Who could have predicted this? Portland’s combo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard with some pieces around them is enough to contend for a playoff position, even in one of the toughest western conferences NBA fans have seen in a long time. Just check out the standings: only three teams in the west are below .500 but one of them is Minnesota, only 1 game under. Quick shout out to Utah and Sacramento for not shying away from the tanking sweepstakes this season. But we’re talking about the other side of the standing. Right now Portland, San Antonio and Oklahoma City city lead the conference, all with 3 losses each but Portland and SA have the slight edge with two more wins than OKC. The first couple of weeks Portland seemed a bit like one of those lucky teams, getting their difficult games when it’s in a favorable situation due to injuries or other factors. As the days went on and the sample size grew, Portland kept chugging out their wins and a month’s worth of games proved that their hot start wasn’t a fluke at all. I’m actually still finding it hard to believe that two of Porland’s three losses have come at the hands of the Phoenix Suns. Yes, the Suns are performing much better than most have predicted but they’re not even a playoff team in the western conference. Portland’s losses have been somewhat forgotten because they have had some big statement wins. The last of which came against Indiana just a couple of days ago. How is Portland doing so well? Like I stated previously, it starts with Aldridge and Lillard, who seem to compliment each other so well on offense. Feeding off of each other for a great 1-2 punch. I like how fearless Lillard is and if Aldridge keeps shooting this well from outside, watch out. Let’s not forget about the rest of the cast because Wesley Matthew’s hot shooting (.546 from the field, .510 from 3) has been critical. Nicholas Batum has also been solid while Robin Lopez was a sneaky-good signing this summer. Their defense still has plenty of questions but right now it’s doing enough. Tonight’s game against the Thunder should be a good test for both teams. I’m just upset that this game isn’t being broadcast nationally.
What else is going on around the NBA? I’d just like to say that as well as Paul George has been playing, there’s no reason for anyone to start making claims that he’s on LeBron’s level and should be seriously considered for MVP. Don’t get me wrong, I love George’s game and I think he’s proven that he’s a top 3 forward in the league. Carmelo Anthony has been booted out of contention. But is Paul George a better MVP candidate than even Kevin Durant? Durant has been the consensus #2 for a couple of years now so for George to be on LeBron’s level, he first has to have passed Durant. I don’t feel that he has but so far this season, it’s definitely a real debate. George defense and his team’s record give him the upper hand but if were my team, i’d rather have Kevin Durant. Meanwhile LeBron is just chugging along, shooting nearly 60 percent from the field (60!) while he leads Miami through the drone of the regular season. Can both Indiana and Miami break the record for most wins in a regular season? Just take a look at the eastern conference. Only three teams above .500 with the Celtics, who are supposed to be in rebuilding mode, are in the top half the of the conference. That’s partly due to the NBA terrible division leader position rules. Out west the battle for the 4-8 seeds gets better everyday but each of those teams seem to have a glaring problem. The Clippers and Rockets have chemistry issues, the Nuggest don’t seem to have a “best player” consistently, my Mavericks are inconsistent on offense and the Warriors have lost some of their key players to injuries. Right now those are the remaining playoff teams in the west and I don’t see any of those making a real run to challenge Portland, San Antonio or OKC for a spot in the Finals come summertime.
By the way, why is TNT showing the Knicks at Nets game on Thursday night? I know this was all scheduled before the season started but couldn’t the NBA flex it two weeks ago when we knew these teams weren’t going to get better anytime soon? Maybe Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Marcus Smart all have court side seats for the game and i’m not aware. Either way, i’d rather be watching the Clippers in Memphis during that time slot. Same goes for Friday night when ESPN is showing the Nuggets in Boston. Let’s flex that to the Warriors in Houston and go about our day.
Going into last night’s game everyone knew one thing: the Seattle Seahawks are a good team but when they’re at home, they’re an elite team. Probably the best in the entire league. It’s impossible to tell because they don’t go up against the Patriots or Broncos this season but at least we know they’re on top of the NFC without a shred out doubt. While completely dominating the Saints last night, Seattle also clinched a spot in the postseason during their most impressive win of the season. The final score was 34-7 and that was very indicative of how the game played out. From start to finish the Seahawks were doing what they wanted on offense and defense. If Seattle’s secondary was supposed to be depleted, no one told them and the Saints weren’t able to take advantage of it. Drew Brees started the game with a 3 and out, followed by a fumble that was returned for a TD by the home team. The Saints managed to score in the 2nd quarter but it took a nearly perfect drive to do so. Things continued to favor Seattle when the ball was switched to them on offense, led by an MVP-like performance from Russell Wilson. Normally the tough Seahawks running game leads the way but it’s the only thing the Saints defense was able to control, limiting Marshawn Lynch to only 45 yards. No matter. Wilson was picking up the slack left and right, looking every bit like a veteran QB who just saw this as any other regular season game. Once Seattle scored another TD just before the second half was over, the game felt all but over from that point on. So where does this leave these two teams heading forward?
The Saints are still on top of their division due to tie breakers but now they’re really feeling the heat from Carolina, making their game this week that much bigger. New Orleans also goes up against the Panthers two weeks after that so that could very well decide not only the second seed in the NFC but also the 5th seed in the playoffs. Or could the 49ers even sneak in and take the 5th seed? San Francisco is beginning to look really solid once again, getting healthier as the weeks go by. But their next opponent is Seattle, a team that only needs one more win to clinch the NFC West and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. There’s very little chance of Seattle losing three of their last four to allow another team to slip into first so every other team in the NFC better get used to the idea that the road to the Super Bowl is going through Seattle. Could the Niners make things a little interesting with a win on Sunday? Yes but after that it’s out of their hands. Then there are the East and North divisions. Right now the Cowboys and Lions lead their respective divisions but the Eagles and Bears are right on their heels. Hey, what do you know, those teams play each other this weekend. The Lions are in Philadelphia on Sunday and the Cowboys are in Chicago on Monday. Both divisions could very well come down to the final game of the season but we’ll learn plenty from the results of those two games. It’s time for the homestretch people.
It’s always a good day when we can enjoy lots of Thanksgiving food (whatever time every person does it) while having football on the TV for the entire time. I don’t know if we hit the 12 hour mark last night but football fans were pretty close to have 12 straight hours of football. Minus the hour or so of pre-game and halftime shows. The day started off with the Lions and Packers, an NFC North rivalry that goes back a long time but just doesn’t have the same impact without Aaron Rodgers. Back up Matt Flynn was over matched the entire game, sacked 7 times while only throwing 139 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Credit to the Lions defense as well because they had as big of an impact on this game as some of the best defenses in the league. On offense everything was clicking with Detroit, from top to bottom. Matt Stafford had a couple of turnovers to begin the game (one going back for a score) but towards the end of the second quarter, everything was smooth sailing for the Lions. Megatron was Megatron and their combo running game of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell really brought the offense to another level, much more balanced. Not that anyone felt different but every week confirms that Aaron Rodgers means more to the Packers success than probably any other team in the league. Right now it’s uncertain if he’ll return next week. Now the Lions are back in the driver’s seat for the division as they await this Sunday’s results.
Our second helping of the day featured an odd game between the Cowboys and Raiders. It’s odd because on the very first play of the game the Raiders caused a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. So we’re 12 seconds into the game and the Raiders are up by a touchdown. Things continued to favor the Raiders for rest of the half, doing all the right things on offense. Sure, the Cowboys defense is among the worst of the league but it’s not like the Raiders offense had been lighting it up. At halftime the teams completely switched and the Cowboys nearly dominated the second half from start to finish. The Raiders made things interesting late in the game by getting within one score but without any of their timeouts, it was difficult for Oakland to get the plays they needed. DeMarco Murray led the way in terms of stats (3 rush TDs) but it was a combination of different players on the Cowboys offense that engineered their drives. The Raiders on the other hand didn’t do well against the Cowboys halftime adjustments, showing little signs of what they had done in the first half. Another bad season for the Raiders as they look at making changes and the coming draft. The Cowboys, like the Lions, take hold of the division lead as they await results. Quick shout out to Selena Gomez for looking good during the halftime show.
Things wrapped up in Baltimore with the heated rival Pittsburgh Steelers in town. Normally this is a must watch for any football fan but this season the teams aren’t doing as well as we’re used to. Did they still provide from of the same hard-hitting entertainment? There were some big hits to go with a few scuffles but there were also a lot of odd occurrences. The game came down to an unsuccessful two-point conversion but from the botched field goal to Mike Tomlin’s on the field interference, it was a weird game. But a win is a win and for Baltimore, it keeps them alive in the heated race for the second wild card spot in the conference. All the white keeping the pressure on the Bengals, who are in San Diego this weekend, for the division lead. It was maddening to watch how long it took Pittsburgh to get some offense going, not being able to find the scoreboard until halfway through the 3rd quarter. An offense that looked so good the past couple of weeks sputtered out of the gate and played catch up the entire game. It’s not the type of game that the Steelers want to play when they’re fighting to stay alive for a spot in the postseason. On a side note, the league is looking into Tomlin’s interference on that kick return.
Anyone else riding the Buccaneers (-8) in Carolina this weekend? The Panthers are on a big streak right now but it’s not a streak where they blow teams out as of late. This is a completely different Bucs team from the one the Panthers beat handily about a month ago. The Bucs are playing solid football and I see them keeping it close in Carolina on Sunday.
News hit a couple of days ago that Derrick Rose would once again need knee surgery and once again would miss the entire season. It’s a tragic story that can’t help but make basketball fans feel bad for Rose, the Bulls and their fanbase. Even the biggest Rose critic can admit that the NBA is better with him in the league. It’s still questionable how Rose, out for basically two years straight, will be able to perform once he’s completely healed again. Will he ever get back to his MVP level? Will he even get to 80% of that form? It’s a gloomy situation in Chicago but despite missing their franchise player, their season and the rest of league must move on. The show must go on, as they say. But what kind of show will we be watching? The western conference is as good as ever but aside from the Heat and Pacers, is any other franchise in the east worth watching on a regular basis? Every team is going to one of “those nights” where they play well enough to upset a superior opponent, that’s just the way the league is. Aside from those nights is where the problem arises. Can fans rely on quality basketball on a regular basis knowing that the eastern conference has very much turned into a two-team race? It’s almost astounding how much better the Pacers and Heat (1 and 2 in the conference) are than the rest of the conference. If the playoffs were to start right now, I don’t see any team giving Indiana or Miami more than a five game series. A lot of the problem lies with the New York teams. The Knicks are usually towards the top of the conference and the new-look Nets were supposed to contend for the top spot in the conference. Right now the Knicks and Nets are a combined 7-20. Astonishing. Could they turn things around? Well they’re going to have to get 100% healthy before their fans can get excited.
On the other side of the country, things are more competitive. The Spurs are doing their usual thing of playing fundamental basketball while taking care of business. Portland, surprisingly enough, is still staying among the best in the west. The Thunder, Clippers and Rockets are fighting to keep up with the elites and then there’s the dogfight for the rest of the spots in the west. But the biggest news around the conference this week was Kobe signing another contract extension to essentially stay with the Lakers for the remainder or his career. The Lakers didn’t officially announce the exact details of the deal but plenty of sources have suggested that it’s an extra two years for $48.5 million. Those details bring up some inevitable questions. If all Kobe really does care about is more championships, why sign for that much money? Yes, we all know that Kobe means much more to the Lakers than what he earns, but does that leave room for anyone else? Most superstars that are hitting tail-end of their careers tend to take less money, knowing that it’s best possible way that they will continue to be on a championship level team. Can Kobe lead another team to a title? Well, i’m not so sure anymore. I’m skeptical because of his age and because of the severity of the injury that’s he is coming back from. That’s taking into consideration that Kobe is a machine and the hardest working player in the league. It wouldn’t surprise me if he reached the same level he left off at but I also wouldn’t be shocked if Kobe only reaches about 75-80% of what he used to be. And if it’s the latter, how room does Kobe’s contract leave for another big free agent to come join him?
Key games this weekend: (tonight) Lakers at Nets; Heat at Cavs; Nuggets at Wolves; Spurs at Thunder; Warriors at Mavs (Friday) Nets at Rockets; Warriors at Thunder; Wizards at Pacers (Saturday) Bulls at Cavs; Wolves at Mavs; Rockets at Spurs.
It was only a matter of time before San Francisco bounced back from their recent two-game skid. Last night was the perfect opportunity for the 49ers to get back on track and they did just that, overwhelming the Redskins for the entire game. Colin Kaepernick was on point for much of the game, finding Boldin and Davis for the big plays and scores. The running game wasn’t especially impressive but Gore and Kaepernick did enough to keep the Washington defense on it’s heels. The Redskins were able to keep up with the Niners in the first half but their inability to make plays happen in the red zone really hurt them. That and the pass rush of the 49ers, keeping the pressure dialed up on RG3 for pretty much the entire game. It was seemed like every other play on offense featured RG3 on the ground or taking unnecessary hits. When you mix a bad offensive line with a QB that’s going to give up his body to make plays, that’s what the Redskins offense is. RG3 is going to have to learn sooner or later that getting a first down for a regular season game isn’t worth risking an injury that could set him back for an entire year. So this guarantees a .500 or worse record for Washington while the 49ers are back in the driver’s seat for the second wild card spot in the NFC. It’s going to be interesting battle between the Cardinals and Niners for that second spot, assuming they both don’t slip enough for the Eagles/Cowboys or a North team to take the spot. It could very well come down to the final game of the season with the 49ers in Arizona but there’s still plenty of football to played before that.
While there’s still a lot of football to play, there isn’t a more interesting race than the race for the second wild card spot in the AFC. Barring a catastrophic injury or crazy meltdown, it’s pretty much a sure thing that either Denver or Kansas City will take first wild card. But the other wild card spot, well, every other team in the conference is mathematically in the hunt. We’ll spare the bottom five teams (Texans, Jaguars, Bills, Browns and Raiders) because I don’t see any of those teams reeling of winning streaks while the other teams lose enough games. So that leaves us with the Titans (pole position), Steelers, Ravens, Chargers, Jets and Dolphins all at 5-6. The best shot obviously being the Titans as they own various tiebreakers over the other teams. Miami has the easiest of the schedules but have looked very shaky when they have the lead in a game. The Steelers and Ravens are clashing on Thanksgiving and I have a feeling that the loser has their chances minimized to almost zero. The Jets are impossible to predict but Geno Smith’s play as of late doesn’t indicate that any sort of progress is in the near future. So that leaves the Chargers. Usually a team with so much potential that just seems to lose games that they’re supposed to win and win games that they’re supposed to lose. Their victory in Kansas City was certainly the most impressive out of any of the wins all these teams have. It’s going to be interesting to see how it all shakes out with only five weeks left in the season.
Anytime there’s a tie involved, you know it’s an overall weird day in the NFL. We almost had two ties in fact. If it wasn’t for a very fluke play towards the end of overtime during the Broncos-Patriots game, we would have actually seen two ties in one day. Oh yeah, let’s not forget that the previously 0-8 Buccaneers have now won three straight games and the 2-9 Jaguars are mathematically still in contention for a wild card spot. That’s just the way this season has gone. Every week, after a surprising result, the landscape of the playoffs changes. The AFC’s top two teams (Chiefs and Broncos) both lost yesterday. The Chargers victory over the Chiefs in Kansas City was both baffling and incredible to watch. The first half was a bit slow but both teams came out to battle in the second half, capped off by an incredible TD pass by Phillip Rivers to seal the victory for San Diego. It was probably the most impressive win of the day but i’d also put the Cardinals dominant win over the Colts right up there. If it wasn’t for the streaking Panthers, Arizona would be the hottest team in the conference right now. They’re both battling the 49ers, who visit Washington tonight, for those two wild card playoff spots. What’s going on with the NFC North? All of a sudden, none of the teams look like they’re ready to take the division lead. I have to give props to my Cowboys for getting a key win in New York yesterday. That’s a game that the Cowboys usually lose, on the road and needing a clutch drive by Romo and co. The result of that game essentially makes it a two team race for the NFC East title.
Stock UP: Phillip Rivers back in the discussion of most clutch QB; Tom Brady proving last night that he’s always in the discussion; the Cardinals offense getting closer to their defense’s level; the Panthers and Cam Newton still being the hottest team in the league; the Steelers somehow right back in contention for their division and wild card races; St. Louis’ being a completely different team at home; the Jaguars defense not being as bad as most think; Mike Glennon taking advantage of his receiver weapons; Fitzpatrick’s clutch gene against a bad team.
Stock DOWN: anything to do with the Ravens-Jets game and again, trying to figure out the Jets; the Bears offense when battling from a large deficit; the Giants chances of making some sort of comeback to win the division; Case Keenum’s hot start falling extremely flat; the Chiefs’ defense possibly being exposed; Raiders’ players not named Sebastian Janikowski; Cleveland’s momentum completely gone now; the Lions not being well coached enough to hold some sort of lead; the Colts in the first half of games.
Unfortunately we won’t have a Monday night game with the caliber of last week’s but at least we get one good teams. The 49ers chances of catching Seattle are very slim now but they’re still in a strong position to make the playoffs. The Redskins however, have been sputtering for a couple of weeks now. I expect a strong performance from San Francisco tonight, controlling the game and coming out on top to stay in contention for a wild card playoff spot.
Coming into this season, both the Falcons and the Saints were thought of as contenders for not only the conference but the Super Bowl as well. New Orleans was getting their head coach back, one of the best in the league. The Falcons added a few pieces to an already potent offense. No one could have predicted that going up against each other in week 12, the teams would be on the exact opposite ends of the spectrum. The Saints are trying to keep pace with Seattle for the best record in the NFC while the Falcons’ first round draft pick gets higher and higher as the weeks go bye. So because of that, one would assume that last night’s game would be an easy one for Drew Brees and co. Leading a Saints offense that has looked nearly unbeatable inside of a dome but didn’t have as much firepower as we’re used to seeing last night. When indoors, anything is possible for the Saints. But last night proved how erratic the season has been, nearly impossible to predict. Thursday night games have a knack for being extra weird because the players are on a minimal amount of rest. Yes, the Saints won the game and a win is always a win, but nothing was overly impressive. Brees was effective but only showed a couple of flashes of brilliance. Jimmy Graham had his inevitable big plays and the run game did just enough. At the same time, the Falcons had enough of opportunities to make the game interesting but failed to so because frankly, they’re just a bad team. Atlanta is now guaranteed a losing season and only have a couple more legitimate shots at getting another win. The Saints on the other hand have their toughest stretch of the season, beginning next week in Seattle. Could very well decide the top seed in the conference. But there are still games to play before that.
The slate of this week’s games aren’t stealing the spotlight like they did last week but they’re just as important. Only four teams on bye (Seahawks, Bills, Eagles, Bengals) so lots of early games. The Panthers in Miami is the most important on paper. Miami is in the middle of the dogfight that is the second wild card spot in the AFC while the Panthers are trying to keep the pressure on New Orleans for the division and at the same time, stay in prime position the first wild card spot in the NFC. The Chargers can still salvage their season but they’re going into Kansas City against a pretty pissed off Chiefs team; could be ugly for Phil Rivers. Will the Jets continue to be the “Jekyll and Hyde” team of the season? Is there any reason to watch Jaguars-Texans? I’m wondering why more attention isn’t being paid to Colts-Cardinals. I’m excited to see how Andrew Luck does on the road against a really good Cardinals defense. The Cowboys at the Giants always gets interesting but for this game, I just want the Cowboys to get back on track while stopping the Giants’ win streak. Just goes to show how bad the NFC East is when the previously 0-6 Giants are still in the hunt for a playoff spot. The day finishes with a bang. Denver at New England features two of the better teams in the AFC and the NFL. Will we see another classic Manning vs Brady game?
I was tempted to take the Dolphins because they keep it close at home but the Panthers are just too good. Or how about the Bucs (+9) in Detroit? Revis Island somewhat containing Megatron? Mike Glennon being a little better than most expected? The Lions have not had a blowout win since they were in Cleveland. Can’t see Tampa Bay actually winning but why not, they keep it close.
There was controversy to end the game, that much we know. How much controversy exactly? Well, for one that depends on what team you were supporting last night. Patriots fans saw a flag that was rightfully thrown because they believe it was clear pass interference on Gronkowski during a game-deciding pass. Panthers fans saw a flag that was thrown, discussed by the officials and deemed not a penalty after all. From a neutral standpoint it wasn’t great to see the officials throw a flag and then completely go back on the decision. That does happen every now and then. It’s not very common but what is less common is when it the flag is revoked at the end of a game after a play that directly decides the outcome. Is this as big of a controversy as the Packers-Seahawks ending? No but there’s reason for discussion. Regardless of the controversy at the end of the game, the Panthers played a great game and very much deserved to come out on top last night. Huge win for Cam Newton, who continues to make the highlight reel while at the same time having the poise of an experienced quarterback. Remember when it seemed like Ron Rivera had the hottest coaching seat in the league? Now it’s six straight wins with no signs of slowing down. The last couple of weeks have proven that the Panthers are a real contender. The Patriots leave with a bitter taste in the mouth but last night’s game can’t linger too long in New England. Yes, they’re at home but it’s against Denver, who has just come off their biggest win of the season. How do the Patriots bounce back at home after last night’s game? Will we see another classic Brady-Manning game? First let’s see how the best teams in the league stack up as of today.
Record wise, the top three teams would be the Seahawks, Broncos and Chiefs. Seattle is the only team with 10 wins right now because of their schedule (on bye this week) so they’re naturally the best team in the league right now. As long as Seattle has the best record and is playing at home, there’s no reason to make anyone else a favorite going up against them. But if one team could have a legitimate shot at beating them, who would that be? Well Denver has proven that it can handle an elite defense and win without having to simply outscore the opponent. So they’re coming in second and i’m putting the Chiefs right behind them. After a shaky start to the game, Kansas City held their own in a hostile environment. Their offense has some questions but it should be different when they’re at home and Denver is the one in the hostile environment. With all due respect to Brady and co, the last two spots belong to the Saints and Panthers. The Saints didn’t look unbeatable at home for once but their road questions still linger. The Falcons on Thursday shouldn’t be much trouble but after that, visiting Seattle and then at home against Carolina is a tough two game slate. Panthers round up the top five teams in the league. They’re the hottest team in the league I don’t see them slipping anytime soon with the Dolphins and Bucs being their next two opponents.