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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Must See Sports – Fourth Weekend of November 2011

Today is Thanksgiving, the official unofficial start of the 2011 holiday season. Expect traffic, shopping and long lines at the store. Of course, you should also expect extra helping and second servings of FOOTBALL!!!

Thursday, November 24


Green Bay Packers (9-0) at Detroit Lions (7-3)

It’s a Thanksgiving tradition. What has not been tradition is this game being relevant for both teams. Green Bay is unbeaten, but they are far from perfect. The Packers defense has given up a ton of yards in the air this year. This fits into the Lions scheme, as the Lions have struggled on the ground, but Calvin “Megatron” Johnson has dominated opposing secondaries in the air.

I expect the Lions to put up a fight, but until someone knocks out the champ, I expect the Packers to win.

Advantage: Packers  

Miami Dolphins (3-7) at Dallas Cowboys (6-4)

The Dolphins have been on a hot streak of late, winners of three straight after losing their first seven. They are playing like a cohesive NFL football team. Nobody could be more disappointed in this timing than the Dallas Cowboys, who have played themselves back into first place in the NFC East after a mediocre first half of the season. On the other hand, nobody could be more thrilled than the Indianapolis Colts’ front office, who have moved closer to the front of the line for the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and picking Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, but I digress.

The Cowboys “shouldn’t” be 6-4, in my opinion. You are what your record says you are, but the Cowboys found inventive ways to lose games earlier this season. Knock on wood, they appear to have ironed out the wrinkles. Quarterback Tony Romo is playing at the level of an NFL playoffs-contending quarterback, throwing zero interceptions during the past three games. Defensive end DeMarcus Ware is continuing to play like a superfreak and tormenting opposing passers. I think the Dolphins’ 15 minutes are up.

Advantage: Cowboys

Cowboys fans do not want to see a repeat of the infamous Leon Lett blunder from the 1993 Thanksgiving Day game with the Dolphins 1

San Francisco 49ers (9-1) at Baltimore Ravens (7-3)

In case The Daily Hat Trick is your sole source of sports information, which I do not recommend, this game is being billed as “The Harbaugh Bowl”. Brothers John Harbaugh, coach of the Ravens, and Jim Harbaugh, coach of the 49ers will face off in the first ever brother-brother matchup of head coaches in NFL history. Eat your hearts out Ryan brothers!

Call me crazy, but I am still not yet buying what the 49ers are selling. They are an NFC West team, meaning their schedule is weighted with (horrible) NFC West opponents: the St. Louis Rams, the Arizona Cardinals, and the Seattle Seahawks. The Niners are 3-1 against teams that currently have winning records. So they have demonstrated that they are capable.  However, their only win against a serious Super Bowl contender was a narrow escape against the New York Giants two weeks ago.

The Ravens are…the Ravens. Every year there are a handful of teams with a realistic shot of reaching the Super Bowl. The Ravens have been one of those teams for the last three seasons, including this year. Considering that the 49ers have a winning record, I would expect the Ravens to be at their best. The Ravens swept the Pittsburgh Steelers, yet all three of their losses were against inferior Seattle, Jacksonville, and Tennessee, none of which have a winning record.

Advantage: Ravens

Friday, November 25

NCAA Football

#3 Arkansas Razorbacks at #1 LSU Tigers

This isn’t the “Game of the Century”. It IS the Game of the Week. One of two possibilities will result from the matchup. Should LSU win, one half of the BCS picture will be all but decided. Even if the Tigers were to mail in the SEC Championship game, I cannot imagine any scenario in which an SEC team with a perfect 12-0 regular season record is shut out of the National Championship picture (assuming the SEC Championship Game winner in this scenario has two or more losses).

The media, except for your truly (an LSU graduate), is PRAYING for an Arkansas upset. Stories sell. Points of discussion and debate sell. Should Arkansas win, it would result in the BCS Apocalypse. First of all, the winner of the SEC West division would not be determined until Saturday, at the earliest (pending the result of the Alabama at Auburn). Should Alabama win, the three way tie atop the division between Bama, Arkansas, and LSU would not be broken until the results of the BCS poll are released on Sunday.

THEN, the debate would rage on over whether the SEC West runner up, a one loss SEC team, deserves a rematch in the BCS Championship Game. Or would another one-loss conference winner, in spite of inferior competition, deserve a shot at the prize. The media will have a ready-made hot story for more than a week, plus the debate after the fact over whether or not the right decision was made. Make no mistake, anyone whose job is to deliver or discuss sports news is PRAYING for an Arkansas upset.

Looking at this matchup, my response to the 99% of sports media outside of Louisiana is, “Wish in one had; poop in the other. See which one fills up first.” The Razorbacks have pulled of some colossal upsets and near-misses against more heavily favored LSU teams in the past. While I would never call a game against a #3 ranked conference rival with a history of overachieving a “slam dunk”, the past IS in the past and the deck is stacked heavily in LSU’s favor.

First LSU is at home. LSU has not lost a home game in over two years. Second, Arkansas has a prolific offense that relies on the pass. Going against a defense that allows 10 points per game, the Hogs have a tough road ahead.

LSU’s secondary is the best I have seen in my entire (36 year old) life. Their pass rush is furious, making a downfield passing game very difficult to execute. Third, LSU’s running game is extremely deep and very dominant, averaging over 200 yards per game. Arkansas’ defense is solid, but not made of steel. Sorry, sports writers, you’ll have to wait until the March Madness Selection Sunday to have a hot debate.
Advantage: LSU

Saturday, November 26

#2 Alabama Crimson Tide at #24 Auburn Tigers

The Iron Bowl is always a highly anticipated game among fans in football-crazed Alabama. This game is of heightened significance because of its potential impact on the National Championship picture. You can throw the records out of the window for this game.

The reigning national champion Auburn Tigers have exceeded the expectations of many this season. I read several predictions in the preseason stating that Auburn would struggle to win six games, following the departure of super QB Cam Newton, the first pick in last year’s NFL Draft, without an high potential replacement. The Tigers were not even ranked in the top 20 at the beginning of the year, in spite of being the defending champs.

Any quality opponent can sneak up on anyone. However, I think this Alabama team is simply too good. Too much defense, allowing only 8 points per game (best in the country)…too much of running back Trent Richardson…too smart of a quarterback in A.J. McCarron to make the big mistakes. Part of the media Christmas wish I described in the Arkansas at LSU preview includes Alabama winning this game. I expect Bama to deliver on their half of the wish.

Advantage: Alabama
There is no fence riding in Alabama for the Iron Bowl. 2
Sunday, November 27

New England Patriots (7-3) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-6)

It would not be completely fair to the Eagles to call this a “trap game” for the Patriots, coming off of a spanking of the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday night. The Eagles have a losing record, but anyone looking at the team itself can see that it has upper level talent.

Talent does not win games. Execution does. Lack of execution is how the Eagles got themselves into a deep hole. Execution is how the Eagles beat the favored New York Giants on Sunday Night Football last week.

Whether or not quarterback Mike Vick will play remains in question. What is not in question is that the Eagles, who are at home, will play themselves back into the playoff discussion with a win. What is also not in question is that the Patriots’ secondary gives it up like a Vegas hooker on Fourth of July weekend. The Pats have the better records, but I expect the Eagles to defend Lincoln Financial Field.

Advantage: Eagles

Monday, November 28

New York Giants (6-4) at New Orleans Saints (7-3)

This is an important game for the Saints. It is crucial for the Giants. The Saints have a one game lead over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South and cannot lose the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Giants, a team with a history of collapsing late in the regular season, are tied atop the NFC East with the Dallas Cowboys. The Giants are in the midst of a two game losing streak. They face the Packers after this week, then play at Dallas. They can ill-afford a loss.

What one can afford and what one can buy are not always the same. I am not buying that these Giants, with no real running attack and inconsistent play at nearly every position on the defensive side of the ball, can march into New Orleans, unbeaten at home this year, and turn the tide of their recent funk against the #1 offense in the NFL. The Giants can’t afford a loss, but the Saints should hand them one on credit.

Advantage: Saints

Tuesday, November 29

NCAA Basketball

#6 Duke Blue Devils at #3 Ohio State Buckeyes

This is a big early season matchup of two top 10 teams and could be a preview of a Final Four matchup. The Jared Sullinger (20 PPG, 10 RPG) show continues at home as the All American forward and senior guard Will Buford (16 PPG, 4 APG) defend their home court against their toughest opponent of this young season.

Duke has not had to sweat in the late minutes of any of their games this year, including wins against #15 Michigan and #14 Kansas. Junior guard Seth Curry (15 PPG, 3 APG)  and junior forward Mason Plumlee (11 PPG, 10 RPG) continue to stand out and have Duke on track to another top 3 seed on the NCAA Tournament.

As talented as Sully and the Buckeyes are, Duke is more battle tested. The Blue Devils are unbeaten against major conference schools, with their last two games, as previously mentioned, being wins against ranked opponents away from Cameron Indoor Stadium. A lot of teams come into a game being ranked higher than Duke and wake up on the following Sunday morning to find that they have been passed. I think that is what Buckeye Fan should prepare for next week.

Advantage: Duke

Coach K has ruined many a home game for opponents. 3

Wednesday, November 30

NCAA Basketball

#11 Wisconsin Badgers at #1 North Carolina Tar Heels

Good news for Wisconsin: standout point guard Jordan Taylor (8 PPG, 5 RPG, 5 APG) returned for his senior season, which was the correct decision. Bad news: Taylor is averageing 10 points per game less than he did last season, in spite of the Badgers facing four inferior, mid-major opponents this season. Worse news: Forward Harrison Barnes (17 PPG, 5 RPG) of North Carolina also returned this year and is as good as advertised.

Advantage: North Carolina

Happy Thanksgiving!!!
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