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Friday, January 13, 2012

Must See Sports - Second Weekend of January 2012

Playoffs, playoffs, playoffs! And, um...a little basketball.

Friday, January 13


Chicago Bulls at Boston Celtics

This matchup does not sound nearly as exciting as it did a month ago. The Bulls have held up their end of the marquis. The Celtics...maybe their window for a championship run has closed?

Chicago is tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the best record in the NBA at 10-2. The Celtics are in 3rd place in the Atlantic Division at 4-5, behind the surprising Philadelphia 76ers and the star studded New York Knicks.

Reigning MVP Derrick Rose (21 PPG, 9 APG) looks like his dominant, same old self. The Celtics just look old. Rose, however, did miss Wednesday's game over the Washington Wizards with turf toe and his status for tonight's game is uncertain.

Advantage: Bulls

Rajon Rondo of the Celtics continues to inject energy into a Celtics team that could use a little zip. 1

Saturday, January 14

NFL Playoffs

New Orleans Saints (14-3) at San Francisco 49ers (13-3)

The San Francisco 49ers are a formidable team. They have come a very long way in the past year under the leadership under Head Coach, and possible Coach of the Year, Jim Harbaugh. The Saints are the hottest team in the NFL. Several members of the media have expressed this matchup as being ripe for an upset. The Saints are favored by four points.

Those of you who read regularly know I am from Louisiana and bleed black and gold. That has not stopped me from saying when I think the Saints will lose, as I did for the NFL's 2011 Kickoff Game to open the season against the Green Bay Packers. I do not think the Saints will lose, but I think they could lose and that this will be a difficult challenge for them.

Let's break down who has the advantages in which aspects of the game:

Rushing offense - Advantage: 49ers - Slim advantage. Frank Gore is a beast but the Saints are extremely effective in their running back by committee scheme.

Passing offense - Advantage: Saints - Monumental advantage. Forty-Niners quarterback Alex Smith does not make the mistakes he made in the past and, the few times he throws, is efficient when he passes. The 49ers have no playmakers of any significance in the downfield passing game other than wide receiver Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis.

Run defense - Advantage: 49ers - Modest advantage. The 49ers have the best run defense in the NFL. However, the Saints have the #6 passing attack in the league. And while running back Frank Gore can look like a man among boys at times, the Saints have a good, solid run defense that bends from time-to-time but seldom breaks.

Pass defense - Advantage: 49ers - Modest advantage. The 49ers have a defensive scheme that can disguise blitzes and gets the most out of their linebackers and defensive linemen. Their defensive backs have no glaring weaknesses. However, they are facing the top passing attack in the NFL, three years running. Conversely, the Saints have been torched through the air. Part of that is because they have led so often that other teams are forced to run a lot of passing plays. But the main reason is that the Saints defense allows teams to move the ball by passing underneath coverages in between the 20 yard lines.

Special teams - Advantage: Saints - Slight advantage. The 49ers' David Akers is as reliable a kicker as there is. However, 42 year old kicker John Kasay of the Saints is having as good a year as he has ever had, with over 80% accuracy and 5 field goals of 50 yards or greater in 2011. The Saints' Darren Sproles is one of the best return men in the league. Ted Ginn, Jr. of the 49ers is only a notch behind. Punter Thomas Morestead tips the scales ever so slightly toward the Saints in this category, with a cannon for a leg on kickoffs and in the punting game, though veteran punter Andy Lee of the Niners is, statistically, having the best year of his 8 year career..

Coaching - Advantage: Saints - Slight advantage. Sean Payton has been there but rookie coach Jim Harbaugh is "getting there" very quickly.

Intangibles - Advantage: 49ers - Slight advantage. The 49ers are at home and the Saints have never won a playoff game on the road.

Advantage: Saints

Quarterback - Advantage: Saints! 2

Denver Broncos (9-8) at New England Patriots (13-3)

The legend of Tim Tebow grew by leaps and bounds last Sunday in the overtime thriller victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The media, myself included, would love for the Tebow Gravy Train to continue. I would love to be rich, too.

The Patriots are two touchdown favorites at home. While I think a spread like that, in favor of a team with the worst defense in the AFC, is outlandish, I do think the chances of the Broncos escaping the Divisional Round of the playoffs are slim. The Broncos got off to a fast start against the Pats in the regular season meeting. The end result was a 41-23 shellacking.

I don't expect the same margin of victory for the Patriots, but I would not rule it out, either. Tom Brady is playing as well as he ever has and I cannot envision the Patriots being shown the door at home, for the third year in a row, after a single playoff game. I expect the Broncos to move the ball. I just expect Brady, Wes Welker, and Rob Gronkowski to move it more.

Advantage: Patriots  

The arm of The Brady trumps The Passion of The Bow. 3

Sunday, January 15

NFL Playoffs

Houston Texans (11-6) at Baltimore Ravens (12-4)

The Houston Texans are the best feel good story in the NFL in 2011 not involving anyone named "Tebow". After their 9th season of existence, the Texans finally reached the playoffs, hosted a playoff game, and won a playoff game. The Texans have gotten this far in spite of a slough of injuries, including season ending injuries to starting quarterback Matt Schaub and former Pro Bowl defensive end Mario Williams.

The Baltimore Ravens, in my opinion, are the best that the AFC has to offer to represent the conference in Super Bowl XLVI. Their defense, led by future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, is a cut above the Bengals defense that Texans quarterback T.J. Yates faced last week. At the same time, the Texans' defense, a laughing stock just a year ago, has been the strength of the team since Schaub's injury.

I think that the Texans will meet their Waterloo on Sunday, throwing a rookie QB into the fire on the road against the Baltimore defense. The Texans' stingy defense allows less than 300 yards per game and could create some problems for Ravens QB Joe Flacco. But Flacco has been, if anything, efficient in the playoffs and does not lose games for his team.

Advantage: Ravens

New York Giants (10-7) at Green Bay Packers (15-1)

This is the playoff matchup the week. The New York Giants have struggled, all season, on defense and in the running game. Since December 24th (including the playoffs), however, the Giants have not allowed an opponent more than 14 points and run for over 100 yards in each game, including 172 yards against the Falcons in the Wild Card round.

The defending Super Bowl champion Packers may have flown under the radar since losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 16 and resting quarterback Aaron Rodgers and other starters in their Week 17 win over the Detroit Lions. What may have gone unnoticed is that the Packers put up 45 points against the Lions without Rodgers. The Pack smashed a playoff team without their best player; the Giants are doomed, right?

NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND! The Giants have been playing their best football during the past three weeks. Eli Manning is having one of the best seasons of his career and the Giants look reminiscent of the 2007 Giants team that got confident heading into the playoffs and stunned then then 18-0 New England Patriots by beating them in Super Bowl XLII.

The last time these teams met in the playoffs, the Giants Corey Webster intercepted Brett Favre's last pass, ever, as a Packer, leading to their game winning field goal in overtime. It was only the third playoff loss at home in the history of Packers (est. 1920). I think the odds are against the Giants, but considering their recent momentum and close game against the Pack in December, an upset is not out of the question for the G-Men.

Advantage: Packers

Monday, January 16


Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Lakers

Much like the Bulls and Celtics, this matchup looked much more compelling before the season started. The Mavs are a game above .500 while the Lakers are in first place in the Pacific Division and red hot. L.A. has been dominating on defense and Kobe Bryant looks like he has been drinking from the fountain of youth, scoring 30 points or more in 5 of his last 6 games, with 40+ points in his last two games.

The Mavericks, winners of 5 of their last 6, appear to have recovered from their slow, 0-3, start to the season. Vince Carter, whom I criticized last week for not contributing enough, scored in double figures twice in the last week, but shot a miserable 1 for 8 against the Celtics on Wednesday night. The Mavericks need more consistency from him this season and will probably need more from him on Monday to beat the Lakers.

Advantage: Lakers

The Mavericks need more Vinsanity! 5

Tuesday, January 17

San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat

This star studded inter-conference matchup of two first place teams should make for great viewing. The Spurs are scoring over 100 points per game, but are winless on the road so far this year and have had some trouble under the boards, ranked 22nd in the NBA. The Heat, on the other hand, are at home, and seem to be doing everything well - scoring, rebounding, and ball handling. LeBron James is averaging 29 points per game, establishing himself as an early season candidate for the scoring title. San Antonio is still very capable, but the Heat have all of their parts well oiled right now.

Advantage: Heat

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