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Checking in on Bruins, Patriots, and Sox

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  November 22, 2011 11:12 AM

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Hitting on the big three of the Patriots, Red Sox and Bruins while giving thanks that we live in the greatest sports town in America ...

So is this what the remainder of the regular season is going to be like for the Patriots? By virtue of last night's laughable 34-3 win over the hapless Kansas City Chiefs, the Patriots now own the top seed in the AFC. Though the Patriots were handled with relative ease by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh's two losses to the Baltimore Ravens means the Steelers currently qualify for the playoffs only as a wildcard team.

How 'bout them apples? At the moment, from 1 through 6, the current seeds in the AFC are: New England, Houston, Baltimore, Oakland, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. For the Patriots, this is true despite a defense that still ranks 32d in the league in yards allowed. And prior to last night's layup against the sloppy, out-over-his-skis Tyler Palko and the Chiefs, the Patriots ranked 20th among the 32 NFL in average points allowed per game.

Admittedly, this week's upcoming game against the Philadelphia Eagles and, perhaps, Michael Vick (broken ribs), bears some watching. But beyond that and the novelty of seeing the Pats play against the overhyped Tim Tebow, the remainder of the regular season is a collection of should-win games against a run of quarterbacks that includes Curtis Painter, Rex Grossman or John Beck, and Matt Moore. If the Patriots finish the season at something other than 12-4, it will qualify as a borderline catastrophe.

Fact: The only things we stand to learn about the Patriots over the balance of the season are all bad. If they play well, it will be because they should. In the big picture, relative to 2009 and 2010, we still don't know if the Patriots can truly win when it counts, the recent home playoff losses to Baltimore and the New York Jets still serving as the backdrop to this season.

The only way the Patriots can change that is by winning in January. As we learned last year, home field guarantees them nothing. And that might be especially true this year, in AFC where the difference between the first seed and the last is marginal.

* * *

Jacoby Ellsbury had a marvelous season, but any suggestion that he deserved the American League Most Valuable Player Award is inconsistent. Twelve years ago, Boston was in an uproar when then Sox ace Pedro Martinez finished second to Texas Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez in the balloting, two of the 28 voters leaving Martinez off their ballots entirely. Martinez deserved the MVP then just as Verlander deserved it now, and to think otherwise would be to commit the sin that so many voters have committed.

In 1999, George King, the Yankees beat writer for the New York Post, had an alleged bias against pitchers, though he had Yankees lefthander David Wells on his ballot only a year earlier. (He was doubly guilty.) This year, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News gave his first-place vote to Rangers infielder and designated hitter Michael Young, who might not have been the MVP of his own team. Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Jim Ingraham of the News-Herald left Verlander off his ballot entirely while Sheldon Ocker of the Akron Beacon-Journal placed Verlander eighth.

In the case of Ingraham, he explained his decision by saying he does not believe pitchers should be eligible for the Most Valuable Player Award, defying the voting rules that specifically state pitchers are to be considered.

The inconsistency isn't with the result of this election, folks. It's with the voters who arbitrarily make up their own rules.

* * *

As for the Red Sox' never-ending managerial search, the return of Gene Lamont is, in a word, curious. Those who know Lamont know him as a knowledgeable, longtime baseball man, but he hardly seems a fit with the ownership and upper management team of John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino. Lamont looks far more like the choice of Ben Cherington, which cannot help but make one wonder if the Red Sox are not trying to make it appear as if Cherington still has a say in the process following the rejection of Dale Sveum.

Now, if Lamont actually ends up with the job, we will all have to admit that we clearly misread recent developments. But if the Red Sox had designs of bringing Lamont back for a second interview, they could have done it a long time ago, before Valentine arrived in Boston yesterday for his "formal" interview and exchange with the Boston media.

In the end, all that matters is that the Red Sox end up with a capable manager, but here's the truth: the Sox have been all over the map on this thing. Sveum got a pair opf interviews, but was rejected by ownership. Lamont did not get a second interview until after the Valentine news leaked. Along the way, the Sox have made their new, young and responsible general manager look entirely powerless, as if Cherington has changed titles, but not jobs.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox have suffered only losses to their roster - namely Jonathan Papelbon - though that is likely to change now that the free agency compensation rules have been clarified and that tomorrow night's deadline to offer arbitration (David Ortiz) is upon us.

* * *

A winning streak is a winning streak is a winning streak, but let's be honest: entering this week, the Bruins generally have been beating up on the weak sisters of the NHL of late. During their eight-game stretch of wins entering last night, the Bruins have defeated teams like the Islanders, Senators, Devils, Blue Jackets and Oilers -- none of whom were in the playoffs last year.

Which is why last night's game against the Montreal Canadiens meant something.

Indeed, the Canadiens are on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff teams at the moment, but we all know how they play the Bruins: tough. The Bruins entered this week with games at Montreal, at Buffalo and at home against Detroit, the last of which will be a nationally-televised affair in the traditional Black Friday tilt at the TD Garden.

That said, after a dreadfully slow start, the Bruins have been clicking on all cylinders, winning both high-scoring games and, now, low-scoring ones. All of that cannot help but make one wonder whether last spring's journey was the beginning of the next great era in Bruins history, and not just the end of a historic drought.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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