"Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel"

My new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" is the follow-up to "Illegal Procedure" and "Roughing the Passer" and is now available in print and in e-formats at amazon.com, smashwords.com and iBooks. Follow me on twitter @kevinkrest.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

NFL Rankings

Big Shakeup This Week: A couple of upsets changed the face of the rankings this week, as San Francisco and Houston failed to play up to their positions in the poll. I moved Baltimore back into the list as Dallas lost in overtime to the Saints. It was a close call, as I like the way Cincinnati is playing, but the Ravens took the division and are still a dangerous team when they're healthy.

10. Baltimore Ravens 10-5 (Last Week: NR):  The Ravens got back on the winning track by defeating the hapless Giants. Baltimore has clinched the division due to a better record against common teams than the Bengals, but they still have hopes of getting the number 3 seed with a win ove the Bengals and a Patriots' loss to the Dolphins. Either way, they'll host either Indianapolis or Cincinnati next week.

9. Washington Redskins 9-6 (9): It was difficult to move the 'Skins up this week, since the only teams to lose were ranked well above them. With six wins in a row, Washington has put intself in position to take the NFC East title with a win tonight at home against Dallas. They can still back in with a loss if the Vikings and Bears both lose. The Vikings face the Packers, so that one could go Washington's way. The other game has the Bears traveling to Detroit, where the Lions will be ending a very disappointing season. I don't see Detroit pulling the upset, so the 'Skins will most likely need to beat the Cowboys in what used to be the biggest rivalry in the league.

8. Indianapolis Colts 10-5 (8): The surprising Colts are locked into the number 5 seed in the AFC, but can still knock the Texans out of the number one spot with a win against Houston at home today. The Texans dominated the Colts two weeks ago, so Indy definitely has something to prove today. This is a big game for the Colts to establish momentum going into the playoffs.

7. San Francisco Forty-Niners 10-4-1 (3): The Niners dropped from number three last week with a smackdown at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks. I know one game doesn't always matter, but a 42 - 13 loss this close to the playoffs has to be disturbing to coach Jim Harbaugh. They need to regroup and get back on track this week. Fortunately for them, they get to play one of the worst teams in the league, the Arizona Cardinals. A win and they clinch the NFC West and can still get a first round bye if the Packers lose as well. I really wouldn't want to be the Cardinals today. This one could get very ugly.

6. Houston Texans 12-3 (2): The Texans looked uninspired and just plain lousy in a home loss to the Vikings in a game that meant a lot. Even though they can still clinch home-field advantage with a win or losses by the Patriots and the Broncos, they had their chance to wrap things up last week and instead fell flat on their collective faces. In fact, the Texans could fall to as far as the number three seed with a loss and wins by the Patriots and Broncos.

5. Green Bay Packers 11-4 (6): The Packers have won four straight games and are rounding into playoff form. They need a win to secure the number two seed, a first round bye and a home game at Lambeau Field in two weeks. Green Bay in January is no picnic for visiting teams, so today's game against Minnesota is huge for both teams. The Vikings pretty much have to win, or hope for losses by the Bears, Cowboys and Giants. This should be a terrific game with a playoff atmosphere.

4. Atlanta Falcons 13-2 (5): The Falcons took care of business last week and are the only playoff contender in the NFC who has clinched their spot and can't improve their position with a win. They have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs but would still like to gain momentum going into the bye week. I still think the Falcons are a little soft and aren't built for the playoffs, but you can't argue with the best record in the NFL at this point.

3. New England Patriots 11-4 (4): The Patriots aren't as hot as they were a few weeks ago, but they are still a very dngerous playoff team with something to play for today. They are still alive for the number one seed, at least for now. The Texans - Colts  and Ravens - Bangals game will probably be completed by the time New England's game against the Dolphins begins, which will help crystallize what they have at stake in the game. The tough part is that they really need a Broncos loss, a very unlikely scenario given that Denver hosts the Chiefs today. However, this is the NFL and stranger things have happened.

2. Seattle Seahawks 10-5 (7): It was impossible to ignore the Seahawks after they dismantled the 49ers last week. Pete Carroll has his team playing at a very high level during their four game winning streak. They still have an outside chance for the NFC West crown, but they'll need the 'Niners to lay and egg at home against the Cardinals. Right now, the Seahawks have at least clinched the number five seed and appear headed on the road for the playoffs. Trust me, no one wants to have to go to Seattle to play this team.

1. Denver Broncos 12-3 (1): Denver's the hottest team in the league, sporting a ten game winning streak. They'll know by kickoff if they have a chance for the number one seed. A win is still needed to stay ahead of the Patriots to clinch the number two seed and get a bye and a home game. I don't see Peyton Manning letting the Broncos stub their toe against a pretty weak Kansas City Chiefs team, especially at home. If the Texans lose, the road to the Super Bowl will go through Denver, a very tough place to play.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Weekend Bowl Forecast

Bowl Season Cranks Up: With four more bowls between now and Saturday night, college football junkies will have plenty to watch. Even though only one ranked team is in action, the match-ups are compelling and fairly difficult to predict.

Poinsettia Bowl, San Diego, Dec. 20:

BYU (7-5) vs. San Diego St. (9-3): BYU lost four of its five games by a total of 13 points to tough teams. San Diego State has won seven games in a row, including a win over Boise St. I had originally gone with BYU in this one, but after looking at it more closely I have decided to go with the Aztecs, who will be playing at home. This could be a very close game and should be entertaining as well. SDSU 27 BYU 21.

Beef O'Brady's Bowl, St. Petersburg, Fla., Dec. 21:

Ball State (9-3) vs. UCF (9-4): Ball St. has won six games in a row. UCF's only losses in the last nine games have come to Tulsa, the last one in overtime in the Conference USA championship game. Ball St. played in a very underrated conference and because of that I am going to go with them in this game. UCF cruised thorough a weak schedule, while Ball St. slugged its way to nine wins. Ball St. 31 UCF 27.

New Orleans Bowl, New Orleans, Dec. 22:

East Carolina (8-4) vs. University of Lousiana-Lafayette (8-4):  This is another difficult pick, but Conference USA was so weak this season it's tough to figure out what an 8-4 record means in that league.  Both teams scored a lot of points against inferior opponents. Neither one pulled an upset over BCS opponents. Regardless of the outcome, this could be a very good game. ULL will be playing close to home and that's why I give them the edge. ULL 34 ECU 31.

MAACO Bowl, Las Vegas, Dec. 22:

Washington (7-5) vs. Boise State (10-2): Boise St. is the only ranked team playing over the weekend. They should be the clear favorite, and they are. However, Washington is a program on the rise and has motivation coming off an overtime loss to their chief rival, Washington St. Boise St. has one of the best bowl records in recent memory, especially against BCS conference opponents. That points to coaching, so I will give them the edge here in what could be another close one. Boise St. 27 Washington 24.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

NFL Rankings

A Little Shakeup as The Playoff Picture Gets Clearer: San Francisco's victory on the road at New England,, only the Pats' second December home loss in the last decade, moved them ahead of the Patriots and giving the red hot Denver Broncos the top spot in this week's rankings. The Redskins and Cowboys are on a collision course for a winner take all season ending match-up following the Giants' blowout loss to the Falcons. Home field advantage is still up for grabs in both conferences, so a lot of meaningful games left are left on the schedule. Fourteen of the sixteen games this weekend have playoff implications.

10. Dallas Cowboys (8-6) (Last Week: NR): It pains me to include the 'Boys in the rankings, but it's hard to ignore three wins in a row at this time in the season.  They held on to defeat the Steelers and host a very inconsistent New Orleans team, where a win could set up a winner take all showdown with the Redskins on the last day of the season. I like the way the Cowboys are playing defense and will probably give the Saints a lot of problems on Sunday.

9. Washington Redskins (8-6) (10): Even without RGIII, the 'Skins were able to take care of business in Cleveland, dominating the second half behind a strong defense and rookie QB Kirk Cousins to win their fifth game in a row. Paired with the the Giants' embarrassing loss at Atlanta, Washington now controls their own destiny in the NFC East as they head to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles. The only motivation Philadelphia has is to spoil a rival's opportunity to stay in playoff contention. It's apparent that Andy Reid will not be with the Eagles next season and Michael Vick is probably headed elsewhere, so it is a franchise in transition and will need quite an effort to defeat the Redskins.

8. Indianapolis Colts (9-5) (6): Despite their loss at Houston on Sunday, the Colts are still just one win away from clinching a playoff bid, led by rookie sensation Andrew Luck. They head to Kansas City this week to play one of the most ineffective teams in the league. The fact that the Colts decided to overhaul their team by not signing Peyton Manning, making changes in the coaching staff and the front office and drafting Andrew Luck makes Indy's season pretty remarkable. The Chiefs have had a difficult season, both on and off the field, and we'll see what kind of fight they have left.

7. Seattle Seahawks (9-5) (9): I could probably make a case for the Seahawks to be ranked much higher than seventh this week. They've won their last three games, the last two by a combined 108 - 17. True, the Cardinals and Bills are not among the league's elite, but those are college type blowouts, not what we generally see in the NFL. The Seahawks control their own destiny for the top wildcard spot and are still in contention for the NFC West title. The weekend's last game has the Forty Niners traveling to Seattle, where the Seahawks are undefeated this season. Even with a victory this week, it's unlikely the Seahawks will win the division, given that San Francisco ends the season at home against the hapless Cardinals.

6. Green Bay Packers (10-4) (5): The Packers' drop from five to six was really more about elevating the Falcons from seventh to fifth. Green Bay won a tough game against the Bears to clinch the NFC North and are still mathematically in the race for home field advantage. For the Packers, that can be quite an advantage, but it will take two wins for Green Bay and a lot of help from the Falcons and the Niners. Stranger things have happened. The Pack hosts the Titans who are coming off a very ugly win over the Jets. Aaron Rodgers should lead them to another late season win at Lambeau Field.

5. Atlanta Falcons (12-2) (7): The Falcons showed me a lot in their dismantling of the Giants last week. That game had a playoff feel and Atlanta showed up in a big way. The Falcons are one win away from clinching home field, which for the first time they may be ready to exploit. Atlanta travels to Detroit to play an underachieving Lions squad in a Saturday night game. Detroit is 4-10, but with Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson they can still be dangerous. However, I expect the Falcons to win the game.

4. New England Patriots (10-4) (1): The Pats spotted the Niners twenty-eight points and still almost pulled out a victory. However, the one aspect New England's game that has been suspect, it's secondary, was exposed early in the game. With Denver and Houston in front of them at the moment, it appears that the Patriots will probably have to go on the road for a couple of games to reach the Super Bowl. This week they head to Jacksonville and I just don't see any way the Jaguars can compete in this one.

3. San Francisco Forty-Niners (10-3-1) (3): Even though the Falcons have a better record, I still believe the Niners, especially after going into Foxboro and beating the Pats, are a better team. They're built for the playoffs with a strong defense and tough running game. However, they face a very difficult challenge this week in Seattle. This game will tell us a lot about both teams. No one wants to go into Seattle with the division on the line. I can't wait for this one.

2. Houston Texans (12-2) (4): The Texans did what they had to in putting the Colts in their place. The AFC playoffs will be brutal, regardless of how thing transpire in the next two weeks. Houston can clinch home field with a win at home against Minnesota this week. They own a win over Denver that gives the Texans the tiebreaker over the Broncos. The Vikings are still in the playoff hunt and Adrian Peterson is on fire, so Houston faces a tough task. If the Texans fail to win this week, they'll have to win at Indianapolis in a quick rematch with the Colts.

1. Denver Broncos (11-3) (2): Peyton Manning is putting together a great comeback season and had led the Broncos to nine consecutive victories. Their last two games are at home against Cleveland and Kansas City, two teams that already have the golf clubs packed and are likely to see significant changes in the offseason. Even though the division has been clinched, they can still get home-field advantage if the Texans fail to win one of their last two. Denver needs to keep winning to get a home playoff game, as they also lost to New England, so the Pats have the tiebreaker on them.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuesday Musings: NFL, College Bowl Games, Tiger, The NBA

The Jets, Really? Coming off two meaningful and good performances by the Redskins two weeks ago and the Patriots last week, ESPN ended up with a dog of a game last night. Mike Tirico actually sounded relieved the atrocity was over when Mark Sanchez fumbled the snap away to essentially end the game. That was following a 19 yard punt by the Titans that apparently put the Jets back into the game with fifty-three seconds left. Of course, that was following a Sanchez interception that apparently put the Titans in the driver's seat. Okay, you get the picture. Ugly game, ugly ending. Ugly score, with only twenty-four total points in a league designed to allow me to have a chance to complete passes. At least the Jets are out of playoff contention and they can now slink quietly into the offseason.

Australian Resort Owner Displays His Ignorance: I just love it when people take shots at Tiger Woods, such as the one this week when Clive Palmer, whose resort hosted the Australian PGA Championship this past week. Apparently, he doesn't think Tiger Woods represents the future of golf and would prefer that the second-best player of all-time, at least statistically, not play in his event. He cited Rory McElroy as the future, not Tiger. But Palmer doesn't leave it there, where I guess you could say he had a point. Instead, he cites Australian Peter Senior as a better example of the player he wants in the field. Senior is 53 years old and has won exactly four European Tour events in his long career. Tiger wins that many in a month. So let's see: A 36 year-old with 14 career major victories and three PGA tour victories just this year is not the future, but a 53 year-old journeyman is. Also, whether you personally like Tiger or not, ratings and attendance at tournaments in which he plays are 60% higher than when he doesn't. As Colin Cowherd of ESPN points out, that makes Tiger Woods more popular than the sport in which competes. Nice move, Clive! Too bad his last name is Palmer...

Bowl Update: I'm 2-0 so far in my bowl picks, thanks primarily to Nevada's collapse that allowed Arizona to score two touchdowns in the last forty-two seconds in the New Mexico Bowl. It was a stunning comeback by the Wildcats or a monumental egg laid by Nevada, depending on your perspective. That just goes to show the unprectability of bowl games. The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl lacked the same thrilling ending, as Utah State capped a very good season with a 41-15 win over Toledo, a team that struggled down the stretch this season after upsetting unbeaten Cincinnati. I'm still trying to decide who to pick in tomorrow's Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego, where the 9-3 Aztecs of San Diego State essentially host 7-5 BYU. I originally picked BYU, but with the Aztecs at home and winners of seven straight, I may reconsider. Stay tuned for tomorrow's blog for my final pick.

NFL Playoff Picture: The last two weeks should be fun in the NFL. There are still a lot of teams alive, at least for wild card spots. Seven teams are in, but no one has clinched home field yet, so the games still matter, at least for one more week. Dallas and Washington both control their own destiny for the NFC East title, the only division without a team that's clinched a playoff berth. It's likely the winner of the match-up between those two the last game of the season will take the division crown, leaving the New York Giants high and dry.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Today's Bowl Predictions and more...

Okay, they're not the Rose Bowl: I admit it, only true college football junkies will realize that today kicks off the bowl season. I'm going to try to make these two games sound like each one is for the national championship, so please forgive the hyperbole.

New Mexico Bowl, Albequerque, New Mexico: Arizona, Pac-12 (7-5) vs. Nevada, Mountain West (7-5)
Both of these teams can score a lot of points, so look for an exciting, high scoring game. Arizona, under first year coach Rich Rodriguez, is trying to lay the groundwork for an improved season next year. Nevada will be trying to pull the upset over a BCS conference team. Neither team plays much defense. It should be a good watch, but I have to go with Arizona on this one. Arizona 41 Nevada 35

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (seriously, I'm not making this up), Boise, Idaho: Utah St., Western Athletic Conference, (10-2) (BCS rank 22) vs. Toledo, Mid-American Conference, (9-3)
This game will be played on the blue turf at Boise St. University. I could go crazy with the puns on this one, but I'll spare you. Utah State had a terrific season while Toledo comes from what is probably the most under-rated conference in the country. Utah State's two losses came when their offense sputtered against Wisconsin and BYU. They held the Badgers to sixteen points in a two point loss and could only manage a field goal in a 6-3 loss to BYU. Toledo opened the season at Arizona with a 24 - 17 setback and then reeled off eight wins in a row, including a big win against previously unbeaten Cincinnati. But Utah State got their offense going late in the year, while Toledo stumbled a bit. I'm taking Utah State in this one. Utah State 38 Toledo 34.

College Football Merry-Go-Round: Every year at this time there is a lot of conversation about the impact of college coaches taking other jobs before their contracts have expired. This year it was even reported that Tommy Tubberville at Texas Tech actually left a restaurant full of recruits on his way to taking the job at Cincinnati. I'm not sure what really transpired, but it certainly made for a good story. However, the bigger college football becomes, the more money is at stake, especially in the coaching ranks. I'm not sure what can be done. The only ones that seem to be left out of the money grab are the very ones performing on the field. Should the NCAA step in make it imperative that coaches have to fulfill their contracts? I'm not sure that will work either, since the schools can just do one year deals and have another arrangement that isn't necessarily made public or divulged to the NCAA. Even the big buyouts don't seem to act as a deterrent, given the appetite for boosters to pony up the money for top coaches. It's just incumbent on the kids and their parents to do the due diligence necessary and to make commitments to schools and programs as opposed to coaches. Even though I'm in favor of more restrictions on the movement of coaches, I just don't know how you make it work.

Hockey? Did someone say Hockey? Golly gee, I sure miss it...NOT!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sports Takes a Back Seat Today

Too Much to Comprehend: You send your kids or husbands or wives off to school or work and expect them to get in or out of the car or off the bus when the day is over. For twenty-seven families in Connecticut, that expectation was not met, due to a crazed killer. This isn't the time or place to spew useless rhetoric about guns and violence and the right and the left. All we can do is pray for some semblance of peace to eventually come into the lives of those affected by today's events. Out of deference to those families, I will not even begin to try to make sense out of the NFL playoff picture or why college coaches see the need to move from school to school. No, not this day. On this day, our prayers go out to a God to whom we are tempted to simply ask "Why?" Instead, we will ask for peace for the parents, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters and other loved ones of those who did not come home from Stony Hook Elementary School today.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

NFL Week 15 preview

Unprecedented Number of Meaningful Games This Week: Here we are in week 15 and there are only a handful of golf vacations disguised as NFL road trips. Although the 5-8 teams may technically be alive in the playoff hunt, for all practical purposes your team needs to be at least 6-7 to have a shot at the postseason. Of the sixteen games on the schedule, six are between teams with winning records and another involves a team with a winning record against one at .500, a record for this late in the season. I've broken the games into three groups:

Tier 1:

Indianapolis Colts (9-4) at Houston Texans (11-2): The Colts have won their last three and the Texans are coming off an embarrassing loss to the Patriots on Monday night. On Colin Cowherd's "The Herd" on ESPN Radio, Teddy Bruschi indicated that Houston will be out to show the Colts' rookie QB Andrew Luck what he can expect in this division match-up for the next several years. Good teams can play bad games and I look for Houston to rebound from the New England game. These two teams will play again in Indianapolis to end the season. A Colts' win Sunday and the division is still in play. A Texan win and they clinch.

Denver Broncos (10-3) at Baltimore Ravens (9-4): Peyton Manning has led the Broncos to the longest current winning streak in the league at eight games. The Ravens are coming off two disappointing losses, the latest in overtime against Washington, after which they fired their offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron. Sounds like problems for Baltimore and I tend to agree. Denver's rolling and it will take quite an effort from a banged up Raven defense to slow down the train.

New York Giants (8-5) at Atlanta Falcons (11-2): The inconsistent Giants will be trying to hold off Dallas and Washington in the NFC East, while the Falcons have an opportunity to wrap up home field in the NFC. Atlanta is coming off a woeful effort against the Panthers, while the Giants dusted the Saints. Most experts, and I tend to agree with them, maintain that teams gaining momentum at this time of year are better prepared to advance deep into the playoffs. We'll see what these two teams have for the stretch run.

Green Bay Packers (9-4) at Chicago Bears (8-5): It's all about Cutler. If the Bears' QB can play at close to 100%, I think the Bears can give the Pack a game and help their playoff chances. If not, forget about it. The Bears' defense is beaten up and not playing nearly to the level of recent years. A Bears' loss would likely drop them into a tie with as many as three other teams for the second wild card spot. A win and they tie the Packers atop the NFC North. Of course, even with Cutler, who doesn't play defense, they still need to contend with Aaron Rodgers. It's nice to see the oldest rivalry in the NFL mean something this late in the season.

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) at Dallas Cowboys (7-6): This is essentially an elimination game for these teams. Whoever loses this one can probably begin preparing for next year, although that may be more the case for Dallas than for the Steelers. depending on the outcome of other games. The Steelers looked terrible last week at home against the Chargers, while the Cowboys stole a game they should have lost at the Bengals. I expect Dallas to have a tough time with what should be a fired up Steelers squad.

San Francisco Forty-Niners (9-3-1) at New England Patriots (10-3): The Niners will be trying to do what the Houston Texans failed to do last week. It is virtually impossible to go into Foxboro in December and win a game. The Pats are 23-1 in the last decade when playing at home in December. And some of those teams weren't playing nearly as well as this one is. New England seems to have tightened up their secondary and even without Rob Gronkowski, Brady is just on fire. I don't see the Niners having enough on offense to outscore the Patriots in this one.

Tier 2:

Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-9): The Bengals are playing for a playoff spot and the Eagles are playing for...well, they're just playing. Andy Reid appears to be toast, Michael Vick appears to be history...well, you get the picture. Yet, this is the NFL and these guys can still play football, as evidenced by the Eagles'comeback win last week against the Bucs, a team that was still in the playoff hunt. These guys are playing for next year and their futures, so don't count the Eagles out, especially playing at home.

Washington Redskins (7-6) at Cleveland Browns (5-8): It's a miracle RGIII even has a career left after the knee injury he sustained Sunday. He's practicing and is expected to play, but 'Skins fans, me included, had to be encouraged by the clutch play of another rookie QB, Kirk Cousins, who completed the comeback for Washington against Baltimore. The Redskins don't control their own destiny yet, but they hold a number of tiebreakers over the rest of the playoff contenders if Seattle or Chicago stumble, which is not outside the realm of possibility. The Browns are in spoiler role, with the organization in transition and most likely looking at a new coaching staff next season.

Minnesota Vikings (7-6) at St. Louis Rams (6-6-1): This is probably another elimination game. The loser of this one has very little chance of advancing to the playoffs, especially given their tiebreaker positions. Even with a win, they will both need considerable assistance to get there.

Seattle Seahawks (8-5) at Buffalo Bills (5-8): The Seahawks control their own destiny in the race for the lat wild card spot and are, believe it or not, still in the hunt for the NFC West title. Can they overcome the cross country trip and beat a team that they should have little trouble with? If not, a Redskins win puts them in control of their own destiny, due to tiebreakers.

New York Jets (6-7) at Tennessee Titans (4-9): It's unfortunate that our Monday Night Football match-up presents two sub-.500 teams this late in the season. But with all of the drama surrounding the Jets and the fact that they're still in the playoff hunt adds a little more intrigue to the game.

Tier 3:

I might as well waste time writing about the non-existent NHL season instead of spending the effort to comment on the remaining five games. Interestingly, they are all in warm weather cities, if you include Oakland in that category. Miami, New Orleans, San Diego, Arizona and Oakland all are hosts. The visitors might as well bring their golf clubs and make a weekend of it, because win or lose, playoff berths won't be decided by the outcome of any of the games.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

NFL Rankings

Steelers Are A One-Week Wonder: Well, after climbing to number six in my rankings, the Pittsburgh Steelers fell out of the top ten after a dismal performance against a previously under-performing San Diego team. With Big Ben back in action at home, it was generally expected that the Steelers would extend the momentum gained by a big win over Baltimore the previous week. Oops! Another team to exit the list, the Chicago Bears, laid an egg in Minnesota as Jay Cutler went down with a shoulder injury. No Cutler, no wins and possibly no playoffs. Cutler insists he'll be back in the lineup this week. We'll see about that. And finally, the Baltimore Ravens fell out as well after losing to the Redskins and firing their offensive coordinator. Despite a strong 9-4 record, I just don't see them playing very good defense right now.

10. Washington Redskins 7-6 (Last Week: NR) : Despite being only one game over .500, the 'Skins are hard to ignore as they rang up their fourth consecutive victory over with a stirring comeback win in overtime against the Baltimore Ravens. The most impressive part was that backup rookie QB Kirk Cousins, not phenom RGIII, led the last drive in regulation that resulted in a TD and successful two-point conversion. The 'Skins don't control their own destiny to grab a playoff spot, but they have a favorable schedule as they try to end the season at 10 - 6.

9. Seattle Seahawks 8-5 (NR): The Seahawks destroyed a terrible Arizona Cardinals team 58-0 as they continue to push for a playoff berth. Led by another rookie, Russell Wilson, Seattle looks strong on both sides of the ball. A cross country trip to Buffalo and a return home to face the San Francisco 49ers await them the next two weeks before taking on the Rams in Seattle to complete the season. Win out and they're in the playoffs. One stumble and it gets more complicated.

8. New York Giants 8-5 (NR): The Giants redeemed themselves by soundly defeating the New Orleans Saints. That sets up a match up of division leaders as they travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons who are smarting from a butt kicking they received in Charlotte by the then 3-9 Panthers. And they have to follow that up with a trip to Baltimore to face what may be an inspired if not desperate Ravens squad. With the 'Skins and the 'Boys breathing down their neck, the Giants can't afford a letdown.

7. Atlanta Falcons 11-2 (5): The Falcons stubbed their toe at Carolina, which illustrates why, despite their lofty record, I only had them ranked at number five last week. The Giants come to the Georgia Dome on Sunday and the Falcons had bettter strap on their chin straps as they take on the defending Super Bowl champs. Atlanta has the division locked up, but they haven't yet secured home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Perhaps the loss to the Panthers will get these guys motivated.

6. Indianapolis Colts 9-4 (9): I just can't continue to overlook this team. Andrew Luck continues to lead the Colts toward what would be an improbable playoff berth. A win over the Texans in Houston, who face a short week to recover last night's disappointing loss at New England, and the Colts will remain in contention for the AFC South division crown.

5. Green Bay Packers 9-4 (8): Aaron Rodgers seems to rounding this team into form for a playoff run. The Falcons don't have home field locked up and the Packers can still finish 12-4. They'll get a test against the Bears in Chicago's Soldier Field this week. Will Cutler play? If not, the Bears will be hard-pressed to slow down the Packers' late-season momentum and stay alive in the division.

4. Houston Texans 11-2 (2): Despite their smack down in Foxboro, I still see this as a very good football team. New England is now 23 - 1 at home in December since 2002 for a reason. Now Houston has to forget about the loss and get ready to stop Andrew Luck and the hot Indianapolis Colts, who I'm sure are already devouring game tape from last night to see if they can replicate what the Patriots did to put up 42 points on what is considered a premier defense.

3. San Francisco 49ers 9-3-1 (4): Colin Kaepernick appears to be the starter for the rest of the season. He better be prepared Sunday night as the Niners travel to Foxboro to see if they can do what the Texans failed to do last night. This is a huge game, considering the way the Seahawks are playing. What seemed a certainty three weeks ago, namely a division crown, is anything but with three weeks left in the season.

2. Denver Broncos 10-3 (3): As they head to Baltimore, the Broncos have wrapped up the division but need to keep winning to get a first round bye and maybe even home field throughout the playoffs if Houston and New England stumble. Peyton Manning has his team on an eight-game winning streak and will be facing banged up Raven defense and an offense going through a change at the coordinator level.  This is one of those classic trap games in the NFL. Manning's been around long enough to know to warn his teammates about getting too complacent.

1. New England Patriots 10-3 (1): Not much to say here. Ranked number one, played like number one, expect them to continue playing like number one, particularly at home again this week. Last time I checked, it's still December and the game is in Foxboro. Despite San Francisco's toughness, it will be surprising if the Pats' don't make it eight games in a row.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday Night Thoughts

Change Rules, Reduce Head Injuries: There is a lot of energy and conversation these days about the high impact collisions in the NFL that are causing head injuries, resulting in significant health issues for current and former players. The primary parties at risk are wide receivers, defensive backs and quarterbacks. So follow me here. Currently, the rules prohibit any contact on a receiver beyond five yards past the line of scrimmage. This results in two situations: 1) Big, strong wide receivers running full speed untouched through the secondary and 2) Quarterbacks having wide open targets. The result of these situations give the defense only two options: 1) Once the receiver catches the ball, the defensive backs have  no choice but to hit the receiver   as hard as possible to make the tackle and 2) Rush the quarterback and try to disrupt his rhythm in order to decrease his time to throw the ball. These options, because of the rules, result in increased risk of violent collisions in the offensive and defensive backfields. My solution? Change the rules back to allow the defenders to make contact with the receivers until the ball is thrown. This would slow down the receivers and would also make it more beneficial for the defense to blitz less and drop more players into coverage, resulting in less high impact hits. I know the NFL has been trying for the last two decades to open up the game to produce more scoring. But the impact of those rules changes has been to jeopardize the very existence of football as we know it, primarily due to the legal ramifications of the injuries caused by the increased speed of the game. Call me crazy, but I would rather see a slowed down tackle football version than a sped up flag football version.

RGIII Still Walking: If you have seen the video clip of the play on which RGIII sustained a knee injury, you have to wonder how he is still walking. It is reminiscent of the play where Marcus Lattimore of the University of South Carolina received significant damage to his knee. The Washington Redskin rookie is listed as day to day as the football faithful in the nation's capital heaved a collective sigh of relief. As a 'Skin fan, I hope coach Shanahan rests Griffin against the Browns, considering the way backup Kirk Cousins engineered a couple of drives to bring Washington back from a 28 - 20 deficit. The Browns are playing well, but so are the 'Skins. I think the risk of further injury to RGIII outweigh the need to play him on Sunday.

Petrino Lands at Western Kentucky: Former University of Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino accepted the same position at Western Kentucky University of the Sun Belt Conference. For someone seeking redemption following their fall from grace in Fayetteville, it's not a bad gig. Petrino will receive $800,000 a year, far short of his compensation leading the Razorbacks. In addition, there is a $1.2 million buyout associated with his contract should he leave prior to its four year duration. He inherits a team bound for the Little Caesars Bowl and whose former coach, Willie Taggert, is headed to the University of South Florida to replace fired coach Skip Holtz. I believe Petrino deserves another chance to continue his career, and Western Kentucky presents a great opportunity for him to do that. Taggart has provided a foundation for what can be a premier program in the Sun Belt conference. At the end of the day, the Hilltoppers will probably get Petrino's two years of service at almost no cost, considering the buyout that will be no problem for a North Carolina, Miami or any other major college program to absorb. You don't have to look any farther than Guz Malzahn's one year tenure at Arkansas State for a frame of reference about how long high profile coaches stay in the Sun Belt.

NFL Teaser: I'll spend far more space on the NFL tomorrow, but a couple of games stand out from yesterday's action. First, I don't know whether to be more impressed by San Diego or more depressed by Pittsburgh in the Chargers' 34 - 24 defeat of the Steelers in the Steel City. Really? Norv Turner's squad had been totally written off, the popular assumption being that Turner and general manager A.J. Smith were walking dead. I doubt this game did much to change that scenario. In fact, it was probably another nail in the coffins. I mean come on. If you can go into Pittsburgh and dismantle the Steelers with a healthy Big Ben, then why are you 5 - 8? Good question, don't you think? And is it possible the Jets are still alive in the playoff hunt after a 17 - 10 win at hapless Jacksonville? Unfortunately sports fans, the answer is yes. Could this bumbling organization actually make it to the postseason? Unfortunately sports fans, the answer once again is yes. Go figure!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday Musings

What To Do With Saturday Afternoons? My wife is quite happy to see the end of the college football regular season. For her, with the exception of our mutual love of Arkansas football, late August ushers in almost four months of six day weeks. I don't understand why watching Game Day at 9 (or 8 if you catch the early hour on ESPNU), the first games at 11 and watching until the last Pac-12 gun sounds at midnight is considered by some to be a little bit on the obsessive side. Okay, I admit watching the Saturday games I missed before church on Sunday may be a bit over the top. All I can say is its only 38 weeks and one day until next season, but who's counting?

Costas' Rant: There has been a lot of conversation this week about Bob Costas' speculation on Sunday night that stricter gun laws would have prevented the deaths of Kasandra Perkins and Kansas City Chief Jovan Belcher. My feeling is that while Costas had every right to voice his opinion, as a sports fan, I would have preferred he use a different venue. Sports commentary is one thing, but he veered into social and political commentary Sunday night, and as a fan, I was at minimum turned off and at maximum offended.

Lakers Turmoil: You would think, from all of the publicity surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers, that the sky had fallen, the world had ended or Joe Montana had left San Francisco. At the end of the day, we're less than 20 games into an 82 game season. The Lakers are trying to incorporate two new stars, one of which is injured, a new coach and a radically different offensive system. Dwight Howard can't hit free throws (see below)...like that comes as a shock. As bad as it has been made to appear, the Lakers are still only three and a half games out of the fourth playoff spot. Two years ago, the new-look Miami Heat were 9-9 and they ended up in the finals against the Mavericks. Don't look now, but the Lakers are 9-10, with Nash still a few games away from returning to the lineup. Calm down!

David Stern Tired of Missed Free Throws: Let's see, you allow players to be drafted after only one year of college, so why is it so surprising that some of these players lack significant basketball fundamentals? So now Stern wants to change the rules to effectively make it irrelevant if a player makes free throws or not if players are fouled off the ball. He would like to extend the rule that currently exists for the last two minutes of the game which gives the offensive team possession of the ball after the two free throw attempts. I am by no means a purist, but that's like trying to eliminate kickoffs in the NFL because you don't want guys hitting each other...Oops, maybe not the best analogy (in case you haven't heard, the NFL wants to eliminate kickoffs and are exploring some rather inane possibilities as a replacement). Anyway, free throws are an integral part of the game. I'm 5'9, 160 pounds and have never been a threat to make an NBA roster. But when I practice, I can sure as heck make around seventy percent of my free throws. I mean, come on, what else do these guys have to do to earn their $15 million a year? Practice makes perfect, and for your information, I just made that up.

Arkansas' Coup de Grace: Congrats to the University of Arkansas' Athletic Director, Jeff Long, for pulling the head coaching stunner of the year. Literally stealing Bret Bielema from Wisconsin and the Big Ten gives him a rather substantial stable of major sport coaches in Fayetteville. Bielema joins basketball coach Mike Anderson, who is probably a year away from returning the Hogs to the glory days celeberated under his mentor Nolan Richardson. He will also be in the presence of one of, if not, the best baseball coach in the country, Dave Van Horn. Van Horn annually has the Razorbacks in contention for a trip to Omaha. And let's not forget women's basketball coach Tom Cullen, whose Lady Backs improved to 8-1 with an upset win over no. 17 Kansas last night. Obviously, we'll need to see if Bielema's success can translate into BCS game appearances for the Hogs. But if his past history is any indication, Razorback fans can look forward to some great games with the heavyweights of the SEC, namely Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Tennessee Has Its Man: Butch Jones, formerly of Cincinnati, has been hired as head football coach at the University of Tennessee. Jones has done good things with Bearcats, following in the footsteps of Brian Kelly (now with Notre Dame). But the Vols were turned down by Charlie Strong of Louisville and had even considered bringing back Phil Fulmer, whose firing started the precipitous decline in the program to begin with. Jones is one of the sharp young coaches in college football. But who would have thought a former national champion with a stadium seating over 100,000 and a fanatical fan base would be given the cold shoulder by Strong, who has SEC roots as an assistant at Florida? Obviously, the Cardinals move to the ACC may have something to do with it. As a sports and SEC fan, I hope Jones fares better than his predecessors, Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley. Good luck with that!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

NFL Rankings

All Shook Up: With some unexpected losses last week, my rankings were shaken up somewhat. One new team moved in, with a couple of others knocking on the door.

10. Chicago Bears (8-4) (Last week: 8) The Bears were beaten by Seattle and their vaunted defense was exposed a bit by rookie QB Russell Wilson. I'm still hanging on Chicago as a top ten team, but with Cincinnati and Seattle playing well, not to mention the Redskins, a loss to Minnesota this week will definitely knock them from the rankings.

9. Indianapolis Colts (8-4)  (9) I'm still not a buyer in the Colts making it to the playoffs, but they keep winning behind Andrew Luck, so until they lose, I'll keep them on the list. Even if they falter down the stretch, it's been a remarkable run.

8. Green Bay (8-4) (10) Aaron Rodgers can propel this team to great heights, but they still have issues defensively and their division is no cake-walk, although they now lead the NFC North. They host the under-performing Lions Sunday night and we should get an idea of how well they can defend the pass against a quality offense.

7. Baltimore Ravens (9-3) (5) I bumped the Ravens down on the list due to their loss against the Steelers and questions about the health of their defense. Ray Lewis won't be active for this week's game against the Redskins and Lee Suggs is nursing a sore tendon injured in last Sunday's game. A Charlie Batch-led Steeler team shouldn't have been able to defeat the Ravens in Baltimore.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) (NR) With their victory over the aforementioned Ravens and Big Ben probably returning to host San Diego at Heinz Field, I can confidently put the Steelers in the rankings. Despite their record, they have gotten healthier for the stretch run. They will be a dangerous wild card team if they can make the playoffs.

5. Atlanta Falcons (11-1) (7) They intercepted Drew Brees five, yes five times and still could only win the game at home against the Saints by 10 points. They keep winning, so I moved them up a little bit this week. I still don't think they have the toughness to advance too far in the playoffs, but they could be just a game away from clinching home field throughout the NFC playoffs, so maybe it won't matter too much. I need to see an impressive road win at Carolina this week to be convinced.

4. San Francisco Forty Niners (8-3-1) (4) I still like the Niners in this spot, despite their sloppy loss to the Rams in overtime. Jeff Fisher came up with a way to neutralize an inexperienced Colin Kaepernick in St. Louis. Let's see how the kid performs at home against Miami.

3. Denver Broncos (9-3) (3) Peyton Manning has the Broncos humming along. Oakland, their opponent this week, can be a tough place for east coast teams, but I think Peyton will take care of business there. However, this is an intense rivalry, one that Manning didn't have to face in Indianapolis.

2. Houston Texans (11-1) (2) We'll see soon enough if the Texans can make the leap to number one, as they  face the Patriots in Foxboro on Monday Night Football. Matt Schaub should have plenty of opportunities to exploit a loose New England secondary as the Texans attempt to take one more step to home field advantage for the AFC.

1. New England Patriots (9-3) (1) The Patriots were workman-like on the road against the Dolphins last week. They'll need to be more impressive Monday night. The Patriots will be tested on both sides of the ball and without some key weapons on offense.Great game for this time of the season.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Weekend College Football Recap

SEC Championship Highlight Game of the Season: Rarely does a big game live up to the hype, but Saturday afternoon's SEC title game certainly did. Not only was the game close throughout, it went down to the last snap. Unfortunately, someone had to lose. I feel for Georgia's Mark Richt. His team played well enough to win, denied by an outstanding squad from Alabama. As I stated immediately following the game, Notre Dame doesn't stand a chance against the Crimson Tide. I know the Irish have found a way to get it done all season, but they better find some more playmakers on offense between now and January 7 if they are to have any hope of unseating Alabama.

Did Nebraska Miss the Bus? What happened to the Cornhuskers between Lincoln and Indianapolis? Wisconsin, third place in the Probation Division of the Big Ten, put up 70 points on a team ranked twelfth in the nation. Can we really take this conference seriously? I mean really now. Penn State ends up going 8-4 despite sanctions and player defections. Ohio State runs the table, but how strong is that schedule at the end of the day. Sorry, but just because you play in the Big House, the Horseshoe and Camp Randall doesn't mean it's quality football. And now we find out that Bret Bielema is moving on from Wisconsin to Arkansas of the SEC.

Speaking of Quality: The SEC ended up with six of the top ten teams in the final regular season BCS standings. Let me make sure you understand the significance of this. Fully half of one conference comprised 60% of the top ten teams in the nation. What makes it more intriguing is that they play each other,  so all of their losses are within the league. Number 9 Texas A&M beat number 2 Alabama, who beat number 7 Georgia, who beat number 3 Florida, who beat number 8 LSU...well, you get the picture.  With six consecutive national championships and counting, the SEC just continues to dominate the college football landscape. Another reason Bielema made the jump from  Big Ten to the SEC.

Bowl Game Feasts: There is no question that the national championship game between Notre Dame and Alabama is an intriguing match up. However, there are a few others that should be interesting. Going chronologically, let's start with

UCLA and Baylor in the Holiday Bowl. The Bruins had a big turn around under coach of the year candidate Jim Mora and Baylor came up with two big upsets against Kansas State and Oklahoma State late in the season. One year after losing RGIII to the Redskins, the Bears rebounded nicely. This game could be a barn burner.

LSU and Clemson in the Chik-Fil-A Bowl. Is the ACC in for another butt kicking at the hands of the SEC? This is a compelling matchup, both of whom play in Death Valley. I'm picking the Tigers.

Georgia and Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. Both of these teams had hoped for a better bowl game than this one. Can Nebraska rebound from the Wisconsin drubbing? Can Georgia play with a chip on its shoulder after getting nudged out of the Suger Bowl by a team it beat in the regular season?

Northern Illinois and Florida State in the Orange Bowl. This is a first for the MAC, a BCS bowl appearance. That's the good news. The bad news is that Northern Illinois' coach is leaving for greener pastures. We'll see if NIU can legitimize its appearance with a win over the most underrated team in the BCS.

Oregon and Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. Let's see, was it just a couple of weeks ago where we had this one as the possible national championship matchup? Yes, it was.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

SEC Championship Game Comments

Wow! That's the only word I can use to describe the SEC Championship game this afternoon in Atlanta. I mean, come on. Really? When was the last time a big game lived up to the hype and expectation? Watching that game between Alabama and Georgia, all I could think was "This is why I'm a college football fan." Defense? You got it. Tough line play? Check. Big plays? Plenty of them. Special teams? Absolutely. Down to the wire excitement? Yeah, baby!! I know I may be a bit biased, being an SEC team season ticket holder and all that comes with that, but I have a hard time believing Notre Dame will be able to stay with Alabama for sixty minutes.

I have a lot of respect for what the Irish have accomplished this season, but the match up just doesn't favor the Golden Domers. Alabama's offensive line is probably the only one in college football that can move Notre Dame's front seven off the ball. And the weakness of the Crimson Tide, its secondary, will probably not be threatened by an Irish offense that is not particularly explosive. In addition, you're giving Nick Saban five weeks to prepare for the national championship game. Notre Dame has been good at times, great at others and just plain lucky in a couple of more instances this season. They'll need all of that and more to come away from Miami with a victory.

Take this one to the bank...Alabama 27 Notre Dame 16.