Friday, December 30, 2011

Bowl Previews: Monday's Games*

With the NFL playing on New year's Day, the traiditional bowl games for that day will be played Monday.

Monday - 12:00 PM - ESPNU
Ticketcity Bowl - Dallas, TX
#19 Houston Cougars (-7) vs. #22 Penn State Nittany Lions
PSU won 9 games and had the same conference record as Wisconsin. Then again they didn't have to play Michigan or Michigan State. Houston won 12 games, but the best team they faced was Southern Miss, and that was the one game they lost. This is a good matchup of offense against defense. Houston scored 50.1 per game (1st in the nation), Penn State held opponents to 15.7 per game (5th best). I think PSU will win.

Penn State +7

Monday - 1:00 PM - ABC
Outback Bowl - Tampa, FL
#17 Michigan State vs. #16 Georgia Bulldogs (-3.5)
Both these teams made their conference title games. MSU was just shy of a BCS bid. Georgia's only losses came to Alabama, Boise State, and South Carolina. I'm more impressed with Michigan State's resume. They beat Michigan. They beat Wisconsin. The best team Georgia beat was Auburn, or maybe Georgia Tech.

Michigan State +3.5

Monday - 1:00 PM - ESPN
Capital One Bowl - Orlando, FL
#20 Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. #9 South Carolina Gamecocks (-2)
South Carolina lost to Auburn and Arkansas and beat Georgia and Clemson. Nebraska also has a good record. They beat Michigan State and Penn State. SC put up 30.1 points per game in the SEC, which is pretty good. They also have a solid defense that should clamp down on Nebraska's one dimensional offense.

South Carolina -2

Monday - 1:00 PM - ESPN2 Gator Bowl - Jacksonville, FL
Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Florida Gators (-2)
Normally these teams meeting would be a tantalizing matchup. Instead, it's a pair of 6-6 teams with 3-5 conference records. OSU was able to beat Wisconsin, then lost to every other quality team they played. Florida's wins were against Furman, UAB, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt. The game is in Florida's backyard, but I have to pick Ohio State.

OSU +2

Saturday - 5:00 PM - ESPN
Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio - Pasadena, CA
#10 Wisconsin Badgers vs. #5 Oregon Ducks (-6)
If not for their October hiccups against Michigan and Ohio State, Wisconsin could be in the title game. If not for a 3 point loss to USC, the Ducks would be in the title game. Wisconsin's defense might be able to slow down the Ducks just enough to allow their offense to keep up. The Badgers can rush the ball and shorten the game. I think that's what they'll do.

Wisconsin +6

Saturday - 8:30 PM - ESPN
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - Glendale, AZ
#4 Stanford Cardinal vs. #3 Oklahoma State Cowboys
How awesome would it be if a game like this was part of a playoff? Both these teams lost 1 game. And they have a legit gripe for being left out of the title game. Both these teams can score points. Oklahoma State is one of the best passing offenses in the nation. Stanford's offense isn't as explosive, but their defense is much more solid. This should be a fun game to watch. I think the Cowboys will come out on top.

Oklahoma State -4

Bowl Previews: Saturday's Bowls*

All this games will be played on Saturday. Five games in total.

Saturday - 12:00 PM - ESPN
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas - Houston, TX
Texas A&M Aggies (-10) vs. Northwestern Wildcats
I thought A&M had a legitimate chance to win the Big XII. So keep that in mind while reading my college football picks. A&M lost to some good teams. Northwestern lost to some bad teams along with good teams. A&M took care of business when playing equal/inferior opponents, and the game is less than 100 miles from College Station.

Aggies -10

Saturday - 2:00 PM - CBS
Hyundai Sun Bowl - El Paso, TX
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (-3) vs. Utah Utes
Tech rushes the ball well over 300 yards a game. They do not pass it. Utah struggles to run and pass. However, their defense is pretty stalwart. They allowed fewer than 20 points per game. I think they'll stop Tech's ground attack.

Utah +3

Saturday - 3:30 PM - ABC
AutoZone Liberty Bowl - Memphis, TN
Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Vanderbilt Commodores (-2)
Cincy won 9 games. Vanderbilt won 3. Vanderbilt is in the SEC, but they're in the East. Vandy's wins came against Army, UConn, Elon, Wake Forest, Kentucky, and Ole Miss. I'm not impressed. I'll take Cincinnati.

Bearcats +2

Saturday - 3:30 PM - ESPN
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl - San Francisco, CA
Illinois Fighting Illini (-3) vs. UCLA Bruins
Illinois won their first 6, lost their last 6. UCLA spread their losses around. In fact, their loss in the Pac-12 title game was the first time they'd lost back-to-back games all season. This game will be an horrific abomination. And I think UCLA will emerge victorious.


Saturday - 7:30 PM - ESPN
Chick-fil-A Bowl - Atlanta, GA
Virginia Cavaliers vs. #25 Auburn Tigers (-3)
I think Auburn is a bit overrated, just because they're in the SEC West. Virginia had a solid season, and might be satisfied just to make this bowl game against Auburn. I have a gut feeling that they'll win.

Virginia +3

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bowl Previews: Tomorrow's Bowls*

All four of these bowls will be played on Friday. It's a very packed day of football.

Friday - 12:00 PM - ESPN
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl - Dallas, TX
BYU Cougars vs. Tulsa Hurricanes (-1)
BYU won 9 games as an independent. They lost to Texas, TCU, and Utah, so that's not too shabby. Tulsa's losses are also nothing to be ashamed of (Oklahoma, Boise State, Oklahoma State, Houston). The Hurricanes have a good offense, and I think they'll be able to score against BYU.

Tulsa -1

Friday - 3:20 PM - ESPN
New Era Pinstripe Bowl - Bronx, NY
Rutgers scarlet Knights (-1.5) vs. Iowa State Cyclones
Rutgers will essentially be the home team. ISU only won 2 road games. Their big win came against Oklahoma State, but other than that, they were pretty bad. They struggle to score points, they allow nearly 30 per game. Rutgers has the 12th best scoring defense in the country, and it'll be a surprise if Iowa State puts up any points.

Rutgers -1.5

Friday - 6:40 PM - ESPN
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl - Nashville, TN
Mississippi State Bulldogs (-6.5) vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Long title, long school names. To make a long story short, both these teams went 6-6. But Mississippi State's schedule might have been a little tougher out in the SEC West. MSU was 4-0 outside of conference play. Wake Forest was 1-3, and that 1 was against Gardner-Webb.

Mississippi State -6.5

Friday - 10:00 PM - ESPN
Insight Bowl - Tempe, AZ
Iowa Hawkeyes vs. #14 Oklahoma Sooners (-14)
OU can't be happy to be playing in this part of Arizona. The question is, will they be motivated to prove something, or depressed and glum. Iowa is a tough team to figure out. They lost to Iowa State, but also beat Michigan. I think they'll at least make a game of it against a bruised and battered OU team.

Iowa +14

World Juniors: Finland 4, USA 1

The US tried to push around Finland, just as they'd pushed around Denmark. It didn't work. Not only did the Finns stand firm, they actually won the physical battles at the half wall. Finland didn't dominate the game as the score might suggest. But they were the better forechecking team. Their goaltending was also superior. Sami Aittokallio made some brilliant saves for Finland, and American John Gibson let a few pucks squeeze through him. Even if he hadn't, the US wasn't going to win.

The American team essentially must win against the Czech Republic Friday afternoon if they want to advance to the quarterfinals.

The Czechs just got beaten 5-0 by the Canadians, but they were playing the second of back-to-back games and looked extremely tired. They'll bring their best game when they play the USA.

Russia beat Slovakia 3-1 and have won both their games, just like Canada. In a bit of a surprise, Sweden needed a shootout to beat Switzerland 4-3.

Photo Credit:
The Canadian Press

Park Street Station on Christmas

Why not try to spread holiday cheer on the T?

The MBTA was not so cheerful about the prank. The employee who programmed the scrolling marquee to declare the holiday greeting was written up by his bosses, but was not suspended or fired. I think even to be written up for it is a bit Scroogelike.

More on the Andrew Bailey Trade

The Sox sent Josh Reddick, infield prospect Miles Head (yes, the Sox gave Head for Andrew Bailey), and minor league pitcher Raul Alcantara to Oakland. In return, they received Andrew Bailey, and outfielder Ryan Sweeney.

There's nothing not to like about this move. Reddick was a decent 4th outfielder, but that's something easily acquired. Ryan Sweeney, for instance, has a .283 career average. Bailey, on the other hand, considerably improves the Red Sox bullpen. Which needed improving.

He's closed for three seasons in Oakland. And while he's never recorded more than 30 Saves in a season, that's probably because Oakland hasn't finished above .500 in the three seasons he's been out there. He's only blown 9 Saves in his career, and only 5 in the last two years. That's an 89% conversion rate, and that's not bad. Papelbon converted 88% of his Saves.

It'll be interesting to see how he handles an increased workload. He only pitched 41.2 innings last year, and 49 the year before. Again, as closer for the A's, opportunities to work are limited. He threw 83.1 innings in his rookie season and did quite well.

He doesn't have the track record of an established MLB closer, but he has done the job. Unlike say Daniel Bard. Speaking of which, it's almost a foregone conclusion that Bard will be in the rotation.

It's kind of funny how boring and frustrating this Red Sox season has been that this seems like a huge acquisition.

Bruins Win Duel in the Desert

It was a goaltender's duel, but the Bruins emerged victorious thanks to some good old fashioned grinding. They were sloppy at times, and for most of the 2nd period they seemed to listlessly drift around the slushy ice. But they picked it up in the 3rd, then ended it in OT. The Bruins outshot the Coyotes 12-4 in the 3rd period and overtime.

Krejci's goal to start the game was a heads-up play as the Bruins took advantage of the Coyotes paying too much attention to Brad Marchand. Then the Bruins hibernated for a period and a half, then woke up.

The only goal Tuukka Rask allowed was a piece of craftsmanship from Ray Whitney. There's a reason that guy has nearly 1,000 points.

The highlight of the game was Adam McQuaid's thrashing of Raffi Torres. Torres had just checked Ference underneath the jaw, and McQuaid made him pay for it.

Check out the girl in the front row at 0:55. Warm desert temperatures may cause poor ice conditions, but they also allow girls to wear stuff like that.

Anyway, Torres only deserved a minor penalty for the hit, and McQuaid dished out the rest of the punishment. McQuaid is as insane as Mark Stuart, only taller, and a more sound defenseman.

Last night he was more like the Road Runner, nearly killing a Coyote.

It's nice to see that the Bruins can win an 8-0 game, then come back and grind out a 2-1 victory. They play in Dallas Saturday night.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sox Acquire Andrew Bailey

Buster Olney has tweeted that the Red Sox have made a trade with Oakland for closer Andrew Bailey. The deal is rumored to involve Josh Reddick. Bailey is 27 years old and recorded 24 saves last year. He has 75 career saves. We'll have more on this story as it develops.

Patriots Send 8 to Pro Bowl

This post brought to you by JUGS Sports Batting Cages

The Pats and 49ers are tied for the most Pro Bowlers, both teams with 8 named to the roster. The Patriots have 7 starters. QB Tom Brady, WR Wes Welker, TE Rob Gronkowski, OG Logan Mankins, OG Brian Waters, DE Andre Carter, and DT Vince Wilfork. Matthew Slater was named as a special teams player.

The Brady, Welker, and Gronkowski picks are obvious. Brady is clearly the best quarterback in the AFC, Welker has 116 catches, and Gronkowski has 15 TDs. Mankins has become a perennial Pro Bowler. Brian Waters was a late acquisition, and has been indispensable for the Patriots. Wilfork has a reputation and Andre Carter was having a great year before he got hurt. Slater has been excellent on special teams and is perhaps the best open-field tackler on the team.

What does having 8 Pro Bowlers mean? Not much. It's a nice honor for guys like Slater. But I don't think guys like Brady or Wilfork care very much. Their eyes are on the postseason, and on team goals.

Pierceless Celtics Fall Short in Miami

Normally, if the Celtics were winless on December 27th, there'd be cause for concern. But with the abbreviated season and the lack of Paul Pierce, I'm not terribly worried. The C's were a few key plays from beating Miami in Miami. All without Pierce.

Then again, they needed outstanding nights from Allen and Rondo to even be close. Allen was 6/8 with his 3 pointers, and Rondo scored 22. Rondo was the only Celtic who seemed capable of playing with speed. They also got 18 from Kevin Dooling.

What they didn't get was much production from Garnett. I hardly noticed when he was on or off the court. He scored 12. O'Neal didn't score at all and Pavlovic only scored 5. Without Pierce, KG needs to be more of a factor. And guys like O'Neal need to do something.

I don't think the C's will struggle to beat the mediocre teams of the NBA, even without Pierce for 2 more games. So while they're 0-2, I doubt they'll struggle to win games. However, they do need to improve in a few areas if they want to do anything memorable in the playoffs.

They're in New Orleans tonight.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

It's World Juniors Time!

The best young hockey players (under 20) in the world have converged in Alberta for the 2012 World Junior Ice Hockey Championship. Canada is the favorite to win, not only as the host country, not only as the 15 time winner, but as the most talented team. However, they haven't won since 2009.

There are two groups of 5 teams in the round-robin stage. The top 3 teams from each group advance to the elimination stage, with the group winners receiving byes to the semifinals. Here are the groups:

Group A:

Group B:
Czech Republic

The US has already thrashed Denmark 11-3, while Canada dominated Finland 8-1. Also, Sweden beat Latvia 9-4, and Russia took care of Switzerland 3-0. So no surprises so far.

The US will be playing Canada on New Year's Eve at 8pm. They'll play Finland on the 28th, and the Czech Republic on the 30th.

Other things to look for include some young Bruins and a few local college kids. Russia's Alexander Khokhlachev was drafted 40th overall by the Bruins in this year's draft. 9th overall pick Dougie Hamilton is playing for Canada and scored a goal last night.

The US team has a few New England college kids. BU's Adam Clendening, BC's Bill Arnold scored last night, Vermont's Connor Brickley, and Weymouth's own Charlie Coyle, who used to play for BU until recently, who scored a hat-trick last night.

The WJHC is a fun tournament to watch. The hockey's fast, it's intense, the Canadian crowd will be into it, and the shaky goaltending and inexperienced defense leads to some wide open play and lots of scoring.

The finals will be played on January 5th.

Bowl Previews: This Week's Bowls*

We've got quite a few bowl games this week. Two today, two tomorrow, two Thursday, Then even more as New Year's approaches. My record for picking these games hasn't been bad. 3-5. Better than I was doing with picks earlier in the year.

Today - 4:30 PM - ESPN
Little Caesars Bowl - Detroit, MI
Western Michigan Broncos vs. Purdue Boilermakers (-3)
WMU has a good offense, but a poor defense. They can throw the ball. Purdue is in the middle of the pack defensively and offensively. The polite word is "balanced," the appropriate word is "mediocre." Kalamazoo is only 2 and a half hours from Detroit. I think WMU has the edge in this game.

WMU +3

Tonight - 8:00 PM - ESPN
Belk Bowl - Charlotte, NC
Louisville Cardinals vs. NC State Wolfpack (PK)
UL lost to Florida Int'l, and Marshall. NC State lost to BC. Neither of these teams impresses me. NC State will have the crowd behind them. Louisville will struggle to put up points. I'll take a 4-4 ACC team over a 5-2 Big East team.

NC State (pick 'em)

Wednesday - 4:30 PM - ESPN
Military Bowl, presented by Northrup Grumman - Washington, DC
Toledo Rockets (-3) vs. Air Force Falcons
Toledo lost 4 games. To Boise State, Ohio State, Syracuse, and Northern Illinois. That's not awful for a MAC team. That loss to NIU was 63-60, which sums up Toledo's greatest strength (their offense) and biggest weakness (defense). Air Force doesn't have a defense that's anything special. They can run the ball (320.3 yards per game), so either they'll keep the ball away from Toledo's explosive offense, or they'll fall behind and need to chew up clock to catch up. Air Force isn't equipped to take full advantage of Toledo's porous defense.

Toledo -3.

Wednesday - 8:00 PM - ESPN
Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl - San Diego, CA
California Golden Bears vs. #24 Texas Longhorns (-3)
Cals 7-5 record was inflated by wins against some bad teams. Texas is in a similar boat, only not as bad. The Longhorns have more talent in this battle of mediocrity. They also crushed UCLA, whereas Cal lost to the Bruins.

Texas -3

Thursday - 5:30 PM - ESPN
Champ Sports Bowl - Orlando, FL
Florida State Seminoles (-3) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Two powerhouse programs that were expected to do well in 2011 but fell very short. I simply do not believe in Notre Dame. Sure, they won 8 games, they beat Michigan State, but their schedule is packed with bad teams. BC, Maryland, Purdue. FSU, on paper, is a much better team. And they'll be the better team on the field as well.

FSU -3

Thursday - 9:00 PM - ESPN
Washington Huskies vs. Baylor Bears (-9.5)
Washington lost to pretty much every good team in the Pac-12. They allow 33.3 points per game, which does not bode well for a matchup against RG3 and the Bears of Baylor. This game should see plenty of points. But Baylor will have more of them. Much more of them.

Baylor -9.5

Bruins Put Up a Snowman Before Christmas

The Bruins scored a touchdown and then a two point conversion Friday night, taking full advantage of a Florida team that was visibly exhausted. The Panthers had played the night before in Ottawa, had played 3 games in 4 days, and were missing 7 forwards. So anything less than a Bruins win was unacceptable.

What I liked most about this win, apart from the TD Garden crowd chanting "Merry Christmas," was how the Bruins continued to apply pressure. In years past, the B's would get a 2 or 3 goal lead, then try to cruise for the rest of the game. And it frequently bit them in the ass. See: 2010 playoff series vs. Philadelphia.

But this season, we're seeing the Bruins improve once they get a lead. They smell blood and the water and it excites them like piranhas. That's why we've seen them score so many goals within a single minute.

Obviously Brad Marchand was the star of the game, netting his first career hat-trick. Give Seguin some additional credit for that assist on Marchand's third.

What might be a bit overlooked is that Tuukka Rask stopped all 30 shots he faced. That's 2 straight shutouts for Tuukka, plus the clean 3rd period he played in net in Columbus. That's 7 periods and 155 minutes since he allowed his last goal, 4:50 into the 3rd in Winnipeg on December 6th. And he's this team's backup goalie.

The Bruins are 20-2-1 since the end of October. And it's because they're getting contributions from Marchand, from Rask, from Seguin, from everyone.

They don't play until Wednesday night in Phoenix. It's the start of a 3 game road trip that will stretch into 2012.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Patriots Play Half a Game, Still Win

It was ugly. And if the Pats were playing another team, it probably would have been a loss. Instead, the Patriots came back from a 17-0 deficit and with that win clinched a first round bye.

I've been saying it for weeks now. The Patriots' success and failure is determined by how well the offense does. The defense is what it is. In the Buffalo loss, Brady threw 4 picks. In the Pittsburgh loss, the offense struggled to get first downs. In the Giants loss, the Pats turned the ball over 4 times.

In Saturday's game, we saw the offense struggle in the first half, and the team was doomed. In the second half, the offense did well, and the team looked great. The Dolphins helped by turning the ball over. That's what alarms me. If the Patriots offense has a bad half, or faces a good pass rush, and they're playing a quality team, will they be able to come back? Can they depend on unforced turnovers in the 2nd half?

For this team to make a deep playoff run, the offense has to be amazing. And they have to be at least good on just about every drive.

They've got a bye, which is huge. It's advancing a round in the playoffs before the playoffs even start. But they need to play better if they want to advance. And it's not the defense that needs to improve (I'd argue that they can't improve), it's the offense.

Pats host the Bills on Sunday and can clinch the #1 seed and homefield with a win. I'm sure the Pats will also be looking to get a measure of revenge for their 34-31 loss to Buffalo in September.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bowl Previews: This Weekend's Bowls*

We've got a bowl game on Christmas Eve, then another on Boxing Day (the 26th). It'll be tough to catch these games with a full NFL slate and holiday stuff mixed in. But here are my picks anyway:

Saturday - 8:00 PM - ESPN
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl - Honolulu, HA
Nevada Wolfpack vs. #21 Southern Miss Golden Eagles (-8)
It's hard not to pick Southern Miss. They won 11 games, they beat Houston, their two losses were close and on the road, 14th ranked offense, 29th defense. Meanwhile, Nevada struggled to beat the relatively quality teams on their schedule. I have to pick the Golden Eagles.

Southern Miss -8

Monday - 5:00 PM - ESPN
AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl - Shreveport, LA
Missouri Tigers vs. North Carolina Tar Heels
Both these programs had higher expectations than this. Mizzou finished 5th in the Big XII, UNC was tied for 8th in the ACC. Although the Big XII was a better conference, Missouri couldn't beat any of the decent or good teams. This should be a close game, and I think Carolina will pull it out, or at least prevent Missouri from covering the 5 point spread.

North Carolina +5.

More picks next week as the quantity and quality of bowl games increases. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bowl Previews: This Week's Bowls*

My picks were 2-1 on Saturday, and although I'm tempted to quit while I'm ahead, I've got more picks. These are some weekday bowls starting tonight, and there are actually some very good teams involved. TCU plays tomorrow night, and Boise State plays Thursday night. That's the big dropoff from BCS Bowls for these conferences. Try to convince me that the BCS doesn't violate some sort of anti-trust laws. Anyway, here are the picks (all times are Eastern):

Tonight - 8:00 PM - ESPN
Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl - St. Petersburg, FL
Florida International Golden Panthers (-3.5) vs. Marshall Thundering Herd
They might need the biggest marquee in history to fit all those words onto one sign. FIU is one of the few teams headed north to their bowl game. The Golden Panthers were 8-4, and even beat Louisville. Meanwhile, Marshall barely was bowl eligible. The Herd also beat Louisville. Man, Louisville sucks. Marshall will be happy to make the trip and lose with little fight.

FIU -3.5

Wednesday - 8:00 PM - ESPN
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl - San Diego, CA
#18 TCU Horned Frogs (-9.5) vs. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Speaking of lengthy titles... TCU won 10 games, and only lost to Baylor (50-48) and SMU (in OT). 9th best offense in the country, respectable 30th in defense. Meanwhile, LaTech has mounted a 7 game win streak after starting 1-4. Maybe ESPN should be drooling all over their quarterback just like they did with Tebow. The Bulldogs will put up a fight, but TCU is legitimately good.

TCU -9.5

Thursday - 8:00 PM - ESPN
Maaco Bowl - Las Vegas, NV
Arizona State Sun Devils vs. #7 Boise State Broncos (-14)
Can you understand why BSU wanted to join the Big East so badly? They go 11-1, finish 2nd in their conference to TCU, and they win up playing before Christmas. ASU can score, and their passing offense is 11th best in the country. They have a good QB and a good RB. This game will be interesting until halftime when BSU pulls away.

Boise State -14

We'll have more bowl previews later this week.

B's Beat Habs With One Hand Tied Behind Their Back

The Bruins did not have Milan Lucic. They didn't even play their best. And they still beat the Canadiens.

Despite struggling to break out with the puck, despite some foolish turnovers, despite occasionally taking Montreal's speed for granted, the Bruins prevailed. Things are going well for the B's, and going poorly for the Habs.

And I don't feel the slightest shred of pity. This is a team with a fanbase more concerned about the languages its head coach can fluently speak than about whether or not he can get their team to play. This is a team more concerned with style than substance. This is a team of soccer players on skates and they simply cannot stand toe-to-toe with a focused Bruins team.

Patrice Bergeron deserves at least a nomination for the Selke (awarded to the best defensive forward). He forced the turnover that allowed Seguin and Marchand to score what wound up being the deciding goal. There's no forward I'd rather have on the ice in a tough defensive situation than Patrice Bergeron.

10th divisional win for the Bruins, who now have a 9 point cushion on 2nd place Toronto, with a game in hand.

The Bruins host the Panthers Friday night in a meeting of divisional leaders. The Panthers were the last team to beat the Bruins, so this could be a good test.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Monday, December 19, 2011

Howe Chara Got His Groove Back

Zdeno Chara returned to the Bruins lineup and his impact was felt early and often. He was challenged to a fight 2:13 into the game. He scored a goal about 6 minutes later. And he completed his fourth career Gordie Howe hat-trick 7 minutes into the 2nd. Horton was an assist shy of accomplishing the feat.

This was a big test for the Bruins, and they Aced it. The Flyers had won 7 straight, they were atop the Eastern Conference standings, and this was the team that beat the Bruins on Opening Night, partially dampening the B's banner raising celebration. The Bruins got some revenge, and made a huge statement with this win.

The B's scored with deflections and rebound goals. Seguin's was the prettiest of the bunch, and it should have been stopped by Bobrovsky. But as ugly as the goals were, they were the products of good play and puck possession. Also, the Bruins' defensemen were excellent at getting shots at net. Those either went in, were deflected, or were juicy rebounds.

I have to give Julien tons of credit for getting this team to play this well on Saturday. They were flat in Ottawa, and instead of coming to Boston, then going to Philly, the B's stayed in Ontario. Claude gave the team a day off. I'm sure some guys relaxed, some guys went out and blew off some steam. But they all came back reinvigorated.

The Bruins had a full hour of penalties. That's bound to happen in a game against a rival like Philadelphia with a lopsided score. Horton's fighting major means that 10 different Bruins have dropped the gloves this season. That's more than half the skaters on the team.

Lucic got a boarding major, and it was a dirty hit. Thankfully everyone was okay, but I think a suspension is in order. It was a classic case of a defenseless player being checked between the numbers and into the boards.

Tim Thomas recorded his 30th career shutout and 4th of the season. He made some brilliant saves throughout the game. We all know the Tim Thomas story, but it's worth repeating. Drafted in 1994, didn't make his first start until January of 2006, didn't get his first shutout until later that month, and he now has 30. If Dominek Hasek and Martin Brodeur somehow had a son, and he was a late-bloomer, his name would be Tim Thomas.

The Bruins are now on top of the Conference, a month after being stuck in the bottom. They host the Canadiens tonight. Montreal is reeling, having lost 8 of their last 11. They also just fired their coach. This is a good chance to improve the Bruins' already impressive 9-2 divisional record.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Tebow is Human, Brady is Superhuman

Before a big game, it's very rare that Tom Brady is in the shadows of an opposing QB. Tebow got the talk, the praise, and the hype. And I think people kind of forgot that Patriot games are typically decided by how well Brady's offense does against the opposing defense. After all, this is an 11 win team, despite having one of the worst defenses in the NFL.

Brady completed passes to 8 different receivers, but he favored the tight-ends. Hernandez had a monstrous day, 129 yards on 9 catches, plus a TD. Gronkowski had a quiet day, at least for him, with only 4 catches. Wide receivers only accounted for 12 of Brady's 33 targets.

I'm kind of worried about this tendency if Branch gets hurt. Or even worse, if they lost Welker. Ochocinco did catch a touchdown, he did make some key blocks, but he and Brady aren't only on different pages, they're reading different books in different languages. When Brady wants him to go deep, he cuts. There's no on-field chemistry.

The Patriots offense moved the ball, scored often, and didn't turn it over. That's a big reason why the Pats won. If you can't stop Brady and the boys, I don't care how magical you think your QB is, it's going to be a rough day for you.

Looking at Tebow's performance, and two things come to mind:

#1: He had a better day as a QB than he usually does. 11/22, 194 yards, and some of those incompletions were to avoid getting sacked. This speaks to how exploitable the Patriots defense is.

#2: He had a worse day than most QBs have against the Pats. 194 yards, an 80.5 rating. Last week Grossman had a 92.2 rating against the Patriots. Orlovsky had a 113.2 rating. The Pats average over 300 passing yards allowed per game. If a guy can't throw for 300 on this defense, they're simply not that good.

The Broncos did run the ball with alarming effectiveness. Their line created huge holes, and it was frightening how well Denver rushed.

Tebow ran for 93 yards. Of course, that doesn't factor in the 53 yards he lost when getting sacked.

As a team, Denver ran for 252, and averaged 8.1 a carry.

However, if you want to try to win a game on the ground, you'd better avoid putting the football on the ground. That's where this game was ultimately decided. The Patriots did not turn the ball over. The Broncos lost 3 fumbles. There's nothing mythical or magical about it. It's football.

Anyway, the Patriots are 11-3, and they've clinched their 9th AFC East title in the Belichick-Brady era. I know that we won't be having a duckboat parade for a divisional title, but these used to be rare up here. This franchise had only made 10 playoff appearances (only 5 of those were divisional wins) before Brady and Belichick. And in 11 years, that number has nearly doubled.

This has been something special up here in New England. It's still going strong after 11 years.

Pats host the Dolphins at 1PM Saturday.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bowl Preview: Saturday's Bowls*

It's that time of year again. Bowl season. And for the next 24 days we'll have previews and picks for every single bowl game. And I'd seriously suggest not betting based on my picks, because my record in picking college games this season was 24-41-1 before I got lazy/embarrassed and stopped picking games.

All these games will be played tomorrow. And they're all on ESPN. All times are Eastern.

2:00 PM
Gildan New Mexico Bowl - Albuquerque, NM
Temple Owls (-7) vs. Wyoming Cowboys
Both teams went 8-4 this season. And Wyoming actually scored exactly as many points (324) as they allowed. And while the Cowboys played in the Mountain West, which is a bit tougher than Temple's MAC, I'm going to pick the Owls because of their defense. They only allowed 13.8 points per game.

So Temple -7.

5:30 PM
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl - Boise, ID
Ohio Bobcats vs. Utah State Aggies (-1.5)
An interesting matchup between a balanced Ohio team, and a run-heavy, bad defense Utah State team. The Aggies can score points in bunches, they can also give them up in bunches. I'm going to pick the more solid Ohio team.

Ohio +1.5

9:00 PM
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl - New Orleans, LA
San Diego State Aztecs (-4.5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns
ULL are playing close to home (136 miles), but that's as far as their advantages go. SDSU lost 4 games, but they were to Michigan, TCU, Boise State, and Wyoming. So a BCS team, two that could have been in the BCS, and Wyoming. The Cajuns allow nearly 30 points per game and struggled to rush the ball.

SD State -4.5

Picking them also means I can post that picture. Wow.

We'll have more bowl picks on Tuesday.

The Cult of Tim Tebow

Every discussion about Tim Tebow seems to turn religious. I'm not referring to his own religious beliefs or how he expresses them. I have no problem with that stuff. I'm talking about Tebow himself. He's become a mythic figure, a gridiron demigod. He doesn't have fans, he has "followers." Those followers aren't just rooting for him, they "believe in" him. They believe in him because he doesn't just play well in the clutch, he performs "miracles." And if you don't like him or think he's overrated, then you're a "doubter."

I have never seen anything like it. The debates and discussions on ESPN, on sportsradio, on the internet, they all do remind me of something actually. Arguments between science and religion. Atheists try to explain away God with logic (which is foolish, by the way, it's like trying to discuss history with math equations, it's two unrelated languages trying to have a conversation), and fundamentalists try to dismiss logic with faith (equally as foolish). What happens is polarization.

I've heard Tim Tebow called a "polarising figure" but he's just a quarterback. We're the ones doing the polarizing. His disciples gush on and on about him. In response, his doubters (dubbed "haters" because I guess you can't just root against someone in sports anymore) spew statistics. The disciples respond with his 7-1 record. The doubters attribute that record to his defense and a bit of luck. The cycle continues ad infinitum, escalating unchecked.

For the record, I'm a Tim Tebow agnostic. In other words, I'm not sure if he's that good. He's better than Kyle Orton, but who isn't? He doesn't turn the ball over much, and he's performed well in come-from-behind situations, but he's had to come from behind because he sucks for 3 quarters. His defense has kept him in games (15.6 points allowed per game in their last 5 wins), and they've played bad teams that also make huge mistakes (See: Marion Barber).

Actually, I'm a Tim Tebow Jew. I believe that he exists, he's a man, he's not a bad player, but he's not the Messiah. He doesn't perform miracles. He's not supernatural. He's just a football player.

It's hard to stay in the middle of the road with Tebow. Everywhere you look, you're confronted with his fanatic believers and his equally fanatic haters. And it's annoying to hear about how great a player is when he's not great. It's annoying that you can't try to discuss him logically without being bombarded by one-step logic and emotionalism. "He just wins." Really? I thought the team did? Especially when they have to carry their QB until the final round.

The story itself has become a story. It's self-perpetuating. Each column about Tim Tebow spawns two more about the story of Tim Tebow. for example: Tim Tebow Quarterbacks New Young Chrisitan Faith. Debunking the Myths of Tim Tebow. This blog post is a perfect example. The story is no longer about a football player. The story is about the story of a football player.

And we're not discussing this football player in football terms. I keep hearing about how much of an underdog Tebow was, how nobody believed in him. Nobody believed him? He won the frigging Heisman! He was drafted 25th! He's been a highly touted player at every level from high school through college. He hasn't come out of the woodwork. He's 6' 3" and 236 pounds, hardly a small, scrappy, overlooked guy. Can we dispense with the underdog talk?

And the doubters are correct. He has not been a good NFL quarterback, at least not for most of the games he's played. You can argue that he's "a winner," but he succeeds despite sucking 75% of the time. He runs around too much, his mechanics are awful, his throws are hideously inaccurate. His 4th quarter stats are impressive. He has a 111.0 rating in the 4th. But he still has an 83.5 rating in the 3rd, a 50.3 rating in the 2nd, and a 64.0 rating in the 1st.

I've heard some argue that the 4th quarter is what matters most. That's true, I suppose. Unless the deficit is too large to overcome. What's the point of having a good 4th quarter if the opponent won the game by scoring in the other three while you were struggling to get first downs?

That's what happened for Denver against Detroit. The Lions were up 24-3 at halftime, 38-3 going into the 4th quarter. Tebow had a TD drive in that 4th quarter, rushing for 26, throwing 4/6 for 39 yards and the score. More Tebow 4th quarter magic. It made it a 45-10 game.

He's usually clutch though. That's indisputable. And he has his teammates believing that they can win. That's significant and that's a big part of winning. But that's as far as my praise will go. He needs his defensive teammates believing in him, becuase they're the ones who keep the Broncos in the game until Tebow stops sucking.

I'm a logical man, at least I try to be. I'm also capable of leaps of faith, but not when there's explicit evidence to the contrary. Tim Tebow is extremely overrated, overpraised, and overhyped. He's exciting in the 4th quarter, but the defense puts him in a position to play a relevant 4th quarter. He is 7-1, but the "winner" label is reserved for people who have started more than 8 games.

He's not the first QB to be hyped. Brady was a media darling in 2001. Roethlisberger was a huge story in 2004. Tony Romo in 2006, Mark Sanchez in 2009. Brady and Ben are still great. Sanchez isn't. Romo is somewhere in between. I seem to recall Kyle Orton being hyped when he started 6-0 with the Broncos in '09. But with Tebow, everything is amplified. His disciples fiercely defend him like a religious icon. They're not fans. They're zealots. You're attacking their faith when you call him "overrated" or point out that he's not good for 3/4 of a game. It's sacrilegious to speak anything but praise unto Tebow.

I don't hate Tim Tebow. I've never met him. If it weren't for the media hype, and for his legions of loud and delusional fans, I'd feel as indifferent toward him as I feel toward Tyler Palko. When I watch football, I try to keep things in perspective. He's a player. Because of his hype (and because of his opponent) I'm rooting against him on Sunday. I'll continue rooting against him all year. Because I'm tired of the story. I'm tired of the Cult of Tebow. I want their sacred cow to be smashed. He's just a man.

The Broncos Have More Than Tebow

This post will not mention the quarterback of the Denver Broncos. I will talk about him separately later today. This post is about a talented football team, that's playing well, even though we only hear about the quarterback. Who actually isn't playing well. But again, let's save that discussion for later.

As a Patriots fan, this game worries me. The Pats have a poor history against Denver. Tom Brady has a poor history against Denver. He's 1-6 against the Broncos, including his first ever playoff loss. He's thrown 11 TDs and 7 INTs against them. He doesn't even throw to Champ Bailey's side of the field.

Speaking of Bailey, there's some serious talent on the defensive side of the ball out there. Von Miller has 11.5 sacks, Elvis Dumervil has 7.5. They've also got Brian Dawkins and Andrew Goodman. They can cover receivers, and can pressure the QB.

Statistically, their defense isn't overly impressive. But in their current 7-1 stretch, they've allowed 20.3 points per game, and in their last 5 games it's been 15.6 per game.

Before their hot streak started, they were 1-4, but it's not like they were getting crushed. Apart from a 49-23 loss to undefeated Green Bay, they lost to Oakland by 3, to Tennessee by 3, and to San Diego by 5. So they were close to winning. They just needed to dump Orton, who threw 7 picks in those games.

They can run the ball. With their runningback and quarterback. They're the only team with over 2,000 yards on the ground. McGahee has 920 of them. They have only 60 fewer rushing yards than passing yards as a team.

This team seems to match up decently with the Patriots. I think that Brady and the offense will struggle to have a great game. I think the Broncos can rush the ball and eat the clock.

I'm not too worried about the Broncos' quarterback. To be blunt, almost any QB on the planet scares me in a two-minute drill against the Patriots' defense. What concerns me about Denver is their potentially stifling defense, and their ability to run the ball. They're a good all around team, even though we only hear about one of their players.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


This was a sleepy game. Both teams played the night before, both had to travel. Neither team played very well, nor with intensity. Both teams made mental errors. The decisive difference was that Tim Thomas is a much better goalie than Craig Anderson.

Timmy looked much more comfortable and poised than his last start in Columbus. He made some big saves, he moved across the crease with speed and grace. He faced 49 shots and stopped all but 2 of them. And the second one probably should have been blocked by Joe Corvo.

The Bruins scored some breakaway goals, taking advantage of Ottawa's mistakes. But they made plenty of their own. Thankfully the Bruins have Tim Thomas, and the Senators only have one Daniel Alfredsson and one Jason Spezza. If time of possession were kept as a stat, the Senators would have dominated the category. I don't mind short possessions that end in breakaway goals, but the B's didn't take care of the puck in their own zone or in the neutral zone, and often didn't even get the puck into the offensive zone.

But, we are in the middle of December, 30 games into a long regular season. It was a back-to-back game against an opponent that can be beaten with less than 100% effort. And ultimately, it was a win. The Bruins' 20th win. Which ties them with Minnesota for the most in the NHL. The B's are 9-2-0 in the Northeast Division. They're one of 3 teams with 100+ goals scored. And they've only allowed 61.

They face one of the other 100+ goal teams on Saturday, in a matinee against the Flyers.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Monday, December 12, 2011

RG3 Wins Heisman

Isn't it weird that the Heisman selects 5 finalists, and the BCS selects only 2? Maybe the BCS could learn something from the Heisman.

Robert Griffin III won the Heisman, by a significant margin over Andrew Luck, who finished 2nd for the second straight year. RG3 is Baylor's first Heisman winner, despite Baylor losing 3 games. Griffin won because of his "wow factor." He was by far the most electrifying of the potential winners.

Half his TD passes were for 35+ yards. He was the entire Baylor offense, and essentially the entire Baylor team. He won shootout games with his arm and with his legs. When Baylor was on TV, you had to watch, regardless of the opponent or score.

Andrew Luck is the best NFL prospect precisely because he's not as exciting. He's consistent, solid, mistake-free. He surgically dissects opposing defenses. RG3, on the other hand, slices and slashes through opposing defenses with a chainsaw.

Trent Richardson was as solid, dependable, and relentlessly powerful as you'd expect an Alabama runningback to be. He did his job, and did it well, scoring 20 TDs against notoriously stingy SEC defenses. He was the most productive offensive player on a team playing for a National Championship. He was a workhorse. But workhorses aren't as exciting as racing thoroughbreds. And that's what RG3 was.

Montee Ball was like Richardson, only he wasn't as well known at the start of the season, and didn't play for as good of a team. His 38 touchdowns weren't just against weak competition. He scored in every single game. He had four games with 4 TDs. He also had wide highways to run through thanks to Wisconsin's line. Ball entered Heisman discussion a bit after RG3 did. And while 38 TDs is impressive, RG3 threw for 36, and ran for 9. Which is more exciting, a 10 yard rushing TD or a 40 yard passing TD?

Tyrann Mathieu did have some of the most exciting plays on his highlight reel. But the reel is too short. I would love to see a defensive player win the Heisman again, but it won't happen unless they return half a dozen punts for a touchdown. Mathieu was electric, but he was just a few sparks here and there, while RG3 was a raging inferno every week.

So Griffin III won the Heisman. He's a junior. He might stay at Baylor and try to make a BCS Bowl. He might enter the Draft. If I were an NFL GM, I'd take Luck first, but I wouldn't complain about being "stuck" with Robert Griffin III.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

B's Get W From CBJ's

It wasn't a boring game, that's for sure. Physical. Fast. The winning team pulled its goalie. Joe Corvo scored 2 goals (2 more than he's scored in his last 31 games). Lucic was maybe the Bruins' worst player in the 1st, then their best in the 2nd. Fights. Breakaway goals. It was just a weird, wild game.

The Bruins came out on top though, in the latest example of how difficult it is to keep them pinned once they've been knocked down. Columbus was up 2-0, and the Bruins scored twice within a 45 second span to tie it. It was the 10th time this season that the B's have scored multiple goals within a minute.

Thomas got pulled for the 3rd period. He wasn't awful in the first 2, but he did seem disheviled. His movements were more frantic than usual. The breakaway goal he allowed to Umberger was very soft. His first soft goal of the season. Rask came in and was excellent. He stopped all 11 shots he faced.

Joe Corvo finally scored. His offensive contributions have been few and far between this year. And while his defense hasn't been bad, he was brought here to contribute on offense too. He's finally on the board with 2 goals.

Chara also scored. Then he hurt his leg. Word is that he'll miss three games. He's only missed 12 in the 5+ seasons he's been a Bruin. I'm very glad it doesn't seem very serious because he's the team's most valuable skater (6 goals, 13 assists, +18 against the opponents' top lines).

Bruins host the LA Kings Tuesday night.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Escape From DC

Let me start with a paragraph overreacting to the shouting match witnessed between Tom Brady and Bill O'Brien. This paragraph will sensationalize the heated discussion between the Patriots' QB and offensive coordinator. This paragraph will not mention that Brady and O'Brien were moments later seen calmly discussing things on the sideline, sitting next to each other. This paragraph will make implicating observations and comments about the chemistry in the Pats' locker room, and will end with an inflammatory question: Who really calls the offensive shots in Foxborough? Brady or O'Brien?

All they were really saying was "rabble, rabble, rabble, rabble."

Now with that over with, let's discuss this game. I think all except the most foolish of fans out there realize that the Patriots defense is a joke. Slater and Edelman are getting significant playing time. There are occasional turnovers forced, but there are also big plays allowed going the other way. This defense makes bad QBs look decent, decent QBs look good, good QBs look great, and great QBs look godlike. This defense has the same effect on quarterbacks as alcohol has on women at a bar, it makes them look much better than they actually are.

Devin McCourty is awful. He would have had a pick if not for a roughing penalty, but he has looked vulnerable all season long. It's not just a sophomore slump, it's a sophomore collapse. He gets torched, he struggles to cover, and he commits penalties to compensate for his failures. Fans shouldn't be allowed to wear McCourty jerseys to games, because opposing QBs will throw footballs in their direction again and again. And that could prove dangerous to spectators.

This team wins and loses based ENTIRELY on how well its offense performs. Brady had a slow start again (8/19 in the first half), and the half ended 20-20. Then Brady played a great 3rd and the Pats took a lead. The offense could have put it away, but Brady threw that argument inciting interception. And of course, the defense almost blew the lead.

When Brady and the offense are perfect, this team cannot lose. When he's great, this team is very difficult to beat. When he's just okay or a bit off for a few series, this team kind of sucks.

Gronkowski is the second most important player on this team. He's hauled in close to half of Brady's TD catches. He is the new NFL record holder for TDs caught by a tight-end. He also passed the 1,000 yard mark in this game.

Is this team going to go deep into the playoffs? That depends completely on the offense, because the defense is going to get ripped apart.

The Pats need to play much better as they're on the road against a hot team that's leading its division. Pats @ Tebow next Sunday evening.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Friday, December 09, 2011

A Blog Post About Hitting Posts

The Panthers are atop the Southeast Division for a reason. Unfortunately, they're also 21st in attendance. This is a pretty good team, and it doesn't belong in Miami. It belongs in Quebec or Hamilton. Even Hartford.

Anyway, it took Jose Theodore having the game of his life, plus numerous dents on the posts, for Florida to win this game. I don't like attributing posts to bad luck, but they certainly are near-misses. The Bruins have one goal in their last 120 minutes, but it hasn't been because they've been playing poorly. They haven't finished, haven't gotten the bounces, but they are creating the opportunities.

I look at a game like this one like a baseball game when all the hard hit balls are right at an opposing fielder. It's just one of those games. The Bruins aren't a team of snipers. They're going to have nights like this.

The B's are in Columbus Saturday night.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Kuechly Wins Lombardi Award

After winning ACC Defensive Player of the Year, then the Butkis Award, BC linebacker Luke Kuechly won the Lombardi Award, given to the best linemen (offensive or defensive) or linebacker in college football. In other words, the best player in the trenches on either side of the ball.

There's really not much more for Kuechly to accomplish in college. And in my opinion, the 20 year old junior from Cincinnati should turn pro. He's projected as the top LB in the draft, and will likely go in the top 10 to 15.

There might be personal reasons for him to stay in school. And that's his business. I defended Luck when he decided not to leave Stanford early. Kuechly is a business major, which doesn't seem as engrossing and rigorous as Andre Luck's architectural design studies. Then again, maybe Kuechly wants to get his undergrad degree now, play football, then get an MBA when he graduates and start/run his own business. Who knows.

But in terms of football, there's nothing more he can accomplish at BC. The Eagles aren't competing for a BCS title, or an ACC title, or a divisional title. They'll struggle to attain bowl eligibility in 2012.

As far as his football career goes, he's reached the highest point in college that he'll reach. He's winning trophies, he recorded 191 tackles this year, he's established himself as one of the best linebackers in BC history. What else is there? Maybe a Heisman bid if he made 250 tackles, got 10 sacks, and 5 INTs.

He should enter the NFL Draft.