Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Giants vs. Patriots--Vital Betting Info, Pt.2

Bettors, outfitted as usual with blinders, still don't get it.

The Super Bowl line continues to be the New England Patriots favored by three over the New York Giants. So many gamblers are convinced that the Patriots will win, mainly because they insist that Pats' QB Tom Brady is this unstoppable force, that he can't be beaten, that he's better than Giants' QB Eli Manning.

Wrong. Forget the hype, take the blinders off, look at the facts and let them sink in.

For some reason, many are ignoring what happened in the AFC Championship game, that gift from Baltimore to New England. Who was the best QB in that game, which New England won 23-20? It wasn't Brady. The Ravens' QB Joe Flacco outplayed the Great One, constantly hitting throws in the clutch that experts swore he wasn't capable of making.

Compare their stats for that game. Flacco was 22 out of 36, for 306 yards, 2 TDs, one pick and a passer rating of 94.5. But Brady, with the same number of completions and attempts, gained  just 239 yards, with no TDS, two interceptions and a puny passer rating of 57.5. Flacco won that round and he wasn't even throwing to an elite corps of receivers. Brady didn't beat Baltimore, it was mainly Baltimore that beat Baltimore.

In the Super Bowl, Brady won't be dueling grade B Flacco, but the Giants' Grade A Manning, who's much better than Flacco in just about every phase of the position. What's even scarier for the Pats is that the Giants have a top-notch receiving crew, featuring Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham. In the NFC Championship game, this Giants' passing attack penetrated the 49ers' defense, one of the best in the NFL, for over 300 yards. The Patriots' secondary, featuring lead-footed safeties who are easily fooled, is one of the worst in the league. How do you think the Giants' high-voltage passing attack will fare against that unit?

The answer is obvious but many, many bettors, blinders firmly in place, won't go there. They're too busy idolizing Brady to let something like common sense get in the way.

More tomorrow.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Giants vs, Patriots--Vital Betting Info


When handicapping the Super Bowl, surveying all the info as you figure out where to put your money, watch out. Some analysts are pointing strictly at the QBs. Big mistake. The duel between the New England Patriots' Tom Brady and the New York Giants' Eli Manning is getting way too much attention. It's just part of the picture--and maybe not even the most important part.

There's a mistaken picture many of have imprinted in their heads--of Brady standing behind his line, directing receivers with the calm of a cop directing traffic, while Denver Bronco pass rushers are being manhandled by the Patriots' lineman. Wipe that image out of your mind. That's the way it was in that mismatch. It doesn't apply now. That's the Patriots' passing offense operating at peak efficiency against a slow, scared Denver defense. Even in the Ravens game the following week, that image was outdated. That's not the way it's going to be when Brady is facing the bulls in the rampaging Giants' pass rush.

Keep in mind one thing many forget--that the Partiots are lucky to be in the Super Bowl. The Ravens should have won that game. They were the better team, but were undone by boneheaded errors. Two Ravens' blunders opened the Super Bowl door and swept New England right in. First was the pass--what would have been the winning TD--that Lee (Butterfingers) Evans had in his hands before      strip out of his grasp. No self-respecting receiver lets that happen. Then, a few minutes later, kicker Billy Cundiff choked big time, hooking a chip-shot attempt wide left that would have sent the game into OT, with momentum on Baltimore's side.

That's not all. The Patriots' record is deceiving, built on a cozy schedule that allowed them to get fat on the weaker AFC teams. That's how they managed to get so far with a lousy defense. Their biggest bit of luck was Denver capitalizing on the Tebow magic, home-field advantage and Steeler injuries to take down Pittsburgh. Not having to contend with the Steelers was a huge bonus for the Patriots.

When assessing the Patriots' passing game, look beyond Brady. That attack is only as good as the receivers--and the wide weceivers are a problem. Wes Welker--small, slow Wes Welker--is a relentless danger, but the rest of  the Patriots receiving corps isn't much to worry about.  Deion Branch is a has-been, so is Chad Ochocinco. Mediocre Matthew Slater won't scare even the worse secondary--and the Giants' secondary isn't bad.

The real threats among the Patriot's receivers are the tight ends--Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
While Hernandez can do some damage, Gronkowski--the best  tight end in the AFC--is nursing a banged-up left ankle. He'll play, but won't be 100%. That means the Patriots' passing game will suffer. With his speed compromised, Gronkowski is just another big tight end--and therefore very manageable, probably by a linebacker rather than a safety.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

49ers vs Giants--Too Close To Call

New York Giants or San Francisco 49ers--who wins?

There are convincing arguments for both teams. Even the gambling community is split down the middle. The Niners are a 2-to-2.5-point favorite, but that slim margin is based primarily on home field (Candlestick Park) advantage.

Here's why you might favor the Niners. They haven't lost since Thanksgiving. They rarely make mistakes and lead the league in takeways. They just outscored the New Orleans Saints, one of the most lethal offensive machines in NFL history. In that game, their QB, Alex Smith, never played better, showing uncanny passing skills in the clutch.

We haven't yet touched on the Niners greatest asset--their defense. Of the four teams vying for the Super Bowl, the Niners have the best defense. Their front seven is the finest in football. So is their run defense. So is their famed linebacker, Patrick Willis. The Saints' passing offense is far more dangerous than the Giants'. If the Niners controlled the Saints' passing for most of the game, they should be able to clamp down on the Giants' less imposing passing attack.

In the battle of the running games, the Niners have a distinct edge. Though their ace RB Frank Gore tailed off late in the season, he did pick up 89 yards last week against the Saints in 13 carries. While finishing last in rushing in season stats, the Giant running game revved up in the last few games, finally becoming a solid threat. But RBs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs probably won't put a dent in the Niners' run defense, which just gives up 77.2 yards per game and held seven teams to less than 3 yards per carry.

Before you crown the Niners NFC champs, consider this. The Giants are hot, on a late season roll, much like they were in 2007, when they won the Super Bowl--in early 2008--shocking the undefeated Patriots. Giants' QB Eli Manning is also having his best year, passing for nearly 5,000 yards. He's been a monster in the clutch, with an NFL record 15 fourth-quarter TD passes and a blistering 110 fourth-quarter passer rating.

History is on the Giants side. In four previous NFC championship games, the Giants triumphed every time. Also, the Giants' defense, so-so during the season--29th against the run and 16th against the pass--is peaking, particularly the rampaging pass rush, which could unnerve Smith. In the last four games, no opponent has scored more than 20 points against New York. A tough, relentless defense could grind the no-frills 49er offense to a halt.

Also in the Giants' favor, they have more experience on the big stage, having won a Super Bowl four years ago, with QB Manning as MVP. The Niners haven't been this far in the playoffs since their heyday in the mid 90s and might succumb to rookie jitters. Though 49er QB Alex Smith has been a lion all season, he could, at any time, turn back into the erratic player of old.

And one more thing. Add rain into the mix. A wet, muddy field increases the possibility of turnovers--making them an even bigger X factor.

Do you bet this game? Probably not--way too many X factors, way too close to call. If you have to bet, take the under--with the 42 total. The defenses should control this one and keep scoring at a minimum.

Since it's essentially a coin flip, let's do that and see what happens. Heads--Giants, tails--49ers. 

Tails, it is--49ers.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ravens vs. Patriots--Ravens Smart Pick

Like a hot knife through butter. That's how New England Patriots' QB Tom Brady sliced through the Denver Broncos' pass defense.

Cut to this Sunday. Brady is set to do more slicing. But this time he's facing the Baltimore Ravens.
The Broncos were soft butter. The Ravens aren't.

The Broncos were finished in the first quarter. For one thing, they were playing scared, unquestionably intimidated by Brady and just ripe to be overwhelmed. The Broncos shouldn't have advanced that far and deep down they knew it. Aided by home-field advantage and an uncharacteristically sharp passing game by Tim Tebow, the Broncos sneaked by the Pittsburgh Steelers, a much better team. Hitting the winning TD in overtime, Tebow threw a perfect slant pass, outfoxing a defense set for the run. That sent the over-achieving Broncos to Foxboro for the brutal, 45-10 beatdown by the Patriots.

The feeble competition made the Patriots look much better than they are. Brady will have a tougher time taming this gritty Baltimore unit. Against the Broncos, he was calmly standing behind his line, in a comfort zone, in no danger from Denver pass rushers, waiting for receivers to get open. That's not going to happen this time. This isn't the lockdown Ravens defense of years ago but it boasts impressive stats, including being third in the league in yards allowed and fourth against the pass. Its killer pass rush and skilled secondary should make life miserable for Brady.

On the plus side for the Ravens, they conquered a top-notch Houston defense last week. The Patriots defense, second worst in the league, giving up 411.1 yards per game, will be much easier to penetrate. QB Joe Flacco and RB Ray Rice should do significant damage against this shoddy unit.

Partly based on how badly they trashed the Broncos, the Patriots are a 7-point favorite. Oddsmakers admit that the line, due to the Denver win, is artificially inflated. A three-or-four point spread  is more realistic. The line also reflects the perception that Brady, with a home-field boost, will outduel overmatched Flacco.

Look for the Ravens' defense to curtail Brady and make it a close game. If you're betting, remember the line is inflated and take the Ravens. An upset win wouldn't be a surprise.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Jets Locker Room Mess--Part 2

Just how bad was the squabbling and back-stabbing in the locker room of the New York Jets this past season? According to sources close to two players, there's already been collateral damage--the firing of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer--and there's more on the horizon.

On paper this was a playoff team, though some would dispute that claim due to the absence of a solid running game. But it was certainly better its lackluster 8-8 record. Actually, it could have been worse. A certain amount of locker-room discord is normal, say the sources, but what was going on in the Jets locker room was off the charts. This 8-8 team could just as easily been 6-10.

Apparently Schottenheimer got caught in the middle of several feuds. The most publicized was the rift between QB Mark Sanchez and WR Santonio Holmes but there were others. Some, say these sources, are rooted in off-the-field issues, such as clashes over women and the sexual preferences of certain players.

The meetings were unpleasant gatherings, snipe-fests were players often just grumbled at each other. Schottenheimer's ideas weren't the problem. Getting them executed properly by players who were grumbling at each other--that was the real problem. Under those adverse conditions, the offense never clicked. The failed offense wasn't really Schottenheimer's fault but, at the end of the season, he's the one who took the fall.

The Sanchez-Holmes feud had been simmering for a while but it flared out of control in early October when, after the 34-17 loss to Baltimore, Holmes went public, griping about the offensive line and, in particular, Sanchez. After that, the locker room, say the sources, was a minefield. The communication and camraderie needed for successful offensive production just wasn't there.

Sanchez is part of the problem. Some players just don't like him. Others complain about his work ethic, insisting he's lazy. Apparently the anonymous source, an unidentfied Jet player, who ripped into Sanchez in the media was arranged by Holmes. The source's name is still well guarded but the players figure he was just a stooge for Holmes.
Where do the Jets go from here? They've hired Tony Sparano to replace Schottenheimer, but does he have what it takes to soothe these humongus egos and patch together this broken offense? Head coach Rex Ryan watched the locker room go up in flames and watched helplessly, unable to put out the fire. The Jets can't go into a season with the bad blood between Sanchez and Holmes drowning the team.

Do they get rid of Sanchez, who clearly took a step backward last year? Many think that's the answer This will be very interesting off-season for the Jets. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

How the Giants Will Beat the Packers

 New York Giants' Eli Manning  vs. the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers.

Once again, it's dueling quarterbacks. Whoever makes the fewest mistakes, performs the best in the clutch, will win today's Giants-Packers game. It looks like another shootout, a carbon copy of the Dec. 4 match in New York, which the Green Bay won 38-35.

Most bettors don't give the Giants much of a chance, with the Pack a 7-8 point favorite. Chalk that fat spread up to faith in Rodgers, who's having a spectacular year, with his 122.5 passer rating breaking the mark Peyton Manning set in 2004. When Green Bay was still undefeated, experts were gushing about his phenomenal performance. While Eli Manning wasn't on that level, he elevated his game considerably, having his best year, with a shade under 5,000 passing yards. You can't have a discussion of the league's elite QBs without mentioning him.

Manning, though, isn't Rodgers' primary obstacle. His biggest hurdle may be that dreadful Packer defense. Rodgers spent most of the season dragging the Packers out of holes created by that defense, the worst in the league, surrendering a woeful 412 yards per game. This bad defense does have a good side, though--its skill at takeaways (tied for the league lead with 38) and picking off passes (31, tops in the league).

Aside from the Rodgers factor, another reason the Packers are such lop-sided favorites is their home-field advantage. In Green Bay, they've been on a rampage all season, not just winning every game, but burying the opposition, averaging 41 ppg while giving up just 21.4.

But the Pack will be facing a very different Giants team than the one it edged in early December. Suddenly the New York front four is a monster, spearheading wins over the Jets, Cowboys and Falcons with 13 total sacks. If the Giants are going to win, the front four has to continue its QB-harrassing ways.

Also, the Giants running game, a mess for most of the season, with Ahmad Bradshaw banged up and big Brandon Jacobs an big-time bust, has finally come alive in the last few weeks, peaking with 172 yards against the Falcons.

There's a huge X factor in the game. On January 9, the 21-year-old son of Packers' offensive coordinator Joe Philbin was found dead following a drowning accident in Wisconsin. Philbin, though, will be in the booth today, handling his chores as usual. That tragedy had to disrupt the preparation for this game. How much, it's hard to guage, but count it as a negative.

If you're betting, here's what to expect--Manning will pillage that poor Packer defense and so will the Giant running backs. Meanwhile, the New York front four will make life miserable for Rodgers. Look for the Giants to match the Pack TD for TD, at least beat the 7-8 point spread and, most likely, pull off an upset win.

Friday, January 13, 2012

How the 49ers Can Beat The Saints

Can the New Orleans Saints be stopped? Can that scary offense, the most prolific in NFL history, piling up a record-smashing 7,474 yards, be handled by that notorious 49ers defense? Most people don't think so. That's why the oddsmakers have installed the Saints as a three-point favorite.

The Saints are on a roll, winning nine in a row. During that streak, QB Drew Brees, who demolished the regular season record for passing yards, has passed for 30 TDs, with only 4 picks. But there are two things working against them this time.

First, they're not at home. In the Superdome, the Saints are virtually invincible. This season that stadium was a graveyard for opponents. Second, they'll be playing on the grass of Candlestick Park. If this game were in the Superdome, on turf that's built for speed, the Niners would be dead men walking. But, this season, the Saints are an ordinary 3-2 on grass. On the slower surface, Brees' passer rating takes a dive too, slipping from an otherworldly 122.4 to a so-so 88.9.

The game is really in the hands of the 49er defense, which is fourth in the league in yards allowed. The heart of that defense is the ferocious front seven, which is by far the best in the league. Led by Patrick Willis, the game's best linebacker, this defense, which has been successful with a three-man rush, has to carry out three assignments: terrorize Brees into mistakes, clamp down on a runnning game that's 6th in the league and do some no-nonsense tackling to keep short gains from turning into big gains.

The 49ers have been winning the old-school way--with powerful defense, a time-consuming running game and lots of field goals. That's the opposite of the Saints' warp-speed  formula. New Orleans can gain more yards in one game than the Niners do in two.

If its defense can clip the wings of the high-flying Saint offense, the Niners have a chance. Limiting New Orleans to a few TDs keeps in the game within the limited range of 49er QB Alex Smith (17 passing TDs, 5 picks), an efficient game manager who doesn't make many mistakes.

The Niiners do have one problem--its running game has been operating on three cylinders lately. Top RB Frank Gore hasn't had a 100-yard game since early November against Washington. Without an effective rushing offense to eat up time and, more important, to keep Brees and company off the field, the Niners are in trouble.

Still, away from home and on grass, the Saints can be had. Count on the Niner defense to step up and step on the Saints' offense and for Niner QB Smith to make few mistakes and come through in the red zone.

Will the underdog Niners defy the odds and eke out a win?


Kobe--Killing the Lakers?

Wake up, Laker fans.

It's surprising that so few of you can see how Kobe Bryant is damaging the Lakers by hogging the offense.
On the one hand it's admirable that this aging athlete can score 40-plus points in back-to back games. Props to him for those feats, for being the main cog in the Phoenix and Utah wins.

But, for a moment, think long range. Apply the formula that sealed those two victories to games with Boston or Oklahoma City or Chicago or any other good team. Can the Lakers beat top-notch teams with Kobe in ball-hog mode? No way.  They'll double team him and dare the rest of the Lakers to beat them. What works against mid-level teams like Phoenix and Utah, will flop against the big boys.

To beat the Bostons and Chicagos, a balanced offense is crucial. That means Kobe taking 18-20 shots, not 30-35. That means a stronger interior offense, with Andrew Bynum and Paul Gasol taking charge. When Kobe is dominating, the others stand around and watch, and don't sharpen their shooting and passing skills. If Kobe keeps playing that way, the other players won't get much practice working in a balanced offense.The goal should be getting the ball inside to the 7-footers, not setting up Bryant.

Remember, Bryant is getting old. The energy that's fuelling these high-scoring efforts may not be there at the end of the season. Instead of using so much of that energy at this stage, he'd be wise to conserve some of it for later, when it's playoff time. If the Lakers get used to Kobe's scoring excesses, they're not going to play well when he's worn out or a step slower and can't deliver.

Sure, Laker fans, it's fun to watch Kobe go on scoring binges against weaker teams. But look beyond instant entertainment. Think about what's best for the team. It's balance, not Bryant ball-hogging.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Jets- Sanchez Mess

That unidentifed Jets player who's been blasting New York Jets' QB Mark Sanchez isn't alone. He's the tip of the iceberg--and Sanchez just might be the Titanic.

According to two sources close to two team members, at least a dozen Jets, including some starters, have been griping about Sanchez since mid-season. His work ethic, complained one lineman, just plain stinks. That lineman estimated that Sanchez' lousy work habits cost the Jets at least two games.  Some times, say the accusers, he played badly simply because he wasn't really prepared. Sanchez generated considerable tension in the locker room, undermining team unity.

Sanchez' problem, say the sources, apparently is that he thinks he's the reincarnation of Broadway Joe Namath. The difference, though, is that while Namath did party hearty back in the day, he also worked hard and was an effective QB. Sanchez, who doesn't have half of Namath's talent, can't afford to be a slacking party-boy, particularly since the game is much more complicated than it was back in the 1960s. Part of a QB's job is to be the team leader or at least one of the primary team leaders. But first, however, the QB has to command respect. There, apparently Sanchez falls short.

A new QB might be the answer, but it's not, as some have suggested, Indianalpolis Colts' QB Peyton Manning. Dumping Sanchez and trading for Manning, who missed a season while recovering from neck surgery, would be a disaster. Even if Manning weren't fragile and one hard hit away from retirement, he's 36, with one foot in the QB grave. At his age, coming back from a serious injury is especially tough. Putting all the Jets' eggs  in the Manning basket? Just plain foolhardy.

The Jets have already taken the first step in fixing the offense--firing coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who came up with lame-brained game plans.  With minimal confidence in these schemes, the players naturally executed them half-heartedly. It was clear that the players and Schottenheimer were butting heads, so new coodinator Tony Sparano, the ex-Dolphins coach, may refresh the offense--and remove another source of tension.

What do the Jets need for next season? House-cleaning of assistants (offensive line coach Bill Callahan and receivers coach Henry Ellard are out) may help. So will improved play at QB--with a more committed Sanchez or a more skilled replacement. But more than anything else, the Jets need much better running. Blame Sanchez all you want but lack of a dominant running game (14th in the AFC with a puny 3.8 average per rush), which put too much pressure on a shaky Sanchez, was the Jets' real downfall.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Alabama vs. LSU--Tiny Edge To LSU

Still don't know why these two are playing tonight in New Orleans.

Didn't LSU settle things definitively the first time in that 9-6 OT victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa last Nov. 5? Face it.  LSU (13-0) clinched the national championship then. When you finish your regular season undefeated, win your conference championship, beat the No. 2 team on their own home turf, what's left to prove?

LSU is a victim of that BCS numbers game, which has Alabama (11-1) nosing out Oklahoma State for the No.2 spot. That's pure bunk. Instead of rehashing that low-scoring ,TD-challenged snoozefest in Alabama, LSU should be playing Oklahoma State. We'd all be looking forward to that one rather than approaching tonight's game with pure dread. Most of us didn't relish the first battle. Why should this one be any different?

By contrast, fans loved that Alamo Bowl, with the Baylor and Washington offenses raging out of control, trampling hapless defenders. That was great fun. But this game promises to be the anti-Alamo Bowl, with defenses in complete charge.

If you're betting and looking for an edge, you won't find much. These two are pretty evenly matched, with flawless, iron-clad deffenses that are significantly stronger than the offenses they'll be facing. If either of these offenses scores a TD, it'll be lucky. The best offensive player on the field is Bama RB Trent Richardson. He's a battering ram but that tough LSU defensive front won't let him run wild. Having dealt with him not too long ago, they'll know how to handle him.

Most likely this one will be decided by a mistake--a fumble or a pick. Of course, there's no way to predict who'll make the blunder. If you must bet and you're looking for a reason to choose one team or the other, here's a thought: LSU beat Bama on the road and this time LSU, playing in the Superdome, essentially has a home game. If LSU can whip this team on the road they can certainly do it at "home." What's more, LSU won national championship games in the Superdome in 2004 and 2008. They should be able to do it again.

Depending where you bet, LSU is a one-to-three-point favorite. If you must bet, take LSU. The over/under figure is 40. Take the under.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Detriot Christians

About to face the New Orleans Saints, the Detroit Lions must be shivering with fear. Between gulps of anxiety, they've got to be quietly asking themselves: "Do we have a chance against these guys?" These Lions probably feel like those doomed Christians did facing real lions in those coliseums thousands of years ago.

These Saints don't appear mortal. Their offense is otherworldly, boasting mind-boggling stats: a 16-game total of 7,434 yards, compiling more than 435 yards in each of the last six wins, piling up 617 yards in the season-ending, 45-17 rout of the Carolina Panthers--the team's eighth victory in a row. That's not all. Saints' QB Drew Brees threw for a record 5,476 yards and has surpassed the 300-yard mark in eight straight games. If Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady weren't having such great seasons, Brees would unquestionably be The Man.

Do the Lions have a chance to slow down this offensive juggernaut? Probably not, when you consider in its last game, a 45-41 loss to the Packers, the second-string Green Bay QB, Matt Flynn, set team passing records--480 yards and 6 TDs. Imagine what Aaron Rodgers would have done. Unless Brees gets sloppy and starts throwing picks, the Saints should score at least 35.

Detroit's only chance is to outscore the Saints--something they could easily do. Like Brees, Lions' QB Matthew Staffford has also passed for more than 5,000 yards this season  In that Packer loss, Stafford ran wild, passing for 520 yards and five TDs. In three out of the last four weeks, the Lions have scored at least 34 points. So yes. they're quite capable of torching the Saints.

In their only meeting this season, the Saints whipped the Lions, 34-17, on Dec. 4 in the Superdome. But the Lions were missing key players on defense--cornerback Chris Houston, saftey Louis Delmas and their bull, Ndamukong Suh. That trio is playing this time. The Lions could win a scorefest but, in New Orleans, where the Saints haven't lost this season and are averaging over 41 points a game, that's unlikely.

The Lions, though, are a good bet to beat the 10-point spread. If you're betting the over/under, which is 59 points, take the over.

Houston vs. Cincinatti--Ugly

The keyword in today's Houston vs. Cincinatti playoff match is ugly.

Don't expect the kind of sleek, finesse passing attacks you routinely get in NFL games these days. Houston and Cincinatti are all about punishing defenses keeping the score low so their rag-tag offenses can eke out a TD or two. Using this ragged formula, both teams, against pre-season predictions, staggered into the playoffs--and it wasn't pretty.

It won't be pretty today either. Cincinatti is really in trouble. Look at the main hurdles--playing on the road and its offense riding on the shaky shoulders of two rookies, QB Andy Dalton, who's been ailing with the flu all week, and receiver AJ Green. The Bengals shouldn't even be in the playoffs. They backed in, with all the dominos falling into place.

Houston isn't in much better shape, lugging a three-game losing streak and depending on an inexperienced QB, TJ Yates, with a bum shoulder. If Yates falters, they slip a notch--down to Jake Delhomme. Houston's offense--what there is of it--will be mostly the running of Arian Foster and Ben Tate.

The oddsmakers are basicaly split down the middle on this one. Who will win? Whichever has the defense that squashes the weaker offense. Not much to pick from but give the nod to the Bengals. That's because it's hard to imagine a team with such pitiful QBs--Houston--winning a playoff game.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Tale of Ball Hog Bryant

Who runs the Lakers?

If you guessed coach Mike Brown, guess again. Kobe Bryant runs that team. Normally, the coach makes the decisions and tells players what to do. But not on this team. Does Brown tell Bryant what to do? Not really. Kobe does what he wants to do, not what Brown wants him to do. You can say Brown is the coach of the Lakers--all the Lakers except Kobe.

Look at the 108-99 win over the Houston Rockets Tuesday night. That should have been a rout over a team that's undersized in the middle, with 6-10 Jordan Hill and 6-8 Luis Skola battling the Lakers' 7-footers. But after three quarters, the Lakers led only by a point, 76-75. Houston should have been blown out by then, with the Lakers big men walking all over those little Rockets. But the Lakers' bigs had to battle Kobe for the ball. At that point, he had 21 shots, making 10, while Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol had 20 shots between them, hitting on 12. The Gasol-Bynum tandem should have been dominant--and so should the Lakers. But Ball Hog Bryant was getting in the way.

Bryant wound up taking 29 shots, under those circumstances way too many. He should have backed off, taken half as many shots and let the big men rule the interior. Though Bynum had 21 points and 22 boards, and Gasol hit 7 out of 11 shots, they could have done even better. The Lakers finally took control late in the game but, with their superior talent, the game should have been over at the three-quarter mark. But not with Bryant taking as many shots as the big men.

Yes, Bryant scored 37 points, hitting 14 out of 29. But in that situation, with the Lakers' having a whopping size advantage, he should have been a secondary figure, with Gasol and Bynum getting the majority of the shots. But Bryant doesn't know how to do that. You know coach Brown would prefer Bryant to take fewer shots but the coach doesn't seem to be able to tell Bryant what to do.

Bryant should be shooting  less now anyway. Remember, he has a banged-up wrist on his shooting hand. In the two games before playing Houston, he had hit only 12 out of 46 shots. That damaged wrist has to be effecting his shot. He should be shooting 10-15 times a game, but that's not enough for him. That's because he's a selfish gunner who has to keep shooting, no matter what. To hell with what's best for the team.

With age, Bryant has slowed a step, so he's become more of a jump-shooter. Naturally, he's going to hit fewer shots working from long range. But that doesn't slow the ball hog. The coach can't stop the ball hog. Can anything stop the ball hog from being a ball hog?

Apparently not.


Monday, January 2, 2012

Stanford--Ertz Equals Edge Over Oklahoma State

Late in the season, Stanford (11-1) wasn't the same old steamrolling Stanford. What was missing? A crucial cog in that offense--TE Zach Ertz, who was injured in the mid-season SC victory and never played again.

But Ertz is healthy now and will team up with the other TEs, Coby Fleener and Levine Toilolo, to create that fearsome pass-catching trio that will help topple Oklahoma State (11-1) in tonight's Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. Stanford QB Andrew Luck wasn't as sharp late in the season--often off target, uncharacteristically throwing picks--because he didn't have all his weapons. His wide receivers don't really count. They're like tight ends in the average offense--used as a last resort. But, with Ertz back, we should see the sharp-shooting Luck of old.

Luck (35 TD passes) will have to be at his best to counter that Oklahoma State offensive machine, headed by QB Brandon Weeden (34 TD passes) and WR Justin Blackmon, which averages nearly 50 points a game and terrorized Big 12 defenses all season. This will be another offensive explosion, much like that off-the-charts, Baylor-Washington, Alamo-Bowl shootout last week. Both teams have accomplished running backs--Stanford's Stepfan Taylor and State's Joseph Randle--to add to the offensive fuel.

Stanford's offense is slightly less prolific--43.6 per game average--but it has the better defense, far superior to that bottom-feeding disaster of Oklahoma State, which is ranked No.107 (out of 120), including the No. 61 run defense. Luck should pick that defense apart. The only question is can the Stanford defense slow the Weeden Machine. Stopping State means controlling WR Blackmon (113 catches, 15 TDs). Stanford, which did a good job on the premier Pac12 receivers, should be able to curtail Blackmon.

Always a factor, it's hard to figure who has the edge in turnovers. Oklahoma State leads the country with 43 takeways, but Stanford, with only 15, is rarely guilty of turnovers. Stanford has a powerful pass rush, ranking 6th in sacks, but Weeden, with that quick release, hardly ever gets sacked.

Both the teams loss just one game, Stanford getting whipped 53-30 by Oregon and Oklahoma State getting ambushed, 37-31, in OT by a nobody, Iowa State. In the battle for the No. 2 spot, No. 4 Stanford should sneak by No. 3 Oklahoma State, a four-point favorite, to settle in under the winner of the Alabama-LSU title match.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Giants vs. Dallas--Giant Advantage

In the game of the day, the Dallas Cowboys vs. the New York Giants, just about everything points to a  Giants victory.

Giant pluses abound:

The Giants are at home; their running game, with little Ahmad Bradshaw and giant Brandon Jacobs, has finally started to jell; they have a ferocious pass rush, featuring Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul; even gimpy pass-rusher Osi Umenyiora, hobbled by an ankle sprain, will play; Dallas QB Tony Romo is hampered by a banged-up right hand; Dallas' runniing game is subpar, with RB DeMarco Murray out and Felix Jones slowed by a hamstring pull; in four out of his last games vs. Dallas, Giants' QB Eli Manning has passed for over 300 yards and at least 2 TDs per game; Manning looked really sharp in his last bout with the Cowboys, hitting the 400-yard-passing mark in leading the Giants from behind in that 37-34 thriller in Dallas. Naturally, the oddsmakers like the Giants too, by three points.

But wait...

There's one ominous negative looming against the Giants. For them to win, they need a smart, mistake-free game from Manning. Lately, though, he hasn't been that sharp. In the last two weeks, he's thrown four picks and only one TD pass. He was particularly off target in that three-pick, 23-10 loss to the Redskins two weeks ago.

The keys to a Giants victory are their pass rushers overwhelming the Dallas offfensive line, which would handcuff Romo, and Manning not making mistakes. New York could survive a stalemate in the trenches, but not a Manning stinker.

Cloud Over Clippers

There's tension in the locker room of the LA Clippers, courtesy of disgruntled point guard Mo Williams. He was once a crucial Clipper, but that was B.C., before Chris--Chris Paul, that is.

Since the celebrated trade that brought in Paul from New Orleans, Williams has been shoved into the background. According to inside sources, he's so unhappy about being a second-class Clipper that his misery is spilling out into the locker room and is threatening to become toxic. With Paul joining superstar Blake Grifffin as the faces of the franchise, Williams has been grappling with a grim reality. As long as Paul is on the roster, Williams will never be one of the premium Clippers.

Keep your eye on Williams before and during games and you'll see he's not getting along with his teammates.
However, it's not likely the team will trade him, though they do need a backup center and Williams is attractive trade bait. The Clippers really do need him. With Chauncey Billups nursing a groin pull, Williams has been starting in his place at shooting guard, next to Paul. If Billups' injury continues to be a problem--and it may--Williams may get enough minutes to keep a lid on his anger.

The Clippers, though, have bigger worries than Williams. After all that pre-season hype, they're off to a 1-2 start because they're one of the worst defensive teams in the league. On the offensive side, they've got plenty of flash and swagger, with all those eye-popping dunks. But their rebounding is terrible and so is their interior defense. That's why, in points-per-game-allowed, the Clippers are in the NBA cellar. They simply can't win games that way.

Yes, the Clippers have to make sure Williams' sour attitude doesn't poison the team. More important, though, is fixing that awful defense.