Time Out for Sports Talk – Brady & Belichick Try Again For A Fourth Lombardi (And Other Topics)
Todd: Now that we’ve fully recovered from the holidays, shoveled away all the snow and chipped away all the ice, we are officially back!
Leading off, this week marks the 20th anniversary of one of the most memorable soap opera/TV reality dramas in Olympic history, when Stoneham, MA native Nancy Kerrigan wailed “Why? Why? Why?” after taking a blow to the knee orchestrated by a guy working with Tonya Harding. Kerrigan managed to recover in time to win a silver medal in Lillehammer a month later, while Harding has embraced her bad girl image in a series of calamitous life decisions. But the part that stuns me most is that this all happened TWO DECADES AGO! Seriously, does anyone else feel that much time has passed since that event?
Why, Why, Why? might also be asked this week by Craig Biggio, who came up just two shorts shy of Baseball Hall of Fame induction. Or by Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, who saw their total votes decline from last year; my prediction is that these two will eventually wind up in the Hall, even if takes the Veterans Committee to get it done.
Let me also ask the ‘why’ question when it comes to Greg Maddux, who along with Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas, received enough votes for enshrinement. Why do some voting members of the sports media ridiculously choose not to vote for Maddux simply because they don’t want to see anyone get in unanimously? For a guy who won 355 games (eighth all-time), four consecutive Cy Young Awards and eighteen Gold Gloves all while barely breaking 90 mph on the radar gun—not to mention that many of the batters he was pitching to were likely loaded up on PEDs—I ask any sane voter how they could have left Maddux off their ballot?
As for Maddux’s longtime Atlanta Braves teammate Tom Glavine, congrats to the Billerica, MA native for being the first Massachusetts-born player elected to the Hall since Springfield’s Walter “Rabbit” Maranville (Boston Braves shortstop in the 1920s and 30s) was posthumously inducted in 1954. Unfortunately, based on the brief research I did for this paragraph, I do not believe there are any Maine-born players currently enshrined in Cooperstown.
On to football, I wonder if the Hunt family were asking themselves “Why?” after the Kansas City Chiefs blew a 38-10 third quarter lead to the Colts last weekend and lost their eighth straight playoff game. As I keep mentioning twenty years, it’s been that long since the Chiefs won a postseason game, led by an aging Joe Montana who wound up retiring the next season. Unlike myself, I suppose the last twenty years have felt like an eternity to Chiefs fans. Great googly moogly!
So I can join the thousands of others who echoed similar puns when it happened, I’ll propose the question: what does it take to rally from 28 points down and score a touchdown when your running back fumbles the ball just short of the end zone and it bounces off the helmet of your offensive lineman? It takes Luck, of course (readers, insert your groans here).
As for the other playoff games played over wild card weekend, I am both surprised and not surprised that Cincinnati bungled away another January game. But to lose at home (where they were previously 8-0 this season) to the Chargers, who were only playing in this game because the Dolphins and Ravens both wet themselves and the referees erroneously missed a call? Andy Dalton’s second half performance last Sunday has to rank among the worst in NFL playoff history, and how head coach Marvin Lewis is still employed is a mystery the TV detectives of CBS need to solve.
Over in the NFC, I suppose football justice was served in that the two wild card teams playing on the road (New Orleans and San Francisco) but with better records than the two division winners (Philadelphia and Green Bay) both managed to eek out wins in very chilly conditions with game-winning field goals as time expired. I honestly thought the frigid temps would be an equalizer for the home underdog teams against teams not used to playing in that kind of cold. But give credit to the Saints on earning their first road playoff win in franchise history (and only their second postseason win outdoors, the other being SB XLIV). However, the Packers should either get lack of credit for failing to contain Colin Kaepernick in the pocket knowing that would be the game plan, or lack of talent on defense (because Aaron Rodgers can’t play linebacker).
Mike: I wanted to quickly touch on the whole Baseball Hall of Fame voting story. It seems one of the biggest things to come out of it this week was the story that ESPN's Dan Le Batard gave his vote to the website Deadspin.
I have been truly amazed at the "controversy" this has caused, frankly to me, it's pretty ridiculous.
It isn't like the Deadspin voters did something crazy with the ballot. They voted for: Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Edgar Martínez, Jeff Bagwell, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Curt Schilling, all reasonable choices if you ask me.
Le Batard said he gave his vote to Deadspin to expose flaws in the voting process, and as a result, he has lost his voting privileges for life.
Why is this such a story? To me, it's just silly. Essentially, what he did was put the vote in the hands of the fans, and is that such a bad thing? It seems to me that the fans got it right with this one. The only good thing that has come from this is that it has gotten people started talking about possible reforms in the voting process, though sadly, those reforms will likely never happen.
I guess to me personally, I really don't care who makes it into the Baseball Hall of Fame and who decides who goes in. It's just a museum, and we don't get to vote on the paintings that go into the Museum of Fine Arts, so why should we care how the players that get selected to the Hall of Fame get there. After all, if they are inducted or not, it doesn't change what they accomplished on the field.
Just ask Pete Rose.
PATRIOTS-COLTS PLAYOFF PREVIEW
Todd: Perhaps more than most seasons, the 12-4 Pats needed their playoff bye week given all the injuries they have endured. So depending how fans want to view this, it is either highly ironic or fitting that in a week where the Pats did not play they wound up placing another key member of their defense on injured reserve. This time it’s Brandon Spikes who unfortunately could not gut it out playing for another month on his injured knee.
How can the Pats continue losing players of this caliber before it truly starts affecting their ability to win games? As much as I like Dane Fletcher’s contributions as a role player, I’m not crazy about him becoming an every-down defender. Yet week after week, Bill Belichick and the entire coaching staff continue to piecemeal this team together with all the spare parts at their disposal. Maybe something magical really is happening with this team that may well be short on talent but is big in heart and in making key plays when the situation calls for them.
So the Indianapolis Colts come in to Gillette Stadium fresh off their incredible comeback over the Chiefs and trying to improve upon their performance in Foxboro last year when they were crushed 59-24 thanks in part to a Julian Edelman punt return for touchdown and two interception returns for TDs from Alfonso Dennard and Aqib Talib, the latter playing in his first game as a Patriot. Then rookie QB Andrew Luck threw a total of three interceptions that day (as he also did vs. KC last week yet managed to win that one) but only threw only nine picks this past regular season (with 23 TDs).
But the Colts arrive in town with their own assortment of injuries, as they signed old friend Deion Branch this week to add some depth to the receiving corps (if Branch was brought in so coach Chuck Pagano could glean some inside Pats knowledge, I think the effort will be wasted). It’s also likely that Indy will have to start another old friend, former second round pick Darius Butler, at cornerback due to a couple of injuries in the secondary suffered in last week’s win.
What the Patriots should be able to exploit against the Colts is their relatively weak run defense (ranked 26th), as they allowed over 125 yards per game. LeGarrette Blount comes into the postseason as hot as any Pats player, setting a new franchise record with 334 all-purpose yards two weeks ago vs. Buffalo (189 rushing, yds on kickoff returns) and has the opportunity to feast on Indy’s front seven. The rest of the running back committee (Ridley, Bolden and Vereen) should also get their share of chances, as the Pats are 9-0 when they’ve attempted at least 30 rushes in a game and 9-1 when they’ve run for at least 100 yards.
In fact, I hope the game plan for the offense is to run in order to set up some easy play-action passing opportunities for Brady. I also hope the offensive line does not only continue to effectively run block, but also manage to contain veteran linebacker (formerly defensive end) Robert Mathis, who led the league with 19.5 sacks this season and has five sacks in seven career games against Brady (Mathis also leads the league with eight forced fumbles).
Defensively for the Pats, it helps that Reggie Wayne blew out his ACL earlier this season. But wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight end Coby Fleener could give the secondary headaches. Here’s hoping Talib, Dennard, the improving health of Devin McCourty and the continued improvement of rookie Logan Ryan will be enough to slow those guys down. I'd suggest that the Colts could also provide headaches running against a 30th-ranked run defense that is now minus Spikes (in addition to Wilfork and Mayo), but Donald Brown and Trent Richardson are not even capable of producing a mild migraine.
Both teams have done extremely well coming from behind to win games all season, which should make for a very entertaining fourth quarter. No falling asleep on the couch, this game should be a doozy! Patriots 28, Colts 24.
Mike: Todd has done his usual thorough analysis here, so I'm just going to pick a score. While I want to pick a Pats blowout on this one, I really don't think I can. The Colts looked very good against the Chiefs last weekend, and I think they are going to give New England fits. But I see the Patriots pulling this one out 24-17.
OUR PREDICTIONS ON THIS WEEK’S OTHER DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF GAMES
Todd (29-16 regular season, 1-3 playoffs): Even though we didn’t post a column last week, we did pick the wild card games and unfortunately both did quite poorly at it. Oddly enough, the Colts were the only winner I correctly picked, and it took the second-biggest comeback in NFL playoff history for me to get that one right.
Hoping for better luck this weekend, let’s start with Saturday’s other game out in Seattle. Last time the Saints (12-5) and Seahawks (13-3) met in the playoffs, the Saints were the defending SB champs and got stunned 41-36 in Seattle by the 7-9 NFC West champion Seahawks. Perhaps more relevant was when they met last month at Qwest Field with Seattle dominating in a 34-7 triumph. It’s no fluke the Seahawks earned the NFC’s top seed with a balanced attack on both sides of the ball and being in relatively good health. I’m afraid all the pluck Drew Brees and the Saints displayed in Philly last week won’t be enough for them to pull off the upset here. Seahawks 35, Saints 17.
In the other NFC matchup, the Forty Niners (13-4) and Panthers (12-4) both feature young dynamic quarterbacks, strong running games and even stronger defenses. In a game this evenly matched, it will likely come down to turnovers and a handful of big plays to decide this one. When these teams met in the regular season in San Francisco, Carolina’s defense kept Kaepernick out of the end zone in a 10-9 upset. While the Panthers defense is capable of pulling off that kind of effort again (especially at home this time), the Niners seem to have too many offensive weapons this time around and I think they win their second straight road playoff game. Forty Niners 20, Panthers 17.
The final game of the weekend features the Chargers (10-7) attempting to beat the Broncos (13-3) in Denver for the second time in a month. While I realize that Peyton Manning career playoff record is only 9-11 which includes eight times going one-and-done in the postseason, he is coming off a career year (NFL record 55 touchdown passes) and gets Wes Welker back following a couple of concussions (Welker missed the game last month won by SD). I think this matchup ultimately comes down to who has the better game between the two ex-Patriots, Welker and San Diego’s Danny Woodhead. Both have had good seasons, but I think Welker posts the better numbers this week to set up another memorable Brady-versus-Manning showdown. Broncos 38, Chargers 24.
Mike (24-20-1 regular season, 1-3 playoffs): I'll go with the Broncos over the Chargers 41-17. In the NFC, I'll take Seattle over New Orleans 27-10 and Carolina over San Francisco 21-17.
Our next LIVE show is our 20th Anniversary special and Super Bowl XLVIII preview coming up on Monday, January 27 from 8-9pm. You can post your questions via Twitter using the hashtag #TOST20years.