super trio joining forces in New York—Amare Stoudemire would be joined by Anthony and eventually Chris Paul, either this season or next—landing Anthony now would give the Knicks more than just a fighter’s chance in the top-heavy East.

Raymond Felton has surprised many with his production this season, to the point that some may suggest he, not necessarily Paul, could fill the role of third-wheel as part of this superstar team, a team ready to rival the Miami Heat for years to come.

Felton, Wilson Chandler, Anthony, Stoudemire, and anyone taller than 6-10 who can chew gum would form a starting five that the majority of teams would envy. The bench would be led by guards Toney Douglas and surprising rookie Landry Fields, along with defensive-minded Ronny Turiaf (a favorite player of mine since his days at Gonzaga) or 7-1 Timofey Mozgov, both of whom can chew gum.

Defense may be an issue, but defense is all about attitude. Stoudemire ranks among the top shot-blockers in the league after being underestimated defensively thanks to an offense-happy Phoenix Suns’ system. Carmelo has the talent to become a lock-down defender, as he has more than held his own during his one-on-one battles with good friend LeBron James.

Maybe a change of scenery and a rejuvenated zest is all he needs.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

AFC Championship Game "Pre-Review": Pittsburgh Steeler vs. New York Jets

1st quarter

The Jets receive the ball to start the game and Kyle Wilson returns the opening kick for a 102 yard TD.

Heinz Field is now as lively as a mayonnaise sandwich.

Big Ben and the Steelers take the field quicker than they expected, trailing 7-0.

Hoping to establish a theme for the game, Pittsburgh’s first play is run up the middle by Rashard Mendenhall.

Pittsburgh is unable to gain meaningful yards and punts after three plays.

Both defenses flex their muscle and the teams exchange punts, leaving New York with the ball on their 23 yard line with 3:44 left in the quarter.

Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes combine for 2 catches for 25 yards, followed by a LaDainian Tomlinson 31 yard screen pass.

Knocking on the door, hoping to gain a two TD advantage while maintaining a street-fight mentality, the Jets tap the brakes and give Shonn Greene two rushes up the middle.

Facing 3rd and 1 from the 11 yard line, Rex Ryan calls for another Greene rush. However, this time, Ziggy Hood barrels through the blockers and seemingly hugs the runner while also slamming him to the turf, but not before the ball is knocked loose and Troy Palatal recovers.

Heinz Field is now as exciting as a ground beef, egg, and cheese omelet, with ketchup.

End of 1st: New York 7- Pittsburgh 0

2nd quarter

The defenses continue to dominate.

After another exchange of punts, Pittsburgh takes the ball at their 17 yard line with 10:02 left in the half.

Big Ben and Hines Ward combine for a couple completions outside. Mendenhall finds space off tackle for some nice runs. The Steelers are moving the ball and taking momentum.

After 11 plays, 6:57 off the clock, and 71 yards gained, Pittsburgh gets on the board with a Roethlisberger to Heath Miller play action pass, similar to Greg Olsen’s patterns throughout last game, except that Miller scores a 12 yard TD to even the game 7-7.

New York, steadily prodding along, aimlessly, look to change their fortune through the air with 2:55 left in the half.

A couple screen passes to Tomlinson advance the ball to the Steelers’ 39 yard line at the 2:00 warning.

Unable to find Braylon Edwards, Sanchez checks down to Dustin Keller, who is open 10 yards down the field and gains 17 yards on the play.

The Steelers test the young QB with three straight blitzes. The pressure proves to be too much as Palatal knocks down a third down pass attempt, forcing the Jets to kick a FG.

Halftime: New York 10- Pittsburgh 7

3rd quarter

Pittsburgh receives the ball and is able to mustard, I mean, muster up the same energy that guided them through their 12-play TD drive.

Ward for 6 yards here, Mendenhall for 4 yards there, Big Ben for 13 rushing yards after escaping the grasp of Bart Scott in the backfield. The Steelers seem headed for a lead changing TD.

On first and 10 from the Jets 27 yard line, Ben gets frisky (again?) and decides to test Darrelle Revis with a play-action slant route to Mike Wallace.

This proves to be costly…for the Jets. Revis’ superior ability allows him to deflect the pass, which pops up in the air and lands in the waiting arms of Heath Miller, who rumbles down to the 4 yard line.

How about another ground beef, egg, and cheese omelet?

Three rushes and a Mendenhall wrecking ball of a TD run later, the Steelers find themselves ahead 14-10 with 7:21 remaining in the quarter.

The Jets, unable to put any points on the board since the opening kickoff, finally get the ball in the second half.

Sanchez tries to rally his troops with a couple quick passes. Edwards takes one of these quick hits and manages 19 yards after eluding a Palatal dive tackle.

After a Greene blast through the middle gains another 19 yards, New York seems to grab some momentum.

Faced with a second down and 6 from Pittsburgh’s 31 yard line and 4:20 left in the quarter, the Jets finally strike deep with a TD pass from Sanchez to Edwards in the corner of the end-zone.

New York holds Big Ben and the Steelers to a three and out.

Who ate the last mayonnaise sandwich?

End of 3rd: New York 17- Pittsburgh 14

4th quarter

The Jets are flying high.

LT and Greene find more space in the fourth quarter as New York marches from their own 20 yard line down to the Steelers’ 33.

With 10:57 left in the game, Sanchez eludes pressure from James Harrison while scampering toward the sideline. About to run out of bounds, Sanchez finds an open Santonio Holmes striding toward the deep corner of the end-zone. An absolutely perfect pass would have led to a TD. A merely great pass, however, leads to an even greater play by Ryan Clark, who dives at the last second and deflects what would have been a dagger of a score.

New York settles for a FG and a 20-14 lead.

Pittsburgh produces a couple first downs, but the drive fizzles after Bart Scott deflects a third down pass intended for Heath Miller.

The Steelers punt and New York takes over at their 14 yard line with 7:03 remaining.

Rush on first and second down, then pass on third down. The formula works for two first downs.

Rush on first and second down, then pass on third down. This time it does not work, as Ryan Clark intercepts a Sanchez to Keller pass attempt at Pittsburgh’s 46 yard line.

The scenario is familiar. Big Ben and the Steelers, down six with 3:13 left in the game, have one last drive to win the game and advance to their third Super Bowl in six years.

The Jets’ prevent defense allows a couple short gains, and irks Rex Ryan enough to abandon this approach.

After driving to New York’s 22 yard line with 1:02 left, Pittsburgh has their entire playbook at their disposal.

On third and 8, Big Ben steps back, seems to elude the pressure facing him, but is then bulldozed by blitzing safety Eric Smith, who knocks the ball loose.

The fumble is recovered by Calvin Pace.

Final: New York 20- Pittsburgh 14


Defense and turnovers was the name of the game today. New York squeaks by Pittsburgh in a hotly contested match-up, the heat of which can only be matched by two rats mating in a wool sock.

Notable stats:

New York

Mark Sanchez: 16-29 183 yards 1 TD 1 INT

LaDainian Tomlinson: 15 rushes 49 yards
4 receptions 36 yards

Braylon Edwards: 3 receptions 77 yards


Ben Roethlisberger: 20-40 210 yards 1 TD 1 INT

Rashard Mendenhall: 22 rushes 71 yards 1 TD

NFC Championship Game "Pre-Review": Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers

1st quarter

Green Bay receives the ball to start the game.

The Packers immediately go to the air. Aaron Rodgers finds Greg Jennings on a couple short routes.

After two incompletions, the Bears stop the drive when Rodgers is sacked by Tommie Harris at the Green Bay 49 yard line.

Chicago takes over at the 20 after Devin Hester cannot even sniff the punt, which lands in the corner of the end-zone.

Chicago is able to get Matt Forte going on the first drive. This opens up a play-action fake pass to Greg Olsen streaking across the field for a 32 yard gain.

After stalling on the Green Bay’s 14, Robbie Gould knocks in a 31 yard chip-shot FG.

The Packers do not abort the game-plan and continue firing the ball. The Bears expect this and they stop Green Bay on 3 downs after a near interception by Brian Urlacher.

The Bears receive the ball at their 43 yard line after another Packers punt easily eludes Hester, this time sailing out of bounds.

Chicago is able to drive the field against Green Bay via Forte catch and runs and Olsen short routes.

With 2:20 left in the quarter, Forte is able to register a TD on 1st and goal from the 1. The Bears earned that field position after Tramon Williams interfered with a Jay Cutler to Hester deep route in the end-zone.

End of 1st: Chicago 10- Green Bay 0

2nd quarter

The Packers begin their first drive of the quarter hoping to run the ball.

The Bears expect this, and force a 3rd and 13 after two rushes net -3 yards. Rodgers finds Donald Driver in the middle of the field for an important 1st down.

The Pack starts to feel momentum as they are able to get rookie James Starks open for a couple screen passes.

Chicago, on their heels, tighten up and sack Rodgers on 1st down from the Bears’ 15.

After a holding penalty backs them up, Green Bay settles for a 43 yard FG attempt, which sails wide right and leaves the Packers scoreless with 9:18 left in the half.

Looking to capitalize on the missed FG, the Bears start their drive with a reverse to Hester which nets 27 yards.

Green Bay bends but does not break while Clay Matthews, Jr. is able to get his first real pressure on Cutler and sacks him for a 9 yard loss.

Chicago is unable to move forward, but pins the Packers inside the 10 yard line with a beautiful punt and cover.

Green Bay starts to spread their wings. Rodgers completes 3 straight passes to move the ball to Chicago’s 45 yard line. After gaining 6 yards on a Brandon Jackson run, Rodgers is able to take advantage of a play-action fake and finds Jennings on a fly pattern down the sidelines for a 39 yard TD with 3:19 left in the half, cutting the lead to 10-7.

Chicago and Cutler execute the two-minute offense to perfection with a couple short gains followed by a Johnny Knox 23 yard reception.

The drive stalls at Green Bay’s 5 yard line, and Chicago elects to kick the FG to close out the half.

Halftime: Chicago 13- Green Bay 7

3rd quarter

The Bears receive the 2nd half kickoff.

As they have all game, the Bears move down the field with a nice mix of Forte and Olsen.

After driving to the Packers’ 19 yard line, Chicago settles for their third FG of the game, extending the lead to 16-7 with 11:01 left in the third.

Green Bay hopes to build off their last offensive possession and continue throwing the ball. The biggest play of this opening drive comes on a John Kuhn 24 yard screen pass to the Bears’ 13 yard line.

Two plays later, a pump-faking Aaron Rodgers connects with TE Andrew Quarless in the back middle of the end-zone.

Chicago’s offense starts to sputter as they are forced to punt after three plays net 3 yards.

Down only 16-14 with 4:20 left in the quarter, Green Bay now feels that this game is theirs for the taking.

A couple of runs by Jackson and another screen to Kuhn put Green Bay on the Bears’ 29 yard line.

The Pack seem to be clicking until a well-timed zone-blitz confuses Rodgers and forces him to blindly collide with Danieal Manning, forcing a fumble which is recovered by Julius Peppers and returned to the Green Bay 36 yard line.

End of 3rd : Chicago 16- Green Bay 14

4th quarter

After exchanging punts to end the third and start the fourth, Chicago takes over at their 33 yard line with 12:12 left in the game.

Chicago’s punishing OFFENSE is wearing down the Pack.

Forte rushes three straight plays, gaining 19 yards. This opens up another play action pass to Olsen cutting across the field.

A couple more running plays leads to third down and 3 from Green Bay 10 yard line. A quick screen to Hester produces a TD. The extra point gives Chicago a 23-14 lead.

Soldier Field is rocking.

Green Bay takes over with 8:03 left in the game and, perhaps, their season.

Rodgers connects with Donald Driver on the outside for 12 yards, followed by a 15 yard strike to Driver down the middle.

A 10 yard rush up the middle for Starks keeps the Bears honest. It also sets up a play-action fake pass to TE in the middle of the field for a 22 yard gain.

The Packers feel more comfortable now that they find themselves deep in Chicago territory with 3:54 left in the game.

Three consecutive passing plays, however, gain zero yards and Green Bay takes the points on 38 yard FG.

The Packers elect to kick the ball rather than go for the onside kick with over three minutes left and two timeouts remaining.

Unfortunately for Green Bay, Chicago is able to pick up a couple first downs with Olson third down catches, allowing the Bears to run out the clock.

Final: Chicago 23- Green Bay 20


Chicago proves that home field is still an advantage, especially with a menacing defense led by Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, and Tommie Harris. The Bears’ offense controlled the tempo, keeping the dangerous Green Bay offense on the sidelines for much of the game.

Notable stats:


Jay Cutler: 20-29, 239 yards, 1 TD 0 INT
Matt Forte: 20 rushes 102 yards 1 TD
8 receptions 65 yards
Greg Olsen: 6 receptions 76 yards
Devin Hester: 3 receptions 57 yards 1 TD

Green Bay

Aaron Rodgers: 19-35, 213 yards, 2 TD 2 INT
Greg Jennings: 5 receptions, 87 yards, 1 TD

Saturday, January 22, 2011

NFL Playoffs: HKSFFRS Premiere

There is something exciting about a contest involving multiple teams matching wits and physical prowess against one another, through preparation and exercise, where the last team standing wins. I’m not sure how to explain this sensation other than imploring you to try a Checkers fast-food restaurant all-American dog. Of course, you must be hungrier than a bear on the first day of spring, and you have to order a Big Buford combo meal with large fries, two apple pies, and a diet Coke to wash it down, but you haven’t lived until you add that $0.99 charm of supposedly edible consistency that most reminds me of a jumbo pencil eraser, stuck to a piece of chewed gum permanently attached under a desk of your average fourth-grade classroom, in bread.

Once you have experienced this oft-overlooked delight of Americana, you can appreciate what it means to take a trip to the market, pick your meal for the hour, prepare it, cook it, eat it, clean your dish, relax on the couch, and not have to wonder what form of road kill with mustard you are currently digesting. This is exciting, I know.

This form of satisfaction can normally only be found in sports in a playoff format, or, in other words, in every meaningful sport’s post season save college football (what is it? FBS, or some other BS? I’m referring to the college football that people watch, whatever it’s called).

These playoff formats conclude with the semifinal round, or the “final four”, followed by the championship game. Whether you’re referring to college basketball’s Final Four, or just to the final four participants left in the contest, you cannot help but be intrigued by the current match-ups, and the probability of the four possible championship scenarios.

“Steelers-Bears. No, Steelers-Packers.”
“I think it’s gonna be Jets-Bears….but Jets-Packers is cool, too.”

In order to simplify the process and reduce the anxiety, I have installed the HKSports Final Four Power Ranking Series, or the HKSFFPRS.

Each team will be ranked in relevant categories: those which may include position, coach, and tangible intangibles. Each category will be valued differently and a final total will give the most likely winner.

QB 15 %

1. Pittsburgh
2. Green Bay
3. New York
4. Chicago

The final four starting quarterbacks have combined for 1,429 yards, 13 TD, and 1 INT with a 65% completion rate through six games. One of them has two Super rings.

RB 10%

1. New York
2. Pittsburgh
3. Chicago
4. Green Bay

Green Bay RB James Starks, a sixth round pick from last year’s draft, has 19 more rushes this postseason (48) than he had the entire 2010 regular season (29).

WR/TE 5%

1. New York
2. Green Bay
3. Pittsburgh
4. Chicago

Santonio and Braylon lead the league in cool first names and big play capability.

OL 15%

1. New York
2. Green Bay
3. Chicago
4. Pittsburgh

“You go noowww. You been here four hour!”

DL 15%

1. Pittsburgh
2. Chicago
3. New York
4. Green Bay

Ziggy Hood’s name inspires images of a street brawl at a reggae concert on a hot day.

LB 10%

1. Pittsburgh
2. Chicago
3. New York
4. Green Bay

Any more Matthews boys out there that I have not heard about?

Anyone want to tell James Harrison that he’s a dirty player and his cheap shots have tainted an otherwise tranquil and finesse sport, much in the same manner as a poorly timed flatulent taints a romantic date at a drive-in theatre, in a dark alley (Justin Case: would you want to tell James this opinion of yours in a dark alley? Not a drive-in theatre in a dark alley)?
[Justin Case: I do not believe that James Harrison is a dirty player, or that he has necessarily tainted anything, much less the National Football League. I think James Harrison is a model football player.]

CB/S 5%

1. Pittsburgh
2. Green Bay
3. New York
4. Chicago

Tell me again: Why is Green Bay such a popular pick this weekend?

Coach 5%

1. Pittsburgh
2. Chicago
3. New York
4. Green Bay

Give me a coach that’s been there before. Then give me a coach who acts like he’s already won the whole thing.

Hidden and/or Underrated Motivating Force (HUMF) 20%

1. Chicago
2. New York
3. Pittsburgh
4. Green Bay

Bears are not expected to put up much of a game, at home. Always underrated.

Rex Ryan has instilled an “us against the world” attitude. Slightly hidden, until now, and dangerously underrated.

What do you mean “slightly hidden, until now”? Of course the Jets display the qualities consistent with that mantra. It’s pretty obvious, actually.

Not really. Actually, or how I like to pronounce it, ak chewa lee, it’s not obvious at all.

Every team is prepared to defend themselves against anyone or anything that is not part of the team. That’s why it is a team. This is by default. These teams “respect” their opponents, but do not “fear” them.

The Jets, however, do not “respect” their opponents, and they certainly do not “fear” them.

This is not to suggest that Nick Mangold would ever walk up to the Steelers punter and punch him in the face at the mall. This suggestion merely implies that the Jets not only defend their “team” at all costs against any outsiders, but also honestly believe that no team can beat them; no team should be on the same field with them; no team should attempt to even slow them down on their journey toward history; no team should exhibit any resistance in the form of putting on pads and a helmet, lining up across the field, game planning, competing, passing the ball, blocking, or running fast, because, to do that would mean that the team somehow believes that they, too, are deserving of the final prize, and not just the Jets. This unconscious display of “disrespect”, in some circles, is enough to get you punched in the face.

“Us Against the World” is not just a description of team unity in adverse situations brought about by forces outside of “team”, it is the conscious effort of a group of teammates, coaches, and staff to humiliate their opponent in every possible way, with class, while wondering out loud: “The very thought of your attempting to derail our championship train, along with your complete disregard for my children during this time, when their daddy is attempting to put our name in the record books, leaves me with a growing empty feeling in my stomach which can only be fulfilled by violent physical confrontations where I hope to inflict great bodily damage and ultimately embarrass you in front of your loved ones. I hate you.”

Only the Steelers come close to exuding this similar attitude of “Why did you show up to play? We’re going to mow the lawn with your teeth and eat breakfast with your women?”

After hearing nothing except how great the New England Patriots were before their collapse against the Jets, Pittsburgh players undoubtedly became a bit perturbed. It’s Pittsburgh that last won the Super Bowl for the AFC. It’s Pittsburgh who overcame four games without their starting quarterback en route to the second seed in the powerful AFC. And now Pittsburgh isn’t supposed to even beat the Ravens at home (I didn’t think they would, at least)? There is a measurable degree of pleasure gained when a championship caliber team is overlooked then regains their aura of “the team to beat”. But, like bandwagon fans hoping to hop on before anyone notices, the Steelers do not want to be the favorite again- at least not among the “world”. No, the Steelers already considered themselves to be the favorite, whether anyone else did or not, and now that they’re one game away from playing for the chance to hoist a third Lombardi Trophy in six years, they are beginning to inherit some of the same traits the Jets have possessed all season.

The mighty Steelers have a chip on their shoulder because they feel slighted? Aren’t they favored to win this weekend? Yes. And yes. Hidden, and, of course, underrated.

Unfortunately for Green Bay, they have captured the imagination of the country. It’s not “who’s gonna be in the Super Bowl?”. It’s “who are the Packers gonna play in the Super Bowl?”. While these professionals aren’t supposed to let any outside distractions alter their supreme focus, this is not 2000 anymore. We’re in 2011, where only the most insignificant of information does not make the news. Green Bay, and Aaron Rodgers, entering Atlanta’s home and throttling the Falcons certainly made the news. The “news” is that the Packers not only have the defense to compete, but that they possess the most explosive offense remaining, with perhaps the best QB in the league. This perception is not lost on Packer players.

I’ve always maintained that the only attribute worse than over confidence is false confidence- not to be confused with overly false confidence, which is not as bad as false over confidence. False over confidence indirectly leads to occasional states of true outer insecurity and truer bouts of inner inferiority.

Translated: Green Bay may be happy enough just to be here. Extremely underrated.


Points based on scale- 4 points for (1) ranking to 1 point for (4) ranking. After totaling the points, multiply it by the percentage.


Coach (1), CB/S (1), WR/TE (3) =10 x 0.5 = 5

LB (1), RB (2) =7 x 1 = 7

QB (1), OL (4), DL (1) =9 x 1.5 = 13.5

Total = 25.5


Coach (2), CB/S (4), WR/TE (4) = 5 x 0.5 = 2.5

LB (2), RB (3) = 5 x 1 = 5

QB (4), OL (3), DL (2) = 6 x 1.5 = 9

Total = 16.5

Green Bay:

Coach (4), CB/S (2), WR/TE (2) = 7 x 0.5 = 3.5

LB (4), RB (4) = 2 x 1 = 2

QB (2), OL (2), DL (4) = 7 x 1.5 = 10.5

Total = 16

New York:

Coach (3), CB/S (3), WR/TE (1) = 8 x 0.5 = 4

LB (3), RB (1) = 6 x 1 = 6

QB (3) OL (1), DL (3) = 8 x 1.5 = 12

Total = 22

Let’s not forget to add the HUMF points

HUMF points 20%

Chicago= (1) = 4 x 2 = 8
New York= (2) = 3 x 2 = 6
Pittsburgh= (3) =2 x 2 = 4
Green Bay= (4) = 1 x 2 = 2

Go ahead and do the math, but it’s looking like a Steelers-Bears Super Bowl, although the two best teams meet in the AFC championship game.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

NFL AFC Divisional Playoff "Pre-review": Ravens at Steelers

1st quarter

Baltimore kicks the ball after winning the toss and deferring until the second half

Pittsburgh starts the game from their 20 yard line with a play-action pass to Rashard Mendenhall.

The Ravens are not amused, nor are they confused. Ray Lewis reads the play and forces a fumble, which is recovered by Ed Reed for a TD.

Still stinging from the first play, the Steelers start their second drive with consecutive runs.

Pittsburgh drives down the field surely, but slowly. Mendenhall gains 22 yards on 6 rushes, including two first down runs. Baltimore’s defense tightens up and forces a 22 yard FG.

Baltimore’s offense finally gets on the field with 7:12 left in the quarter. After failing to gain significant yardage on the ground, Joe Flacco finds Anquan Boldin for a couple short routes and a couple first downs.

The Ravens stall on the Steelers 13 yard line and settle for a 30 yard FG.

End of 1st: Ravens 10- Steelers 3

2nd quarter

The Steelers have no success moving the ball as Baltimore’s defense is on top of their game. Pittsburgh is forced to punt after going 3 and out.

Baltimore, on the other hand, is able to create space and gets Derrick Mason free on a fly pattern against single coverage. The pitch and catch nets 39 yards and puts the
Ravens on the Steelers 15 yard line.

Two plays later, Flacco finds Ray Rice on a delay pass in the middle of the field. Rice runs for 10 yards en route to Baltimore’s second TD with 10:11 left until halftime.

Pittsburgh manages to put together a decent drive after two pass interference calls bail them out on third down plays.

Mike Tomlin has his first tough decision to make this post season when Pittsburgh faces 4th and 1 from the 6 yard line down two TDs. The gamble falls short as Ray Lewis disrupts the play in the backfield.

Baltimore takes over at the 8 yard line with 4:20 left in the half. Hoping to work the clock while still putting points on the board, the Ravens grind their way to Pittsburgh’s 31 yard line with a mix of Ray Rice and Todd Heap.

Baltimore’s sudden overconfidence allows Flacco to pass three consecutive times, connecting with Boldin for a 31 yard TD on the third pass with less than 10 seconds left in the half.

Halftime: Ravens 24-Steelers 3

3rd quarter

Baltimore opens the half looking to milk the clock, but not before finding Boldin on a wide receiver screen for 19 yards.

A heavy dose of Ray Rice and Willis McGahee enable the Ravens to work 5: 32 off the clock before they kick a FG.

Pittsburgh’s offense starts the second half down 24 points. Big Ben is forced to put the ball in the air.

After connecting with Hines Ward for a couple short gains, Roethlisberger finds Mike Wallace for a 43 yard gain down the sidelines.

After Mendenhall plows his way through the middle for a 4 yard TD, the Steelers cut the lead to 27-10.

Baltimore’s offense sputters and is held to its first 3 and out of the game.

Pittsburgh receives the ball at their 28 yard line with 2:39 left in the quarter.

After gaining 4 yards on a Mendenhal carry, Big Ben and Hines Ward combine on a reverse double pass to Wallace down the middle of the field. The play cuts Baltimore’s lead to 10 with just under a minute to play in the quarter.

End of 3rd: Ravens 27- Steelers 17

4th quarter

Heinze Field is rocking after Pittsburgh holds Baltimore to another 3 and out.

The Steelers have momentum on their side and look to take advantage of the reeling Ravens.

A couple of short gains to Ward allow a nice play-action pass to Wallace behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties. The 27 yard completion puts the Steelers at Baltimore’s 14 yard line.

Two plays later Big Ben finds Ward in the corner of the end-zone, a la Santonio Holmes in Super Bowl XLIII.

The Ravens are finally able to put together an extended drive in the second half with McGahee running for tough yards and Boldin making tough catches.

After working a few minutes off the clock, the Ravens settle for another FG, extending their lead to 30-24 with 3:23 left in the game.

Pittsburgh looks to put another stake in the heart of the Ravens and their fans.

Baltimore’s defense, aggressive all afternoon, retreats into a prevent defense on the final drive. A little Big Ben magic puts the Steelers at the Ravens 16 yard line with 0:07 on the clock.

A well-designed play out of the bunch formation allows Mike Wallace to find room in the back of the middle of the end-zone, but a ball-hawking Ed Reed recovers in time to defend the pass.

Final Ravens 30- Steelers 24


Baltimore finally sheds the gorilla-sized monkey off its back and returns to the Super Bowl ten years after it won the whole thing. Baltimore’s defense controlled the game and Joe Flacco erased any doubts about whether he can lead his team in the post season.

Notable stats:


Joe Flacco 19-29 232 yards, 2 TD

Ray Rice 22 rushes 89 yards
Willis McGahee 15 rushes 57 yards

Ed Reed 5 tackles, 1 Fum Rec, 1 TD, 3 passes defended
Ray Lewis 13 tackles, 1 Forced Fum


Ben Roethlisberger 22-37 209 yards, 1 TD
Rashard Mendenhall 23 rushes 78 yards

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Only Time of Year When the NFL is Better than College Football

Auburn and Oregon provided the country with a memorable college football game on Monday night. Two undefeated teams featuring a Heisman Trophy winner, All-Americans, and future early-round NFL draft picks will always capture the attention of sports fans across the nation.

Add to it the suspense of the final play, the comeback by the losing team, and the fact that the winner of the game would be crowned national champion, and one would think that this was the perfect ending to another exciting college football season.

While it is true that the Tigers and Ducks were probably the two best teams during the season, it is equally false that the Patriots and Falcons should be invited to compete in the Super Bowl before the conclusion of this weekend’s NFL divisional playoffs and next weekend’s conference championship games.

Supporters of the current BCS format argue that the NCAA regular season is somehow special because the games are more important. You may hear some of them chuckle when referring to a garbage game between two 7-5 Big East teams as a playoff game, since the winner gets an automatic bid to the Orange Bowl—a BCS bowl. It goes something like this:

Announcer 1- “Some people say that we need a playoff in college football (half-chuckle). I don’t know, partner, (light half-chuckle) I think we have a playoff right here.”

Announcer 2- “Pitt’s ball at the Rutgers 24 yard line. Yeah, I hear ya, partner, there is no regular season as important as college football’s.”

Announcer 1- “I mean (mean-spirited light chuckle), are you telling me that these two teams don’t want to win this game? You’re telling me (extremely upset now) that this game doesn’t mean anything to these kids? Try telling that to "insert any name you feel fit for Pitt’s QB" (I would choose, I don’t know, hmm… “Josh Tamargo”. )! You tell him that the effort he and his teammates are displaying out there means nothing!”

Announcer 2- “Tamargo overthrows his receiver and Rutgers intercepts the ball at the 5 yard line. I hear ya, pal. I actually think the BCS format is unique, and we should embrace it as such. We’ll be back after this commercial break. Pitt 6- Rutgers 5, 8:34 left in the game.”


College football is the best sport going. There are only four to five things in the entire world more satisfying to do than sit on the couch with a beverage or twenty on a fall Saturday, especially when the early-season schedule includes #6 Texas at #15 Florida State at noon, followed by #3 Alabama at #2 Tennessee, #24 USC at #10 Notre Dame, and #19 Ohio St. at #18 Wisconsin at 3:30pm, and concluding with #1 Miami at #13 Florida at 7:30pm.

These match-ups are clearly very special. Championship aspirations hang in the balance as one loss can eliminate not only national title hopes, but conference title hopes as well. All the hard work and preparation from spring practice to summer two-a-days can be discarded in three and a half hours during the second game of the season. That’s pretty important stuff, no doubt.

Of course, as a competitive program, you never quit on the season while you hope to improve. But why do that when you could possibly win every game the rest of the season, dominate your competition, and end up with the ‘honor’ of playing in the Bull Bowl presented by Pampers? Or a meaningless Sugar Bowl? Can anyone remember who won the 1998 Sugar Bowl? No? And why would you? Who remembers the 1998 national champion? That’s correct—Tennessee.

We college football fans appreciate the importance of these regular season games. There is a certain draw to an early season college football game between two highly ranked teams that is different from any sport. However, there is too much importance placed early on and not enough placed on the end of the season, when teams have a year’s worth of games under their belt and have an identity.


The NFL is down to its final eight teams. The two top seeds in each conference return to action after receiving a well-deserved one-week rest. This rest was awarded to them for the performance they exhibited throughout the regular season. It was important for these teams to win as many regular season games as they could in order to secure the best possible playoff position. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears took care of business in the regular season and now enjoy the delight of a bye week. Only New England and Atlanta faired better. They, too, are delighted by their bye week and do not have to leave their respective confines to play a game, unless, of course, they reach the Super Bowl.

The NFL can, at times, be about as exciting as smelling your own armpit after a week-long hangover. This is especially the case when your favorite team has no real shot at the playoffs. There’s only so much Bills-Packers a sports fan can take, even if you did just bet the car payment on the OVER.

While NFL regular season games are important, the excitement does not match that of the college game, since an NFL team can lose an important game but still have a legitimate chance to win the final prize.

The NFL can, at times, also be about as exciting as finding the last ice cream cookie sandwich in the freezer right before a week-long hangover. This time is called the playoffs. Twenty-four teams may be watching the games from their mansions, but all football fans are eagerly awaiting this weekend’s match-ups, regardless of their allegiance.

There is a heightened sense of strategy, of extra preparation, that a playoff game offers. Teams have a season’s worth of action to study of their opponent. Styles clash and match-ups are exposed. Tendencies become more apparent. Coaches earn their meals based on how they can take advantage of strengths and weaknesses. Players earn their legacies in these games.

Sure, the NFL regular season can remind us of dry paint on the house, but the NFL post season reminds us of sunny days at the beach house. The regular season now becomes a reference point, a base used to compare and contrast. If the regular season is the week, then the playoffs are the weekend. It is now time to relax and enjoy.


College football can not only match this intensity and excitement, or intense excitement, but can easily surpass it. Imagine March Madness and the Final Four. Now multiply that by two and double it. Excitingly intense, I agree.

Under most playoff scenarios, there are 4 to 8 teams that would make the playoffs. That’s less than ten percent of the entire field. To suggest that regular season games would lose their importance would be to suggest that the Seattle Seahawks don’t deserve to be playing football anymore this season—it stinks, and means absolutely very little.

Every team would likely have 2 to 3 losses at most. The regular season would remain just as valuable, or important, as it is now. Do not accept this as a valid reason or necessity for maintaining the pageantry of college football.

As much as I’d like to watch Auburn vs. TCU in the College Football National Championship game presented by the Real College Football Fans of the World, I will settle for Seahawks-Bears in the NFL playoffs, where I can watch two teams compete for the right to play another day.

The NFL Playoffs: “Determining Champions on the Field for over 40 years”

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

BCS Title Game: Auburn-Oregon Pre-Review

1st Quarter:

Auburn kicks the ball off to start the game.

The Ducks want to keep Auburn's defense off-balance and start with a 6-yard screen pass to D.J. Davis.

After a couple of first downs, Auburn's defense stuffs LaMichael James and forces OU to punt.

Auburn takes over at their 33-yard line. Cam Newton leads the Tigers down the field quite easily with a nice mix of power running and play-action passing.

After stalling on the OU 14-yard line, Auburn kicks a 31-yard field-goal.

After exchanging punts, Oregon gets the offense rolling.

With 4;32 left in the quarter, Darron Thomas connects with D.J. Davis on a 43-yard, play-action fake TD pass down the middle of the field.

End of 1st: Oregon 7- Auburn 3

2nd Quarter :

Auburn's offense starts to gain momentum now that the atmosphere has settled down.

Cam Newton escapes for two runs of more than 20 yards on their first drive of the quarter.

After starting from their 17 yard line, the Tigers have 1st and goal at the 7 yard line. Newton fakes a handoff to Michael Dyer, rolls to his right, and finds Emory Blake in the back of the endzone, giving them a 10-7 lead with 10:09 left in the quarter.

Oregon's offense starts to feel some pressure as they are stopped for a 3 and out.

Auburn begins to gain more confidence, and Cam Newton finds Darvin Adams along the sidelines for a 56-yard TD pass. The score puts the Tigers in front 17-7.

The Ducks jump right back into the game after a 59-yard kickoff return by Josh Huff is followed by a 41-yard screen pass to LaMichael James for a touchdown.

The defenses stand their ground the rest of the half as Auburn takes a 3-point lead into the locker room.

Halftime: Auburn 17-Oregon 14

3rd Quarter:

Auburn begins the half with a steady diet of Cam and Newton. After grinding the ball down the field for 48 yards on 9 plays, the Tigers are held short on a 3rd and 8 from Oregon's 21 yard line.
The Tigers settle for a FG, but not before slicing 5:29 off the clock.

Down 20-14, Oregon's offense kicks into gear and marches down the field without much resistance from Auburn's defense. The Ducks seem to be in good shape with a first down at the Tigers' 23 yard line.

The tide changes as Auburn's Nick Fairley forces Darron Thomas to attempt an errant pass, causing a fumble which the Tigers recover.

Auburn does not waist time and scores on a Cam Newton 16-yard run to cap a 4-play, 67-yard drive.

Oregon ends the quarter with a 47-yard FG and trail the Tigers by 10.

End of 3rd: Auburn 27-Oregon 17

4th Quarter :

After bending but not breaking throughout most of the game, Oregon's defense turns up the heat.

The Tigers are caught off guard by a zone-blitz as Cam Newton rifles a pass into the waiting arms of Oregon CB Cliff Harris at the Duck's 32-yard line.

Oregon is re-energized.

The Ducks up-tempo style, as it has all season, is taking a toll on its opponent. Darron Thomas works the ball down the field with a series of misdirection and reverse style plays. The 68-yard drive is capped off with a 13-yard TD run up the middle by Kenjon Barner.

Cam Newton leads Auburn down the field and scores a TD on a 5-yard run to give Auburn a 34-24 lead with 6:16 left in the game.

The Ducks answer with a TD drive of their own as Darron Thomas finds Jeff Maehl in the corner of the endzone.

After holding Auburn to a 3 and out, Oregon receives the ball at their 24-yard line down 34-31 with 2:21 left in the game.

Darron Thomas and LaMichael James perform admirably as the Ducks look to get into FG range. Thomas finds James one last time for a 10-yard pass to put Oregon at Auburn's 33-yard line with 0:03 left on the clock.

Rob Beard's kick has the distance, but sails just a foot to the left of the upright.

Final: Auburn 34-Oregon 31


Cam Newton cemented his place in college football lore as Auburn outlasts Oregon in an instant classic. Despite allowing 31 points, Auburn's defense was the difference in the game. Oregon's heralded offense could not maintain the blurring pace with which it had played during the season.

Notable stats:

Auburn QB

Cam Newton- 23-33, 259 yards, 2 TD, 1 Int,
22 rushes, 135 yards, 2 TD

Oregon RB

LaMichael James- 24 rushes, 109 yards
4 receptions, 57 yards, TD