Sunday, January 20, 2013

Down to Two: Super Bowl XLVII Up Next

The two losers from last year's NFL conference championships won this time out. Of course this means two brothers will coach opposite each other Feb. 3 in Super Bowl XLVII.
San Francisco topped Atlanta 28-24 by overcoming a 17-point first half deficit.
Baltimore bested New England 28-13, preventing the Patriots from reaching their sixth Super Bowl appearance under Bill Belichick and reaching the finals for the first time in four tries with Joe Flacco at quarterback.

The 49ers broke Atlanta's record for largest NFC Championship Game comeback, with three rushing touchdowns, two by Frank Gore, and a passing touchdown to tight end Vernon Davis.
Atlanta held the previous mark of 13 in shocking Minnesota 30-27 in the 1999 game.
San Francisco made amends to its fans for the two costly special teams fumbles in the lost championship game last year against New York and proved to the world once again the midseason move of benching incumbent starter Alex Smith in favor of Colin Kaepernick was the right one.
Atlanta proved once again that it has trouble closing out opponents, due in large part to its depreciating ground game. The Falcons nearly lost after holding a 20-0 advantage last week against Seattle and let the Peyton Manning-led Broncos back into a game in which Atlanta led by 20 earlier in the season. Against the dual threat of Kaepernick's legs and arm, the Falcons hesitated and paid the price.

Baltimore continued its inspired push to bless the retiring troubled-turned spiritual Ray Lewis with a parting gift: a second Super Bowl victory. The Ravens knocked out the Patriots when Bernard Pollard concussed Stevan Ridley early in the fourth quarter. The hard-hitting defensive back, who also destroyed Tom Brady's knee and 2008 season with a hit, led with his helmet in making a tackle of Ridley. The running back blacked out, fell awkwardly to the ground and fumbled away the Patriots' season.
Brady had a couple opportunities after the turnover down by two scores, but failed to convert on fourth down and threw two interceptions, one off a tipped ball, on his next three possessions.
In all, New England made six trips inside the Baltimore 25, but came away with a touchdown only once.
Flacco was pleasantly effective for the second straight week, completing 58 percent of is passes for 240 yards and three scores.
But it was the Patriots who were unable to generate enough in key situations that decided this one.

And so it goes Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers will face John Harbaugh of the Ravens Feb. 3 for sibling supremacy. So much for my NE v. SF Super Bowl prediction.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

NFL Playoff Predictions

Wild Card Predictions:


Houston over Cincinnati
Baltimore over Indianapolis


Green Bay over Minnesota
Washington over Seattle

Divisional Predictions:


New England over Houston
Denver over Baltimore


San Francisco over Green Bay
Washington over Atlanta

Conference Championship Predictions:


New England over Denver


San Francisco over Washington

Super Bowl Predictions:

New England over San Francisco

Sunday, December 23, 2012

NFL Observations: Week 16

Matt Ryan looks down at the postseason competition
The penultimate week of the NFL regular season provided closure for some and further muddied the playoff picture for others.
Atlanta is the team to beat in the NFC, breezing past Detroit 31-18 Saturday night to secure home-field advantage.
Minnesota, with an impressive win over flip-flopping Houston, can secure a playoff spot with a divisional win over Green Bay next week. Few saw this happening; I pegged the Vikings for six or seven wins. Most pundits had Minnesota winning between four and  six times, including Sports Illustrated's Peter King.
Elsewhere, a couple of NFC East teams failed to assert themselves in the playoff chase.
New York further compromised their playoff chances with the second straight box office flop, falling to Baltimore 33-14. Last week the G-men lost 34-0 to Atlanta. That's OK, though. Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning are all or nothing types. They either reach the playoffs on a neutral note and then win the Super Bowl, or they don't bother qualifying for the postseason.
Interdivisional rival Dallas cannot generally do much right EVER in key situations.
Sunday Dallas lost to New Orleans, fighting back from several deficits to force overtime, only to lose 34-31. The Cowboys are like a Scantron exam where 50 answers in a row are correct, but the rest of the test is half wrong; they do a lot of things right, but in the end fail to make the grade.

In the AFC, Indianapolis defeated the 2-13 Kansas City Chiefs Chumps 20-13. Ho hum. Another win for a mediocre team who capitalized on a schedule softer than a chinchilla's fur. More on that in a bit.
Baltimore clinched the AFC North with the W over New York and Cincinnati grabbed a playoff spot with an interception of Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger.
Division winners Denver and New England also improved their records.

Playoff Picture
It seems so often there are teams that reach the playoffs that do not belong. There are others whose record is good or even great, but you just get a sense things won't go their way once the postseason gets underway.
This year, there could be several pretenders.
New England, New York (G), San Francisco, Chicago and  Minnesota all have strength of schedules above .500. Seattle and the Giants are the only NFL teams with strengths of victory above .500.
For the teams aforementioned, reaching the playoffs is or will be -- in the case of those who have not yet locked up a spot -- well deserved.
For others, it's a bit less clear.
Atlanta, the team with the NFL's best record, has played the easiest schedule so far this season. Moreover, the Falcons strength of victory ranks fourth lowest in the NFC.
The AFC, sans the Brady Bunch, is worse.
Let's start with the Wild Cards. Cincinnati and Indianapolis have not played many good teams and have not beaten anybody worth mentioning. Sure their stories are moving, particularly Indy's rise from worst to 10-5 in one year behind the inspiration of an ill head coach and the talent of 2012's No. 1 pick. Just don't buy that these two teams are actually good. Their strength of victory ranks fourth and fifth worst in the entire NFL.
Speaking of which, everyone wants to anoint Peyton Manning as a demigod for overcoming multiple neck surgeries and a dismissal from a Colts team he resurrected en route to another 12-win season, this time with Denver.
A closer look shows he, too, has played against some mighty lame ducks. While the .480 strength of schedule is about league average, the Broncos strength of victory is near the bottom -- 10th worst in the NFL.

What this all means for those looking to the postseason
Based on regular season results, New York (with lots of help), San Francisco and Seattle have the best chances of making an impact in the NFC. And New England is the clear front-runner to reach the Super Bowl out of the AFC.

Individual Performances
Week 16 produced several new records. Calvin Johnson topped Jerry Rice's single-season receiving yards record by going for 225 yards Saturday night. For all the talk about Adrian Peterson eclipsing the 2,000 mark, Megatron is primed to reach that total as a receiver. Right now he's got 1,892.
Peterson, meanwhile, will have a tough time breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record -- going for 86 in Sunday's win to remain 208 yards away -- but is still a strong bet to become the seventh rusher in NFL history to break 2K. He averages 127 YPG and needs 102 versus Green Bay next week.

Jason Witten quietly set the NFL single-season record for receptions by a tight end. Now with 103, he passed Tony Gonzalez's 2004 effort of 102. Also of note: Houston's Andre Johnson surpassed 100 catches for the fourth time in his career.
Drew Brees became the first QB to top 4,500 yards passing in three consecutive seasons. And some special teamers kicked their way into history Sunday. Minnesota's Blair Walsh stands alone with the most field goals made of 50-plus yards in one season. Washington's Kai Forbath blasted his 17th consecutive field goal Sunday to start his career -- another NFL record.

Quick Hits
The Arizona Cardinals blocked a meaningless 20-yard field goal attempt by the Bears late in the fourth quarter and returned it for a touchdown. With Chicago already up by 22 at that point, the decision seemed pretty dumb. Most teams go for it on fourth-down instead.

Seattle would not be in a position to win the NFC West but for the controversial touchdown call that went its way in Week 3 and essentially ended the labor dispute between the league and referees.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Vikings Lose, Become a Statistic

Over the last 10 years only two other teams managed what the Vikings did Sunday.
Minnesota got more than 200 rushing yards from Adrian Peterson yet still lost to Green Bay 23-14.
Teams since 2002 are now 57-3 when an individual rusher exceeds two bills. Peterson ran for 210 on 21 carries.
Christian Ponder struggled as his receivers played like the checkout lines on Black Friday -- never open.
The second year quarterback left at least six points on the field with two interceptions inside of the Packers 20.
Everson Griffen, a Vikes special teamer and defensive end, cost Minnesota another three spot, at a minimum. He was flagged for a late hit penalty deep in Green Bay territory just after Aaron Rodgers released a ball ultimately intercepted by Jared Allen.
Just as Detroit coughed up a 12 point fourth quarter lead to the upstart Indianapolis Colts only to lose on the final play of the game Sunday, Minnesota struggles to excel in key situations.
All that means aside from another remarkable performance by Peterson a year removed from major reconstructive knee surgery, is the Vikings remain steps and other playmakers away from being considered a playoff contender.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Touchdown King Picked Apart: Falcons Demonize Saints

Roll back the clock. It's not just fall.
Drew Brees failed to throw a touchdown pass.
What seemed to be as close to a guarantee this side of death and taxes, Brees was stifled and harassed to the tune of five picks and no scores by the NFC's best Atlanta Falcons Thursday night.
Atlanta won 23-13.
Brees wasn't without opportunities to extend his NFL record streak, but he could not find the end zone for the first time in 54 games.
Socialists won the national elections in Greece and Brett Favre, off to a 4-0 start, was preparing to face the Green Bay Packers for the first time as a member of rival Minnesota.
The date: Oct. 4, 2009.
That's how long ago it has been since Brees failed to pass to paydirt.
More importantly than the broken streak, Brees' struggled left New Orleans at 5-7 and looking for answers with another tough matchup on the horizon at Metlife Stadium versus the New York Giants.
Ain't that a shame.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Yanks Outlast Orioles

Back and forth all year
Game 5 determines their fates
Yanks outlast the O's

(A Haggy Haiku)

Tied at two after four American League Division Series games and at 11 after 22 season-long matchups, C.C. Sabathia delivered the decisive blow to Baltimore for New York.
The Orioles once again fell one game short of the Bombers just as they did during the regular season. 
Pitching a one-run complete game, Sabathia lifted his team to a 3-1 win Friday against a scrappy, small-time Baltimore squad that went down only when baseball's rules said it had to; there are no more at-bats, no more innings to play for a divisional series Game 5 loser. 
Raul Ibanez, Ichiro and Curtis Granderson provided the offense for New York's workhorse starter, who struck out nine in raising his postseason record with baseball's most storied franchise to 7-1. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Incredible Cardinals Win Again

The Cardinals are like a spring.
Every time you put pressure on them and seemingly squeeze the air out of them, they recoil with devastating ferocity.
Six elimination games in two years, six victories.
The defending world champs, down to their final strike twice Friday night, scored four runs in the top of the ninth inning to erase a 7-5 deficit and advance to the National League Championship Series.
St. Louis, unfazed, overcame a 6-0 deficit in Washington before a record raucous crowd turned silent at Nationals Park.
The Nationals and closer Drew Storen let their guard down. Inexperience can play dirty tricks on the mind. It instills a false sense of security, a phantom sense of invincibility.
Daniel Descalso provided the game-tying, two out hit, which pinballed off of shortstop Danny Espinosa's glove with the bases loaded. Pete Kozma followed with a two-run single down the right field line.
Calm under fire.
Experience and skillful.
Incredible run.

(A Haggy Haiku)

Notes: St. Louis with the win advances to the LCS for the seventh time in 10 years. The 6-0 deficit is the largest overcome in an elimination game in MLB history. And how about the slate of division series matchups? All of them went the distance. There were multiple walk-off hits and several extra-inning games.
Baseball is at its best this year... so far.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Baseball Playoff Predictions

Play-In Games

St. Louis over Atlanta
Texas over Baltimore


Detroit over Oakland in 4
New York over Texas in 5


St. Louis over Washington in 4
San Francisco over Cincinnati in 5


New York over Detroit in 6


San Francisco over St. Louis in 6

World Series

New York over San Francisco in 7

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Cabrera: Baseball's Triple Threat

Effortless success
Rare breed of power, average
Triple Crown Winner

(A Haggy Haiku)

Miguel Cabrera is the newest member of an elite club.
The Tigers slugger won the Triple Crown. He becomes the first hitter to lead the league in average, home runs and RBI in the same season since 1967 when Carl Yastrzemski did it. Only 13 different players have accomplished the milestone.  
Cabrera mashed his way to a .330 average to go with 44 home runs and 139 RBI.
Unlike contenders in recent years past, Cabrera received minimal media attention for his feat.
Granted, Cabrera doesn't seek the spotlight. But those who cover MLB also focused very little on the superlative third baseman.
The market size hasn't been the issue. Baseball writers groveled over Justin Verlander, Cabrera's teammate's body of work a year ago. They questionably gave the pitcher league MVP, an honor Cabrera has never received and likely will not be rewarded for this historical campaign, either.
AL MVP is reserved for rookie Mike Trout.
No matter, Cabrera doesn't mind.
He'll just continue to hit his way into baseball lore.

Friday, September 7, 2012

"Princess Warrior" Dies Before Meeting Big Time Rush

A Wadena girl’s dying wish to meet Big Time Rush was going to be granted Thursday, but there just wasn’t enough time.
Kare 11 reported eight-year old Jane Fiemeyer died just hours before her scheduled video chat with the Nickelodeon band.
Jane was diagnosed with leukemia in August of 2011. After numerous attempts at treatment, doctors told her recently that the disease was incurable. Jane returned home for hospice care Wednesday.
Her mother, Jil Fiemeyer, spurred a social media wave this week in an effort to grant Jane her wish to meet the boy band. Friends, family and strangers from all over campaigned to Big Time Rush on behalf of Jane.
The band responded to the outpouring of support and had arranged a video chat with her over Skype Thursday. The band, which portrays hockey players from Minnesota on their show, was reportedly even planning to rearrange their tour schedule to surprise Jane with a visit Monday.
But Jane died peacefully late Thursday morning before BTR could fulfill her wish.
Jane was able to watch a video the band made specifically for her.
Doctors had speculated earlier in the week that Jane’s timeline could be anywhere from days to a month.
She made it just one day.
The “Princess Warrior Fund” has been set up in Jane’s memory. Money raised will benefit cancer organizations. She also raised money for children’s cancer research by making vibrant duct tape wallets. They can be ordered by contacting

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Movie Review: American Reunion

American Pie is back. 
Everyone has grown up, though not matured. Instead of watching teenagers acting obnoxious and sex-starved, American Reunion is about 30 years olds engaging in sophomoric debauchery. 
It doesn’t work.  
American Reunion is outrageous and dimwitted, but devoid of any humor. The storyline is odd, predictable and fails to deliver the least bit of entertainment. Truthfully, the film is like drinking hard alcohol all night: the gut rot gets progressively worse with each passing moment. 
Don’t bother going to the Reunion to see how everyone turned out. 

Pack Leaders

In baseball money starts -- unless it's attached to Vernon Wells or a back of the bullpen guy.
Yes, closers and only a select few players with unsightly contracts are excused from playing from the get-go. In the former's case, they are paid to preserve ninth inning leads and save games. As for the latter, well, Wells and others are such a detriment to the team's overall success, management feels it is far better to bench  them than witness incongruous, appalling failure time and time again.
Wells is owed $63 million over the next three seasons. He rarely sees the field because he can no longer hit for average or power and the Angels have MVP-candidate and rookie Mike Trout to take his place in the lineup.
Other teams aren't so lucky.
Since the end of the steroid era, pitching ERA has been much better. In the more potent American League, 18 hurlers have ERAs below 4.00. The National League has an incredible 39. Yet somehow, even with the changes to the game and better success rates among pitchers, Minnesota Twin Nick Blackburn struggles to record outs.
A 2008 ESPN piece suggests that one Mike Parrott had the sixth worst season ever among athletes in 1980,  and arguably owns the single worst pitching effort in MLB history. Parrott finished 1-16 with a 7.28 ERA for the Seattle Mariners. Opponents hit .356.
Photo Courtesy of
Blackburn is paid $4.75 million this year to be just as woeful. League average is $3.31 million through 2011. In 18 starts, Blackburn owns a 7.33 ERA and .334 batting average against.
Need further proof of how bad that is? If an average hitter faced Blackburn all season, he would hold the fifth highest average in baseball and second highest in the AL.
Somehow the Twins do not have any other arms to start.
Speaking of not having other options, the Chicago White Sox have a player with the third most strikeouts among all active players and one of the best pitchers. Unfortunately, they aren't the same guy. Adam Dunn has 167 strikeouts in little more than 400 at-bats. Southpaw Chris Sale is 14-3 with a 2.60 ERA. He has struck out 132 in 138.2 innings. MLB's strikeout leader is Justin Verlander, who has 174.
The beefy first baseman slash designated hitter does not come cheap. Dunn signed a four-year, $56 million contract with Chicago prior to the 2011 season.
Last year he set a modern day record among qualified candidates by hitting .159. This year, Dunn's .209 average is hardly a godsend, though his 33 home runs pace all hitters.
Photo Courtesy of
Again, Big Donkey's troubles stem from making contact. Over the first 32 games of the season he struck out at least once for a total of 47 times. For comparison sake, the longest hitting streak in baseball this season was 26 games.
The only good that can come from having to play these particular (and relatively) big budget flops is their potential to play each other fairly often as members of rival Central Division teams.
More head-to-head matchups and maybe Blackburn and Dunn will both return closer to league average, even if their salaries don't.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bryce Harper's All-Star Game Debut

Bryce Harper is a superstar in the making. At 19 years old, he became the youngest position player in Major League history to make an All-Star team. He swings hard, hustles, and shows poise offensively and defensively.
Yet, in his first Mid-Summer Classic, Harper looked his age. He got caught in a run-down after reaching on a walk in his first plate appearance and lost a routine fly ball in the bottom half of the inning, allowing Mike Napoli to reach. 
As to the claim everyone's focus at this year's game is the "who's better? Harper versus Mike Trout debate," like picking between Team Jacob or Team Edward, it's overblown. The biggest story of each All-Star Game is seeing all the stars of the league play on the same stage. Harper and Trout are no more intriguing than seeing Clayton Kershaw pitch or David Wright hit. 
If the goal was to make a memorable debut, Harper achieved it with those mistakes. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Thursday, May 31, 2012

NBA Lottery Nonsense

All 14 NBA non-playoff teams found out their assigned seat for the June draft Wednesday, with the New Orleans Hornets catching the top spot.
The Charlotte Bobcats (7-59), which finished with the worst winning percentage in NBA history, will draft second.
Charlotte had a 25 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick. New Orleans tied with Cleveland for the third poorest record in the NBA and had a 13.7 percent chance of winning.
The Minnesota Timberwolves will not be drafting in the top 14 despite having a bad enough record. Back in 2005, Minnesota shipped a conditional first round pick and Sam Cassell to the Clippers in exchange for Marko Jaric and Lionel Chalmers.
That pick was lottery protected for six years, until Wednesday.
Los Angeles won't be utilizing what turned out to be a No. 10 pick though, as the team traded it to the Hornets in the Chris Paul trade.
It's no surprise the draft position wasn't higher.
Minnesota has never drafted first. Since the lottery's inception in 1990, just four teams boasting the lowest winning percentage during the previous season captured the top pick.
Given Minnesota's misfortune in that regard during the team's 23-year history, Kevin McHale would have been wise then to have offered up Cassell and a future No. 1 for Jaric and Chalmers.
I kid of course, but hey, the Clippers might have still been waiting 23 years from now.