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Still plenty of football to be played

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  December 12, 2012 10:27 AM

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Stuffing the stocking, so to speak, while pointing out that we have entered the final countdown according to the Mayan calendar ...

The Patriots clearly have established themselves as the team to beat in the AFC, but their margin for error is still quite slim at the moment. If the Denver Broncos win at Baltimore on Sunday and the Patriots lose against San Francisco, New England will slip into the No. 3 seed and lose a first-round bye.

How's that for a reality check?

As big as the Houston game was on Monday night, Sunday night's upcoming game with the Niners has major implications for the Patriots, whether it is a conference game or not. If the Patriots were the No. 3 seed today, they would open the playoffs at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers, hardly an appealing option given the experience and potential of a team led by Ben Roethlisberger.

The flip side, of course, is that the Patriots end up with the No. 1 seed, which could happen if and when Houston slips up in the final three weeks (and assuming the Pats run the table). That require someone to come to Foxborough and beat these Patriots in January to prevent another New England trip to the Super Bowl, a scenario that is hard to envision at the moment.

The point? There is still lots of football to be played and a significant amount at stake.

Moving on ...

-- The owners clearly picked the fight in the ongoing labor discussions between NHL owners and players, but union director Donald Fehr and the players are hypocrites if they dig in on the length of player contracts. Unions are supposed to be about protecting the majority, not the estimated 5-7 percent of players who are blessed enough to warrant long-term deals in excess of five seasons.

So is this the players fighting the owners, or the richest players fighting the owners?

-- Still remember the day a Red Sox official told me Lars Anderson was a "stud," and now wondering whether Diamondbacks officials feel the same way given that Anderson has been a part of three organizations in fewer than six months.

Which brings us to this:

-- Shin-soo Choo and Ben Revere now have been traded to teams seeking help in center field, and Choo, like Jacoby Ellsbury, has Scott Boras as an agent and is eligible for free agency at the end of the 2013 season. In moving Choo and adding people like Anderson to the package, the Indians got 22-year-old Trevor Bauer, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 draft.

Isn't that a deal the Red Sox should have made?

-- Not sure about the rest of you, but I haven't given up on Jeff Green. Over the weekend, Green played in crunch time of Friday's overtime loss to Philadelphia and showed no reluctance to take some important shots in the fourth quarter and overtime. The Celtics clearly have made it a priority to build Green's confidence and establish him as a legitimate NBA starter, and it looks like it's working.

Albeit slowly.

-- The NFL has changed a great deal in recent years, and there has been an obvious influx of talent that will affect the league for years to come, most notably in the form of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. And yet, despite all of that, one still can't help but get the feeling at the moment that the AFC is going to come down to the same thing it has for the large majority of this millennium.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

-- Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard has taken 242 free throws this year and missed 124 of them. The next-closest player on the list of missed free throws is Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin with 41.

Maybe it's the rims at the Staples Center?

-- Placed the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in the mail on Tuesday. There were three names on it. Any guesses?

-- If the Red Sox end up giving anything more than one year to Ryan Dempster, it will only make me wonder why they were not more aggressive with either Dan Haren or Hiroki Kuroda.

-- Paying Zack Greinke $24.5 million a year is a little like paying Carl Crawford more than $20 million per. And now the Los Angeles Dodgers are doing both.

So if I'm Clayton Kershaw, I look at the Greinke deal and accept not a penny less than $25 million per year.

The line between the Red Sox and Yankees is not nearly as wide as many would like to believe. The point? Kevin Youkilis is going to do just fine in New York. And Yankees fans are going to love the way he plays.

Whether Youkilis can produce is another matter entirely.

-- Think the Bruins have considered asking Tim Thomas if he might want to play now?

-- With regard to the Mike Napoli issue, it hardly seems a coincidence that the Red Sox keep saying they are leaving the door open for, among others, Nick Swisher. Napoli is earmarked for first base. Swisher can obviously play first. Dangling Swisher out there might give the Sox some leverage in negotiating with Napoli concerning injury protection, something that has come to light in the wake of Ken Rosenthal's report that Napoli's physical raised red flags.

The point? Napoli is a non-compensation free agent. Swisher would require the forfeiture of a second-round pick. If the Sox really wanted Swisher first, they could have signed him over Napoli or Shane Victorino. They didn't.

All of that suggests that Swisher is still just a bluff.

Unless, of course, any concerns over Napoli are fairly serious.

Tony's Top 5

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The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
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For 2011 Red Sox, there was plenty of blame to go around Oct. 1, 2011. The disgraceful collapse of the Red Sox stoked the fire in all of us.
3
Behind Garnett and James, Celtics and Heat are digging in June 4, 2012. Improbably, the Celtics pushed the Heat to the limit.
2
Thrill is back for Patriots Jan. 30, 2012. Another Super Bowl has even Bill Belichick musing.
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You’ve got to believe June 15, 2011. On the morning of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, we all had reason to believe.
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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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