Super Bowl? I guess…

…because I’m still irritated about the Patriot’s AFC Championship game loss.  Will I watch the Big Game?  Well, it starts in about 20 minutes, so I better hurry with this post if I want to.

Neither team interests me.  I, of course, don’t have a lot of love for the Denver Broncos.  But I can’t say I really care about the Carolina Panthers either.

I respect the history of the game and can see the significance of Peyton Manning going out on top…should he choose to retire of course.  He SHOULD retire, but you never know if one of these QB-needy teams wants him for next year.  You know, to put fans in the seats, not because he can still play at a high level.  Plus I believe there are a few records for Manning to still break.  In any event, there is probably a job for him in the NFL next year if he wants one.  The same might not be true for Johnny Football.  But that’s a different story…

Manning is one of the all-time greats of course, HGH or no HGH, but let’s not forget he played like 80% of his games indoors in ideal conditions.  Ok, that may have been a cheap shot, but it’s something that is overlooked when he is compared to any other all-time great.  Anyway, if Denver won and he went out a champion, I can see how this would be relevant.

Do I WANT this to happen?  HELL NO!!  My rooting interest would have to lie with the Panthers in this game.  Carolina has rolled through the playoffs thus far and have the capability to do it again tonight.  Will they?

I am not sure about that.  Here are some quick thoughts, in no particular order:

*Carolina is 17-1.  Awesome.  But it’s not like they faced a murderous schedule this year.  Division was terrible.  They played 4 games each against the NFC East and AFC South, the worst two divisions in the league.  Sure they essentially romped in their playoff games.  But they got out to quick leads and cruised from there.  Carson Palmer was playing hurt, which totally torpedoes the Cardinals.  Etc.

*Denver had two weeks to prepare for the Panthers.

*Denver has been here before.  Yes, they got walloped.  But a lot of the dudes are going to remember that.  And probably handled preparation and all very differently this time.

*Is Carolina just happy to be here?  Who knows?  But it could be a factor.

*No weather issues for Peyton Manning.

*The Broncos have a top D.  With the two weeks, they may have found a way to stop Cam Newton.

*The fact that everyone expected Carolina to be here all along and that there were some doubters on Denver’s ability to get here as the regular season progressed.  And then Denver not necessarily playing smooth games against Pittsburgh or New England.  And Denver being a significant underdog in the betting world for the Super Bowl.

*The whole “Manning going out a winner” thing and how it relates to history as described above.

The game is about to start.  All of the above leads me to believe…Denver, 23-17.  I know, disgusting.  But it’s just a feeling.  Hopefully it doesn’t mean jack…

Should Bill Belichick be fired?

Made you look!  The answer is…of course not!  That would be colossally stupid on the part of Robert Kraft and the New England Patriot organization.

I have to tell you though, some of the coaching decisions made since the team started out 10-0 this year have left me scratching my head.  Based on reactions from the general public discussed in print, talk radio, donut shops and everywhere else, I am not alone.

We all know Bill is an arrogant S.O.B. (my Steeler, Giant and Jet “friends”, among others, remind me of this often).  There are certainly times he acts as if he is smarter than everyone else.  I will allow for that.  The fact is, he IS often smarter than everyone else.  But the last 2 months or so, he may have just been outsmarting himself.

Look, the better team won this past Sunday.  Well, the Denver Broncos were/are not necessarily the better team overall, but they sure as hell were a few days ago.  There is no disputing that fact.  The Pats played about as poorly overall as I can remember them ever playing…in the Brady/Belichick era, that is.  They of course played much worse during the Rod Rust season and several other prior years as a whole.  We don’t need to be reminded of that.  Or actually, do we?  The Pats have been generally great for a couple of decades now.  Too many people have forgotten what a doormat this franchise was for its first 3-4 decades of its existence.  But I digress…

The Broncos were a big part of the reason the Pats played poorly.  Many locals are overlooking that fact.  The makeshift offensive line had absolutely no answer for their pass rush.  Even if they did provide Brady more time, would he have been able to find Julian Edelman more?  Not sure.  Chris Harris Jr. seemed to have Jules under wraps.  And the complete non-existence of a rushing game made it possible for the Broncos to just completely play the pass.  I’m not one of these guys that thinks it’s necessary to “ground and pound” and to have complete 50/50 pass/run balance.  But 70/30 maybe?  75/25?  Not 100/0 or 95/5, which is what the Patriots had Sunday.  Absolutely no one had any fear of Steven Jackson, Brandon Bolden or James White rushing the ball (I wouldn’t either).  So the Broncos could tee off on Brady.  Would LeGarrette Blount have made a difference?  Not necessarily, but more than the aforementioned three.  Dion Lewis may have.  Either way, it would have been nice to have SOMETHING back there.

Back to Bill and his decisions though.  As poorly as the Patriots played, my feeling is that if the game was in Foxborough, they would have won…by double digits at least.  As soon as they lost the last regular season to an inept Miami Dolphin team, I was lamenting the fact that they would have to go through Denver to get to the Super Bowl again.  Sorry, I was not buying the Steelers, Texans, Chiefs or Bengals (especially without Andy Dalton) as real competition.  It is well chronicled how the Patriots and Brady have struggled there historically.  It’s just a place that a lot of teams do not want to play at.  Knowing this as well as he surely knows it, why did Bill not fight harder for the #1 seed?

Let’s look back at specific decisions by Bill that still get under my skin.  And I can assure you, they did very much at the time too:

*Having a rookie (Chris Harper) who barely plays return punts in the hostile environment of Denver in the 4th quarter with a 2 TD lead.  Sure, no Edelman or Danny Amendola took away your first (and maybe only reliable) options.  But Keshawn Martin had plenty of experience (though not here…as of that point) returning punts.  Patrick Chung also had caught one previous punt in the game.  Harper had juggled a punt or two beforehand.  SOMEONE just catching the punt and then running a few plays taking some time off the clock…maybe ices the game.  A mistake may kill you.  It did…or helped immensely anyway.  Don’t put the kid in that position.

*Rugby kicks against the Philadelphia Eagles.  Yup, that’s “kicks” in plural.  Up 2 TD’s against a team that was about to quit on not only the game, but the season.  No need to screw around.  Play it straight and all the other crap that happened in the game doesn’t happen.

*Deferring the kickoff in OT against the Jets.  Sometimes if the weather is a factor, this may actually be a good move.  It worked for Belichick in the past.  But no need to do it in this instance.  The weather wasn’t a factor.  And…IT’S THE FREAKIN’ JETS!!  I don’t care what their record was this year and that they almost made the playoffs.  They still suck.  And proved it by losing the last regular season game the following week to the Bills to eliminate themselves from the playoffs.  Take the ball.

*EVERYTHING against the Dolphins.  Terrible team, lame duck coach, cornerback’s wife ripping the QB, one foot on the bus for the winter, etc.  I don’t care if Miami has also been a difficult locale for the Pats historically.  This game should have been a cakewalk, especially considering the circumstances.  What the hell was the game plan?  It was like they were trying not to win.  Consistently running the ball into a brick wall?  I get giving Jackson some carries to see where he was at.  But only 5 passes in the first half?  A lot of injured players sat out.  Fine.  But if your goal was to protect injuries, why were Brady, Gronk, McCourty, Chung and other key or banged up guys out there for the whole game?  Granted you can’t sit everyone, someone has to play.  But in this case, absolutely not Brady or Gronk and maybe others.  This whole game plan was just mystifying to me.

*Last Sunday.  Winning the toss and NOT deferring surprised me, but I was ok with that actually.  Theoretically going down and scoring right off the bat would have been beneficial, no doubt.  But Malcolm Butler seemingly playing 20 yards off Emmanuel Sanders on an early third and long to prolong a drive?  Not kicking a field goal with about 6 minutes left to cut the lead to 5?  Seemingly not helping out the overwhelmed offensive line?  It’s not Bill’s fault Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point for the first time in 45 years, but a lot of the small decisions after that just added up.

Of course, coming up with second guesses after the fact is pretty easy.  But I think a lot of people were in the same boat as the plays/games were actually happening.  Like…what is Bill thinking?  I mean, if Bill gets a ton of credit for not taking a timeout before Butler’s interception in the Super Bowl last year…inexplicably letting the clock run down as people like myself were screaming at the TV to take the timeout…and then it works out and it looks like he is a genius, shouldn’t he take some heat for some of these decisions that didn’t work out and look even worse after the fact?  No, certainly not to fire him.  But make him a little more accountable?  Usually, as long as the Pats win, Bill can be as big an arsehole as he wants and generally owes no one any explanations.  That’s pretty much how I feel.  This time just feels different…

Especially since within the last couple of days a couple of assistant coaches got canned.  So they were the problem?  Dave Deguglielmo (yup, I just looked up the proper spelling) may have had tough shoes to fill after Dante Scarnecchia’s departure.  And maybe he does suck as a OL coach.  What do I know?  But here’s what I do know:  the OL was in shambles from Day One this year.  Last year’s Super Bowl winning line?  Nate Solder only played a handful of games.  Dan Connolly retired.  Bryan Stork played less than a half a season.  Ryan Wendell played 13 SNAPS.  Sebastian Vollmer played most of the year, but some at the opposite tackle, and some he was clearly banged up.  Throw in a few rookies in Shaq Mason, David Andrews and Tre’ Jackson getting tons of snaps.  Starters for most of the year, but better suited as backups in Josh Kline and Marcus Cannon (if EVEN a backup for Cannon).  Practice squad guys like Cameron Fleming playing key roles at times.  Centers playing tackle for the first time ever (Stork)…and on and on and on…yikes!!  How was the sieve that was the OL all “Gug’s” fault?  Bill gave him the players.  And then some of the better ones were hurt.

Maybe the injuries were too much?  We will never know.  We do know a great deal of the team was hurting.  But how bad?  This is where Bill could come clean a little more now.  There are no more games and he doesn’t have to be secretive anymore.  Yes, I know that if he/the team are honest, people will look at it as them making excuses.  Since every NFL team has many players playing hurt.  But we’d all love to know.  After all, Jerod Mayo’s “shoulder” injury apparently was a torn pectoral muscle.  Sssssssoooo…who else was that bad?

Regardless, the season is over.  All in all, I suppose it was a good one.  But…can both teams lose in the Super Bowl now?

 

Not quite ready for Prime Time…

So there were plenty of fans around the region last week that were convinced that the Boston Celtics were going to hand the Golden State Warriors their first loss last Friday.  And with Golden State near the end of a road trip, without Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, being bound to lose at some point…maybe the stars had aligned?  I didn’t think so…of course that is easy for me to say nearly a week later…but I didn’t!  I did think the Celts would be able to hang in there anyway.

Hang in there, they did.  And they had a shot to win the thing a couple of times.  More on that later.  Sure, they didn’t get any help from the officials.  But what did they expect?  This is the NBA!  All the superstars and the great teams are going to get the majority of the calls.  This is the way it has been since the beginning of time.  So though you may have heard many Celtic fans complain about the refs, you didn’t (and won’t) hear it from me.

Since then?  A lackluster win against a mediocre Charlotte Hornets team.  A stinker against the Cleveland Cavaliers, without Kyrie Irving, but still easily the cream of the crop…in the East anyway.  And what appeared to be an abysmal defensive effort in a loss to the also mediocre Detroit Pistons…where someone named “Kentavious Caldwell-Pope” scored a career-high 31 points.  Ok, I suppose Caldwell-Pope must actually be ok if he is averaging about 14 points per game…but still.

Time for the next move Danny.

Listen, I have been a fan of what Danny Ainge has done to get the Celtics back to where they rightfully should be…among the NBA’s elite.  A little pompous to say that they SHOULD be among the elite?  Maybe…but they do still own the most Championship Banners…so I’m sticking with it.

Ainge has gathered up a lot of serviceable players (if not stars) and an extensive array of draft picks.  He has the services of a young coach, Brad Stevens, who seems to be universally respected.  The current lot of players play hard for Stevens, and rarely utter a blip about inconsistent minutes or anything of the sort.  They are buying in right now.  The Celtics are a competitive team, that will battle on almost every night, no matter how far they get down.  They’ll play until the buzzer and play hard at that.  They probably have a shot at being the #2 seed in the East, when viewing the vast mediocrity of the rest of the conference outside of the Cavs.

But they also have a shot at being the #11 seed.  Seriously.

Right now, they seem to be stuck in a little bit of no-man’s land.  Therefore, the perfect time to take the next step.

What is the next step?  Damned if I know.  But Danny, Brad and all the other front office insiders should.  And with the way the rebuild has gone thus far, I trust that they do.

Going back to having a chance to win against the Warriors, the C’s just couldn’t close them out.  They don’t have a guy or two that can make THE shot at the end of the game.  Isaiah Thomas is your best player.  But SHOULD he be?  Nope.  He is a very nice piece.  But they need more.  Avery Bradley seems to be continually improving offensively, but is still inconsistent.  Other “shooters” the team has?  Erratic, at best.  They gave minutes to R.J. Hunter earlier in the year and since he got hurt James Young seems to be getting those.  But they are either not ready and/or are not the answer.  5-15 minutes per game for those two isn’t going to help in any event.

The big guys?  Jared Sullinger is rebounding well…but shooting like crap.  Including at the line…62% for a career 75% guy?  David Lee and Amir Johnson?  Useful, but…Tyler Zeller?  Nice burst last night, but otherwise 11th man timber.  I’m still not exactly sure what Jonas Jerebko does besides run around a lot and hit a couple of threes every once in a while.  Speaking of threes…I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times…WAY TOO MANY!!  Sully has thrown up 52 of them…at a .288 clip.  At least he has gone from .269 to .283 to the current .288 the last few years.  But yeah, please stop Sully!  How is anyone letting Johnson shoot 26 of them so far (7-26, .269)?  Yeah, one a game shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is to me.  Why is a guy like him out beyond the 3 point arc at all?

Anyway, I’ve said a lot of the above more than a few times, I know.  So I should have some answers, I know that as well.  But I don’t.

What I do know is that you can’t possibly use all of the draft picks in stock.  Of course other teams know that as well.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t have value.

The question is, do those Brooklyn Nets picks have as much value as we all think (and have been told) they do?  Maybe.  I am aware that there are 50 plus games left.  But the Nets currently are tied with the Pelicans for the 3rd worst record in the league at 7-18 (Lakers are 4-21…side note…that always makes me smile…and the 76ers are an almost unbelievable 1-26…which after harkening back to the rivalry in the 80’s, also makes me smile).  There are a couple of other less than mediocre teams that could affect things, but I suppose the Nets pick would ideally be Top 5 anyway.

Is that a good pick?  Who the hell knows?  I admittedly do not know the impact players in the NCAA right now (and which will change once players start declaring for the draft and all).  But the scuttlebutt I am hearing is it is that Ben Simmons kid from LSU and not much else.  At least there isn’t much chatter about anyone from what I have seen.  If it’s the “Anthony Bennett” draft of 2013 (Caldwell-Pope at #8!!), what good are the picks?  Ok, so Victor Oladipo (#2), Ben McLemore (#7), C.J. McCollum (#10), Michael Carter-Williams (#11) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (the “Greek Freak”…I should’ve just said that) (#15) may very well work out long-term, to name a few.  And yes, I just looked those all up.  (The Celtics?  Kelly Olynyk at #13 and Colton Iverson (!) at #53).

Anyway, the Celtics have never had much luck with the ping-pong balls.  And if the talent coming out is questionable, maybe it’s time to start shopping the “coveted” Net picks?

NBA veterans?  You want DeMarcus Cousins?  I don’t.  Talent is undeniable.  But I am done with Rajon Rondo type players on my team.  You may say that there are boatloads of those in the NBA.  I would probably agree.  But I’d try to stay away from that ilk if I could.  Just takes one to bring down this thing Danny and Brad are building.  Dwight Howard?  With some of his recent comments, one may assume he is heading down that “bad attitude” road as well.  Kobe?  Haha…kidding.  At this point, it’s hard to know what NBAers are/will be available.  Things are pretty tight in the East and other than the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs, the same can be said in the West.

At least the Celtics are more entertaining to watch this year.  But let’s hope Danny can swing something relatively soon to keep the arrow pointing up…

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