NFL Conference Finals Set

A few experts suggested the Arizona Cardinals stay home and not bother going to Carolina to take on the Panthers.

The prevailing belief was the Card could throw like demons but not much else. They couldn’t run the ball. Nor were they much of a defensive outfit. They have done all these things.

So much for the “experts.”

Carolina, for their part, had much love lavished upon them. Strong running game (which they didn’t use for some reason), effective passing and a solid defense made them the second seed in the NFC. But not all observers were buying into the Panthers as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

And if you fell in into the latter category, you weren’t surprised the Cardinals beat the Panthers (six turnovers?). Although the 33-13 scoreline probably did.

The X-Filesesque season of Philadelphia Eagles has not been canceled as they beat the New York Giants 23-11. Yes, 23-11. No it wasn’t played with CFL rules. Yes, it’s the only time in NFL history a playoff game finished by that score.

If you’re an Eagles fan your emotions were more volatile than…I got nothing.

If the Eagles do find their way to the Super Bowl they may want to consider sending a bouquet of flowers to the Oakland Raiders for without their improbable win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the last day of the season, Philadelphia doesn’t get into the playoffs. Funny how it all worked out.

At one point in the season, the Giants were the favorite to come out of the east among experts. Then again, given the the volatile ebb and flow of the paritized NFL they also had the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys going places. Some early on even had the Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins in the mix.

Like the Tennessee Titans, the Giants dominated the first half but trailed at half time 10-8. That rarely bodes well for teams when that happens. Although, I think the Titans were far more culpable in their lack of finish.

But about those Giants, the football world wondered:  Who could stop them?

Now we know.

“They” say you need a great running game to win a Super Bowl. Interesting to see the top two seeds with powerful running games got beat by teams that essentially have strong passing games.  Mind you the Eagles defense is stark raving mad.

In the AFC, the Tennessee Titans dominated but couldn’t make it count when it mattered in a 13-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Turnovers did the Giants in and they did the same thing to the Titans as they coughed the ball up three times.

Quirky fact: Ravens QB Joe Flacco is 20 for 45 or something in two games but he becomes the first rookie to win in their first two playoff games. So much for the “No rookie has ever won two playoff games”cry. As if there’s never a first in sports!

Baltimore’s defense looks more than scary. It looks terrorizing scary. I mean, Philly’s defense is superb and Pittsburgh’s is punishing, but the Ravens have the macabre feel of an Edgar Allan Poe story.

Speaking of the Steelers, they beat the San Diego Chargers 35-24. The Chargers, much like the Eagles, had a weird season culminating into an 8-8 record that gave them the AFC West title. Some division.

They then proceeded to beat a red hot Indianapolis Colts team in the playoffs. Next in line was Pittsburgh and the elements which the West coasters could not overcome.

Stat that stabs you in the eye: San Diego had the ball for 17 seconds in the 3rd quarter and mustered one first down.

There you have it: Philadelphia, Arizona, Pittsburgh and Baltimore are your final four.

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Sports Happenings

In my unimaginative lame post of the day:

Tony Dungy: One of the all-time great coaches (and apparently great person. I can’t vouch for this. Never met him) Dungy resigns as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts are still a power in the AFC.

Hall of Fame: Jim Rice (apparently the opposite of Dungy at parties. Can’t vouch for this. Never met him) finally makes it. Media rejoice. Rickey Henderson is inducted too. He apparently wants his own wing.

Football: Has anyone noticed but three of the four teams left in the NFL are birds?

What’s smarter or stronger: A Cardinal, Eagle or Raven?

I warned you.

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Olympics: City Vanity Rarely Pays Off

Here’s a surprise, the Olympics will cost Vancouver taxpayers a bundle. Someone is gonna cash in and it won’t be the residents of Vancouver.

Since we’re on the subject, commercials are running saying “no athlete has ever won a gold medal on Canadian soil.” Maybe, but I wouldn’t be advertising it.

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Montreal Sports Media Marooned By Jealousy

I know Montreal has become a second-string sports city, but it doesn’t justify the consistent stream of parochial comments from its sports media; print or radio.

It never ceases to me how much time and energy we waste belittling and poking fun at Toronto. I don’t get it. If I was a sports editor (I play one on the internet) and was presented with lame anti-Toronto bashing I’d tell the writer to try again and find something else to write about. Really, grow up. We sound so petty.

Then again, maybe it makes us all feel better. I don’t know.

The funny thing is, I visit Toronto often and it’s rare (if ever) they ever attack Montreal in the media. Why should they anyway?

Toronto is a big league city. It’s the financial and broadcasting center of this country. It has CFL, NHL and NBA franchises. Heck, even an MLS team. It can probably support an NFL one too. Yeah, maybe they’re not as “cool and hip” as we are, but who cares? I enjoy my time in Toronto when I’m there.

It’s hilarious to read a Montreal write-hack take delight whenever Toronto sports teams struggle. As if we’re sooo much better. At least, they have a few pro sports teams worth talking about.

If not driven by jealousy, then it’s empty arrogance we exhibit.

Are we so bored and have nothing to talk about it (once we twist the hell out of the Montreal Canadiens chamy) we have to stoop so low?

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Sixers Back On Track

By Alex

Basketball Notes By Alex

The Sixers looked good in their win over Atalanta, 109-94. I have been very disappointed with the way they came out of the gates, but now they seem to be playing hard again. Guards are running to get on the offensive glass, their defense is swarming, they look like they will get back into the playoff discussion (they’re a game behind Milwaukee). Atlanta didn’t look to be in top form, they lacked the effort and determination the Sixers came out with.

Marreese Speights really impressed me with his play tonight. He hit the glass, made some jumpers, showed his whole game. He just had an overall efficient game, his +/- was a team-high 16. 10 of his 12 points came in the fourth, he played big when it mattered.

Atlanta has got to pick up their intensity. They’ve lost four of their last five, and the losses are by an average of 11.6 per game. The problem is not their team, although Horford being out for the next three games hurts (bruised knee), the problem is fire and intensity. If they can come out, win the first quarter by five or more points, I think that will keep them at their best for 48 minutes. Tonight, both teams started packing it in with two minutes left. The shots the Sixers got were good looks, that’s a no-no. No matter what the score, players have to get up into their man and make each and every shot as difficult as they can.

The next stretch of games for Atlanta is a perfect time to catch fire. After Tuesday’s game against the Suns, they’ve got teams like the Clippers, Warriors, Bucks, Bulls and Raptors. If they can have a good stretch there, they can get back to playing the elite teams tough.

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Marketing The NHL Has Changed Over The Years

I remember years ago when hockey used to be about the teams. It wasn’t Bobby Orr or Phil Esposito and the Boston Bruins. It wasn’t Denis Savard and the Chicago Blackhawks. Or Dennis Maruk and the Washington Capitals. Or Bill Root and the Montreal Canadiens. Ok. Enough of that.

Then, a guy from the NBA named Gary Bettman came along and proclaimed, “let there be light and ice!” And promptly decided the NHL needs to market its players above the clubs.

Suddenly, it became Jaromir Jagr versus Pavel Bure; Jarome Iginla against Vincent Lecavalier; Alex Ovechkin versus Sidney Crosby; Tom versus Jerry.

Not that the NHL are effective in branding their name and league, but I can see why they took this option.

It’s one thing for the league to market itself in this way but for experts to jump in on the act leaves them open to bias and exaggeration. That’s why we act so surprised while scratching our heads whenever someone carves a career without the blessing of the scouting and  commentator community. We can’t handle when a player develops later on and was not “seen” by the network.  It’s seen as suspicious and if you’re from Switzerland or France even worse for you.

As a consequence (and this is just my perception), our narrative has turned hockey into an individualist sport. It’s all about who makes the “key” save and which goalie “outplayed” who. Of course, we love empty phrases like “clutch” and “look in their eyes” and “chemistry” in general these days. We have to since we over-analyze and over think games. The drum beat of minutaie is mind-numbing to listen to or read.

The way I see it, every thing that happens in a game is hinged on the collective actions of an entire team; that’s why putting too much weight, for example, on “wins” by a goalie can be misleading. Try to keep the big picture in perspective.

How many NFL team have won a Super Bowl on “no-name” quarterbacks, again?

Sorry. My attention tailed off as I watch the Eagles take on the Giants.

Anyway.

Personally, I prefer when the NHL markets teams. The NHL has enough history to go that route. It worked perfectly for the NBA because in basketball, A) one player can have a direct impact on the flow and outcome of a game and B) the league is the youngest among the major pro sports and as a result, aside from the Boston Celtics and maybe the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers, marketing franchises is harder. In any event, it differentiates itself from baseball and football both rich in historical franchises.

Players come and go. Franchises, on average, are rooted in the community.

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Benitez’s 94.5 Theses

Liverpool’s Spanish manager Rafael Benitez has had enough with Sir Alex Ferguson.

He’s mad as a Spanish bull and he doesn’t care what people think.

Quite frankly, we can see his point. How much whining and holier than thou musings can one take? Does he have some sort of bet with Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger on who will complain the most?

Ferguson not only attacks without punishment the EPL and the FA but other managers in other leagues as well. Recall his anger towards Real Madrid’s interest in Cristiano Ronaldo citing it was improper behavior. Yet, he has publicly fancied Lyon’s Karim Benzema.

It’s almost comical and something only Man U fans tolerate.

So Benitez has gone vigilante and hammered his protests on Ferguson’s door – figuratively speaking. In a scathing outburst, Benitez listed off a series of verbal indiscretions Ferguson has engaged in. It was quite the therapeutic exercise for many people including Rafa.

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