Fan Reaction: 49ers at Packers

So several of us here at S and G had a vested interest in this gem of a playoff game. I myself am a Packers fan with Doogie and Tammy being San Fran men. Here’s my take on the game:

49ers: What else is there to say about this team? Their front 7 is great and attacked the incredibly weakened Pack O-line to get to Rodgers. Their RB is still great, posting good gains on an albeit weak defense. Their QB is a clear Pack-killer, shredding the inexperienced and injured Packers D (last real play of the game, Bush made the rookie mistake of running in and not playing contain, letting Kaep get loose). This team played hard and won hard, and is a major reason they still look good to make their way back to the big game. They face Carolina next week in what looks to be two near-mirror image teams facing off. Overall, their game I rank as a A-. They faced a weakened opponent but in adverse conditions and while they struggled to put them away, they did the job. I’ll be rooting for these guys to take the NFC.

Pack: As disappointing as the game was, I have to feel some pride as a fan. I thought they were going into a buzzsaw even though they had homefield on Hoth. Their defense, injured into inexperience beyond belief (not helped by two more loses in the first series), managed to hold Kaep and Gore most of the game, for the most part preventing big gains except when Crabtree or a running Kaep were involved. Rodgers and Lacy, with no O-line to protect them, managed to batter and push the offense downfield when they needed to. For a team that squeaked into the playoffs, they were barely knocked out. I look forward to next year when the Pack will (hopefully) have a health Lacy and Rodgers and a fixed up O-line and Defense (McCarthy is known for drafting very well since he drafts on value available not how many QBs can a team have- looking at you Jags). I give them a B+. They were a team that faced an uphill battle and were only thrown off just before reaching the top.

Fans on either side of the ball must have been on edge the whole game, but I think both teams walk away from this with their heads held high. I see both teams doing as good or better next year and look forward to the next match-up in a possible rivalry (once the Pack can take one of these…).

Team America: Puck Police

With just a few short weeks until the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics, team USA announced their final 25 man roster at the winter classic on new years day. In recent days ESPN has been pumping out their usual “Coverage” and “Analysis” of hockey, and by that I mean there has been almost nothing mentioned about it on sportscenter because Skip Bayless and Steven A. Smith would rather debate what Lebron James had for lunch… but I digress. The roster itself has proven to be an interesting, and in some asepects controversial one, but all in all this team has the ability to make a solid run at the gold medal they fell just short of in Vancouver 2010.

Here are my line pairings for the squad (In no particular order):

Forwards-
Left Wing- Center- Right Wing:
Dustin Brown – David Backes – Ryan Callahan
Max Paccioretty – Joe Pavelski – Patty Kane
Zach Parise – Ryan Kesler – Phil Kessel
James VanRiemsdyk – Paul Stastny – TJ Oshie

Extras: Derek Stepan, Blake Wheeler

Defense:
Brooks Orpik- Paul Martin
Ryan McDonagh- Ryan Suter
Cam Fowler- Justin Faulk
Kevin Shattenkirk- John Carlson

Goalies:
1) Ryan Miller
2) Jonathan Quick
3) Jimmy (PLEASEDONTEVERLEAVETHEBENCH) Howard

At first glance there are a few things that stand out about this roster, the first being that it is not by any means an all star team. While there is plenty of star power on this bench, every player will have a role to play on this team and if head coach Dan Blysma can get them to gel and play his brand of fast paced offense, they could very well be a force to be reckoned with in these games. There is one thing that is constant throughout the entire roster, this team has speed. Everyone can fly, and they will have to with the extra ice that comes with the Olympic territory (the ice surface is bigger in international competition than it is in the NHL). The speed of this squad is probably one of its biggest assets, and it will come in handy against teams like Sweden, Russia, and Canada.

This team’s greatest strengths lie in the offensive zone for sure. With players like Pavelski, Oshie, Stastny, and Stepan there is a lot of ability to move the puck and make plays happen in the offensive end. The extra ice could make this powerplay unit VERY dangerous with the level of skill and puck possession these guys have. To add to these playmakers ability to move the puck, Kessel, JVR, Parise, and Pattie Kane (Fastest hands in the west) have all proven they have the ability to bury the biscuit. Offensively this team should be really fun to watch and has the potential to carry this team far.

One thing that this team will have no shortage of is leadership. There are three players on this team that wear the C for their respective NHL teams, Dustin Brown of the Kings, David Backes of the Blues, and Ryan Callahan of the Rangers… and to be quite honest, with the “lead by example” approach that Ryan Miller brings to his game in Buffalo, I’m going to count him as a captain as well (Sorry Steve Ott, but you know who really carries that team). This is a trait of team USA that will not show up on any stat sheets, but will certainly help them in terms of playing as a unit, and that is something that will make or break this team in these games.

While the offensive end looks fast and furious, it is the defense that has some concerned. Despite the fact every D-man on the roster is having a stellar NHL season, the back end of this roster is very, very young and inexperienced. Orpik and Martin are the only two players on the blue line over the age of 24, and while age may just be a number, veteran experience plays a critical role in these games. Much like the look of the offense, this defense is going to be fast and move the puck well, but only time will tell if these youngsters are ready to stand tall with the best competition on the planet.

Another slight concern for this team is its depth. For the international stage this squad is not going to be as talent heavy as some of its competition in the field. Russia is going to have a high powered offense led by Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, and Ilya “I may not be retired after all” Kovalchuk, Sweden will be a very well rounded team with Henrik Zetterberg up front, Erik Karlsson on the blueline, and Henrik Lundqvist backstopping, and without stating the obvious, Canada’s team should be pretty stacked from top to bottom (its their game after all). As I mentioned earlier team USA is going to have to play as a unit and execute their game plan if they want to go far in this tourney, because playing wide open, chance-for-chance hockey is just not going to work for this team against this type of competition.

X Factors:

Goaltending:
If Ryan Miller puts on a performance anywhere near the caliber of his showing in Vancouver, you can expect a good run for a medal. His numbers are solid despite only having ten wins playing on a god awful team in Buffalo, but his save percentage is reasonable when you consider the guy has no defense in front of him. I imagine him being at the top of his game for these Olympics, and putting a real team in front of him cant hurt anything. If you have any doubts, just check the tape

If Quick lets in some softies like this one… welp we might have some issues.

Two way hockey:
If this team can find a way to play consistently on both ends of the ice, up and down the entire roster, they will have great success. The two way grind is going to rely heavily on Parise and Callahan to lead the way. These guys are two of the best players in these games at this style of hockey. They can play great defense, hit hard, pass well, and score some beauties. Leading by example will be key in this department, and if we see a little of this or some of that stuff from last time around
these guys could really provide a spark to the rest of the team.

Identity:
This team will have a bit of an issue finding its comfort zone, if it even finds it at all. What kind of hockey they will play is still up in the air with this versatile team dynamic. What is certain however is that they will need to match their game plans to suit their opponents in this loaded field of play. Its going to be up to Blysma to tailor up some strategies that fit this teams skill set, match up well against the opponents style of play, and he’s gotta do it all without causing too much of an identity crisis in the locker room. Who said coaching was easy?

Now time to look at what could have been. There are quite a few firestorms about who should have made this roster, some of them are justified, while others …. well… not so much.

Snubs:

Cory Schnieder- Granted he would be riding the pine pony behind two other goalies no matter how you cut it, but I still take him over Jimmy “Soft Serve” Howard any day.

Bobby Ryan- He’s a perennial 30 goal scorer, his offense is ALWAYS valuable to a team, but he isn’t very quick. GM Brian Burke says he doesn’t fit this team because “He is not intense. Intense is not even in his vocabulary.” Well Burkie, you GM’d the Leafs through some of their worst seasons ever, and have now moved to Calgary to do …. well the exact same thing. Its time to drink a nice tall glass of shut the fuck up. If there is anyone that should have made it who didn’t, its this guy right here.

Seth Jones- He may be the best 19 year old Nashville GM David Poille has ever seen… but he is still Too young. Even for this team. Definitely expect to see his name on this roster next time around though.

Kyle Okposo- The scoring and playmaking ability are definitely there, the guy has 42 points for the Islanders this season in a campaign that has revolved around himself, John Tavares, and Thomas Vanek. The Problem with Ok is his horrible defense, which kinda comes along with playing for the Isles. Despite putting up 42 points he still sits at a -2 (+/-) for the season. To put it nicely, he is a defensive liability this team cannot afford.

John Tortorella- Part of me REALLLLLY wishes he would handle all of the pressers for the Olympics, because then we would end up with jems of international diplomacy such as like this

Dubs:

Dustin Byfuglien- Yes he is a physical force to be reckoned with. Yes he can shoot from the point and can put up offense. But he is big and slow and the extra ice that comes along with the Olympics does not come with a happy meal for old Dusty. They literally had to trim the fat..

Jack Johnson- He played a critical role in the silver medal run in 2010, but has had an absolutely terrible time playing since being traded to Columbus (and lets be honest, who wouldn't) and while its sad to see a talented guy like this fall so far, it shouldn't be terribly surprising he was not chosen for the roster.

Tim Thomas- He's old. He's slow. He currently collects checks from the Florida Panthers. He dislikes our government. Where in any of this does it look like Timmy should be going to represent America in anything? Tell him he's gotta call Obama for permission, he probably wont want to go anyway.

Final prediction:
I can see this team definitely has the potential of coming home with a medal this year in Sochi, but the cold hard truth is that Russia will not be an easy team to beat with their powerful offense and the hometown crowd on their side, and Canada is ... well Canada. I see this team falling to Russia or our neighbors to the north in the knockout rounds, and playing in the bronze medal game against either Finland or Sweden. Here's to hoping, FOR 'MERICA!, that the boys can channel the determination of the 1980 Olympic team and topple those Russians one more time and bring home some gold!

merica

Wild Card Round: Playoff Predictions

Official NFL Playoff Predictions Sure To Go Wrong… But Not Really

It’s finally here… one of the greatest months in sports. After 17 long, grueling, fantasy filled weeks, it all comes down to this loaded 12-team field of teams ready to vie for the Lombardi Trophy (which will eventually be renamed the Jim Harbaugh Trophy… you heard it here first). Let’s just hope the terrible officiating we’ve been subject to all season does not directly affect any of these outcomes. On the surface, though, this shapes to be one of the most even and strong playoff fields in recent memory.

A couple of quick thoughts before I dive into some of my own personal analysis and predictions:

  • Thank God the Cowboys and Lions are not part of these playoffs. Ain’t nobody got time to watch that train wreck.
  • Don’t be fooled… Peyton Manning CAN play in cold weather. But I’d still take Brady and the Pats all day in cold or bad weather games (spoiler on future predictions).
  • Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb coming back makes the NFC a lot more interesting.
  • I believe that 11 of the 12 teams can win the Super Bowl. It’s going to come down to matchups and who gets the most breaks at the most opportune time.

 

Kansas City (11-5) @ Indianapolis (11-5)

These two teams meet again in a rematch from Week 16, when the Colts dominated the Chiefs in Kansas City. After a 9-0 start, catching the league by storm, the Chiefs finished 2-5 in their last seven games, with their only two wins coming against the bottom-feeding Redskins and Raiders. League history shows that it’s often the hottest team, and not always the best team, that ends up making a run to winning the Super Bowl. Given how the season ended, I’m not so sure it was a great idea to rest players in week 17 against San Diego, despite almost pulling the upset without the likes of Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles. Much of the Chiefs early success was predicated on a stout and opportunistic defense. During the 9-0 start, the Chiefs defense allowed an impressive 13.4 points per game. Over the last seven, that number ballooned to 27.7 points per game. The combination of an exposed defense and some untimely injuries prevented KC from finishing strong. Linebacker Justin Houston is expected to return for this game, which is important as KC will need to regain that early season defensive prowess to earn the victory.

On the other side of the ball, Indy started the season with a 4-1 record and finished the season with the same record over the final five games. They went full steam ahead in Week 17 and played a flawless game against Jacksonville. Yes, it’s the Jags, but Indy will be riding high with confidence as the playoffs get under way in Lucas Oil Stadium and the recent memory of dominating in Kansas City gives the Colts even more of an upper hand. Indy has not been the same team offensively since Reggie Wayne was lost for the season with a torn ACL, but letting Andrew Luck make plays, starting to feed the beast in Trent Richardson, and playing off the energy of the home crowd will fuel the Colts’ victory.

X-Factor: Trent Richardson

Prediction: Colts 23 Chiefs 17

 

New Orleans (11-5) @ Philadelphia (10-6)

Let the offensive fireworks show begin. The Saints are terrible on the road and the Eagles, until lately, have been oddly dreadful at home. Despite that, one thing is certain in this game: offensive firepower. Drew Brees leads the high powered Saints offense into Philly to go head-to-head with Chip Kelly’s high octane offense in what is sure to be highest scoring game of the first round. The Eagles finished the season fourth in the league in scoring with 27.6 PPG and the Saints finished tenth at 25.9 PPG. This game will feature the league’s number two passing attack (Saints @ 307.4 YPG) and the league’s top rushing offense lead by Shady McCoy (Eagles @ 160.4 YPG). However, with Nick Foles finally entrenched as the starting QB, the Eagles were able to achieve the ninth best passing attack in the league while the Saints rushing attack was the league’s 25th best. Watch out for Brandon Boykin (six interceptions this season, including four in last seven games) and emerging star linebacker Mychal Kendricks to attack Drew Brees and company. Philly finished 10-6 after a 1-3 start and have won seven of their last eight, and with a more balanced offensive attack, the Eagles have the advantage in this matchup at home.

X-Factor: Brandon Boykin

Prediction: Eagles 38 Saints 27

 

San Diego (9-7) @ Cincinnati (11-5)

Another rematch. Cincinnati went into San Diego in Week 13 and won a critical game 17-10. In my opinion, San Diego is the worst team to make the tournament. They are the one team of the 12 that I don’t think can win it all. They finished the season with the second easiest strength of schedule[1], which included four games total with the 13-3 Broncos and 11-5 Chiefs. They were gift wrapped the number six seed with some help from the officials (and the Dolphins and Ravens) despite almost losing at home to a Chiefs team who rested their studs in Week 17. Yes, I will admit, Philip Rivers had a great season, better than anyone probably expected, but let’s not kid ourselves, he’s still Philip Rivers, and these are the playoffs. It’s big boy time, not cry baby time. It doesn’t help that they are playing possibly the most balanced offensive/defensive team in the AFC in the Bengals, who ended the season winning five out of six and by a scoring margin of plus-67. Having the best player on the field in AJ Green, I’m picking the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, despite the fact that they are quarterbacked by the inconsistent Andy Dalton. After losing first round games the past two seasons to the Houston Texans, the Bengals finally get it done for their first playoff victory since 1990[2].

X-Factor: Giovanni Bernard

Prediction: Bengals 20 Chargers 13

 

San Francisco (12-4) @ Green Bay (8-7-1)

Spoiler Alert: I LOVE the 49ers. Will some teeny tiny bias creep into this pick? Probably. But facts are facts. The Niners finished the year 12-4 and have been clicking on all cylinders since the return of star wide out Michael Crabtree in Week 13. I know that Rodgers and Cobb returned dramatically in Week 17 and hit on a 4th and 8 connection late for the winning touchdown. I know, that unlike last year’s playoff game as well as Week 1 of the 2013 regular season, this game will be in Green Bay, where it is bound to be cold and miserable conditions. But what more does San Francisco have to do? They have beaten Green Bay decisively three times in the past two seasons, including Colin Kaepernick’s coming out party last postseason. Despite losing Mario Manningham, this is the healthiest they have been on both sides of the ball all season. Without looking past this first round game, there also has to be some inkling of Seattle on the mind next week, which should provide enough motivation to get them through on the “Frozen Tundra”. Green Bay’s defense has proven weak all season (8th worst in YPG and PPG) and will be without Pro-Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews, while the Niners boast the 11th best offense and 3rd best defense, despite an array of injuries which lead to inconsistency for much of the season. They can run it, and now with a three headed monster of Crabtree/Boldin/Davis, they can throw it again. The return of Rodgers and Cobb, as well as the hometown elements and a proud history, will keep it close, but the 49ers ultimately win this game and earn a date with Seattle next week.

X-Factor: Michael Crabtree

Prediction: 49ers 31 Packers 24

 

Next Week’s Playoff Scenarios Based on These Predictions:

Indianapolis @ Denver

Cincinnati @ New England

San Francisco @ Seattle

Philadelphia @ Carolina




[1] http://www.theredzone.org/Features/NFLStrengthofSchedule.aspx

[2] http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/cin/playoffs.htm

Welcome to the Bronx, Jacoby!

Jacoby Ellsbury has signed with the Yankees. As a yanks fan, this is a mixed blessing. For one, it fits with Girardi’s small ball mentality. Throwing him in with an aging Jeter will help the front end of the lineup, while McCann will fill the hole left with Grandy gone. Big question now is what happens with Cano. If we land him, the yanks will have a few good years at a world series try. The missed blessing part is the salary costs. The yanks haven’t given up anyone in a big trade, which is always helpful. But this isn’t chump change, and these arn’t kids we’re talking about. I just hope the yanks don’t burn any bridges we’ll need in the future if we ever get another good set of prospects we want to keep once our aging fleet gets only older.

In the mean time, this seems like a good signing. Too many home run hitters has made the yanks too boom bust, so I hope this is a step in the right direction.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1875644-what-effect-will-jacoby-ellsbury-signing-have-on-robinson-cano-negotiations