Friday, December 17, 2010

Boston Sports: Is this heaven?

Is this heaven?
I know, I know. I'm getting ahead of myself.

We haven't accomplished anything yet (Bill Belichick). We haven't won anything yet.

But it feels amazing to be a Boston sports fan right now, doesn't it?

The Pats are steamrolling their opponents, the Celtics are cruising despite the loss of five key players to injury, and the Red Sox are in the midst of one of the greatest (talent-wise) offseasons in team history. As a fan, what more could you ask for, right? 

Welcome to Boston!
Well, growing up in Boston, you might ask for one more thing. You might just ask for the destruction of all New York teams. And you know what? You might just get your wish. While the Red Sox were piling up superstar talents Adrian Gonzalez (one of my favorite hitters in the majors) and wicked fast outfielder Cahl Crawfahd (great Boston accent name), the Yankees were busy getting out-dueled (they couldn't possibly get out-bid) for the most coveted free agent pitcher this offseason- Cliff Lee.

If it were just that, it would be enough. But no, we've got more.

The New York Knicks have been making a lot of noise lately with their surprising 10 game winning streak led by Jewish (wink, wink) PF Amare' Stoudemire. The injury depleted Celtics took the floor at the World's Greatest Arena (according to everyone in NY. I think it's old and has terrible lighting- although the crowds there are very good), Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night- trying to protect Paul Pierce's claim that there was no rivalry between the teams. He basically told the media that the Knicks suck, so how could there possibly be a rivalry? Well, Pierce backed up his statement with an absolutely crushing game-winning jumper from, (where else?) the right elbow. The Knicks actually played pretty damn well, and they have definitely earned respect from the Celtics, but beating a New York team- especially when the fans were so excited before the game- in such dramatic fashion? Aint' nothing better.

Well, except maybe for something I like to call the Monday Night Football Massacre. The drubbing the Pats put on the Jets 2 weeks ago? They aren't going to recover from that any time soon. They were 9-2, atop the AFC. Now? 9-4 and in serious danger of not making the playoffs. Victory tastes so sweet. Oh. What's that? You want to know the score to the game? 45-3. No, wait. 

Looks like a gullet to me

That's better. Eat that Jets fans. Let that one sit for a while. Maybe fatty Rex Ryan will shut his gullet and start teaching his players how to win a game instead of gargling on like a turkey. Mark Sanchez sucks. Santonio Holmes can't catch. Mark Sanchez sucks. I LOVE THIS.

Anyway, enough about all New York teams failing miserably at life. Lets take a closer look at the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics and predict what the future holds.


Last Season: 89-73, 3rd place. Didn't make Playoffs
This Season: ??-??

Analysis and prediction: This is going to be an extremely good Boston Red Sox team. They have fantastic hitters from both sides of the plate. They are a great defensive team. And, most importantly, they have a very good rotation (which could be great if they could get ANYTHING out of Josh Beckett and/or John Lackey). The bullpen isn't dominant, but the addition of Bobby Jenks certainly helps what was the Red Sox's biggest problem last season. Obviously, like any team, they need to stay healthy. Luckily, they will get Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia back after both missed extended time last year with tricky injuries. I don't see how any team can beat the Sox in a playoff series, but then again, the Yankees haven't finished "shopping" this winter, so we really don't know what we are up against. For now, I'll say (barring injury) this team should at least have the best record in the AL, and they should be back in the World Series fighting for another title. 


Last Season: 50-32, 4th in the Eastern Conference. Lost an excruciating Game 7 in LA.
This Season: 21-4, 1st in the Eastern Conference. 

Analysis and Prediction: Health. Health. Health. If only the Celtics were healthy! Lets say, best case scenario, everyone is healthy for the playoffs. What a freakin' team that would be. They would have the best starting 5 (Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett, Perkins- tied with the Lakers) in the league, and the best second starting 5 (Delonte, Nate, Marquis, Baby, Shaq)- with Jermaine O'neal and Semih "Automatic" Erden still on the bench! Are you kidding me? The depth on this team is otherworldly. And thank god for it, because they need every last guy right now. With Rondo, Delonte, JO, Shaq and Perk sidelined, the C's have turned to 3rd and 4th stringers to pick up the slack. The result? A 12 game winning streak (and counting...) aided by the rebirth of both defensive maestro KG and, to a lesser extent, captain Paul Pierce. As long as they stay relatively healthy they should be in the top 2 or 3 seeds in the East. If, and that is a huge if, they are fully healthy for the playoffs, I don't see anyone stopping them. I think they win the title over LA. 


Last Season: 10-6, 3rd in AFC, 1st in East. Smoked in the first round bye Baltimore.
This Season: 11-2, 1st in AFC, 1st in East.

Analysis and Prediction: Wow. That is all I have to say about the Patriots' recent performances, or should I say executions, against the Jets and Bears. The Pats are coming together right in time for the stretch run. With a victory against the Rodger-less (that's what the papers are saying, no one really knows 100 percent yet: via Simmons' twitter- Packers, the Pats will all but have wrapped up the number 1 seed in the AFC, needing only a win against the Bills or Dolphins to secure home-field throughout the playoffs. Wouldn't that be sweet. Reminds me of the 2003-2004 Patriots teams: 14-2 and the number one seed. Let me just say this: if the Pats continue playing like they are right now, no one is going to beat them. Not the Falcons, Eagles, Ravens, Chargers or Saints. No one. They are dominant. They are relentless. And most of all, they are proving everyone wrong.They are on a mission to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to its rightful place. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been brilliant this season, and they are both hungry for that next ring. And, by the way, if they get it, they may finally be considered the greatest coach/quarterback of all time. Screw one game at a time- this team is going to win the Super Bowl in Dallas on February 6th, 2011, at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The Pats will be raising another Lombardi Trophy this year!

We haven't won anything yet, but we will very soon, starting with the Patriots.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

New look Pats hush doubters, expose Jets in front of national audience

Randy who?
When the Pats traded Randy Moss, I wrote that the effect would be "devastating." That was before the Patriots traded for Deion Branch and unleashed secret weapon Danny Woodhead. Now, the only thing that is "devastating" is the Patriots offense- which has steamrolled opponents the last month to the tune of 40 points per game. Tom Brady has not thrown a pick in 228 consecutive attempts, and most importantly, the Pats are 4-0. They have taken care of business against the AFC North leading Steelers, the defending AFC Champion Colts (who recently have lived up to their dictionary definition: Colt- "a young, uncastrated male horse, in particular one less than four years old." Low blow? Perhaps, but Peyton Manning has looked more like an uncastrated baby horse than an NFL quarterback the last couple of weeks), the defending cellar dweller Lions (OK, "defending cellar dweller" isn't an accepted term- it just sounded better that saying "the Lions"), and the (used to be, before they decided to choke on Monday Night Football) number one seed in the AFC- New York Jets.

That is one hell of a run.
Not quite as wild a run as Forrest Gump's sprint around the world, but close

In 2001, 2003 and 2004, the Patriots started getting hot when the weather started getting cold. This team is doing the same. The schedule doesn't let up though, with a trip to the surprise NFC North leading Chicago Bears, followed by a home game against the dangerous Green Bay Packers- led by budding superstar Aaron Rodgers. To say that the Pats have locked up the number 1 seed would be silly. But they certainly have earned the attention of the rest of the league, and look like the best team in the NFL following their explosive 45-3 dismantling of the poor New York Jets.

And you wonder why they call him "the Belly"
I, along with the rest of the United States (except maybe Rex, or as he was called in the Boston Globe, "the belly") expected a tremendous, hard-fought battle between the two marquee teams in the AFC. Boy were we wrong. The Pats used a balanced attack on offense to pick apart what was believed to be one of the toughest defenses in the NFL. The offense has so many weapons, it seems almost unstoppable. Mighty Danny Woodhead had a fantastic revenge game with 104 receiving yards on only four receptions, BJGE had a strong game with two rushing touchdowns, and Tom spread the ball around to Branch, Welker and Hernandez to keep the Jets defense on their heels. One of the big storylines going into the game was the question of who superstar cornerback Darrelle Revis would cover. Well it didn't really matter. With this offense, there are too many options for Revis to shutdown the passing game. If he covered Branch, Brady hit Welker. If he covered Welker, Brady found Branch or Hernandez.

It really was an offensive clinic.

Mark Sanchez reminded Jets fans of Vinny Testaverde
And what about the defense? They were fantastic. With the help of erratic second year QB Mark Sanchez, and some extremely questionable play-calling, the defense played its best game of the year. Sanchez looked uncomfortable in the cold all night; You think he misses Southern California yet? Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, as he has done a few times this year, outsmarted himself. For the first time I've seen, the Jets opened the first two possessions in a shotgun, spread-em-out formation. Not a terrible idea- to spread out the porous Patriots secondary. But the Jets are a run-first offense. Maybe Schottenheimer got caught up in all the talk about the Jets being an explosive offense with former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes leading the charge. Not surprisingly, the Jets didn't score on those two possessions. Sanchez brought back some awful memories for Jets fans of chicken armed quarterback Vinny Testaverde, making some atrocious throws both short and long. On their third possession, the Jets ran the ball five times in a row, got into field goal range, and scored their only points of the game. The Pats responded by going to little man Danny Woodhead for 35 yards, which set up a Brady four yard strike to Brandon Tate. By then, it was 24-3, and the Jets were forced to become a one dimensional offense. It was also right about the time that a drunk Jets fan stumbled into our section, asked "is this my seat," and then (in the most obvious plot development ever) tripped over a cup holder and fell onto about five different people. The poor guy got up and just walked away confused as to what had just happened to him.

It reminded us all of Mark Sanchez.

Nothing like the icing of a Patriots cake
Speaking of Sanchez, Brandon Spikes picked off a horrific throw at the five yard line on the Jets first possession of the third quarter, and everything after that was just icing on the cake. 

What does this game mean? Are the Pats the best in the business, or are the Jets just really, really bad? As is usually the case, it is a little bit of both. Let's start with the Jets. Maybe they were just a tad overrated going into the game. Because, as we all know by now, the Jets had only one win against a team with more wins than losses (week 2 against a completely different Patriots squad), and had only won one game convincingly (the next week against the immortal Buffalo Bills). Needless to say, this team isn't as good as their record says they are. Probably stuck with a 5 seed in the playoffs, this particular Jets team looks like it can pull off one upset (is beating the Jags or Chiefs even considered an upset?) before being put in its place in round 2. I've been saying this all year: the Jets can not win with Mark Sanchez at QB. Yes, he will probably be a good QB in a few years, but the Jets are built to win now, and he does not give them a chance. He is too inconsistent and throws way too many (dreadful) interceptions. You think Mark Sanchez is winning a game in Arrowhead Stadium, Heinz Field and Gillette Stadium in January? I didn't think so.

On to the Pats. Are they the best in the NFL? The answer is yes, but not by much. The Falcons have figured out ways to win a few really tough games, and sit atop the NFL with the Patriots at 10-2. There are 3 teams that I think would give the Patriots trouble right now: Baltimore, Atlanta and Green Bay. The Pats already manhandled the Steelers and Jets, while the wheels have completely fallen off in Indianapolis. Philadelphia is very inconsistent, and we have yet to see Michael Vick stay healthy for more than six or seven games (and he takes an absolute beating every week). Green Bay, Baltimore and Atlanta all have some terrific defensive playmakers to complement their balanced offensive attacks (except Green Bay- they have no running game, but Rodgers is playing so great that it doesn't even matter). What we have with the Pats is an offensive juggernaut and a young defense which gives up yards in bunches, but clamps down when it has to (or comes up with that big turnover they haven't got since the days of Bruschi, Law and McGinest). Brady is playing the best football of his career, and he has an almost unlimited arsenal of weapons at his disposal. King William Belichick is having one of the finest coaching years of his life (who thought the Pats would get the number 1 seed? If you answered yes to that then you are either a liar or an idiot), and the NFL is just wide open enough for the Pats (with their 32nd ranked defense) to go to the Big Game in Dallas.

But don't book your tickets yet, there is still a lot of fun football left to be played- starting this week in Chicago against the ferocious Bears.

Get ready for one hell of a Super Bowl run
Buckle up, this is going to be one hell of a ride.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Are you ready for some football? Pats-Jets prepare for Monday Night faceoff

This one's for ALL the marbles


All the marbles.

Everyone is getting excited for the most anticipated regular season game since the Pats and Colts squared off in Super Bowl 41 and a half in 2007. And for good reason.
This game is going to live up to the hype. Last week, the Falcons and Packers played an extraordinary game in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The Falcons triumphed, getting the final score on a 47 yard kick from veteran Kicker Matt Bryant. The kick followed a frenetic 90 yard drive by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, which ended with a beautiful 10 yard strike from Rodgers to Jordy Nelson. Needless to say, the battle between two of the NFC heavyweights was great entertainment. I expect the same this Monday Night in Foxborough.
Whoa there!!!!

These teams hate each other. They may not say it but, oh wait, they do. Rex Ryan stoked the coals last year by grunting (I can't imagine him "saying" anything, every time I look at him I can only imagine him grunting) "I didn't come here to kiss Belichick's rings." Tom Brady took a blowtorch to those coals when he told reporters this summer "I hate the Jets."

It's on.

The thing is, this year it is the real deal. The rivalry was always missing something. Usually, it was the fact that the Jets were so inferior to the Pats. Even the few times that they beat us (Screw you Mangenious), it didn't seem like they were better than us, they just outplayed us on that Sunday.

Now, things are different.

It was the Jets who went to the AFC Championship game last season, and the Patriots who got blown out at home by the Ravens. This year, with a little luck for both teams, the Pats and Jets sit side by side atop the AFC at 9-2. They matchup with each other extremely well. The Jets say they were "built to beat the Patriots." The Patriots are built to win Super Bowls. But right now, it doesn't seem like the Pats are going to win a Super Bowl without going through the Jets. Whoever wins this game will most likely get a Number One seed in the Playoffs, with home-field throughout. This is less important to the Jets (5-0 on the Road) than it is to the Pats (riding a 25 game -regular season- home winning streak). But confidence wise, this game is critical for both teams. The Jets haven't swept the Pats in the regular season in the Tom Brady era, and would love to get over that hump (though I did speak to a die hard Jets fan recently who said he doesn't care about this game, he only cares if they win in the playoffs. Wait, it's more important to win in the playoffs? I would have never known!)

How evenly matched are these teams? There are so many questions for both teams:

1) Where do you put McCourty? If you put him on Holmes, then Arrington has to cover Braylon (in week 2, Shaughnessy joked that Edwards was "eating candy off the top of his [Arrington's] head."), if you put him on Braylon, then Arrington has to cover Holmes (Arrington has had trouble with number 1's in the last few games, and Holmes has certainly earned the "number 1" tag after 2 game winning catches so far this season).
My Take: Put McCourty on Holmes, Arrington on Edwards (with help over the top from Meriweather), Chung on Keller, and pray to god that there is a good pass rush.

2) Is the focus on stopping the run or the pass? Usually, Belichick focuses on stopping the run and making Sanchize beat them. But it seems different now. The Jets have 5 legitimate weapons (Holmes, Edwards, LT, Keller, Smith/Cotchery) on the field every play. We've seen some beautiful throws from Sanchez to Edwards down the field this season (the one before the half in Detroit was gorgeous, and the throw down the sidelines against the Texans was perfectly thrown), we've seen some great yards-after-catch plays by Santonio, and obviously Keller DESTROYED the Pats in week 2. Do you try and stop the run game- which has slowed down lately- or try and stop the suddenly explosive passing attack?
My Take: Stop the run. Stop the run. Stop the run. As we've seen with the Patriots lately, if a team gets the run game going, the play action becomes a lethal weapon. The Jets do a great job with setting up play action by pounding the ball to Shonn Greene and LT. Stop them, and avoid big plays to Braylon/Holmes, and I think the Pats will put the Jets in a lot of third and long situations.

3) How long do you stick with the run game if it isn't producing big plays? We've seen what happens when the run game doesn't get going, and we've seen what happens when BJGE and Woodchuck have big games. The Pats offense is dominant when the run game is getting 4 or 4.5 yards a carry. In the past few games the Pats play action has been the focal point of the offense, and it has paid huge dividends, as the Pats are averaging a whopping 38 points per game in the last 3 games.
My Take: As long as the Pats don't fall behind by more than 2 scores (which I don't foresee), they should be running the ball often. Whether it is BJGE or Woodchuck will depend on the Jets' defensive game plan, but I don't expect to see a Pats offensive attack like we saw in week 2 (abandoned the running game, and forced the pass- allowing the Jets to disguise their defensive fronts and force some terrible throws from Lord Brady). I would guess that they start with BJGE early, and use Woodchuck later to offset the blitz with his trademark draw plays.

He's also astonishingly good looking
1) How do you slow down Tom Brady? He has been playing on another level the last few weeks, and might be playing the best football of his career. He is making perfect throws, and is getting great protection from the re-invigorated (thank you Logan Mankins) offensive line. It seems that blitzing (Steelers), using speed rushers (Indy) and collapsing the pocket (Ndamukong Suh and the Lions) have done little to faze Brady, who has stood tall and made every throw possible in the last 3 weeks.
My Take: Don't give up the big play and stop the run. Both things the Jets do very well, and both things the Jets did very well in week 2 (Brady's worst game of the season). If the Jets force the Patriots to go down the field little by little, and don't allow any big plays from Branch or Tate (or anyone else for that matter), they have a chance to slow the high powered Patriots passing game.

2) How do you cover all of their players? The Pats have so many options on offense, and you never know which one will be the go-to guy for that week. There have been huge games from BJGE, Woodchuck, Branch, Welker, Tate, Gronk and Hernandez. That is seven weapons the Jets have to be aware of and game plan against. One of the reasons the Jets defense is so successful is their ability to shut down the other team's top WR with "Revis Island." Besides Darrelle, Cromartie has been fantastic this season (aside for a bunch of atrocious penalties- I think he had 3 block-in-the-back penalties last week. Is that even possible?). The thing is, those are two big, physical corners. They are built to shut down the Randy Mosses, Andre Johnsons and Brandon Marshalls of the world. They aren't built to run underneath with the slippery Wes Welker or keep up with route running wizard Deion Branch. Who covers Lebron over the middle? Oops, I meant- Who covers Gronkowski over the middle? Jim Leonard? Puh-leeze. He is 5'7- good luck with that.
My Take: Again, it is all about avoiding the big play. I would put Revis on Branch, Cromartie on Hernandez (or Gronkowski, whoever is in), double Welker with a LB and S, and assume that your front 4 can stop the Pats run game.

Keys to the game:

1) Protect Tom Brady. If the O-Line is as good as it has been lately, the Pats will run away with this one.
2) Tackle. Tackle. Tackle. Tackle. Pretty self explanatory. (Especially Brad Smith and Santonio Holmes)
3) Red Zone defense. The D has been shaky the last few weeks inside the red zone, and the Jets have done a nice job of finishing drives lately. Also, the Jets kicking situation is a disaster, so expect the Jets to go for some fourth and shorts inside Patriots territory.
Why not? Tom is the luckiest man on earth.

1) Pressuring Tom Brady without the blitz. With so many options, if Brady has more than 3 seconds to throw, he is going to complete the pass. The Jets did a wonderful job of getting to Brady without the Blitz in week 2. They need to do that again.
2) Finish drives. Field goals don't win games against the Patriots, it's that simple.
3) Keeping Brady off the field with long, sustained drives. If the Jets get the run game going early and grab an early lead, they could make the Patriots a one dimensional team- which would allow the Jets defense to disguise their blitzes more effectively (guys walking around the defensive line, zone blitzes, etc.).

This game is going to be a dogfight, but I think the Pats will win a squeaker 27-23.

And Another Thing: