Monthly Archives: January 2012

One More Miracle?: Saturday’s Divisional Round Playoff Picks

Saints (-3.5) vs 49ers

The second round of the playoffs kick off with what will probably be the most competitive game of the weekend. The Saints, who have never won a playoff game in an opposing team’s stadium, will most likely have to win two such games to reach the Super Bowl.

A lot of people seem to be already penciling the Saints in to the NFC title game, but this will not be an easy game. New Orleans doesn’t play as well on the road and their defense is average to below average.  The Niners boast one of the leagues’ best defenses, they’re one of the healthiest playoff teams in recent memory, and they have the luxury of home field advantage.

I still think the Saints will win, but it won’t be easy, and I will not be shocked if the 49ers pull off the upset.

Unsung Hero: Robert Meacham, NO; The Niners defense has been great in 2011, but they have been susceptible to the big play. Meacham and Devery Henderson should be able to slip by the Niners’ secondary for a big play or two.

Pick: Saints 24 49ers 22

Patriots (-13.5) vs Broncos

For the Broncos to win this game, everything will have to break their way. They’ll have to get constant pressure on Tom Brady and force him into a few turnovers. Tim Tebow will have to play a perfect game, and the Denver running game will have to consistently move the chains and eat up clock.

It won’t be easy, but the way things have gone for the Broncos this season, nothing is out of the question.

Still, I think this is the end of the road for Broncos and their folk hero. In his first career road playoff start, Tebow won’t be able to keep up the scoring pace with Brady, Gronk, Welker and the rest of the Pats offense.

But really, who knows, it’s Tebow.

Unsung Hero: Patrick Chung, NE; The Pats can’t let Tebow come up with big plays, and they should be able to force him into a few turnovers. Watch for Chung to make some noise with a forced turnover or two.  Chung, one of the best players on the Patriots’ below average defense, missed most of the season’s second half, including the first meeting with the Broncos.

Pick: Patriots 38 Broncos 14

 

 

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Win or Lose Tonight, LSU Still Deserves A National Championship

The Honey Badger gets all the attention, but Morris Claiborne has been LSU’s best defender this season.

A lot will be at stake tonight when LSU and Alabama face off in the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans. Legacy, pride, the aforementioned BCS Championship, the No. 1 ranking in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, and of course, all the Allstate Insurance.

One thing that should not be decided tonight is the AP National Championship. Win or lose, the Bayou Bengals deserve a share of the national championship.

Why? Because the Tigers would still own the best resume in college football.

LSU beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa back on Nov. 5th in “The Game of the Century.” To me, that victory is more impressive than a hypothetical Alabama victory in the BCS Championship Game. Not only did LSU manage to win on the road, they did so in the middle of the regular season, not after a 36 day layoff.

And as so many proponents of the silly BCS system like to preach, the college football regular season is sacred. So shouldn’t a regular season victory hold more weight than a bowl victory?

But LSU’s season was a whole lot more than that one game, even if it was “the game of the century.” As of right now, Les Miles’ team has earned victories over the champions of two BCS bowls (Oregon, Rose and West Virgina, Orange). And if Alabama wins the BCS Championship Game, it means LSU would have beaten three of the five 2012 BCS bowl winners. LSU also beat Arkansas, the champion of the Cotton Bowl, which this year was of higher quality (No. 6 Arkansas vs No. 8 Kansas State) than the Sugar Bowl (No. 11 Virginia Tech vs No. 13 Michigan).

LSU managed to beat eight bowl teams during the regular season, and six of those teams went on to win their bowl games (Alabama is still TBD, of course). The Tigers’ success wasn’t the product of home cooking. They beat Big East Champion West Virginia and National Semifinalist Alabama on the road, and PAC-12 Champion Oregon at a neutral site (albeit, Dallas is much closer to Louisiana than it is Oregon).

While a victory over LSU would obviously boost their resume, Alabama’s credentials would still be lacking in comparison to LSU. Nick Saban’s squad’s best regular season win was a 38-14 home victory against Arkansas (LSU beat the Razorbacks at home 42-17). The Crimson Tide’s best non-conference win a 27-11 road victory against Penn State, a team with an embarrassing offense. I’m honestly surprised the Matt McGloin, Rob Bolden and the Nittany Lions managed 11 points against the outstanding Alabama defense.

There has been some debate over whether Oklahoma State could earn a split of the National Championship should LSU trip up tonight. While Oklahoma State had a great season, I have no idea how the Cowboys could earn a split title over LSU. Oklahoma State has some impressive victories (Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor), but they lost on the road to unranked Iowa State. LSU’s one loss would be to No. 2 Alabama, a team they also beat.

A No. 1 AP vote for the Cowboys would be illogical, but as we all know by now, there’s not much logic in college football, so who knows what will happen.

With a win tonight, LSU will wrap up one of the greatest seasons in the history of college football, and we’ll all be spared another silly debate bred by the illogical BCS system.

But even if LSU can’t get their hands on all the Allstate Insurance tonight, the Bayou Bengals should still be recognized for their outstanding achievements in the regular season.

EPILOGUE:

I. Was. Wrong.

Alabama totally dominated LSU tonight. A 21-0 loss looks bad, but in all honesty, it was worse than that. LSU was never close to scoring. The offensive play calling was pathetic. Those screen passes were not going to work tonight. Neither was the speed option. LSU didn’t get the memo, they kept running them into the fourth quarter.

Alabama’s defense put on one hell of performance, and the Crimson Tide offense and special teams should be commended for not allowing LSU to score. The only way the Tigers were going to reach the end zone tonight was through a turnover or punt/kick return.

I just did not expect LSU to get dominated like they did tonight. I figured if they lost it’d be by a touchdown or less. But, as the game turned out, there is really no way LSU can say they deserve a share of the National Championship. The Tigers had the opportunity to prove to everybody that they were the best team in the country and they couldn’t deliver.

Congratulations to Alabama for being CONSENSUS National Champions. You guys earned it.

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Keith Carter, Proviso East Too Much For Batavia

Proviso East guard Keith Carter drives to the hoop. Photo from the Chicago Sun-Times.

Proviso East 90 Batavia 44

Proviso East showed why they’re worthy of their No. 2 ranking with a wire-to-wire domination of Batavia Saturday night in Maywood.

The Pirates’ relentless, full-court pressure was too much for the Bulldogs. Batavia (4-9) turned the ball over 33 times as Proviso East (13-0) cruised to a 90-44 victory.

“We always hang our hats here at Proviso East on defense,” said Proviso East coach Donnie Boyce. “I think Keith Carter really sets the tone for us. Keith is a four-year varsity player, and I thought he did a good job tonight of really balancing our scoring and playing great defense.”

Carter led the Pirates with 24 points. Guards Paris Lee and Paris Burns both had 10 points, while guard Michael Nicholas added 15 off the bench.

“I thought in the first half we really set the tone with our guard play. Keith Carter, Paris Burns and Paris Lee, they really are the ones that get us going,” said Boyce. “We created our offense off our defense.”

Batavia had a 2-0 lead before the game even tipped off. Proviso’s Sterling Brown was called for a technical foul after he dunked during warm-ups, and Batavia’s Cole Gardner was awarded and made two free throws.

Gardner also made the game’s first basket, and the Bulldogs grabbed an early 4-0 lead. However, Proviso East responded quickly with a 28-1 run to take control of the game.

Proviso East expanded their lead with a 23-0 run to end the second quarter and headed into halftime with a 60-15 lead.

The Bulldogs had more turnovers in the first half (18) than points scored.

Cole Gardner led Batavia with 15 points.

Proviso East had ten players register points. Center Trashaun Carrol had 10 points off the bench, and Brown had 9 points.

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times and yourseason.com

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Revisiting My NFL Predictions and Revised Playoff Picks: Part Three, Super Bowl XLVI and Awards

SUPER BOWL XLVI

Preseason Pick:

Packers over Ravens

Revised Prediction:

Packers 31 Ravens 20

I’m not going to change a thing. I think the Packers ride home field advantage to another Super Bowl, where Aaron Rodgers wins the game’s MVP again as the Packers win back-to-back Super Bowls for the second time in their history.

POSTSEASON AWARD PICKS (Preseason picks in italics):

NFL MVP: Aaron Rodgers, GB – 4,643 yards, 44 TDs, 6 INTs, 68.3 comp %

Preseason Pick: Aaron Rodgers, GB

You really can’t go wrong picking Rodgers or Drew Brees as the league’s MVP. They both had outstanding seasons, two of the best season-long performances in NFL history. You really have to nit pick to choose one over the other. In the end, I went with Rodgers because he threw less interceptions and won two more games, including the head-to-head match-up between the two quarterbacks way back on the season’s opening Thursday. Rodgers’ 44-6 TD-to-INT ratio was just out of this world good.

Honorable Mentions: Drew Brees, NO; Tom Brady, NE

Offensive Player of the Year: Drew Brees, NO – 5,476 yards, 46 TDs, 14 INTs 71.2 comp %

Preseason Pick: Rodgers

I hedged my bets by picking Brees as the offensive player of the year. Brees put up tremendous numbers, breaking Dan Marino’s record for passing yards in a season and his own record for completion percentage.

Honorable Mentions: Rodgers; Brady, NE; Calvin Johnson, DET; Matthew Stafford, DET; Maurice Jones-Drew, JAX; Rob Gronkowski, NE; Jimmy Graham, NO

That would be T-Sizzle, from Ball Hard University of course…

Defensive Player of the Year: Terrell Suggs, BAL – 70 tackles, 14 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, 2 INTs

Another tough call here. I ended up going with Suggs because his numbers, 14 sacks and 7 forced fumbles, were too great to ignore. T-Sizzle made big play after big play this season, helping the Ravens to 12-4 record and AFC North division crown. 49ers’ lineman Justin Smith was also phenomenal this season, and was a big reason why the Niners had so much success his season. He would also be a deserving winner of this award.

Preseason Pick: Ndamukong Suh, DET

Honorable Mentions: Justin Smith, SF; Jared Allen, MIN; Jason Pierre-Paul, NYG; DeMarcus Ware, DAL; Darrelle Revis, NYJ; Jonathan Joseph, HOU

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Cam Newton, CAR – 4051 passing yards, 21 TDs, 706 rushing yards, 14 TDs

Preseason Pick: Mark Ingram, NO

This was a no-brainer. Newton had one of the best rookie seasons of all time. Newton has out of this world talent. I’m not sure there has ever been a quarterback with as much potential as Newton.

Honorable Mentions: A.J. Green, CIN; Julio Jones, ATL; Andy Dalton, CIN; DeMarco Murray, DAL

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Von Miller, DEN-  64 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles

Preseason Pick: J.J. Watt, HOU

Another really tough call here, this time between Miler and 49ers’ linebacker Aldon Smith. In the end, I went with Miller because he was the best player on a playoff team (be it as it may, an 8-8 playoff team). Tebow gets all the pub, but Von Miller was outstanding this season. Without Miller, the Broncos are likely out of the playoffs.

Honorable Mentions: Smith, SF; Watt, HOU

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Revisiting My NFL Predictions and Revised Playoff Picks: Part Two, NFC

Preseason Playoff Picks:

WILD CARD ROUND:

Falcons over Rams

Eagles over Bucs

DIVISIONAL ROUND:

Packers over Falcons

Saints over Eagles

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP:

Packers over Saints

I didn’t do as well with my NFC picks, I picked five of the eight playoff teams correctly. Picking the Bucs to earn a wild card slot really damages my limited credibility. I knew a big reason they won 10 games in 2010 was their incredibly easy schedule. But still, I saw a very talented roster led by quarterback Josh Freeman that I assumed would only get better with another year of experience. However, when the Buccaneer ship started to sink, that team flat out quit. I’m pretty sure the Colts would have beat them by four or five touchdowns if they had played in week 17. Raheem Morris deserved to lose his job, a coach just can’t let things get that ugly, that quick. A quick aside, there are rumors that the Bucs are looking at former Packers and Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman to replace Morris. Meh, that would be an uninspiring hire.

Actually, I’m not sure, picking the Rams to win the NFC West might be more embarrassing. Again, I saw a young team that barely missed out on the playoffs (albeit with a losing record), led by a young, talented quarterback, that should have only gotten better with a year’s experience. Alas, Sam Bradford couldn’t stay healthy and the Rams never got on track. I also didn’t expect the NFC West to feature one of the best teams in the NFL in 2011. The Jim Harbaugh-led 49ers were great from start to finish, and the Rams, Cardinals and Seahawks never had a chance.

I don’t regret my Eagles pick. The Eagles brought in a ton of new talent this season that didn’t really mesh until it was too late. That’s not all too surprising, considering the lockout washed out the offseason. Philly is expected to fire offensive line coach turned defensive coordinator (great idea, right?) Juan Castillo and replace him with Steve Spagnoulo, former Rams head coach and defensive coordinator of the 2007 Super Bowl champion Giants. If they draft or sign a legit linebacker or two, watch out for the Eagles in 2012.

Revised Playoff Picks:

WILD CARD ROUND:

Falcons over Giants

Saints over Lions

DIVISIONAL ROUND:

Packers over Giants

Saints over 49ers

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP:

Packers over Saints

As with my AFC picks, I’m sticking with my preseason conference championship pick, Packers over Saints. The Saints have looked sensational lately, they’ve been playing as well as any team in the NFL since their baffling loss to the Rams in week eight. While the Packers have cruised to a outstanding 15-1 record, one can argue that they have never looked as dominant as the Saints have since the team’s bye in week 11. The Saints have not just been beating fellow NFC playoff teams, they’ve been embarrassing them. They’ve beaten the Giants by 25, the Lions by 14 and the Falcons by 29.

However, all three of those games came at the Super Dome. If the Saints are to make it to Indianapolis, they’ll most likely have to win two road games, in San Francisco and Green Bay (Well, not if the Giants or Falcons knock off the Packers, but we’ll get to that later…).

I think a Saints/49ers match-up would be close and entertaining, but I like the Saints to win. The Niners defense, led by All-Pro lineman Justin Smith and linebackers Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman, has been superb this season, but San Fran just won’t have the offense to keep pace with Drew Brees and company.

If the Saints end up playing the Packers in the conference championship game, I like the Packers to ride their home field advantage to a victory. I tend not to believe that home field advantage plays a huge role in determining a winner, but I believe it does in this circumstance. The Saints are so dominant in the Super Dome, and their offense is best in an indoor, controlled atmosphere. While the Packers’ offense is best in dome conditions, I think the Saints would be two or three point favorites in a home game against the Packers. But, Lambeau is Lambeau. The frozen tundra, where the Packers have just lost two playoff games in its history (2003 to the Falcons and 2008 to the Giants).

The Packers/Saints game in week one was sensational, and I believe a re-match will be as well. I like the Packers in a tight game, just like week one. I just can’t see the Saints defeating the Packers at Lambeau in January. I would love to be proved wrong.

On the other hand, I would not be shocked to see the Packers lose in the divisional round against the Giants, or even the Falcons. I think the Giants especially pose dangerous match-up problems for the Packers.

To beat Green Bay, you must be able to generate an effective pass rush with your front four. You can’t afford to sacrifice coverage by constantly blitzing linebackers and safeties against Aaron Rodgers. With Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka, the Giants definitely have the ability to do that. Throw in the fact that the Packers enter the playoffs with an injury-riddled offensive line, Rodgers could face a lot of pressure in a potential match-up with the Giants.

The Giants offense should also put some fear into the Packers’ faithful. The Packers’ defense gave up the most passing yards in the history of the NFL this season. Eli Manning has entered the elite level of quarterbacks and, if they’re all healthy, Manning will be working with one of the best recruiting corps in the NFL (Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham).

The Packers have also had trouble stopping the run, and just stopping offenses in general, as they forced the least amount of punts of any team this season. The Giants haven’t run a ton this season, but with a solid O-line, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, the Giants should have the ability to hold the ball and control the pace of the game.

All that said, I still believe the Packers will get to Super Bowl XLVI. Do I think they’ll defend their championship belt in Indy? I’ll post my Super Bowl and award picks soon.

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Ball So Hard in 2012

He’s baaaaaaaaaack.

I really liked one quote Ball dropped in his press conference this afternoon. When talking about people questioning his ability to improve his draft stock next year, he said, “they have no idea what I can and cannot do.” Love it, never doubt what you can do.

I’ll post something longer on Ball and his decision later today.

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Revisiting My NFL Predictions and Revised Playoff Picks: Part One, AFC

Now that the NFL regular season is over, I thought I’d revisit the playoff and award predictions I made before week one, and see how silly they look now. This ended up being longer than I thought, so I’m going to break it up into three parts, 1. AFC 2. NFC 3. Super Bowl and Awards. (Previous picks are in italics.)

Preseason Picks:

WILD CARD ROUND:

Jets over Chargers

Ravens over Texans

DIVISIONAL ROUND:

Patriots over Jets

Ravens over Steelers

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP:

Ravens over Patriots

I’m pretty happy with these picks. I got six of the eight AFC playoff teams right, missing on the two biggest surprises, the Bengals and the Broncos.

I actually had the Bengals going 2-14 to secure the coveted first pick in the NFL Draft. In my alternate prediction world, the Bengals would have picked Andrew Luck to be their franchise QB. As it turns out, they drafted their franchise quarterback in 2011. I had no idea Andy Dalton would be this good this quickly, even though I saw him carve up my Badgers in person during the 2011 Rose Bowl. The Bengals were paper tigers this season though, going 0-7 against playoff teams. They beat one team over .500, the 9-7 Titans.

I had the Broncos 5-11, and they were a few Tebow miracles and Marion Barber acts of stupidity from actually finishing with that record. Tebow gets all the pub, but linebacker Von Miller was the true revelation this season in Denver. He’ll be stud for years to come.

Revised Playoff Picks:

WILD CARD ROUND:

Steelers over Broncos

Texans over Bengals

DIVISIONAL ROUND:

Patriots over Steelers

Ravens over Texans

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP:

Ravens over Patriots

Even after 17 weeks of action, I still don’t really know what to make of the AFC, so I didn’t make many changes to my preseason picks. Thanks to some huge flaws (i.e. the Patriots’ defense) or major injuries (i.e. Matt Schaub and Mario Williams), every team is vulnerable.

The Steelers probably have too many injuries to too many important players. I’m not really including Rashard Mendenhall, I don’t think Isaac Redman is a significant downgrade, Mendenhall is overrated. Big Ben and LaMarr Woodley are nursing injuries, and Ryan Clark will miss the game in Denver due to a blood disorder.

The Texans have just been decimated by injuries. Schaub and Mario Williams are out for the season, and Andre Johnson’s health status is still uncertain. I just can’t see a team quarterbacked by T.J. Yates or Jake Delhomme going very far in the playoffs, even if they do have my man J.J. Watt anchoring the defensive line. If the Texans had the services of Schaub, Williams and Johnson, I would have loved their chances to make the Super Bowl this season. It’s really a shame, but kudos to the franchise for making the playoffs for the first time in its history.

The Patriots’ defense is just awful, there’s just no way around it. As great as Tom Brady and the Pats offense is, I just have a hard time seeing New England making it through the AFC without being betrayed by its porous defense.

I’ll stick with my pick as the Baltimore Ravens as AFC Champions, even if I still have many doubts about Joe Flacco and the rest of the Baltimore offense. Flacco showed me a lot in the Ravens’ comeback win at Heinz Field this year, but its still really hard for me to trust Flacco. My pick of the Ravens has a hell of lot more to do with Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Jarrett Johnson, Lardarius Webb and the rest of the Ravens defense.

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