He may have been beaten by Chuck Liddell the other night but this Brazilian chap put up one mother of a fight, going toe to toe with the Iceman for three rounds trading punch for punch before Liddell won by decision at the end of the third (booo)
Monday 31 December 2007
New England 38-35 New York
Having come from behind to beat off the Giants in the final week of the regular season the Patriots become the first team in NFL history to go 16-0. En route QB Tom Brady broke the record for most touchdowns thrown in a season surpassing the tally set by Peyton Manning only a few years previously. Randy Moss also took over the record for most TD receptions in a season, breaking the record held by Jerry Rice.
Ever since the spy-gate scandal against the New York Jets in the opening weeks of the season this Patriots team has been on a mission. Out to prove a point (ie we do not need to cheat, we are this good) the Pats have simply dominated teams all year long. Their consistently stellar defence has played to its full potential whilst Brady has finally been able to show off his ability at its full extent with a veritable arsenal of new weapons wideout. Wes Welker, Dante Stallworth and Randy Moss arrived in the offseason and made an immediate impact in New England. Though the Pats have definitely become a pass first offence, second year running back Lawrence Maroney and veteran Kevin Faulk have contributed significantly on the ground as well, the Patriots have a good ground game too.
Comparisons with the legendary undefeated 1972 Dolphins were inescapable as early as week 10 in the season and as they saw off the challenges from Indy and Dallas the possibility of New England going all the way was quickly galvanised into a reality. Despite close games against Philly, Baltimore and the Giants the Patriots held on to achieve their perfect regular season record. If memory serves, that Dolphins team went 17-0 INCLUDING their playoff run. If New England manage to go all the way to the Superbowl that will leave them at 19-0 and with their 4th Superbowl in 5 years or something similarly ridiculous. Should they achieve this it will leave them as indisputably the best team in the NFL. Ever. Contrary to what any of the '72 Dolphins think (search youtube for Mercury Morris, he was the 2nd string RB on the '72 Dolphins). Back in '72, there was no salary cap, no parity between the teams and less games. I don't care what kind of twisted logic Mercury Morris try to apply to the situation, if New England go completely undefeated (and god I hope they do just to shut the geriatric Dolphins up) they are the best ever, end of story.
With the NFL regular season over it is unfortunate that some of the premier talent and entertainers in the NFL will sadly not be present in the Playoffs. Either cruelly pipped at the post by another franchise, by losing too many games early or later on in the season or by finding that winning form a little too late; I give you my obituary of players and teams who either failed to live up to their playoff potential or deserved to be in there (*cough* Browns *cough* but some other useless pile of cack made it in instead (booo Tennessee)
Baltimore - from a good 13-3 to a not so good 5-11 I dunno what happened really
Cincinnati - similar story to Baltimore, great preseason promise, failed to deliver, Chad Johnson was hilariously quiet all season
Cleveland - should be the playoffs, looking good for the first time in years, they took advantage of an off-form Baltimore and Cincinnati to come tantalisingly close to a playoff berth
Texans - I know that finishing 8-8 is the best record the Texans have ever had but it could have been so much more, bottled spectacularly in the last few weeks
Philly - pretty tough division I guess so you can't really be THAT disappointed with the Eagles but... disappointing
Minnesota - so close.. yet so.. far. No Purple Jesus in the playoffs is a crime. Adrian Peterson is a shoe-in for rookie of the year and if he plays like he did this year for the rest of his career he'll be a shoe-in for Canton too.
Detroit - what was that Kitna, 10 wins? Another team that bottled spectacularly after showing some rare promise.
Chicago - same story as Baltimore, defence couldn't make the big plays they did last year which exposed a hideously weak offence. Propped up on more than one occasion by the brilliance of Devin Hester
New Orleans - late flourish not enough to make up for a poor poor season
Cardinals - I was daring to dream that the Cards may actually reach the promised land this year. Again, another team that let go of playoff glory when it was in their grasp. A real shame for a team with some fearsome offensive talent
Jacksonville (5) at Pittsburgh (4)
Tennessee (6) at San Diego (3)
Washington (6) at Seattle (3)
New York Giants (5) at Tampa Bay (4)
New England (1) and Indianapolis (2) get byes into the next round in the AFC as do Dallas (1) and Green Bay (2) in the NFC. The (1) seed will play the winner of (4) vs. (5) whilst the number (2) will obviously play the winner of (3) vs. (6).
The AFC looks set to continue its dominance over the entire league this season, the playoff teams on their side of the draw are considerably better than their NFC counterparts. Personally I believe (hope with all my heart) that Jacksonville will roll the Steelers in Heinz Field before bowing out manfully to New England in the next round. I'd also presume a somewhat shaky looking Chargers outfit to scrape by Tennessee before being soundly whomped by Manning and the Colts in Indy.
The Jaguars enter the postseason as THE team no one wants to play. Qualifying for the playoffs as second best in their division behind the Colts kind of allowed Jacksonville to enter the playoff arena under the radar. But this team has a solid running game that could throw a sufficiently large spanner in any franchise's playoff aspirations. In David Garrard they have found an efficient QB that can kickstart that offence should the running game splutter. Their defence is gonna have to step up against the Pittsburgh unit which is ranked number one in the NFL. For their part the Steelers have the experience of winning a Superbowl a year or two ago and an offence that operates in a fairly similar way to Jacksonvilles. Smashmouth football (best phrase ever), like vs like... but J-ville do it better.
I reckon the Jags - Steelers could be a classic but the Titans - Chargers game... meh, the Titans seem to have picked it up over the last few weeks as have the Chargers after their dismal opening to the year. That being said I'm not convinced either of these two can go the distance. Both have young, inexperienced QBs who have misfired spectacularly this year and both teams have not done enough to convince me they can topple the Colts in the next round.. making this game somewhat irrelevant really
oh and btw I'm moderately upset that Tennessee got into the playoffs instead of Cleveland.
My sorrow at the Browns exclusion from the Big Dance is somewhat lessened by the ridiculousness that is the Washington Redskins finding themselves in the Superbowl hunt. If I remember correctly Washington not only needed to win yesterday to get in, but also for New Orleans to lose away at Chicago and Minnesota to lose on the road to Denver. Both duly lost, Washington won and out of nowhere the 'Skins are in the playoffs.
And I hope to christ they beat Seattle cos, well I just don't like the Seahawks. They probably are a lot better than I give them credit for but when you're in a division with the 49ers, Rams and the Cardinals... of course you're gonna do well.
Not to be too disparaging towards the NFC but I couldn't give a donkeys who wins the other game, though I suspect younger (lesser) Manning to bottle (again) and New York to crash out with a whimper in Tampa and then the Bucs will roll into Dallas to be thoroughly spanked by Romo's Cowboys So in a nutshell:
San Diego to beat Tennessee
Jacksonville to beat Pittsburgh
Tampa Bay to beat New York
Washington to beat Seattle
Wednesday 19 December 2007
Tom Brady, New England
Peyton Manning, Indianapolis
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego
Joseph Addai, Indianapolis
Willie Parker, Pittsburgh
Lorenzo Neal, San Diego
Randy Moss, New England
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis
Braylon Edwards, Cleveland
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Cincinnati
Antonio Gates, San Diego
Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City
Again, boo-erns to the offensive line; 3 from New England, 1 from Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Indianapolis and San Diego
Jared Allen, Kansas City
Kyle Vanden Bosch, Tennessee
Jason Taylor, Miami
Albert Haynesworth, Tennessee
Vince Wilfork, New England
Jamal Williams, San Diego
James Harrison, Pittsburgh
Mike Vrabel, New England
Shawne Merriman, San Diego
DeMeco Ryans, Houston
Ray Lewis, Baltimore
Champ Bailey, Denver
Asante Samuel, New England
Antonio Cromartie, San Diego
Ed Reed, Baltimore
Bob Sanders, Indianapolis
Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh
I would like to point out that it is STUPIDLY hard to find highlight vids of AFC players on youtube
I do my best
Brett Favre, Green Bay
Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle
Tony Romo, Dallas
Marion Barber, Dallas
Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia
Tony Richardson, Minnesota
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona
Terrell Owens, Dallas
Donald Driver, Green Bay
Torry Holt, St. Louis
Jason Witten, Dallas
Chris Cooley, Washington
I'm not wasting my time on the offensive line suffice to say 3 from Dallas, 2 from Minnesotta, 1 from Philly, 1 from Seattle and 1 from Washington
Aaron Kampman, Green Bay
Patrick Kerney, Seattle
Osi Umenyiora, N.Y. Giants
Kevin Williams, Minnesota
Pat Williams, Minnesota
Tommie Harris, Chicago
Julian Peterson, Seattle
DeMarcus Ware, Dallas
Lance Briggs, Chicago
Lofa Tatupu, Seattle
Patrick Willis, San Francisco
Al Harris, Green Bay
Marcus Trufant, Seattle
Terence Newman, Dallas
Sean Taylor, Washington
Ken Hamlin, Dallas
Darren Sharper, Minnesota
With Devin Hester, Chicago on special teams
Monday 17 December 2007
Not content with ruining this season for their own fans, the Baltimore Ravens seem to be going out of their way to disappoint just about everybody who follows the NFL this year. Miami were three, THREE games away from a 'Black Season'. 0-16, it would have stood as the worst record ever in the NFL and could have acted as a fitting reflection of the Patriots 16-0 record (the one and only team to have a completely perfect season were the 1972 Dolphins, more on that in a bit). It was essentially a done deal, Miami play New England next week and after Brady had done a number on their piss poor defence Carson Palmer and his Bengalis will most probably rip the Dolphins to shreds in the last week of the season. All Baltimore needed to do, the only thing every NFL fan (bar Miami fans I guess) prayed for the Ravens to do was just not to suck for one game... one game... please?
Miami 22-16 Baltimore
... goddammit... the worst thing about this game is that the Ravens should have won it. The tie went into overtime and Baltimore worked themselves into field goal territory only for 'Mr. Reliable' to push his attempt wide. Up steps that random QB Miami have who throws an absolute bomb which blows up the already porous Ravens secondary for the winning score. Miami wins, the football community mourns
Monday 10 December 2007
Tuesday 4 December 2007
"Sean is the only thing we playing for tonight, you understand that? What this means? Its about family right now. One of our brothers is going home to rest, lets send him home right" - Ray Lewis
Now I had, perhaps naively assumed, that the only team to be truly galvanised by the death of Redskins Safety Sean Taylor would be his own Washington teammates. But on the evidence of Baltimore's defensive heroics last night it seems that Taylors untimely passing was all the inspiration Ray Lewis and co. needed to play possibly their best game of the season.
And for a defensive unit desperately trying to rediscover that ruthless dominance of previous years this couldn't have come at a better time. With the Pats coming to Baltimore with an 11-0 record squaring off against a poor Ravens team that had lost its last five games everything looked set for another blowout victory for New England.
New England did win eventually 27-24 after a last ditch hail mary pass from Kyle Boller was caught just two yards shy of the end zone a time expired. That's how close this game was. Despite their troubled season Baltimore have come closer than any other team this year to toppling Tom Brady's points scoring machine holding the QB to his worst rating for the season. Even the Baltimore offence stepped up for once, RB Willis McGahee going for a buck thirty-eight whilst QB Kyle Boller showed a rare (yet still ultimately unspectacular) show of competence throwing for 2 TDs and just one pick.
Still that wasn't enough to stop the New England juggernaut as the Patriots move to 12-0 and the Ravens slide further towards mediocrity at 4-8. (At least they're still ahead of the Bengals... I hope). Despite the loss it was a fitting way for one of the best defences in the league to pay homage to one of the most promising young Safetys. I still love you Baltimore, don't worry
When it comes to team sports I have to admit I'm a BIG fan of solid defences. I love the organisation and structure allied to the controlled aggression and overall meanness of a good, aggressive defensive unit. The refusal to submit, to never give an inch and more, to make your opponent regret even trying. In almost every sport defensive players are the enforcers, the biggest, ugliest fuckers on the squad that you simply do not mess with. There is a degree of sadistic satisfaction that comes with some poncy forward/back/offensive (football/rugby/yank football) player getting his deserved comeuppance for his impudence in attack. I like to think of an attacking player as a lamb, a wee lamb being mercilessly pursued and cut down by a pack of wolves. Like a pack of wolves every defence needs a leader, a general to orchestrate and lead his charges, preferably by example. When it all comes together A rock solid defence (contrary to what others may think) is simply the greatest spectacle to watch on tv.
And what's better than a rock solid defence? One with a damn fine nickname. The "Steel Curtain" was the affectionate term used to describe the Pittsburgh Steelers defence of the 1970s, arguably the most dominate defensive unit in NFL history. In 1976 this defence was at its peak. With the Steelers opening the season 1-4 and losing their starting QB, the defence carried the franchise through the rest of the year. Led by MLB Jack Lambert (pictured above and video below) They allowed a frankly ridiculous 2 touchdowns in the next nine games. Eight of the '76 curtain made Pro Bowl that year with Lambert named defensive MVP for the entire league in recognition of his inspirational leadership.
Sunday 2 December 2007
There is a point in a competitive sports league structure when the number of games played per season becomes vaguely ridiculous. For me this would be any amount of matches over say 40. In the NHL every team plays 82. Yes, 82 games a year. On the one hand this is kinda good for the avid hockey fan as he/she would be able to watch their favourite team (or any team they like) nearly every day of the week. Tickets for games would also be easier to come by as well I'd presume. It probably makes good business sense as well, more games = more attendance, more merchandise sales at games, greater tv audience etc etc
BUT as a neutral observer in a far away land I hate this 82 games a year bullshit. It makes it impossibly hard to keep track of whose doing well or not. Stay out of the NHL loop for a week and your beloved franchise may have crashed to the bottom of their division despite standing proudly at the top of said division last Monday. The sheer volume of matches played just seems to dilute their importance. In any league, no matter what the sport is, if a team loses ten games on the trot, that should be it. Their season should be caput, the coach/manager sacked and blame pointed at several under performing players. That's how it should be dammit.
Less games = greater importance for the teams, more excitement for the fans, greater drama for the tv viewers etc. But not as much profit... dammit
So I looked at the NHL standings today for the first time all season, turns out they're 24 games into their sporting year in the hockey world and its not even Christmas yet. Contrast that with an NFL season which runs from roughly September to February with each team playing 20 games total, at most. Anyway seems my Pingus aren't doing so well but the Vancouver (hurray) Canucks are cleaning house at the top of their division. For nostalgic (as well as for glory) purposes I'm backing those lovable Canuck swine this year. Now if only they'd play the hockey at a more reasonable hour on Setanta..