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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Must See Sports – Third Weekend of November 2011

With the approach of the holiday season comes compelling sporting events and storylines. While we still have no NBA action, college basketball is pretty "fan-tastic", too!

Thursday, November 17


New York Jets (5-4) at Denver Broncos (4-5)

Some of the particulars of this game defy logic. The fact that the Broncos are riding a two game winning streak and just one game out of first place in the AFC West with Tim Tebow (605 yds., 7 TD, 1 INT, 45% comp.) as the starting quarterback is mind blowing. The Broncos are next to last in the NFL in passing offense. So how is Denver not in the “Suck for Luck” sweepstakes?

Tebow’s 6.7 yards per carry rushing average, for a QB often on the run, is not hurting, nor is the Broncos #2 ranking in the NFL in rushing offense. Willis McGehee (640 yds., 3 TD, 5.0 avg.) is quietly rebuilding his reputation as one of the league’s better runners. Meanwhile, this Broncos defense has managed to remain in the middle of the pack. Broncos superfreak linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who missed the entire 2010 season with an injury, is gradually returning to form, recording two sacks in the last two games.

The Jets, meanwhile, are the underachievers of 2011. One week, Mark Sanchez is crisply executing. The next week, he looks like a deer-in-the-headlights rookie. One week, the Jets defense is squeezing its opponents, forcing them to fight for every single yard. The next week, teams are running all over them. One week, Head Coach Rex Ryan is coaching with swagger. The next week, he is throwing his quarterback under the bus, making such comments as, “(Mark Sanchez’s timeout)…was the ‘stupidest’ play in NFL history,”

All of that said, I expect this game to expose the smoke-and-mirrors that has been the Broncos recent success. I expect the Jets to play like a team whose manhood was tested. I don’t think the Broncos have a prayer, in spite of being at home. But I have been wrong before.

Advantage: Jets

Last name, "Ever", first name, "Stupidest"??? 1

Friday, November 18

#2 Oklahoma State Cowboys at Iowa State Cyclones

On paper, the Cowboys’ trio of quarterback Brandon Weeden (3635 yds., 31 TD, 9 INT, 73% comp.), running back Joseph Randle (993 yds., 21 TD, 5.9 avg.), and wide receiver Justin Blackmon (93 rec., 1142 yds, 14 TD) should overwhelm Iowa State as soon as the teams run out of the tunnel and on to the field. However, games are played on the field.

You never know when you will witness a colossal upset. It is a conference game and Iowa State is at home. However, Mike Gundy is a smart coach and I doubt he is going to allow his team, with the #2 scoring offense in the country, to lose focus when it is just two games away from an perfect regular season and a shot at the BCS National Championship.

Advantage: Oklahoma State

Saturday, November 19

NCAA Football

#18 USC Trojans at #4 Oregon Ducks

USC came very close to handing then-unbeaten Stanford its first loss of the season. In spite of NCAA probation, Lane Kiffin has put together a formidable USC team. The connection between junior quarterback Matt Barkley (2782 yds., 29 TD, 6 INT, 67% comp.) to Robert Woods (92 rec., 1126 yds., 11 TD) continues to be unsolvable for opposing defenses.

Oregon’s defense, allowing just 22 points per game in an air-attack oriented Pac 12 conference) needs to find a way to disrupt Barkley’s rhythm and contain the Trojans offense. It remains unclear whether or not suspended standout cornerback Cliff Harris will return to the Ducks’ lineup by Saturday. Orgeon’s success or failure (and their national championship hopes) will likely ride on the legs of running back LaMichael James (1207 yds., 12 TD, 7.9 avg.). I like those odds.

Advantage: Oregon

Robert Woods (left) and Matt Barkley (right) are one of the most dangerous tandems in college football. 2

Sunday, November 20


Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5) at Green Bay Packers (9-0)

Since beating the New Orleans Saints in Week 6 and moving into first place in the NFC South, the wheels have begun to loosen for the Bucs. A loss on Sunday in the “Bay of Pigs” matchup could make the wheels fall off on their season. Three straight losses – a stifled comeback against the Chicago Bears and blowouts at the hands of the Saints and Houston Texans – have put Tampa’s season on life support.

Quite simply, the Bucs cannot stop a runny nose lately, ranked next-to-last in the NFL, only ahead of the comical Patriots’ D, in total team (per game) defense. The Packers aren’t much better (ranked 28th), but unlike the Buccaneers, the Packers can stop the run, meaning their opponents cannot impose their will on possession of the ball and the game clock. The Packers also have the #4 offense in the league to offset their troubles against the pass, and offset very well with Aaron Rodgers’ leadership. This game is going to be the beginning of the end for the Buccaneers 2011 campaign.

Advantage: Packers

Cincinnati Bengals (6-3) at Baltimore Ravens (6-3)

I doubt that anyone outside of Cincinnati would have believed that this game would be a must see matchup in Week 11, but it is. The tight three way race between the Ravens, Bengals, and Pittsburgh Steelers will leave the third team a little further behind after this weekend.

The Bengals have been the surprise success story of the NFL. Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton (1866 yds., 14 TD, 9 INT, 60% comp.) found his comfort zone quickly and has done all that could be asked of him: manage the games and give the team a chance to win. The true strength of the Bengals has been its defense, ranked 5th in the NFL. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins (23 tak., 4.5 sacks) continues to be a force in the middle of the defensive line and is the center of the Bengals #2 ranked run defense.

The Ravens loss to the Seattle Seahawks last week was inexplicable, coming off of a huge win in Pittsburgh. One can only assume this was a hangover that led the Ravens into a trap game with an inferior Seattle team. This is kind of surprising, considering the strong veteran leadership on the defensive side of the ball. That is too bad for the Bengals, because I do not expect that lighting to strike twice, especially in Baltimore.

Advantage: Ravens

The Bengals other standout rookie, WR A.J. Green, is questionable for Sunday's game. 3

Philadelphia Eagles (3-6) at New York Giants (6-3)

The Eagles may have the biggest gap between what they “should be” on paper and what they are in terms of win-loss record. The Eagles are LOADED with talent on both sides of the ball. They have the #3 offense in the NFL. Their defense is statistically solid, ranked #13. So what is the problem?

The Eagles have two huge albatrosses about their collective necks. The first is that they are not protecting quarterback Michael Vick. They are getting him hit; they are getting him hurt. While Vick has only been sacked 15 times, he is second on the team in rushing (535 yds., 8.2 avg.). He only runs (typically) when his protection breaks down. Vick has 65 carries this season.

The second problem is that the Eagles are not closing out games. Last week’s loss to the lowly Arizona Cardinals, in which the Eagles gave up the go-ahead touchdown in the final two minutes, is only the latest in a long line of late game choke jobs. All six Eagles losses were by seven points or less. In five of those six losses (all but one loss in this season) the Eagles held a fourth quarter lead. It is really simple: when you are ahead late in the game, put your opponent away or they’ll put you away.

One of those blown leads was at the hands of the Giants in Week 3. The Giants are coming off of a near comeback at San Francisco last week. Trailing by 14 points in the 4th quarter, quarterback Eli Manning rallied the G-men to within seven points, with possession of the ball at the 49ers 10 yard line. The Niners stopped the Giants on 4th down. Those losses sting and I am sure that Coach Tom Coughlin will be using the bitter defeat as fuel for the Giants against the Eagles on the nationally telecast Sunday Night Football matchup.

The oddsmakers have the Giants as a five point favorite. However, the Giants' running attack has simply not been there this season. The defense has not been consistent against more talented opponents. Whether or not Vick plays, after breaking his ribs last week, will be the difference in this game. With the season on the line, I expect him to play and I expect the Eagles to exploit the Giants soft spots.

Advantage: Eagles

The Eagles have to do a better job of protecting Vick. 4

Monday, November 20

NCAA Basketball

EA Sports Maui Invitational from Maui, Hawaii
#17 Michigan Wolverines vs #10 Memphis Tigers

The early season tournaments have brought us some great matchups of top 25 teams. Both teams have coasted to easy wins against mid-major opponents and are facing their first formidable competition of the season. Both teams have Final Four aspirations. This should be good.

Michigan guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. (14 PPG, 3 APG) returns after a standout freshman year. His Memphis counterpart, sophomore guard Will Barton (23 PPG, 5 RPG), will test the mettle of Hardaway and the Wolverines. After being narrowly bumped by Duke in the 3rd round of the NCAA tournament last year, Michigan returns four starters intent on picking up where they left off.

Memphis, likewise, suffered an early exit in the NCAA tourney, losing to Arizona in the 2nd round. All five of Memphis’ starters are back. While I expect the tigers to dominate Conference USA and be more cohesive, with their starters having all played together last year, they struggled against major conference opponents and were winless against top 25 opponents last season.

Advantage: Michigan

Am I the only person who feels old now that Tim Hardaway's son is a college basketball standout? 5
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