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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Must See Sports – Second Weekend of November 2011

I often lead off every week’s “Must See” with some kind of reminder of why it is a great time to be a sports fan. As almost everyone reading this sports blog is aware, Penn State Head Football Coach Joe Paterno, in his 46th year as Head Coach, was fired last night as part of the fallout from the child sex abuse scandal that has rocked State College, Pennsylvania. This is NOT a good time to be a fan.

Thursday, November 10


Thursday Night Football

Oakland Raiders (4-4) at San Diego Chargers (4-4)

The Chargers are coming off of a very tough loss to the Green Bay Packers last week. In that game, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw six touchdown passes! The problem is that two of them were to the Packers.

The Raiders lost to the Tim-Tebow led Denver Broncos. Tebow kept the Raiders sub-par defense on its heels…by running all over them. Tebow is among the least accurate passers in football, but burned the Raiders downfield more than once.

What does this tell us? Rivers could not find a better opponent to help get his team and his confidence back on track. At the same time, the Raiders may catch some breaks on defense if the mistake-prone (of late) Rivers doesn’t snap out of his funk.

On paper, the Chargers have no glaring weaknesses, but their defense is weaker against the pass than the run. This bodes well for a team that will likely use bruising running back Darren McFadden (614 yds., 4 TD, 5.4 avg.) to soften up the Chargers to set up the pass against a very stingy Chargers secondary.

Advantage: Chargers

It has to get better for Rivers, right? 1
Friday, November 11

NCAA Basketball

Carrier Classic at San Diego
Michigan State Spartans vs #1 North Carolina Tar Heels

Who says we don’t have any basketball? North Carolina is ranked #1 in the country, heading into its first game of the season. Coming off of a loss in the Elite Eight to Kentucky last season, the Tar Heels return all five starters. Led by the scoring of Harrison Barnes (16 PPG, 6 RPG in 2011) and the dominating presence of Tyler Zeller (16 PPG, 7 RPG in 2011), the Heels are a clear front runner in the Atlantic Coastal Conference.

The Spartans are seeking to rebound from a very disappointing 2011 season. Michigan State entered last season ranked #2 in the nation, only to have it end at the hands of a seventh seeded UCLA team in the second round (round of 64) in the NCAA Tournament. MSU will show a lot of new faces to the world, with only two of last year’s starters (Draymond Green and Keith Appling) returning. Green (13 PPG, 9 RPG, 4 APG, 2 STL/G, 1 BLK/G) has a diverse set of skills and needs to provide senior leadership for the Spartans to seriously contend for the Final Four this season. Obviously, the young guys will need to step up.

On paper, this looks one-sided. I expect the same on the court.

Advantage: North Carolina

Saturday, November 12

NCAA Football

#7 Oregon Ducks at #4 Stanford Cardinal

It isn’t the Game of the Century, but it is certainly the Game of the Week. The Pac-12 North Division championship and Stanford’s national championship hopes hing on the outcome of this game. This will be Heisman front runner (more like “shoe in”) Andrew Luck’s (2424 yds., 26 TD, 5 INT, 71% comp.) toughest test of the season. Oregon, of course, is seeking to get one step closer to the Rose Bowl and gain a sliver of hope to reenter the BCS National Championship race.

Stanford is a team that has shown no weaknesses all season, dominating most of their opponents. Oregon, other than a loss to #1 LSU in the opening week of the season, has been otherwise perfect this season. Behind the running of likely Heisman finalist LaMichael James (1061 yds., 9 TD, 8.0 avg.) and his backfield teammate Kenjon Barner (601 yds., 8 TD, 6.8 avg.), the Ducks are going to give Stanford a handful.

As talented as Oregon is, I don’t think Stanford’s stingy defense, allowing just 17 points per game (including 48 points scored by USC in triple overtime) is going to allow Oregon to match the output of Andrew Luck and the Cardinal offense.

Advantage: Stanford

Chris Galippo - USC v Stanford
Oregon will up the ante. Best of Luck, Andrew! 2
Sunday, November 13


New Orleans Saints (6-3) at Atlanta Falcons (5-3)

The winner of this matchup of archrivals will have sole possession of first place in the NFC South and cannot lose the head-to-head tiebreaker to the other. The Saints have been a Jekyll and Hyde team this year, depending on location. Unbeaten at home, but 2-3 on the road, including a loss to the abysmal St. Louis Rams, the Saints will have to solve their rod weariness in a hurry.

The Falcons have been very difficult to beat in the Georgia Dome since Matt Ryan took over at quarterback in 2008. However, the Saints have been the fly in the ointment. The Saints have beaten the Falcons two years in a row at the Georgia Dome and are under tremendous pressure, with the division lead in the balance, to win a third.

Atlanta is riding a three game winning streak. While they lack the offensive weaponry that the Saints have, they do have Michael Turner (692 yds., 7 TD, 4.4 avg.), a front seven allowing less than 100 rushing yards per game, and home field advantage. This game is a 50/50 even matchup, but the scales tip ever so slightly in the Falcons favor because they are at home.

Advantage: Falcons

Saints fans took over the Georgia Dome in the Saints' Super Bowl winning year of 2009. Can the Saints take over the field this year? 3
Detroit Lions (6-2) at Chicago Bears (5-3)

For a while, it was unclear whether or not the Bears would make this game into a compelling one. After a 2-3 start, there was rampant speculation over whether or not the Bears would seriously contend for the NFC playoffs. Quarterback Jay Cutler was being sacked or hit an unbearable number of times (pun not intended). The Bears are riding a three game winning streak, though, and the offensive line has been less offensive (to Bears fans) than it was in September.

The Lions snapped a two game losing streak, to a pair of quality opponents (the 49ers and Falcons) by breaking the Denver Broncos. The Lions ferocious pass rush is going to pose a problem for the Bears. However, the Lions aggressiveness against the pass rush may be why they have been so susceptible to the run (giving up 138 yards per game). This should give Bears running back Matt Forte (805 yds., 2 TD, 5.4 avg.), his fantasy owners, and Bears fan cause for excitement.

This game will come down to which team can best exploit their opponents’ weaknesses while shoring up their own. In addition to being weak against the run, the Lions do not run the ball well. The Bears, however have been soft in pass defense. The less the ball is in the air, regardless of who has the ball, the more it favors the home town Bears. The modern NFL is a passing league, but if you cannot run the ball and cannot stop the run on the road, it is very hard to win against a quality opponent.

Advantage: Bears

Cutler wants no part of Lions DT Ndamukong Suh. 4
New York Giants (6-2) at San Francisco 49ers (7-1)

The most inflated 6-2 team if the NFL travels to the West Coast to face the most improbable 7-1 team. The 49ers have the benefit of playing in a weak division, but have beaten respectable opponents such as the Bengals, Eagles, and Buccaneers. The Giants have found ways to win in spite of themselves, coming off of a win against the Patriots with a touchdown in the closing seconds.

The Giants are another team that achieves little when utilizing the run and does little to stop it. The 49ers have done both at a high level this season. A win will bring the Niners’ magic number (of wins to clinch no less than a tie in the NFC West) down to two.

Advantage: 49ers

New England Patriots (5-3) at New York Jets (5-3)

This is the NFL’s Game of the Week. While the staff at NBC may have misfired by having the Colts at Saints on the Sunday Night Football schedule, they have hit the bull’s eye for two straight weeks with the Ravens at Steelers last week and the Patriots at Jets this week.

Like last week’s SNF game, the Pats and Jets have no love lost. The Patriots surely must have the bad taste from last year’s playoff bouncing at the hands of the Jets in their mouths. The Jets are surely eager to atone for the whipping put on them in their own stadium by the Patriots.

The Jets got off to a slow start this season, but appear to have stabilized, riding a three game winning streak. The Patriots are in the midst of a rare two game losing streak. The problem for New England, however, is that their run defense looks better on paper than it is (because teams need not waste time running when they can torch the secondary). Their overall defense is very bad, and their pass defense is so reminiscent of paper soldiers blowing in the wind that a hyena watching them may laugh itself to death. In addition, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez has snapped out of his early season woes, with a passer rating of 87 or higher, seven touchdowns, and only two interceptions in his last four games.

Advantage: Jets

Bart Scott: "CAN'T WAIT!" 5
Tuesday, November 15

NCAA Basketball

EA Sports Maui Invitational
#2 Kentucky Wildcats vs #13 Kansas Jayhawks

Forward Terrence Jones (16 PPG, 9 RPG in 2011) returns to Kentucky for his sophomore year after a standout freshman season. Fellow freshman standout from last season, guard Brandon Knight, however, took his talents to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA. Kentucky will need someone to fill Knight’s shoes in the back court if the Wildcats are to make a repeat appearance in the Final Four in 2012.

The Jayhawks appeared headed for the Final Four, and a possible collision course with Kentucky in the championship game, before suffering a shocking upset to Virginia Commonwealth in the Elite Eight. Kansas will have to make any repeat run to the Final Four without the services of the flying Morris twins, Marcus and Markeiff, who are in the NBA. Kansas is only returning one starter from last season, senior guard Tyshawn Taylor (9 PPG, 5 APG in 2011).

Kansas is a talented team, but I do not think they will be able to match wits with Jones and Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari and his recruiting machine.

Advantage: Kentucky

Calipari gets older, but the talent stays the saaaaame age! 6
#10 Florida Gators at #3 Ohio State Buckeyes

The Gators quietly emerged to win the SEC Tournament last season and were one game away from the Final Four, losing to Butler in overtime. The good news is that Florida’s starting backcourt, Kenny Boynton (14 PPG, 3 APG in 2011) and Erving Walker (15 PPG, 4 APG) is returning. The bad news is that those are the only two starters returning.

The Buckeyes are a favorite to reach the Final Four last season, with a #1 seed in their region. A loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 round derailed those aspirations. Consensus First Team All American Jared Sullinger (17 PPG, 10 RPG) is returning for his sophomore year and is certainly focused on improving upon last season. OSU, returning three seniors, will have ample opportunity to make up for last season’s miss opportunity.

Advantage: Ohio State

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