Archive for January, 2012

WATERCOOLER CHAT: KC PAST BEARS, FISHER TO RAMS, MARTZ QUITS

In college basketball, the surprise team of the years has been the Baylor Bears.  People expected them to be good, but not still undefeated by this point in the season. Baylor, remember, was a basketball program in turmoil just about 5 years ago, when one player killed another on the team.  But, they’ve since recovered, and have had a very respectable program since.  Last night they took their unbeaten streak to the ultimate test… into Kansas’ Allen Field House.  Baylor has never won in Kansas, and were hoping they would finally shatter THAT streak.  Well, not so fast, because Kansas’ Tyshawn Taylor didn’t care for the Bears potent offense.  He scored 28 on the night, keeping Baylor in their place, as the Jayhawks cruised once again past the Bears for a win.  Kansas 92, Baylor 74.

In the NFL, the St. Louis Rams were predicted by many to finish in first place in the NFC West at the beginning of the season.  After all, they would have 2nd year man Sam Bradford coming off a spectacular rookie campaign.  Plus, their receiving corps looked pretty good with some young guys like Danny Amendola and a few rookies in the mix.  However, their season was plagued by injuries and their head coach Steve Spagnuolo had no answers.  Now, after such a putrid season, it looks like former long-time Titans head coach Jeff Fisher will be named the new head coach and officially introduced to fans today.   The Rams are hoping that Fisher can turn the organization around with his no-nonsense leadership style, similar to the one Jim Harbaugh illustrated in San Francisco this season.  Expect the Rams to be back on track next year.

Finally, in some other NFL news (and fittingly Rams news), it looks like famed offensive coordinator Mike Martz is calling it quits.  Martz solidified his reputation as an offensive genius while running the offense for the St. Louis Rams of the late 90s and early 00’s.  This was known as “The Greatest Show On Turf”, an offense that used to frequently put up points in the 40s and 50s.  This team won a Super Bowl in 1999 behind Kurt Warner at quarterback, Marshall Faulk at running-back, and Issac Bruce, Tory Holt, and Az-Hazir Hakim catching the passes.  Since then, Martz has made many pit stops (including San Francisco, Detroit, and Chicago) and every time he switched teams, fantasy football owners would inevitably draft the receivers on that team hoping for big fantasy points.  Now, Martz is hanging up the clipboard, and the game will miss one of the best offensive minds there ever was. 

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WATERCOOLER CHAT: WEEKEND UPDATE-DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS

FOOTBALL

In the NFL, it was the Divisional Playoffs.

First up, an absolute heart-pounding shootout between the New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers.  The Niners started out with a 17 point lead, but that wasn’t enough when the other team has Drew Brees.  Drew Brees had another of his mind-blowing games throwing for a total of 462 yards and 4 touchdowns.  But all came down to the final few minutes of the game.  First, the Niners took the lead to go up 29-24.  But then, with 2 minutes to go, Brees was able to march the Saints down the field and hit tight-end Jimmy Graham for a 66-yard touchdown pass that would appear to ice things.  But, it wasn’t over, as with just a minute left, the underdog, Alex Smith, hit Vernon Davis for a long pass that would give the Niners a chance to score.  Then, with just a few seconds left in the game, Smith hit Davis again for a brilliant 14-yard touchdown strike.  And the Niners advance to the NFC Championship Game.  San Francisco 36, New Orleans 32.

Next up, the much anticipated prime time battle between the New England Patriots and the seemingly immortal Tim Tebow.  Could Tebow pull out another miracle.  Unfortunately, all the Tebow luck that was masking the fact that the Broncos weren’t exactly a complete team finally ran out Saturday night.  Tom Brady came out with 2 quick touchdown strikes that made you think it was going to be a very long night for the Broncos.  At the end of the FIRST HALF, it was already 35-7 Patriots.  Tom Brady would stay in the game in the 3rd quarter to tack on another touchdown, but the Patriots defense finally showed up this game and completely shut down the Broncos offense.  They couldn’t do anything.  And the Patriots advance to the AFC Championship.  New England 45, Denver 10.

And on Sunday, the first game between the Houston Texans and the Baltimore Ravens was a real yawner.  Joe Flaaco started out hot throwing for two quick touchdowns to take a commanding lead, but the Houston Texans would own the second quarter behind a solid rushing effort by the Texans Arian Foster.  The Ravens offense completely melted down and their crowd was dead quiet.  Fortunately, the Ravens have one of the best defenses in the NFL and were able to hold TJ Yates and the Texans in the second half to hold onto the lead.  The Ravens now head to New England for the AFC Championship.  Baltimore 20, Houston 13.

Finally, in the marquee match-up of the weekend, it was the red-hot NY Giants against the red-hot Green Bay Packers.  People weren’t sure about this game because the Giants seem unstoppable now, but, then again, the game was in Green Bay — a very tough place to win.  The Giants are just so good, and so confident, that this energy came right into Green Bay.  Eli Manning came storming in and hit Hakeem Nicks for a quick touchdown.  The Packers rallied back, but at the end of the first half, Eli Manning threw a hail mary that was caught by Hakeem Nicks in the end zone.  An amazing catch that would set the tone for the rest of the game.  These guys have no quit about them.  In the 3rd, Packers running-back Ryan Grant fumbled the ball, and the Giants returned it down to within the 5 yard line, where they would punch it in for another touchdown, and that was all she wrote.  With the win, the Giants knocked off the Super Bowl defending champions, and will head to San Francisco for the NFC Championship.  NY Giants 37, Green Bay 20.

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WATERCOOLER CHAT: SANCHEZ BACKLASH, TEBOW MOST POPULAR, GRIFFIN III TO NFL

FOOTBALL

In the NFL,  some New York Jets players have been anything but quiet in the media about their dislike for current starting quarterback Mark Sanchez.   To the media, they said he was lazy because he has no fear of ever being benched.  Players also said that Sanchez was coddled by all the coaches and they were rarely tough on him . Right now the Jets are going to have to make due with Sanchez, but many don’t believe that the Jets can win a Super Bowl with him at the helm.  Will Peyton Manning suddenly become available?

In sports in general, a recent poll asked “Who Was The Most Popular Athlete In The Country?”  Was it Kobe Bryant?  LeBron James?  Albert Pujols?  Tom Brady?  Nope, the most popular athlete is Tim Tebow.  This is the guy that everyone is rooting for (or against) right now, but he is certainly the embodiment of an underdog story.  Coming out of college, he was selected in the 1st round, and everybody thought it was a mistake.  Then, they buried him on the bench, but thanks to a local media campaign (and the decline of Kyle Orton), he got his chance and the team went on a 6 game winning streak.  And then, after last weekend, with a remarkable playoff victory, Tebow’s stock is sky high.  Sure, there’s a religious element at play, but Tebow is definitely akin to God right now.

Finally, in college football, after thinking about it for a long time, it looks like Baylor quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III has made up his mind:  Stay in college or Go Pro?  It looks like he’s heading to the NFL.  Griffin said he really wanted to finish up his college degree, but he could always come back and earn that.  As of now, Griffin is projected as the #2 quarterback, with some people even thinking the Colts should take him with the #1 overall pick instead of Andrew Luck.  If the Colts do take Luck, it’s likely that the Rams would trade out of the #2 spot (because they already have Sam Bradford) and Griffin would still go with the 2nd overall pick to a team desperately looking for a QB (Maybe Miami).  Either way, he’ll have an exciting career in the pros.

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WATERCOOLER CHAT: CHANGES FOR RAIDERS, MULARKEY TO COACH JAGS, GRIEVING IN GREEN BAY

FOOTBALL

In some coaching news, after the passing of long time Raiders owner Al Davis, the Raiders organization was due for some changes.  The first change came when Reggie McKenzie was appointed as general manager.  And when general manager’s get the job, their first move is usually to make a major change with the team to show that they mean business (i.e. they are serious about winning).  McKenzie’s first move was to fire first-year head coach Hue Jackson. Jackson wasn’t a bad coach.  He kept the Raiders competitive, and they even slipped into first place a couple times during the season.  But McKenzie said the Raiders were headed in a different direction.  The Raiders clearly aren’t the always-respected franchise they used to be, and McKenzie wants to try and get back on track.

In some other coaching news, the Jacksonville Jaguars found their new man after firing long time head coach Jack Del Rio.  They’re bringing in Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey as their new skipper.  Mularkey has been somewhat of a journeyman in the NFL, but he was the guy who took rookie Matt Ryan and turned him into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.  The Jags are desperately hoping that Mularkey can come in and do the same thing with Jags rookie Blaine Gabbert going into his second year.  Gabbert was extremely unimpressive in his rookie campaign, and perhaps he just needs a few new philosophies to get him back on tract.

Finally, in some very sad news, on the cusp of playing in the Divisional Playoffs against the New York Giants, a very tough match-up, the Green Bay Packers were dealt a tragic blow.  For the last few days, Michael Philbin, the 21-year old son of Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, had been missing.  The Packers are trying to prepare for the Giants, but how can anyone concentrate when their son is still missing? And just yesterday, Michael Philbin’s body was found in an icy river in Oshkosh Wisconsin.  As of now, police aren’t sure exactly how he died, but it’s just a very difficult time for Joe Philbin and his family.  And the Packers are like one big family, so all of them will be grieving from this.

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WATERCOOLER CHAT: BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME!

FOOTBALL

The main attraction last night:  The BCS Championship in college football between the #1 LSU Tigers and the #2 Alabama Crimson Tide.  This year was different than other BCS years because these teams already played each other earlier in the year.  And nobody likes to see a rematch in the National Title Game.  Except, in this case.  LSU and Alabama certainly were the appropriate 2 teams to play in this bowl.  LSU won in Alabama earlier in the season, but it took them into overtime to do it and they only won by a field goal.  Given that Alabama won out the rest of the way, a rematch was fairly in order.  Plus, the team that people think got shafted, Oklahoma State, barely beat Stanford in their respective bowl game.  The BCS computer got it right this time, but as always there is controversy and the BCS is meeting to think about revising the way the Championship game is played.

So, how would it all go down? Both teams have brick wall defenses, and there were AT LEAST 10 NFL players on that field last night.  These two schools have the best recruiting probably in the whole nation right now.  The first half was as expected (i.e. anything but a scoring fest).  However, Alabama was able to get the ball moving a little bit, while LSU was completely stuffed.  Alabama would head into the half with a trio of field goals, which is actually a pretty big lead considering how hard it is to score on LSU.

People thought that LSU would turn it around in the second half, but again, Alabama came to prove to the world, on National television, that their loss to LSU back in November was an accident.  They continued to completely stifle the LSU offensive attack, only allowing LSU to cross the 50 yard line once in the entire game.  They simply couldn’t do anything.  Then, on an Alabama punt, LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu (the Honey Badger), the guy who had all the headlines for the SEC, got completely smashed to the ground.  They absolutely ripped him apart, tired of all the press he’s been getting all season.  A late touchdown by Alabama Heisman candidate running-back Trent Richardson would seal the game, and give Alabama their 2nd National Championship in 3 years.  Amazing!  Alabama only gave up a grand total of 92 offensive yards to the Tigers.  A remarkable achievement.  Congratulations to head coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.  Alabama 21, LSU 0.

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WATERCOOLER CHAT: WILD CARD WEEKEND

FOOTBALL

In the NFL, it was Wild Card Weekend — and what a weekend they gave us.

First on Saturday, it was the Cincinnati Bengals visiting the Houston Texans.  Most thought that since the Texans were banged up that they Bengals would come in and take care of business.  But, the Texans didn’t have to turn to 4th string quarterback Jake Delhomme — they got a great game out of their 3rd string quarterback T.J. Yates.  But the real hero of the game for Houston was their running-back Arian Foster.  He finished the game with 153 yards and 2 touchdowns as the Texans rolled to victory and will head to Baltimore next weekend to take on the Ravens.  Houston 31, Cincinnati 10.

Next up, it was a prime time battle between two explosive offenses as the Detroit Lions headed to the New Orleans Saints.  First off, it’s simply refreshing to have the Lions back in the playoffs again.  They haven’t made it since the early 90s, and are finally giving their fans something to cheer about.  So how would they fare?  They got out to a good start, when Matt Stafford tossed two touchdown passes to put the Lions up 14-7.  But, unless you get a whopping lead on the Saints, Drew Brees will make you pay because he can put up points quick.  Thanks to a remarkable 466 yards, 3 touchdown game from Brees, along with a very competent running attack led by Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, and Chris Ivory, the Saints came storming back to take a huge lead on the Lions.  And after that, the Lions defense just gave out, and the Saints got the win.  Next up, the Saints head to San Francisco to take on the 49ers.

Then, on Sunday, it was the red-hot New York Giants hosting the Atlanta Falcons.  Many thought the Falcons wouldn’t play so well on the road and out of a dome, especially versus the vicious NY Giants pass rush.  Well… they were dead right.  The Falcons just couldn’t get their offense going, and failed to pick up a number of 4th and inches, which only gives the defense even more momentum.  The Falcons forced a safety early in the game, but those would be the only 2 points they scored all day.  In the second half, Eli Manning caught fire, tossing 2 more touchdowns, and finishing the day with 277 yards and 3 touchdowns.  The Falcons have a lot to work on this off-season (namely a more creative offense), and the Giants are headed to Green Bay for a rematch with the Packers.  NY Giants 24, Atlanta 2.

Finally, in the afternoon game, it was Tim Tebow and the miracle Broncos hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Could Tebow actually win a playoff game?  In the first half, Tebow shocked everyone hitting Eddie Royal on a beautiful touchdown pass and even rushing for a touchdown himself.  But, in the second half, you simply can’t count out the AFC Defending Champion Steelers.  Roethlisberger connected for some deep bombs and a beautiful game tying touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery.  And we were headed to overtime. But, in the playoffs, overtime works differently.  Both teams get a chance, UNLESS the first team that gets the ball scores a touchdown.  Denver got the ball, and on the very first play of overtime, Tim Tebow connected with Demaryius Thomas for a remarkable 80-yard touchdown pass.  It was purely a miracle.  And with that, the Broncos won their home playoff game and will hope for ANOTHER miracle as they head to New England next week to take on the Patriots.  Denver 29, Pittsburgh 23.

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WATERCOOLER CHAT: PUJOLS’ PERKS, FISHER DECIDING, JONES TO STAY IN SCHOOL

BASEBALL

Everybody knows that Albert Pujols agreed to sign with the Los Angeles Angels for, essentially, the rest of his career, but the deal hadn’t finalized.  One of the key reasons was because all of the perks of the deal needed to be ironed out.  The contract is worth $240 Million over the next 10  years, with the dollar amount increasing with the years to provide incentives to stay healthy and keep trying.  But there are some serious perks that go along with this deal.  First off, Pujols must have a deluxe hotel suite for all road games.  Second, he will receive 4 season ticket packages over the next 10 years for friends and family.  He will also have a box for 10 games to host members of his foundation, and he will also have the right to actually purchase his own box between 1st and 3rd base.  It’s all part of a package from a team that knows Pujols’ skills and marketable value.  The Angels will be a very lucrative team going forward.

FOOTBALL

In the NFL, since there have been some coaching firings in the past 2 weeks, the number 1 contender for open spots is former long-time Titans coach Jeff Fisher.  Fisher kept the Titans competitive throughout the past decade, including bringing them to the Super Bowl in 1999. Last season, he stepped down from the organization saying it was time move on.  Now, he has been visiting a few teams, including the Miami Dolphins and now the St. Louis Rams.  Many think that he will decide between these two teams and possibly the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (who are in dire need of a serious turn around).  The major benefit of the Rams, however, is they have a stable franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford, and will also have the #2 overall pick in the draft, which the Rams could use to improve their defense.  Plus, the Rams were really banged up all season, and are most likely set for a comeback year next year (similar to the 49ers this season).  Plus, the Rams would allow Fisher to hire his own General Manager so he can work efficiently.  No decision yet, but he will most likely decide soon.

Finally, in college football, this is the time when players must declare for the NFL Draft.  However, two standouts this year have decieded it would be more beneficial to stay in school.  First, Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Landry Jones.  Remember, the NFL is a business, and as of now, Jones would most likely not be selected in the first round with top quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III on the board.  Plus, Jones had an above average, but not amazing season at Oklahoma, and he would benefit from a BCS Bowl Appearance next year.  Second, Wisconsin running-back Montee Ball.  Ball was a Heisman Candidate this year, but thinks staying at Wisconsin would help him get better and most likely make him a featured, talked-about running-back next season.  This year, people knew about him, but next year they will talk about him a lot, thus increasing his draft status.  We’ll see who else decides to stay or go in the coming 2 weeks.

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WATERCOOLER CHAT: JETS CONTROVERSY, CLEMSON GETS CRUSHED, TEMPLE DOESN’T QUIT,

FOOTBALL

In the NFL, the New York Jets, after two years of making it to the conference championship game, failed to make the playoffs this year.  Every season, Jets head coach Rex Ryan walks up to the media microphones and utters that the Jets will win the Super Bowl this year.  Well, this time he was dead wrong.  So now everyone is asking, “What happened?”.  There was some public stirrings between Jets receiver Santonio Holmes and quarterback Mark Sanchez.  Holmes doesn’t think highly of Sanchez, and has also been criticized lately for not trying hard enough.  Terry Bradshaw has said that the Jets should just cut Holmes so they can get back on track as a team.  Probably a good idea.  But another problem was made public by Jets back-up QB Greg McElroy (the former standout quarterback at Alabama).  McElroy ripped the Jets locker room, saying that many players didn’t care whether they won or lost the game, but rather just about their personal performance.  And that kind of attitude won’t transfer to Super Bowl wins.

In college football, it was the Orange Bowl, probably the least anticipated of this year’s BCS Bowls, between the Clemson Tigers and the West Virginia Mountaineers.  Clemson was favored coming into the game, especially since they laid a beat down on Virginia Tech to win the ACC Championship.  But that was a month ago, and Clemson has been a team that plays well when nobody believes in them, and terribly when people do and expect them to win.  That’s why, it wasn’t really too much of a shocker when West Virginia came into the game and absolutely crushed them.  The Mountaineers were playing solid defense, stopping a typically explosive Clemson offensive attack, and they were able to score touchdown after touchdown.  They were just dancing all over Clemson out there, even returning a goal line fumble for a 99 yard touchdown.  Going into the half, the Mountaineers led 49-20.  They wouldn’t look back from there, as even their reserves played solidly in the second half, tacking on even more points.  Clearly, new head coach Dana Holgorsen knows what he’s doing. West Virginia 70, Clemson 33.

BASKETBALL
And in college basketball, Duke has surged back to the top of the standings, now sitting pretty in the #3 spot.  But they weren’t prepared for a Temple team that is on fire themselves.  Temple jumped out to a big lead behind their star player Khalif Wyatt.  But, Duke, as is expected, would come surging back behind a solid 16-point night from forward Mason Plumlee.  He got them within 4 points with 5 minutes left, which should have been enough time for Duke to scare the Owls and win in the end.  However, Temple wouldn’t quit, and held onto their lead down the stretch to upset the #3 seed Duke.  Watch out for the Owls come March — they could really bust some brackets.  Temple 78, Duke 73.

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WATERCOOLER CHAT: WILD CARD PLAYOFF MATCHUPS, ANDY REID STILL DRIVING, TURNER STILL AT THE HELM

FOOTBALL

In the NFL, all the Wild Card Playoff match-ups are set.  On Saturday, we’ll see the Cincinnati Bengals, hot at the right time, head into Houston to take on a banged up Texans team.  Then, in Saturday prime-time, it’ll be an offensive explosion between the New Orleans Saints and a strange newcomer to the post-season — the Detroit Lions.  Sure, we knew they were getting better, but to see the Lions in the playoffs just FEELS good.  And, on Sunday, the day kicks off as the Atlanta Flacons, a team that is actually starting to look a lot better than they did in the beginning of the year, head in to take on the NY Giants, a team that is quite shaky, but coming off a solid win against the Cowboys IN Dallas.  Finally, to wrap up Wild Card weekend, it’s Tebow-mania, as the Broncos will host the Steelers.  The Broncos have been horrible in their last few games, and they’ll need a healthy dosage of that Tebow magic if they want to beat the Steelers.  Then again, the Steelers will be without running-back Rashard Mendenhall for the post-season, so maybe Denver can force them to pass and actually have a shot at winning.  It’s going to be a great post-season.

In other NFL news, even though the Eagles did everything in their power to prepare for a Super Bowl victory this off-season, it simply didn’t work out.   They even brought in Vince Young from the Titans as a serviceable back-up to Michael Vick, and Young declared the Eagles “A Dream Team”.  In a league as tough as the NFL, it’s not necessarily a good thing to put that big a target on your back from the very beginning.  The Eagles had a bad season, that had spurts of greatness down the home stretch, but just not enough drive to power into the playoffs.  Even though they were bad, the Eagles organization looks like they’re still keeping head coach Andy Reid in the driver’s seat for yet another year.  Reid may not get them to the Super Bowl often, but he is still a proven winner, as basically every year BUT this season, he has kept them competitive and in line for the playoffs.  This is probably a safe move, as the Eagles won’t have to learn an entirely new playbook in the off-season.  They’ll come back next season more cohesive and ready to win.

Finally, in other NFL coaching news, there was a lot of speculation that the Chargers were going to dismiss long-time head coach Norv Turner at the end of the season.  Turner had been successful with the Chargers through most of the latter part of this past decade, but in the last 2 seasons, they have been lackluster.  This year, especially, was unimpressive for San Diego.  However, yesterday, the organization announced that they were actually going to keep Turner at the helm.  This outraged fans wanted a serious change, but the owner said that when you have a marquee quarterback like Philip Rivers (who loves Norv Turner) you have to go with your gut and keep the nucleus in place.  That gives them the best chance to win.  Plus, changing coaches is a big deal in the NFL — it means not only a whole new playbook, but the entire chemistry of the organization changes. That’s hard for a team to adjust to.  And after all, there weren’t many coaches on the market better than Turner.  Why get rid of a proven, experienced winning coach like Turner in favor of some young defensive coordinator who may lead you astray for 2 years and cause you to regroup again.  The Chargers’ owner has faith in Turner, and hopefully that yields strong results for San Diego next season.

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WATERCOOLER CHAT: OSU WINS FIESTA BOWL, COLTS MAKE CHANGES

FOOTBALL

An exciting finish to the Fiesta Bowl Monday night. Number three ranked Oklahoma State pulled out a huge win in overtime over number four Stanford. It all came down to field goals. Stanford’s likely first round pick in the NFL, QB Andrew Luck had a solid game, but unfortunately their kicker Jordan Williamson missed two field goals (one in regulation and one in overtime) which would have given Stanford the win.  OSU’s Jordan Sharp’s ended up pulling out the victory with a 22 yarder to win this nail biter of a Fiesta Bowl. OSU 41, Stanford 38.

Jim Irsay, the Indianapolis Colts owner, surprised everyone (particularly Peyton Manning) when he fired general manager Chris Polian and vice chairman Bill Polian. Irsay did hint that big changes were on the way, but Colts fans are now wondering what that means for the future of Peyton Manning. Manning sat out the season with a neck injury but has said he’s planning on coming back. The Colts, due to their miserable season, now have the first pick in the NFL draft which will likely go to superstar Stanford QB Andrew Luck. Luck is going to want to play (and not sit on the bench) so what does that mean for Manning’s future? It will be interesting to see how this all plays out

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