Just so we’re clear, the NFL is not held back by the same traditional constraints of the calendar that the rest of us tend to follow. It might be 2008 in a matter of hours, but these will be the 2007 NFL Playoffs. Super Bowl XLII is for the 2007 season title, even though it will be played in the second month of the next year. Got it?
The Patriots’ loss to the Colts in the AFC Championship? Now, that is indeed so last year, as is their 16-game winning streak. Kind of.
The clock turns to midnight and a new day for 12 NFL teams that were good enough -- or just plain lucky enough (ahem, Tennessee) -- to play into January, 11 of them with the 16-0 Patriots directly in their sights.
Four of them won’t be around by the time the Patriots face their first challenge of 2008. No more than three will get a face-to-face shot at knocking off the undefeated juggernaut of New England. Steelers, Colts, Cowboys? Jaguars, Chargers, Packers? Titans, Jaguars, Giants? TBD.FULL ENTRY
We have to ask; what game were they watching in Cleveland Saturday night?
The following editorial appears in today’s edition of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer:
Huh. We understand they’re upset in Cleveland with the fate of the Browns, but really, it’s not like this is a deadline issue seeing as it’s been two days now. Heck, for all we know, they might think the Browns are in the playoffs. Congrats then.
Update (10:58 a.m.): The Plain-Dealer has evidently now caught up with the rest of us.
Now that the NFL regular season is over, let’s take a look back at how (poorly) we prognosticated the teams four months ago. Simply revel in its complete and utter inaccuracy.
1. Patriots -- 11-5
2. Dolphins -- 9-7
3. Jets -- 9-7
4. Bills -- 6-10
1. Ravens -- 13-3
2. Bengals -- 11-5
3. Steelers -- 10-6
4. Browns -- 3-13
1. Colts -- 11-5
2. Texans -- 7-9
3. Jaguars -- 7-9
4. Titans -- 5-11
1. Broncos -- 10-6
2. Chargers -- 9-7
3. Chiefs -- 8-8
4. Raiders -- 3-13
Wild cards: Bengals, Steelers
AFC Champion: Patriots
1. Eagles -- 10-6
2. Redskins -- 8-8
3. Cowboys -- 5-11
4. Giants -- 5-11
1. Bears -- 11-5
2. Lions -- 8-8
3. Vikings -- 6-10
4. Packers -- 3-13
1. Saints -- 12-4
2. Panthers -- 10-6
3. Falcons -- 5-11
4. Buccaneers -- 4-12
1. Rams -- 11-5
2. Seahawks -- 10-6
3. Cardinals -- 8-8
4. 49ers -- 8-8
Wild cards: Seahawks, Panthers
NFC Champion: St. Louis Rams
Super Bowl champion: Patriots
Well, we may yet have that last one, but...yikes.
Now that Charles Steinberg has taken his act out to the Left Coast with the Dodgers, the Red Sox are going to face the challenge of finding new acts and theme songs to enhance the Fenway Park experience. Enter Red Sox Rachel. This ought to take care of it.
Despite the fact that Saturday night poses a potentially historical challenge for the Patriots, I have a hard time getting wrapped up in it considering their next relevant game won't be played until the weekend of Jan. 13-14.
With both the Patriots and Giants locked into their respective playoff positions, Saturday means little more than another step on New England's pursuit of a perfect season. It's not an end game, by any means, as 16-1, 17-1, or 18-1 all represent the same outcome should that one loss come in the postseason: failure.
Sixteen-and-0 means nothing unless it's 19-0. The Seattle Mariners won a major league record 116 games in 2001. Great accomplishment, but sorry, it looks lame on a plaque that doesn't also tout them as World Series champions.
Still, there is a certain sense of history at stake. No team has ever won 16 games in an NFL regular season. Only four have ever won 15 games in a season: The 1984 49ers, the '85 Bears, the '98 Vikings, and the 2004 Steelers. How many Super Bowl victories can you count among the four?
Of course, if we want to play six degrees, Joe Montana, the QB to whom Tom Brady is most compared, led the 49ers in 1984, the '85 Bears trounced New England for their title, the '07 Patriots claim the same Randy Moss as the '98 Vikings, and the '04 Patriots beat the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. What does that all mean? Nothing.
And so too, does 16-0. Until Feb. 3.
Who they're picking
How folks from around the country see Saturday's Patriots-Giants game:FULL ENTRY
Been putting off a decision as to whether or not to drive down to the Meadowlands Saturday night to catch a potentially historic Patriots-Giants game? Believe it or not, some relatively decent ticket prices can be found around the web (as low as $65 for general admission on StubHub), with throngs of Giants "fans" unloading their seats. But you’re really doing yourself a disservice if you don’t go for the following.
Invite 19 of your closest friends to head to Jersey tomorrow and all of you can enjoy one of the finest suites the Meadowlands have to offer. The cost: a cool $26,114.
"Twenty-six thousand to come watch a game? I mean I could understand for the Super Bowl, but for this? It's taking on a life of its own," Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said. "That's a little crazy. I wish I had known. I got a buck.They can come holler at me."
The average ticket price to a Giants game, by the way, is about $85. At $26,114, for 20 people, that's just $1,305.70 per person. Bargain. Have fun finding 19 others that want to shell that out.
Roger Clemens has spent a lot of time the past few weeks fighting for his reputation after being named in the Mitchell Report, posting a denial on his personal website, planning a sitdown with Mike Wallace on “60 Minutes,” and hiring a team of private investigators to look into the accusations.
It’s certainly going to take a lot for the public to buy any of it.
Consider: Here is Clemens’ taped denial as seen on rogerclemensonline.com:
Now, here’s the edited version of the same found on YouTube:
It can be debated which is more genuine.
To the handful of people looking forward to catching up on their "48 Hours Mystery" on Saturday night, this has to come as a devastating blow.
For everyone else not within broadcasting distance of Mike Lynch’s voice, yesterday’s NFL concession to air Saturday’s Patriots-Giants game on every American network save PBS and Soap Net had to come as a sigh of relief.
It is an unprecedented move indeed. By contrast, tonight’s Celtics-Sonics game will be seen on only one network (TNT). Where’s John Kerry?
Still, as thousands canceled their plans to spend the evening at the local sports pub with the Patriots’ potential of perfection on the evening menu, the only grievances the NFL might receive now could come from the babysitters union and WCVB-TV, which was to own exclusive network broadcast rights to the game in the Boston market. Now, WBZ-TV 4 (CBS) and WHDH-TV 7 (NBC) will also have the game in addition to the NFL Network, a simulcast of Presidential address proportions.FULL ENTRY
It’s all sort of an odd predicament, the Patriots having clinched everything possible for the playoffs, yet facing a pair of games that amount to must-wins.
Lose against Miami, or the New York Giants, and the overall goal may still be within sight, but with a “What could have been” footnote forever attached.
In most respects, a win over Miami on Sunday is a given, unless the Dolphins roll into Foxborough buoyed by their first victory of the season last weekend against Baltimore. The Giants, on the other hand, have everything to play for, as they are 9-5 and have to face the Bills and Pats the final two weeks of the season, opponents with a .750 combined win percentage. Only the Carolina Panthers -- a long shot, by the way, face as difficult a schedule the final two frames among playoff contenders.
If the Patriots lose, it means absolutely nothing where the playoffs are concerned.
And yet, it would be a monumentally difficult defeat for New England fans to take. After waiting this long, watching a team play this well, it would be a shame to watch perfection slip away.
At the expense of a Super Bowl? Of course not. Which is why it will be interesting to see how Bill Belichick approaches the Tom Brady-Matt Cassel tandem. Will Troy Brown see some playing time in place of the Moss-Welker-Gaffney trio? Better yet, might the veteran have the opportunity to catch Brady’s record 50th touchdown pass?
For this is what the Patriots are playing for now; perfection and personal accomplishments, which is indeed -- once again -- unlike any other Patriots team we’ve come to know under the Belichick regime.
Who they're picking
How folks from around the country see Sunday's Dolphins-Patriots game:FULL ENTRY
Carlos Silva is a career 55-46 in six big league seasons, with a career 4.31 ERA. The Seattle Mariners apparently have decided that resume was good enough to award him $800,000 per victory with an inane $44 million deal that tops any other possibility as the most ridiculous contract awarded this offseason. That guy who keeps getting on me about letting the Gil Meche thing go just got his wish.
The move, thus far, is going over well with Mariners fans.
“This move is a waste,” writes fan site Lookout Landing. “Yeah, Silva makes the team better. But so would a lot of other guys, and a lot of other guys wouldn't cost us nearly as much in terms of money or years. It's like walking into a grocery store in Beverly Hills and paying $4 for a Coke when there's a $0.25 vending machine for sweet, delicious, always-smooth Select cola right outside the door. The Mariners are throwing money away because they don't know any better. That's why this sucks.”
And as less than .500 pitchers continue to break the bank, Pat Rapp cries just a little bit more inside.
If Silva's worth $11 million per year, we shudder to think what some team is going to end up paying Johan Santana. That $20 million per might not be hardly enough.
Here's what Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts had to say back in 2006, after his name was leaked as part of the Jason Grimsley affidavit: "His accusations are ridiculous. We've had steroid testing, and I've taken all the tests. There is no point in getting into verbal wars. That's really all there is to say."
Here's what Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts had to say yesterday after his name was listed in the Mitchell Report: “"I would like to address the allegations that were made against me in the Mitchell Report. I will begin by saying that I have worked very hard to develop a good reputation both on and off the field. I have always taken pride in being a man of integrity and values. I know that by being a professional athlete, I am held to a very high standard. I never have and never will take that for granted. However, I am also human and I have made mistakes.
"In 2003, when I took one shot of steroids, I immediately realized that this was not what I stood for or anything that I wanted to continue doing. I never used steroids, human growth hormone or any other performance-enhancing drugs prior to or since that single incident. I can honestly say before God, myself, my family and all of my fans that steroids or any performance-enhancing drugs have never had any effect on what I have worked so hard to accomplish in the game of baseball. I am very sorry and I deeply regret ever making that terrible decision. My only hope and prayer is that the Orioles, my family, friends and fans that have supported me so faithfully will forgive me."
This, of course, is now the guilty baseball player’s excuse for using steroids or HGH; I only used them once. Who knew that after all the lawyers and denials that his best line of defense lay in channeling Danny Vermin and Bill Clinton?
The Baltimore Sun’s Rick Maese remembers similar denials from a pair of Roberts’ teammates, also named in the Grimsley affidavit:
"I'll get checked out for anybody, anytime, any moment - whenever they want," Miguel Tejada, the recently traded shortstop, said at the time.
"I am not going to dignify these claims and accusations with any further response," said the recently suspended Jay Gibbons.
Both, of course, joined Roberts, whose father coaches in the Cape Cod League, in the Mitchell Report.
In related news, Deadspin had the following T-shirt sent into them by a Boston fan. Serves as a Mitchell Report prequel of sorts.
The mystery has been solved. Sort of.
Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon tells the Hattiesburg American what happened to the ball that served as the final out of the 2007 World Series.
"My dog ate it.”
That's the same story Papelbon told NESN's Kathryn Tappen just a few weeks back, so if he's joshing around, at least he's being consistent in the matter:
"He plays with baseballs like they are his toys. His name is Boss," Papelbon told the paper. "He jumped up one day on the counter and snatched it. He likes rawhide. He tore that thing to pieces. Nobody knows that. I'll keep what's left of it."
Not to go all Mitchell on Papelbon, who lives in the Hattiesburg, Miss. area during the offseason, but we’re going to need some documented evidence here. Otherwise, we’re calling shenanigans.
As for what prompted the closer to now famously jig on the lawn of Fenway the night his team clinched the AL East: "We were messing around in the locker room waiting for the Yankees to finish their game," Papelbon said. "We won the AL East for the first time in 12 years. We were drinking a couple glasses of milk, and I got a little tipsy after those glasses of milk. We were like kids playing a game. I first danced in the locker room, then I took it out to the field."
Milk. Who knew?
Are you buying Papelbon's story? Let us know in the comments section.
As we continually try to digest just how it’s all come to this – an unprecedented era never seen before in the history of Boston sports - an e-mailer this morning reminded me of the words of NBA commissioner David Stern at Red Auerbach’s funeral. “He had a great run. He fooled us into thinking it would never end."
In much of the same respect, 2007 will end in 13 days, and it will go down simply as the most illustrious year in the history of this city’s professional athletic achievements. It was indeed a great run.
The Red Sox won their second World Series, a feat that many never thought they’d see once in their lifetime, never mind twice. The Patriots have started the season 14-0, and threaten to run the table heading in January. The Celtics, who everyone declared officially cursed in May, are 20-2.
If you need a ratio to map things out, here's one for you: There have been 12 World Championships handed out in the NFL and Major League Baseball since the end of 2001. Five of them reside in New England.
And to think, for all that has happened it will only serve as a preview for what lies ahead in 2008.FULL ENTRY
One day, and yet another win later, little has changed: The general football public still wants to see the Patriots fall either in one of their final two regular season contests or the playoffs. The perception of Spygate, the "evilness” of Bill Belichick, the suffocating national coverage in pursuit of perfection, and a general jealousy for all things Tom Brady have made the Patriots the team everybody else would like to see fall, the team on top with everything at its disposal, and perfection in the waiting.
A sizeable portion of America -- west of the iffy rooting boundaries that define the Berkshires, Hartford, and Chittenden County -- was pulling for the upset yesterday at Gillette Stadium, where the Jets were better than expected, but still an inferior foe to the 14-0 Patriots.
But not this week.FULL ENTRY
Still seriously concerned about the perceived lack of a running game, even considering the fact that the Patriots are, you know, 13-0?
Despite the perfect mark, New England is in the middle of the pack when it comes to the running game, 113.7 yards per contest, only 14th best in the NFL, and the old adage says that to win in the NFL, you have to be able to grind the football into the ground. No good team wins in January without a running game, no matter what Antowain Smith might have to say about it.
The fine folks over at Cold, Hard, Football Facts call this the greatest myth in football, presenting the Minnesota Vikings as Example A:
- No. 1 in rushing offense (172.2 YPG)
- No. 1 in average per rush (5.49 YPA, nearly a full yard better than No. 2 Philadelphia, 4.57 YPA)
- No. 1 in rushing defense (70.7 YPG, more than 100 yards fewer per game than Minnesota generates on offense)
- No. 2 in average per rush allowed (3.03 YPA, behind only 4-9 Baltimore at 2.78 YPA).
And yet, despite its running prowess, Minnesota is 7-6 and fighting for a wild card spot.
Kerry Byrne writes:
And if you're looking for a single-game example of the myth of running the ball and stopping the run, simply look at last week's Pittsburgh-New England AFC clash. Before the game, every "pundit" but the Cold, Hard Football Facts told you, like a series of cliche-spewing automatons, that the key to victory for Pittsburgh was to establish the run on offense and keep the ball out of Tom Brady's hands.
Well, the Steelers did exactly what the "pundits" called for them to do: They ran the ball 32 times for 181 yards and a nifty 5.7 average per attempt. They held the Patriots to 22 yards on 9 attempts, a woeful 2.4 average per attempt.
New England won, 34-13.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts, of course, told you in last week's Icy Issues that the key to victory for Pittsburgh was to pass the ball well. Naturally, the Cold, Hard Football Facts were correct and the passing game proved the big difference in the game: The Patriots averaged 8.7 yards per pass attempt. The Steelers averaged just 4.8 yards per pass attempt.
Of course, with a Nor'Easter predicted for the weekend, the Pats may find themselves running the ball a little more than they'd like to, which should finally appease those ready to give up on Laurence Maroney, who still averages 4.2 yards per carry. Compare that to LaDainian Tomlinson (4.5) and Joseph Addai (4.1) and it's clear that it's more a lack of carries and durability than anything else for the second-year back.
Most importantly, that's 448 words without a mention of spygate or handshakes. I can't promise as much for the following:
Who they're picking
How folks from around the country see Sunday's Jets-Patriots game:FULL ENTRY
It’s not just an asterisk Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell wants for the Patriots because of spygate; he wants them stripped of their three Super Bowl titles and Bill Belichick kicked out of the NFL.
“I often wondered because, man, when you win the Super Bowl, it's like you move on and go to other teams,” he told the San Antonio Express-News. “But all those guys kept staying there. I knew there was something. And all of a sudden this cheating came out and I said, ‘Ah, boy. That's it.' ”
Boy, Campbell’s got something, especially since the Patriots have kept Antowain Smith, Deion Branch, David Givens, David Patten, Damien Woody, Daniel Graham, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Corey Dillon, Adam Vinatieri, Willie McGinest, Jermaine Wiggins, Joe Andruzzi, Ted Washington, etc. around for the entire run.
“I think if I was the commissioner, I would fire him,” Campbell told Chad Peters. “And I'd also fix it so he couldn't coach in the NFL anymore. And those teams that played (and won three Super Bowls), I'd consider that a tie. The other teams would get a ring, too.”
Awesome idea. Congratulations you steroid-induced Carolina Panthers. Because you didn’t cheat, you get a ring too.
As expected, we’re left feeling empty, devoid of a “gotcha” moment, or retribution from the accused for contributing to baseball’s sins.
George Mitchell released his 400-plus page steroid in baseball tome this afternoon, and hours after we salivated over a false “leaked” list of guilty parties, we learned little more than baseball has a drug problem. We may not be here to talk about the past, but the Mitchell Report leaves us little other option.
The biggest bombshell is that Roger Clemens’ name is included, I suppose. That is, if you ignored the whole Jason Grimsley scenario of a year ago. Ricky Bones? Howie Clark? Chad Allen? Exavier “Nook” Logan? How will the game go on?
If anything, the biggest revelation that came from today from a local standpoint, Mo Vaughn excluded, may have been an e-mail from Red Sox GM Theo Epstein about Eric Gagne.
Here’s a portion of the report:
When the Boston Red Sox were considering acquiring Gagné, a Red Sox official made specific inquiries about Gagné's possible use of steroids.
In a November 1, 2006 email to a Red Sox scout, general manager Theo Epstein asked, "Have you done any digging on Gagne? I know the Dodgers think he was a steroid guy. Maybe so. What do you hear on his medical?" The scout, Mark Delpiano, responded, Some digging on Gagne and steroids IS the issue. Has had a checkered medical past throughout career including minor leagues.
Lacks the poise and commitment to stay healthy, maintain body and re invent self. What made him a tenacious closer was the max effort plus stuff . . . Mentality without the plus weapons and without steroid help probably creates a large risk in bounce back durability and ability to throw average while allowing the change- up to play as it once did . . . Personally, durability (or lack of) will follow Gagne . . .
More reaction from around the nation in the wake of the report:FULL ENTRY
A supposedly "leaked" list of the names included in the Mitchell Report has been making the rounds since mid-morning. Due to some misspellings and other questionable content, we decided not to hastily run with it, a decision apparently not followed by WNBC.
Claiming that Newschannel 4's Jonathan Dienst had obtained the list of names, WNBC's website posted the same list you might have seen in a variety of other places today. WNBC has since taken the list of names down with the following addition:
"A high-ranking MLB official said there are several errors in the list provided to WNBC.com by two sources. Original sources are standing by the preliminary list provided to WNBC.com. Therefore, we are working to clarify the list at this time."
If you're one of the eight who are shocked over Roger Clemens' name reportedly being included in the Mitchell Report, here's a history lesson.
In October, 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported that the former Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, and Astros ace was one of six names blacked out in an affidavit filed in federal court that were allegedly linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
The others: Andy Pettitte, Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts, David Segui, and Jay Gibbons, the latter two who have already admitted their use of performance enhancing drugs.
The document was based on statements made to federal agents by pitcher Jason Grimsley, who played for both the Yankees and Orioles and acknowledged performance enhancement drugs. According to the Times' report, "Grimsley told investigators that Clemens and Pettitte 'used athletic performance-enhancing drugs.' He also said Tejada used anabolic steroids."
Clemens, Tejada (traded to the Astros yesterday) and Pettitte did not respond to the accusations at the time. They may have no option after this afternoon.
While no leaks have been made as of yet, one source told the Bergen Record's Bob Klapisch to expect several "prominent" Yankee players to be named when The Mitchell Report is finally released this afternoon.
"It's going to be a rough day in the Bronx," the source told Klapisch, also revealing that no Mets from the current 40-man roster are named despite the testimony of former Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski.
Radomski's relationship with former Yankees strength coach Brian McNamee - who has worked with pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, according to Newsday - is the most likely source of the Yankees in the report.
The Baltimore Sun’s Bill Ordine suggests a form of "cosmic retribution" after unearthing this Miami Dolphins video from the early 90's, perhaps the reason why Miami is winless almost two decades later.
The worst part about this video? Zubaz are back in style. No, really.
This is how long we’ve waited for the Mitchell report: Michael Vick’s jail sentence is just two months longer than it took George Mitchell to deliver his findings in a widespread investigation of performance-enhancing drugs.
Tomorrow afternoon, the general baseball public will get its first glimpse of the report, finally in the hands of Bud Selig and Co., which could either radically turn the game upside down with complete reform in regards to performance enhancing drugs, or reveal much of nothing we don’t already know.
In between somewhere lies the truth of what the Mitchell report means for the game. It certainly won’t be the salacious expose you might have been hoping for, based on the hurdles that Mitchell’s team faced from the Players Association and their nifty set of lawyers. But nor should it be a Jar-Jar Binks-sized bust either. Or at least at the funding tune of $2 million a month, it’d better not be.FULL ENTRY
It's come to this for the New York Jets: Hoping that a sporting upset comparable to the 1980 Miracle on Ice can take place Sunday in Foxborough. So, they're pretty optimistic.
The New York Post's Steve Serby hits up Olympic hero - and Patriots fan - Mike Eruzione for clues as to how the underdog Jets can beat the 13-0 Patriots. The former captain of the 1980 US Hockey Team led the Americans to a stunning win over the Soviets. Today, his motivational speeches inspire teammwork and determination. Who better to lead the charge in a game in which the visitors seemingly have already lost the game days before it is to be played?
"They don't have a chance," he said.
He insists he was kidding and makes an attempt at expressing what the Jets need to believe about themselves in anticipation of Sunday, but it's gotten to the point now that if the Patriots beat the Jets Sunday -- a virtual assertion according to nearly everybody -- and the Dolphins lose to the Ravens, the spread for next week's Patriots-Dolphins game could hit 30, reports Newsday's Neil Best.
Thirty. We can't wait to hear Mercury Morris's rap on that one.
For now though, it is of course spygate, Bill Belichick, and Eric Mangini in the already blinding spotlight in preparation for Sunday's (1 p.m.!) showdown at Gillette Stadium, where it turns out the Jets might have been the purveyor of a little camera trickery of their own last season.
The New York Daily News, among other media outlets, reports today that the Patriots were miffed at the Jets last season for videotaping from the end zone stands in Foxborough. "All filming at last year's Patriots game was done with pre-approval from the Patriots and in accordance with NFL rules," Bruce Speight, the Jets' senior director of media relations, told Newsday.
The Daily News's Rich Cimini points out, "There are specific rules that restrict videotaping at games. According to one, no video recording devices are permitted in the coaches' booth, the sideline or the locker room. Based on that rule, the Jets didn't do anything illegal last year at Gillette Stadium…However, another part of the rule states that videotaping for coaching purposes must be done from locations 'enclosed from all sides with a roof overhead.'"
According to Newsday, there is some discrepancy as to whether the incident happened during New York's win in November or during the Patriots' playoff win in January. The NFL was unaware of the incident, as no formal complaint was made by New England.
That might give New England fans some extra fuel this weekend. The New York Post's Mark Cannizzaro publishes a few of the missives he's received in his Inbox from New England. Or at least the ones fit for print. The Daily News's Vic Ziegel gives the one remaining Jets fan a few other options in lieu of turning on the TV Sunday afternoon.
There may be good reason. A former Jets assistant coach tells the Daily News, "If the Jets lie down, it might be 70-0, but I'd be shocked if that happens. Obviously, the Jets aren't good enough, but they might be good enough to keep it to 35-10."
That good, huh?
With the lingering fear that the Twins might end up trading Johan Santana to the Red Sox, musician Ryan Parker, he of “Shady Brady and Bill Belicheat” fame, has a proposal for Minnesota – New York will throw Hank Steinbrenner into any deal for the lefty.
“Fly over to New York and get this deal done, because no other owner is going to give you his son.”
This sort of threat should ensure Santana is in Boston next season.
It won't quite be reminiscent of the 1940 NFL Championship Game, when the Bears beat the Redskins, 73-0, but ... well, actually maybe it will.
The Patriots are an early 24 1/2-point favorite to beat the Jets on Sunday in Foxborough, and a few Internet sites had the Patriots as much as a 27-point favorite. You'd still be crazy to lay cash on the Jets.
Fourteen weeks ago, Eric Mangini sold out his former master, tarnishing the name of Bill Belichick and the Patriots in the wake of spygate and bringing upon the NFL the merciless team of perfection that anxiously awaits his arrival.FULL ENTRY
Enjoy this one. The playoffs don't start for another month.
The Steelers invade Foxborough on Sunday afternoon -- the first time the Patriots have played at Gillette Stadium under some semblance of sunlight since Oct. 28 -- and guarantees or no guarantees figure to give New England one of its toughest hurdles on the road to perfection -- something not exactly expected from the likes of Philadelphia and Baltimore.
The Steelers' strength, combined with New England's close calls the last couple of weeks, means some pundits are actually picking against (gasp!) the Pats. That's something we haven't seen in at least 10 weeks.
The 10 1/2-point spread is sort of ridiculous, considering Pittsburgh has the No. 1 defense in the league this season. But never mind the spread. Folks saw the past two weeks as signs of a "struggling" Pats team down the stretch, and one vulnerable to falling at the hands of Ben Roethlisberger and Co.
Of course, the Steelers are also coming off a recent loss to the Jets, and a sizzling 3-0 win over the winless Dolphins a couple of weeks ago.
Gone for now are the days of 55-point totals and accusations of running up the score. At least until next week, when Bill Belichick figures to set league history against Eric Mangini and the Jets. But Sunday on Route 1 figures to be the sort of nail-biting game synonymous with classic Patriots wins over the years -- before Tom Brady was able to look around at the toys bestowed upon him and wonder what Reche Caldwell is up to these days. This will be the sort of game assuredly waiting come January vs. these same Steelers, Indy, or the Cowboys.
Sunday will be a chore. Everything after that is just waiting for what could be.
Who they're picking
How folks from around the country see Sunday's Steelers-Patriots game:FULL ENTRY
This would all be a little more intriguing if guarantees remained a periodic exclamation of assured bravado instead of the chest-thumping they have become, with meaningless results and no implications on the protagonist.
There are no consequences to speak of. No accountability whatsoever when the guarantee in question becomes just another precursor to incompletion. The liability goes away when the Guarantee Fairy fails to stop by and leave a quarter under the pillow of the prideful.
Will Anthony Smith feel compelled to apologize to Steelers fans on Sunday should his guarantee of victory not come to fruition in Foxborough? Of course not.FULL ENTRY
The pleas not to include Red Sox fave Jacoby Ellsbury in a deal for Johan Santana have inspired MySpace artist Kyle Andree to pen the ditty that’s bound to become a surefire Boston hit: “Don’t trade Jacoby.”
Hey, Theo, I got something to tell ya, about a certain trade with Minnesota, Yeah Johan, he’s the man, and to get him do whatever you can. But there’s just one player that just can’t go, and I’ll give you one hint, he’s a Navajo.
Don’t trade Jacoby to Minnesota, please don’t say that I never told ‘ya.
When he’s a Hall of Fame center fielder,
Yeah, Theo Epstein, you’re gonna feeluhhhhhhhhh dumb.
Who cares about the Twins these days, now that Torii Hunter went to L.A.
All they got now is Delmon Young, soon just like his brother he’ll be a bum.
We can’t send Jacoby to the Metrodome, because Fenway Park is his true home.
Don’t trade Jacoby to Minnesota, please don’t say that I never told ‘ya.
When he’s a Hall of Fame center fielder,
Yeah, Theo Epstein, you’re gonna feeluhhhhhhhhh dumb.
In 33 games he hit three home runs, it’s better than our resident right field bum,
And at the tender age of 24, he’s a better looking version of Grady Sizemore.
Give 'em Lester, Lowrie, and Coco, but our boy Jacoby just cannot go.
But if he does go I’ll always know, that by stealing second base,
He won me a free taco, so I could stuff my face.
Don’t trade Jacoby to Minnesota, please don’t say that I never told ya.
When he’s a Hall of Fame center fielder,
Yeah, Theo Epstein, you’re gonna feeluhhhhhhhhh dumb.
Boy, this is all going to be some kind of bummer if the kid hits .230 next season.
Don’t blame them for being able to land Johan Santana. After all, that ability is thanks to the hard work and keen eyes of a scouting team that has built up a farm system of wanted youth.
Don’t blame them for being able to pay Johan Santana. After all, that ability is partly in thanks to charging the highest ticket price in the major leagues, only to watch demand increase each year.
If you live in Minnesota, don’t blame baseball for its lack of a salary cap. After all, Twins owner Carl Pohlad just so happens to be the 245th richest man in the world with a net worth of $2.8 billion.FULL ENTRY
On the bright side, at least the negotiating window will only be 72 hours in lieu of the 30-day stranglehold for Dice-K we endured one year ago.
It appears that the Red Sox may be close to landing the most wanted pitcher on the market for the second straight offseason, trading medical jive with the Twins as it relates to Johan Santana and company, which would seem to hint the structure of a deal could be in place.
Still, the New York Times tells us this morning there’s a flicker of hope where the Yankees are concerned, with the Twins reportedly removing Ian Kennedy from the must-have list.
Boston or New York will indeed insist on a 72-hour window to negotiate on a contract extension with Santana, which should only cost about the equivalent of putting in a purchase bid on St. Peter’s Square.FULL ENTRY
For all the discussion last week that the Eagles provided the rest of the NFL with a blueprint for beating the Patriots, the bottom line is that Philadelphia still didn’t win, which makes the schematic for instilling defeat a bit incomplete, no?
Here’s the thing about blueprints: They’re useless unless you’ve got the proper tools.
Enter Kyle Boller.
The Ravens figured to have a more powerful offense than in the past this season, which is to say any offense at all. While Willis McGahee has been solid for Baltimore, eighth in the league in rushing yards, it is the man behind center that is still in flux. Tonight it will be Boller continuing to fill in for the injured 73-year-old starter Steve McNair, and he is no A.J. Feely. Whatever that means to you.
In the end, this is picking Tom Brady over Kyle Boller. Randy Moss over Derrick Mason. Bill Belichick over Brian Billick, who was the OC for the 1998 Minnesota Vikings, a team with Moss that holds the record for most points scored in a season.
For one more month.
Who they're picking
How folks from around the country see tonight's Patriots-Ravens game:FULL ENTRY