Saturday, December 29, 2007

Saturday 12/29 (Very) Quickie:
Pats, CFB Bowls, Blazers, Ole Miss, More!

Pats: The countdown to 16-0 is on... (Per this NYT story, at least the Pats recognize that 16-0 is meaningless unless they win a Super Bowl; in fact, if they don't win a Super Bowl, all 16-0 does is turn a playoff loss into the biggest choke in sports history.)

Bowls Wrap: Matt Ryan ends college career with 3 TDs in BC W over Michigan St (BC has won 8 straight bowl games)... TCU beat Houston 20-13 in the Texas Bowl (because I know you weren't watching)... Oregon State tops Maryland in the Emerald Bowl (Yvenson Bernard: 177 yards, ending his career as the No. 6 all-time rusher in Pac-10 history)...

NBA: Sizzling Blazers win 12th straight... Dwight Howard's 29 and 20 was enough to counter Wade's 48 in a battle to show which team is Florida's best (it's Orlando)... AI scores 39 in Nuggets win over the Warriors...

NFL: Colts give Bob Sanders, arguably the best defensive player in the NFL, a 5Y/$37.5M extension (Does anyone else wonder how the Colts can continue to give out these massive deals to their stars and stay under the cap? Amazing.)

CBB: Ole Miss -- still unbeaten!... Meanwhile, Eddie Sutton is stuck at 798 wins because San Francisco lost to Weber State last night (Wouldn't it be ironic if he came back selfishly to win 800 games but USF didn't win another game this season under him?)

Tennis/Gambling: Maria Sharapova says women's tennis is clean. My response: How would she know? Does that mean if a reporter had asked her if the men's game is dirty a year ago, she would have said it wasn't? She has no idea.

This Jim Leyritz story is pretty nuts.

-- D.S.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Friday 12/28 A.M. Quickie:
Giants, Pats, Wild Cards, Bowls, KG, More!

Today's Names to Know: Patriots, Giants, Titans, Browns, Vikings, Redskins, College Bowl Mania, Rich Rodriguez, Holiday Bowl, Bill Parcells, Amare Stoudemire, Kevin Garnett, Bobby Frasor, Dayton Flyers, More!

Patriots 19-0 Watch: 16-0 happens on Saturday night, the first time in NFL history a team will unbeaten in a 16-game season. That is, unless the Giants pull off a miracle.

My feeling is this: This game is WAY bigger than any playoff game the Giants might play. (Face it: The Giants aren't winning the NFC, let alone the Super Bowl.) Beating the Patriots tomorrow night ensures football immortality -- just ask the '85 Dolphins.

I just don't understand why the Giants aren't playing this game as if it IS their Super Bowl. It would be nice if they recognized that winning this is actually bigger than winning in the playoffs. It doesn't happen often, but it's the case this time.

I feel so obsessed about this point that I created a separate stand-alone post, directly beneath this one – or found through this link, including a guest appearance by uber-Giants fan Roger Director, author of the new book "I Dream In Blue."

More NFL This Weekend: I'm not even going to bother with making picks; not when all but four teams will be basically tanking -- playing not to get hurt or playing for draft position. Here are the four teams vying for a relatively meaningless 6th seed in the playoffs (neither is the 6-seed Super Bowl champ Steelers, don't kid yourself):

AFC: Titans vs. Browns. How can you not root for the Browns? (The entire AFC playoff bracket – the entire NFL playoff bracket – is a farce. No, Colts fans, your team isn't beating the Pats this year. "AFC runner-up" will actually be meaningful.)

NFC: Vikings vs. Redskins. How can you not root for the Redskins? (As much as you'd like to see Adrian Peterson in the playoffs – and make my preseason pick of the Vikings as a playoff team one of my finest predictions of 2007 – you can't deny the Sean Taylor Factor.)

Other than that, it will be interesting to see how the draft order shakes out.

Holiday Bowl: Texas beats Arizona State, 52-34, in another wild Holiday Bowl, including a crazy play where Mack Brown's stepson touched the ball on the sidelines, triggering a 12-minute review by officials, an overturned play and ultimately an ASU touchdown.

Awful Announcing has the video.
Sporting Orange has his MySpace page.

Weird plays aside, the win gives Texas momentum as a preseason Top 5 team in 2008. The question: Is Texas' outstanding RB Jamaal Charles coming back or jumping to the NFL?

College Bowl Mania!: Weekend Edition

Champs Sports: BC vs. Michigan St. Expect points.
Texas: TCU vs. Houston. Regional appeal only.
Emerald: Maryland vs. Oregon St. Ehh: Pass.

Meineke Car Care: UConn vs. Wake. Underdog Bowl!
Liberty: UCF vs. Mississippi St. Smith vs. Sanders.
Alamo: Penn St vs. Texas A&M. Where's Mike Sherman?

Independence: Bama vs. Colorado. Bowl-Eligible Bowl!

CFB: West Virginia sues Rich Rodriguez over $4 million buyout. Rod's cronies seemed to imply that he didn't have to pay, so WVU is going to force the issue. Oh, he'll pay.

More NFL: Bill Parcells checks out Dolphins and attends his first practice, planning to "put a structure in place." No pressure or anything, though. Your future with the team is only riding on it.

NBA: Kevin Garnett is the leading vote-getter in All-Star balloting, ahead of last year's leader, LeBron. Nice to see fans recognizing Dwight Howard as worthy of starting; Tracy McGrady's inclusion, at the moment, as a starter in the West achieves the opposite effect.

Amare Stoudemire vs. Chris Kaman: In one of the most highly anticipated matchups of big men of the season, Amare (30 pts, 15 reb) got the best of Kaman (9 pts, 9 reb).

CBB: UNC beats Nevada, but loses reserve guard Bobby Frasor to a knee injury. Somehow, I think UNC will survive, but here's to a full recovery for Frasor.

CBB Weekend Preview: The Game of the Weekend is Pitt at Dayton. Don't be shocked when the Flyers beat the Panthers in Dayton.

More: Wisconsin at Texas, a good test for both teams. Tennessee at Gonzaga in Spokane is another Tournament-toughening game for both. Arizona at Memphis is yet another "name" game for the Tigers, who should roll.

Mid-Major Madness tonight: Butler at Southern Illinois. Despite SIU's .500 season, they still would represent a quality win for Butler, particularly on the road.

I will be posting all weekend and definitely on Monday, if you plan to drop by. If you won't be stopping by until after January 1, happy new year to you.

Save the Date if you live in NYC: Next Thursday, January 3. I will make my inglorious return to the podium for the Varsity Letters Reading Series. I am the opening act for Will Leitch, and the outstanding Dave Zirin is also in the lineup. Truly something not to be missed. I won't spoil what I'm reading, but I will say that it is based on work done on the blog and I am considering a "performance-art" component. Details: Thursday 1/3, Happy Ending, 302 Broome St. 8 p.m. FREE.

-- D.S.

The Giants' Super Bowl is Tomorrow:
But Will They Recognize It?

Pats at Giants in the regular-season finale is bigger than any Giants playoff game, and the Giants should compete in it like it's their Super Bowl:

I appreciate that the Giants have to prepare for the playoffs, but does any fan really think that the Giants have a chance to win the NFC, let alone the Super Bowl? And even if they do win the NFC title, who cares? Like they wouldn't get mowed down in the Super Bowl?

Wouldn't it be even bigger for the Giants to deny the Patriots their 16-0 season than to win this year's meaningless NFC Championship?

History would certainly remember these Giants for that in a way that they wouldn't remember them for a playoff flame-out. (Want proof? The 1985 Dolphins.)

That's why the Giants should play in this game like it IS their Super Bowl; it IS their biggest game of the year. It IS bigger than any playoff game could possibly be.

Given the national simulcast on NBC, CBS and the NFL Network – and the fact that it's on a Saturday night of a four-day holiday weekend – it will be watched by more people than any of the Giants actual playoff games. It won't just make the Giants' season; if they can beat the Patriots, it will define their careers. It will finally give New York sports fans something they can hold over Boston fans, who spent 2007 kicking New Yorkers' asses up and down.

Roger Director is a Giants uber-fan who wrote a great book called "I Dream In Blue" that came out earlier this season. If you are a Giants fan (or simply appreciate books about rabid sports fandom), I highly recommend it.

Anyway, I emailed him for his reaction to my theory, and here's what he replied with, an amusing take -- through ultra-blue-hued glasses, as you'll see. Here's his reply in full:

I was asked yesterday by someone how the Giants should handle this weekend's game against the Patriots. My first question is, the New England who? Then I recalled: they are one of those upstart American Football League franchises who we let into the NFL a few years back. I looked at the person asking me this question and tried to hide my disgust. Does anyone suggest Big Blue should lay down for a team whose insignia is a guy in a funny suit bending over and taking a dump?

I don't think so.

I take the notion that the Giants need to duck for cover against New England as a blood libel. If anyone should be scared and knocking knees, it's the Patriots. If I'm Randy Moss, I'm feigning injury so I don't have to get creamed by Aaron Ross. If I'm Teddy Bruschi, I'm feigning stroke-like symptoms so I don't have to get my brain waves re-arranged by Brandon Jacobs's knee. If I'm Tom Brady, Giselle Bundchen or whoever is his girlfriend of the moment, is asking me, 'What's wrong, Tommy, how come you can't get it up all week?' and I'm having so respond like the lamebrain I am, 'Jeez, Giselle, I guess I'm afraid of playing the Giants. I can' get them out of my mind. Just let's cuddle.'

Chromosome-challenged Big Blue fans can worry all they want about whether or not Osi gets injured. Their thinking goes, we can beat Tampa and then maybe go into Green Bay and win and then be playing for the NFC championship -- but only if Burress's ankle is ok.

The first thing you should ask yourself is, 'What would Shockey! do?" We know the answer. Strap it on.

I imagine a great Giants Big Blue war council at Gallagher's -- Well Mara and Giff and Robustelli and LT and Rosey Brown and Big Red and Harry Carson....they're all there and are they going to say, 'sure, play to lose against New England and hope nobody gets hurt?' I don't think so.

Somewhat more seriously....the upside of playing all out and beating the Patriots is huge. Winning this game is not only a notch in the belt, but a gigantic morale booster. We win this game, we kick New England's ass, and we're the toughest team on the block...and we don't simply hope we can get past the first round in the playoffs, we know we can win the Super Bowl. Simple as that.

I look for Eli to have a big game. He outplays Brady. Throws three TD passes. Giants win 31-20. We are the New York Giants. We make the ground shudder. We make the clouds assemble. And any team, no matter what their record, better hope their ambulances are gassed up. The New England who, again?

It's incredibly rare to have a moment for a playoff team when a regular-season game (at the end of the year, when playoff status has already been clinched) is more important than a playoff game.

In this case, this year -- when the Super Bowl title is all but ceded to the Pats (or, if Pats playoff calamity ensues, an AFC team, most certainly) -- this game is WAY more important than any playoff game for the Giants and Giants fans.

I'm torn: On one hand, I would love to see the history made. It would silence the '72 Dolphins alums; it would set up a 19-0 run; it would set up the biggest upset in sports history if the Pats somehow happened to lose along the way in the playoffs. All good things.

On the other hand, I can't stand Pats fans. (I actually think Bill Belichick is phenomenal, and I'm a huge fan of his. I respect the talent of the players and respect their achievement this season. But Boston sports fans are insufferable enough as it is. 16-0? 19-0? Yeesh.)

These are the emotions that EVERY fan is bringing to this game. Either outcome is actually acceptable. There is no reason for the Giants to try to do anything BUT win this game as if their entire legacy rested in the balance. Because it does.

-- D.S.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Charlie Weis from Notre Dame to Dolphins?

So there's this Romeo Crennel-to-Miami rumor, presumably because Bill Parcells is running the Dolphins and Crennel is a protege of Tuna's. But let me throw out my own twist on this decent theory that Parcells would tap a protege:

What if Parcells instead pursued... Charlie Weis? Everyone can see that Weis is an iffy fit as a college coach, but as a PRO head coach -- hell, isn't that what he wanted before he got to Notre Dame? Let's steal the signs why Weis is the ideal fit:

Weis is a Parcells protege. He is the perfect guy to revive a sorry NFL offense; tutor the Dolphins' franchise QB (whether it's John Beck or whoever the Dolphins could draft in April); and -- most important -- escape a sinkhole situation in South Bend that turned ugly in 2007.

Heading into his fourth year as Notre Dame head coach, Weis hasn't accomplished what he set out to do -- restore the program to its former glory. Actually, he just produced the single most humiliating season in program history. It's not crazy for him to say: "I want out." (Fans certainly don't begrudge the honest Notre Dame fan who is willing to say "See ya.")

If Weis returns to the pros, both he and Notre Dame get a terrific "out" -- "hey, it's the NFL... it's Parcells... how could he say no?" Weis gets to be the NFL head coach he always wanted to be, under a mentor who provides ultimate protection; Notre Dame gets to back out of a coaching move they may have learned to regret -- and to re-set with a real college coach and a cupboard stocked with young talent.

I think it's just so crazy that it just might work. I should clarify: This is total speculation on my part. You know me: I don't "do" original reporting. But I do enjoy a good theory. (h/t: Pro Football Talk, for the original break about Crennel and Parcells; total inspiration)

UPDATE: See the most recent comment I approved. The guy has a point, of course. If Weis and Parcells hate each other, that's a deal-breaker. Then again, Crennel was a Belichick guy, too. So I presume that "working for Belichick" can't be a deal-breaker. All other reasons this make sense still apply, particularly the "easy out" for both Weis and ND to end the ill-fated relationship.

-- D.S.

Thursday 12/27 A.M. Quickie:
NFL Net, Motor Mania, End-of-07 Awards

Today's Names to Know: NFL Network, Motor City Mania, Curtis Painter, Dan LeFevour, Holiday Bowl, Eddie Sutton, Mark Prior, Monta Ellis, Kevin Durant, 2008 CFB Predictions, Top 40 Sports Names of the Year and More!

NFL Network to broadcast Pats 16th win on CBS *and* NBC (in addition to the NFL Network). The NFL turns this from what could have been a debacle into a HUGE win, giving the league an unprecedented platform for its biggest regular season game in decades. (Except they're still using Bryant Gumbel, right? Oh, the national humiliation!)

Most-watched regular-season game ever? Not only should this be the highest-rated Saturday football game in history (not a high bar), but it could be the most watched regular-season game (network, cable, whatever) in decades. This is the closest thing that the NFL will get to a regular-season Super Bowl; it's the perfect storm: It's history, it's the one team that is a proven ratings monster AND it's a Saturday night of a holiday weekend.

One big question: Can NBC and CBS run their own pre-game or halftime or post-game or in-game shows? Because, if so, I would load up their pre-game shows and also go to hyper-quick cut-ins before and after commercial breaks to give their on-air talent the chance to impact the broadcast. Forego the ad revenue for the chance to add value to the game and build the brand.

It's going to be fascinating to see if more fans tune in to NBC or CBS to watch the game: Which network will truly be able to lay claim as America's national football network?

(Another question: Why didn't ESPN or Fox get their chance to simulcast the game, too? I get Fox: It's an NFC network; but is ESPN limited to only MNF games? If so, how did NBC get the Saturday game when they are a Sunday network? Is the theory that NBC would have claimed the Pats-Giants game as a "flex" game? Like CBS wouldn't have protected it?)

Motor City Bowl: Hope you picked the "over." 99 combined points tied the second-highest point total ever for a bowl game that ended in regulation, and Purdue edged Central Michigan 51-48 on a last-second field goal. Early in the 3rd, this thing was a Purdue rout.

QBs were the stars: Curtis Painter set a Purdue passing record with 546 yards. Meanwhile, CMU's Dan LeFevour had 292 yards passing (4 TDs) and 114 yards rushing (2 TDs). For the record, he finished the season with 27 passing and 19 rushing; undoubtedly, he will join Tim Tebow in the "20/20 Club" next season.

Tonight's Bowl Mania: Pac Life Holiday Bowl! Arizona State vs. Texas. ASU was a late-season unbeaten, but a team that few (if any) ever thought would REALLY go unbeaten all the way. Texas lost to Kansas State (again) and Oklahoma, in back-to-back weeks, then lost their season finale to rival Texas A&M. All in all, a pretty crappy year.

Player to Watch: John Chiles, Texas' backup QB. The true freshman electrified UT fans with his ability to run the ball, a nice complement to Colt McCoy's single-threat passing skills. Here's hoping Mack Brown flashes a couple of Chiles packages to give UT fans some hope that a McCoy-Chiles two-QB system next year can help the Longhorns survive what sizes up as a brutally top-heavy Big 12 next season to make a run at a national title.

CBB: Eddie Sutton is coming out of retirement to take over at San Francisco? At the risk of an incredibly tasteless joke, what the hell is USF AD Debra Gore-Mann been drinking that she thinks that's a good idea?

Sutton is at 798 career wins and apparently wants to use this team to see himself reach 800; it is unclear whether he cares at all about the kids or program. He never even visited the school before accepting the job.

I appreciate that the school and the players will get more attention now from Sutton than before (none), and I presume the USF president and AD are just as complicit in this mockery.

NBA Last Night: The Bulls still stink, even without Scott Skiles. Doesn't help that their first game of the Post-Skiles Era was against the defending champs; the Spurs beat the Bulls by 15.

NBA Stud of the Night: Monta Ellis, who had a career-high 35 points leading the Warriors to a win over the T'wolves.

MLB Hot Stove: Mark Prior signs with Padres for 1 year/$1 million. Is that what you'd call a "hometown discount?" Or just a "pity discount?" If they're doing it to attract fans, can they expense it against their marketing budget?

Sports Law: MSG settled with that ex-Rangers cheerleader who sued for sexual discrimination. If only they were as smart about the last one. (Actually, if only they were smart enough to avoid the sexual discrimination in the first place.)

CFB Superlatives: In my latest Deadspin CFB guest-post, I bust out the extra-shallow season-ending superlatives, including 5 quality predictions for 2008. Let me recap my top predictions for next season.

Biggest Game of the Year: Ohio State-USC
National Championship Game: USC-Florida
Heisman Winner: Percy Harvin
Big Headline: "Plus One" approved (gack)
Coaching Move: Notre Dame fires Weis

Baseless, unaccountable predictions are one of my favorite parts of the end of the year.

Yahoo Sports' Top 40 Names of 2007: For the second year in a row, Jamie Mottram included me in his panel of sports bloggers determining the Top 40 sports names of 2007. (What he didn't tell me was that it would be the lead story on the front page of yesterday.)

It's a really fun list, headlined by Michael Vick, but scattered with both memorable names and pithy commentary from those on the voting panel (I was shut out ). Here's a link: Definitely today's must-read.

Sports Blogs: Draft Kevin Durant actually interviews Kevin Durant. I suppose this would be like me interviewing Tim Tebow. (You readers who are following my added-bonus Twitter feed would know I was actually in Tim Tebow's hometown of St. Augustine over the weekend. No, I was not stalking him – although I did hope for a sighting. No luck.) Question: If you could talk in person with one athlete, who would it be?

-- D.S.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wednesday 12/26 A.M. Quickie:
Bynum, Blazers, Clemens, LeFevour, LDT!

Today's Names to Know: Andrew Bynum, Kobe Bryant, Blazers, Kevin Durant, Motor City Bowl, Dan LeFevour, LaDainian Tomlinson, SEC hoops, Miami Northwestern H.S. and More!

NBA on Christmas Day: Lakers beat Suns. The Suns-Lakers game, the day's headliner, was supposed to be a team showcase of a popular favorite to win the NBA title (Phoenix) and an individual showcase of a popular favorite to win the NBA's scoring title (Kobe).

Instead, Andrew Bynum stole the show. Bynum had a career-high 28 (with 12 rebounds and 4 assists), tag-teaming with Kobe to lead the suddenly feisty Lakers past the Suns.

But the Lakers' success isn't because of Kobe: It's because of the emergence of Bynum, who has gone from trading chip a year ago to one of the league's Top 10 most untradeable players. Not bad for a player who snuck in under the wire of the league's irrational draft-age rule. Yeah, skipping college SURE seems to have hurt Bynum's development.

Roger Clemens Defense Tour ramps up: Clemens lawyer Rusty Hardin said he has started his own investigation into the claims about Clemens made in the Mitchell Report. Somehow I think "Rusty Hardin Report" won't have the same resonance.

Maybe the attorney, surely knowing that Clemens was going to be fingered by Brian McNamee, should have executed a damage-control strategy of pre-emption, rather than post-emption.

Meanwhile, Hardin revealed that Clemens will make himself available to a wider range of media than just 60 Minutes after he appears on the show on the night of January 6.

(Preview of Clemens' interview with Mike Wallace: "No. No. No. Deny it. No. No. No." There: Saved you an hour.)

More NBA on Christmas Day: In the nightcap, the Blazers won their 11th straight in what was supposed to be a clever showcase of Greg Oden vs. Kevin Durant. Oden didn't play (which hasn't stopped the Blazers from being the surprise team of the season) and Durant had 23 points, 3 above his rookie-leading scoring average.

Cavs beat Heat: This wasn't surprising. On the other hand, neither of these teams is going to win the East this season. (As one commenter pointed out: Did LeBron plan on 12 assists and 25 points on 12/25? Nice call!)

College Bowl Mania: Motor City Bowl! Purdue vs. Central Michigan. Ahh: A 3-5 team in the Big Ten vs. the MAC Champ. Actually, if you avoid the snobbery, it should be a pretty exciting match-up between two teams who run the spread offense and a sophomore QB who might just give Tim Tebow a run for his money as the best dual-threat QB in the country.

Player to Watch: Dan LeFevour, the Central Michigan sophomore QB who became only the second QB ever to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. (The other to do it? Vince Young.) Say what you want about Tim Tebow's "20/20" season (and I have), but LeFevour was "23/17," which ain't bad. And even Tebow didn't hit the "3000/1000" mark.

MNF Remainders: It will be another NFL rushing title for LaDainian Tomlinson. If the Chargers beat the Raiders (heh: "if"), they will win the AFC's No. 3 seed, which isn't a bad spot: They get to host the Wild Card game against either Cleveland or Tennessee.

JaMarcus Russell to start in Week 17: Well, why shouldn't he? It's a meaningless game for Oakland, and Russell is the presumptive starter for 2008; the more "live" reps he can get now, the better.

CBB: Kentucky schadenfreude. Just back from a quick trip to SEC country, and wow, there's a lot of schadenfreude about Kentucky and Billy Gillispie, who might not make it past this year if Kentucky can't get over its weak early start and show signs of potential.

UK fans shouldn't count on super-frosh Patrick Patterson, who is already the best player in the SEC, but likely a one-and-done player en route to the NBA. Enjoy the NIT experience, kid! As for Gillispie, you have to wonder if Kentucky could pry John Calipari away from Memphis if Coach Cal can win a national title this season with one-and-done Derrick Rose.

(Sure, things ain't fantastic for Florida basketball either, but compared to the mess Kentucky, things look fantastic.)

Meanwhile, Ole Miss looks like one of those "unbeaten-through-December" teams that produces a regular season to remember, followed by a high seeding in the NCAA Tournament, followed by a first-weekend flame-out. But hats off to Mississippi on a sizzling start.)

High School Football: Miami's Northwestern claims the mythical national championship given out by USA Today. Their season included a signature win, nationally televised, over Texas' Southlake Carroll on ESPN. It also included an offseason scandal that threatened to see the season cancelled before it even started.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Tuesday 12/25: It's a (Very) Quickie Xmas

Holiday + Travel day = Rare "off" day on Tuesday.

That doesn't mean I can't wish you and yours a wonderfully happy and joyful Christmas, if that's how you celebrate today. MOT'ers like me enjoy Chinese food and a movie, plus lots of "A Christmas Story," a movie that transcends any specific religious observance.

Best wishes to all. Catch you tomorrow morning at the usual time!

-- D.S.

Tuesday 12/25 (Very) Quickie

It's too bad the Bulls aren't playing on the NBA's signature day of the year, because given the fact they just fired coach Scott Skiles, that would have been AWK-waaard!

Anyway, yes: The NBA's Xmas Day games are its biggest (and best) day of the season: Bigger than the All-Star Game. Bigger than the Playoffs. Yes, even bigger than the Finals. (Just look at last season's Finals TV ratings debacle.)

But the Christmas Day games are different: The league hand-picks the match-ups that are the very best. More importantly, everyone is watching, because there's nothing else to watch. The league has the day to itself on the sports calendar, especially this year.

My biggest problem with the NBA is that the regular season is relatively meaningless -- just ask Mavericks fans. Given that, the Christmas Day games become the high point between the Draft nights: The NBA's winter and summer solstices.

The Xmas Day games are not about the regular season, and they are not about the playoffs. They are purely about entertaining us -- about driving TV ratings, of course, but accomplishing that through the most compelling matchups and letting that pull the sleigh.

Ho ho ho...

-- D.S.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Belated Festivus!

Perhaps my favorite "holiday" of the year... and I missed it, both yesterday (day-of) and this morning (day-after)! Shame on me. Well, add it to the Airing of Grievances...

Monday 12/24 A.M. Quickie:
Pats, W'cards, Kobe, Clemens, FFL, More!

Today's Names to Know: Fantasy Football Misery, Patriots, NFL Network, Vikings, Redskins, Browns, Titans, Jaguars, East Carolina, Kobe, Jimbo Fisher, Roger Clemens and More!

I'll get to the Pats and 15-0 and looking ahead to 16-0 (even if fans won't be able to watch it) in a second. First, a bit of fantasy-related navel-gazing....

Fantasy Hell: Snatching Championship Defeat from the Jaws of Glory! In 10-plus years of playing fantasy football, I have never played for a championship. This season, if you recall, I ended up playing in 5 leagues, which wasn't much fun on a week-to-week basis, because I had rooting interests virtually everywhere.

But, in one league, I made it to the finals (as an 8th seed, no less – it has been a glorious playoff run). In the title game, my opponent was struggling. I wasn't doing great, but after the Sunday afternoon games, I had Adrian Peterson going and needed about 7 or 8 points from him to win the title. I figured with the Vikings playing at home with a playoff spot on the line, a spectacular (even modest) Peterson show was all but guaranteed.

"All but," indeed. Peterson was contained, symbolic of the Vikings' choke. I lost the title by a mere 4 points.

Now, I can't blame it on Peterson; at the last minute, I thought I was being SO smart by swapping Morten Andersen (who hadn't really done much for me this season) for Mike Nugent, who I figured was a better bet. Andersen had 9 points; Nugent was shut out.

Whatever: I lost the closest I had ever come to fantasy football glory. Losing by 4 was way worse than being blown out. And it sucks far worse than I ever thought it would.

Did any of you win your fantasy league title? Or, like me, lose in the title game?

Patriots roll on to 15-0: Even if the Giants hadn't clinched their Wild Card spot and thus have no reason to do anything but show up next week, the Pats were going to rout them and close out the season 16-0.

I'm actually pretty excited: There is an entire generation of sports fans – say, anyone under 40 – who have never experienced a team playing this well. Given the limitations of the free agency/salary cap era, we're watching the greatest regular season in sports history. (Were the '85 Bears more dominant? Possibly, but they weren't perfect.) Also, I can't stand the '72 Dolphins.

There are also the records to be broken: Tom Brady for TD passes in a single season. Randy Moss for TD catches in a single season. The Pats, as a team, for several records. All of which make this the ONLY storyline of Week 17 worth following. And rooting for.

(After all, if the Pats don't go 16-0, it wouldn't make a loss in the playoffs – if it happens at all – the Biggest Bust In Sports History. But that's a dream: They ain't losing.)

NFL Network Mayhem: Now, let's forecast the biggest story of Week 17, by far, or perhaps even the entire season: The Pats' final game – the history-making game – is on the NFL Network. That means that the majority of the country won't be able to see it. That is not good for fans OR for the NFL. And the outcry will be THE story of the week in sports. Again, that is not good for fans OR the NFL. Tracking...

Playoff Outlook: Aside from tracking the Pats, we're looking at two 6-seeds that are up for grabs.

In the AFC, the Browns are trying to fend off the Titans; now, the 6-seed in the AFC this season might be meaningless, but not if you're a Cleveland fan and expected to win about 4 games this year. What a one-season turnaround for the Browns. There's a fine argument to be made that, if they make the playoffs, Romeo Crennel deserves Coach of the Year ahead of Bill Belichick. (By the way, in the AFC, the 2-seed is as meaningless as the 6-seed, if you think the Pats have a manifest destiny to win the conference and the Super Bowl.)

In the NFC, the Vikings are on the verge of totally choking away what seemed like a lock of a Wild Card spot; with their win in Minnesota last night, the Redskins merely have to beat a Cowboys team with ZERO reason to do anything but show up in D.C. and let the clock run out to make the playoffs. It's a heartwarming turnaround story for a team that was hit so tragically by the death of Sean Taylor just a few weeks ago.

Looking Ahead to Next Week: The only thing worth following is the Pats' attempt at 16-0 (and all accompanying single-season records – individual AND team – that they are poised to shatter)… and that's on the NFL Network. Yeesh, that's grim.

More from Sunday: Again: If the Jaguars played in the NFC, we would be talking about them as the conference's team to beat; as it stands now, they will merely be an unusually tough out on the AFC side – I would say that the Jags are the biggest threat to the Pats in the AFC ("threat" being relative… no team is really a threat, but the Jags are a bigger threat than the Colts, Chargers or Steelers)…

In one game, Derek Anderson kind of ruined an entire season's worth of good feeling, but given his slow start, it was a fitting bookend to his Browns career (which will surely be pushed aside for Brady Quinn in 2008)...

Mostly, it was one of those late-season weeks where playoff teams are playing not to get hurt and the difference between that and "tanking" are hard for me to figure out. Next week should be even worse, so don't tell me "tanking" is abhorrent to the NFL way; it's more like the norm.

College Bowl Mania: East Carolina shocks Boise State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, 41-38. Maybe Boise State was suffering a let-down after last season's magic Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma, or maybe a let-down after losing their Game of the Year to Hawaii. Or maybe it was just too much Chris Johnson.

Know the name: Chris Johnson, the ECU star who set an NCAA bowl record with 408 all-purpose yards. (Let's break it dow: 223 yards rushing, 32 yards receiving, 153 yards on kickoff returns.) In another parallel with last year, it was another Johnson (Boise State's Ian) who stole the bowl season with a wild performance (and engagement).

NBA: Kobe becomes the youngest-ever to 20,000 career points. Now: What's your bet on where he ends up on the final career scoring list?

Consider: Kobe will end the SEASON in the Top 25 (probably just behind Allen Iverson). He'll crack the Top 20 after 2008-2009. He'll crack the Top 15 after the 2009-10 season. He projects to easily clear the Top 10 after the 2010-2011 season.

Top 5 all-time would be 27,410 points, passing Moses Malone. But No. 4 is Wilt at 31, 419. So let me place my bet today at No. 5.

Florida State's Jimbo Fisher won't leave FSU for West Virginia: Yes, even with all of the Noles' many on-field and off-field problems. This was Fisher's "out," his chance to escape the vortex of gloom that threatens to hover over the FSU program for the next half-decade (or longer, depending on NCAA sanctions over this academic scandal). But he's sticking by Bobby Bowden and the FSU program. Good luck with that.

Roger Clemens makes his defense on YouTube: Points for taking advantage of populist new media opportunities, but does anyone really believe him?

(Isn't there a very simple way to solve this: Can't he sue George Mitchell for zillions in defamation? Maybe he won't sue because he can't.)

Again, to those of you logging in today but ducking out tomorrow for the holiday, the merriest of Christmases.

I'm gearing up for 24 hours of "A Christmas Story," only one of the greatest films ever created.

-- D.S.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sunday 12/23 (Very) Quickie

I'm about an hour outside of Jacksonville... should I make my first pilgrimage to see "my" "favorite" team play in person today?

College Hoops Feast: Watched more college hoops yesterday than I had any other day all season long. Yesterday's day-/night-long run of good games made me feel like the season finally started. Headlining the day: Memphis is the best team in the country... (Yes, even better than UNC, who has yet to rack up a win as impressive as the Tigers over the Hoyas.)

More: I'm still sticking with UCLA to win the national title... Michigan State racked up a huge win over Texas, establishing them as the Big Ten's team to beat (again)... Oregon might as well call itself Upset U., because they seem to be the Top 25 always on the wrong end of results against unranked teams this season... How legit is undefeated Ole Miss? They beat previously undefeated Clemson... Oh, and Florida will NOT be repeating as champs.

Bowl Mania: B YU needed a blocked FG to beat fiesty UCLA... New Mexico won its first bowl in nearly a half-century, blanking Nevada in a virtual home game... Cincy beats Southern Miss, giving first-year coach Brian Kelly extra momentum heading into 2008, where the Bearcats could be favored to win the Big East.

FSU won't bring 36 players to Music City Bowl: Do they owe it to Kentucky (or FSU fans) to forfeit? (Hey, how about if we put together an all-star team of all players from bowl-eligible teams who aren't playing in bowls?)

NFL: Cowboys beat Panthers: No, Jessica Simpson didn't show up... yes, Terrell Owens' ankle injury is worth tracking as Dallas attempts to win the NFC for the right to lose to the Pats in the Super Bowl. Apparently, John Fox's job is totally safe in Carolina.

NBA: Chris Bosh scores 42 in a Raptors loss to the Suns. But needless to say, Bosh seems fully recovered from that early-season injury.... How about Yi's season-high 29?... Dwyane Wade: Buzzer-beater -- yeah, he's ready for his Xmas Day game against LeBron.

-- D.S.