1) Denver Dared To Throw Deep, Tebow & McCoy Answer The Call
Throw out whatever biases you may have for or against him. Tim Tebow completed the deep passes over the top when Pittsburgh dared him to beat them in one-on-one situations and Tebow succeeded marvelously in doing just that. Five of his completions were for at least 30 yards against a team that allowed the fewest number of those completions during the regular season.
Tebow pulled the trigger when he needed to and the Denver defense disrupted the mobility-challenged Ben Roethlisberger enough to stay around for overtime. That’s when the brilliance of Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, now a hot candidate for the Jaguars head coaching opening, shined through. Denver had called a running play on 21 of the 22 first down plays prior to overtime. With 10 Steeler defenders in the box, Pittsburgh dared Tebow to beat them in one-on-one coverage and did it again, with Demaryius Thomas splitting the defense for an 80-yard TD catch and run that will go down as one of the most memorable plays in NFL history. New England is next!
2) 2012 Giants Reminding Some Of ’07 Super Bowl Team
History is always destined to repeat itself, and the running game and defense the Giants showed against Atlanta on Sunday was eerily reminiscent of what we saw in 2007 when they shocked everyone and won the Super Bowl. As good of a story Denver is right now, New York surely holds the title of “the team no one wants to play right now.”
Their pass rush was once again ferocious and the crowd noise confused Falcons QB Matt Ryan and the entire offense, because the playcalling and decision making was absolutely atrocious. However, Big Blue had its best game of the season by far on the ground and were precise in the passing game after a sluggish start from Eli Manning. The strong ground game, the top-notch pass rush and the precise passing game will all have to be there and then some for the Giants to upend the defending champion Packers.
3) Contrasting Styles Will Make TV Viewers Smile
One team wants to throw the ball down the field and score points in humongous bunches. The other wants to control the clock with a strong ground game, safe passes and an imposing defense. When these two totally different ball clubs lock horns Saturday afternoon in San Francisco, everyone will want to know if New Orleans can continue the year of the offense.
The 49ers, Ravens and Giants are the three remaining conventional “win with defense” teams (Denver’s offense takes them out of the discussion for being a conventional team) and the greatest test will be San Francisco trying to prevent the Saints from making this week’s game into a track meet. Sean Payton knew on Saturday night that there was no margin for error against the Lions’ prolific offense and Drew Brees helped put on an offensive show for the record books. How will they react if the Niners control the tempo of this game and New Orleans is in an adverse situation on the road? That’s what I’ll be looking out for on Saturday, and I can’t wait for this game.
4) Watch Out For Rejuvinated Ravens
No team needed a week off more than battered and bruised Baltimore. The run heavy Texans, even more so with T.J. Yates now at QB, play to the Ravens’ strength. Baltimore was second in the league in rushing yards allowed per game in the regular season and a healthy defense neutralizing Arian Foster and Ben Tate on Sunday seems like a fairly safe bet.
What Baltimore needs to avoid on Sunday is a letdown, something they’ve had in the past. If Ray Rice gets off to a fast start, like he did in last year’s Wild Card game in Kansas City, Baltimore could put a pounding on a Houston team that is hardly battle tested. With the archrival Steelers now out of the picture, this could be Baltimore’s best chance to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Michigan State- The Spartans have been overlooked since losing its first two games, but MSU has stormed back to the Big 10 lead after defeating Wisconsin last week. Iowa and Northwestern are up next.
Indiana- The Hoosiers are doing fantastically under Tom Crean and are all the way up to seventh in the country. Their game next Sunday at Ohio State will be huge.
Kansas- With Missouri and Baylor off to such great starts, the Jayhawks have been overlooked as well. But after crushing Kansas State, they’re back in the top 10 and the limelight.
Virginia- The Cavaliers are among the brightest surprises in the country this year, and wins over LSU and Miami are underratedly impressive given the Tigers’ sneaky-strong resume. Thursday’s date at Cameron Indoor against Duke looms large.
Seton Hall- The Pirates are in the top 25 for the first time since 2001 after pounding UConn at home and defeating a feisty Providence team. DePaul and South Florida are improved and are this week’s SHU opponents.
Stock Also Up- Baylor, UNLV, Michigan, Murray State, Kansas State, Gonzaga, San Diego State, Creighton.
Duke- The loss to Temple exposed the Blue Devils just a tad as a young team still vulnerable to a road loss. Clemson isn’t very good this year, but they always prove a tough road test, which is Duke has on Sunday.
Missouri- The Tigers were humbled by Kansas State and could easily move down in a talented, top heavy Big 12. Texas comes to town on Saturday in what will be a good contest.
Georgetown- The Hoyas were extremely hot, but fell hard to another overlooked team in West Virginia. They face another overlooked team, Cincinnati, tonight.
UConn- The Huskies went on a New Jersey road trip, and lost to both Seton Hall and Rutgers this week. The unforgiving Big East gives them West Virginia and Notre Dame.
Florida- Like Duke, the Gators are an incredibly talented but young team prone to a road loss. They fell at Rutgers and lost to Tennessee in Knoxville over the weekend. The SEC schedule gets relatively easy, so Florida will move up.
Stock Also Down- Louisville, Mississippi State, Marquette, Wisconsin, Harvard.
Wins Of The Week
1/3- Seton Hall 75 UConn 63. Michigan State 63 Wisconsin 60. Fordham 60 Harvard 54. Missouri 87 Oklahoma 49. Louisville 73 St. John’s 58.
1/4- Temple 78 Duke 73. Georgetown 73 Marquette 70. Kansas 67 Kansas State 49. LaSalle 80 Xavier 70. Northern Iowa 65 Indiana State 48.
1/5- Indiana 73 Michigan 71. DePaul 84 Pittsburgh 81. South Florida 74 Villanova 57. Colorado 87 Washington 69. BYU 73 Loyola Marymount 65.
1/6- Lipscomb 85 Belmont 74. Iona 73 Niagara 61. Butler 63 Wright State 62.
1/7- Syracuse 73 Marquette 66. Kansas State 75 Missouri 59. Rutgers 67 UConn 60. West Virginia 74 Georgetown 62. Notre Dame 67 Louisville 65. Tennessee 67 Florida 56. Arkansas 98 Mississippi State 88. Stanford 103 Oregon 101 (4OT).
1/8- Michigan 59 Wisconsin 41. Stony Brook 81 Albany 68. Detroit 76 Butler 65. NC State 79 Maryland 74. Drexel 64 VCU 58.
Games To Watch
Monday- West Virginia @ UConn, 7 p.m. ESPN2. Cincinnati @ Georgetown, 9 p.m. ESPNU. Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State, 7 p.m. ESPNU.
Tuesday- Baylor @ Kansas State, 8 p.m. ESPN3. Ohio State @ Illinois, 9 p.m. ESPN. Northern Iowa @ Creighton, 9 p.m. ESPN3. Vanderbilt @ South Carolina, 9 p.m. ESPNU. Florida State @ Virginia Tech, 7 p.m. ESPNU.
Wednesday- Syracuse @ Villanova, 7 p.m. ESPN2. Kentucky @ Auburn, 8 p.m. ESPN3. Missouri @ Iowa State, 8 p.m. ESPN3. Rutgers @ Pitt, 7 p.m. ESPN3. Texas A&M @ Texas, 9 p.m. ESPN2.
RPI Top 25
Syracuse, Seton Hall, Duke, Baylor, Indiana, Michigan State, UConn, Gonzaga, Georgetown, Kentucky, Ohio State, Southern Miss, West Virginia, Illinois, Dayton, UNLV, Kansas, Kansas State, Alabama, Marquette, Long Beach State, UNC, Northern Iowa, Michigan, Temple.
Stony Brook, Dayton/La Salle, Virginia, Belmont, Baylor, Syracuse, Weber State, UNC Ashville, Michigan State, Long Beach State, George Mason, Southern Mississippi, Cleveland State, Iona, Harvard, Ball State, Norfolk State, Creighton, LIU, Murray State, Colorado, Bucknell, Kentucky, Davidson, Lamar, Texas Southern, Oral Roberts, Middle Tennessee State, Saint Mary’s, Nevada.
Wings Halt Hawks In Crowded, Sensational Central
Pavel Datsyuk’s overtime goal gave Detroit a 3-2 win over Chicago on Sunday to set up some extremely unique circumstances in a crowded and talented Central Division.
The Red Wings’ win gave them 53 points, but getting to overtime netted the Blackhawks a point as well. So now Detroit and Chicago are in a three-way tie with St. Louis for first place and three of the top five spots in the Western Conference are occupied by this longtime rivaled trio. It was the fourth straight loss for the Blackhawks, whose captain knows things have been rough for his team over the last week.
“It’s been a tough stretch for us the last couple games,” Jonathan Toews said. “We played better. We were more deserving of two points, we just didn’t find a way to close it out. You’ve just got to be smart and try to limit mistakes against that team. They found a way.”
Patrick Sharp scored his 20th goal of the season for Chicago in the first period, but left the game with an undisclosed upper body injury. The Red Wings currently hold the second spot in the conference, with Chicago fourth and St. Louis fifth. The Blues have won three in a row and are an overlooked threat. It should be a fantastic division race in the second half.
Marchand’s Clip Makes Him Latest Concussion Culprit
Boston winger Brad Marchand claimed he was protecting himself when he went low and clipped Vancouver D Sami Salo in their Stanley Cup Finals rematch on Saturday, ultimately won 4-3 by the Canucks. What resulted was a concussion for Salo, a five-minute major and a game misconduct for Marchand and a likely deserved suspension coming.
“I did go under him,” Marchand said Sunday. “But I felt the base contact was about his hip point. That’s usually a pretty legal hit from what I’ve seen in the past. I have no idea how the league feels about it. I guess we’ll see.”
The league should drop the hammer on Marchand, or any player who causes a concussion on a dangerous hit, no matter the intention. Perhaps that will change the players’ mindsets so that they don’t put themselves in these dangerous situations that could not only end careers, but permanently harm players’ quality of life.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault was extremely frank and candid about the situation: ”What Marchand did there, you could end a player’s career doing that and I’ve never seen Sami Salo take a run at any player in the NHL,” Vigneault said. “All I’ve seen Sami Salo do is play with integrity and play the right way. Sometimes it takes the league time to figure things out and there’s a difference between a good hip check when the player is coming down on you one-on-one with the puck and what we saw Marchand do with his definite attempt to injure. Something needs to happen.”
Whether Marchand had the intent to injure not, the league needs to insure that players don’t have that mindset and won’t put themselves into those dangerous circumstances in the future. Lengthier suspensions and larger fines for players who cause head injuries could be the answer. With an unbelievably large number of concussions being suffered by players, something has to be done as soon as possible to remedy this dangerous situation.
Team of the Week- New York Rangers
Beating three Eastern Conference playoff teams in one week, including Philadelphia in an exciting comeback in last week’s Winter Classic, gets the Blueshirts the award over hot teams San Jose, St. Louis and Toronto. After the win in Philadelphia, New York came home to get a thrilling OT win over Florida on a Marian Gaborik goal. They finished the week Friday night in Pittsburgh with a 3-1 win over the Pens led by Brandon Dubinsky’s shorthanded goal in the second period. Quite a week for the NHL’s best team.
Forward of the Week- Lars Eller, Montreal Canadiens
He had nine career goals going into last Wednesday’s game against the Jets, but Eller surprised the league with a four goal, one assist game in a 7-3 win for Montreal. ”It might be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, four goals,” Eller said. His moment in the sun garners him the coveted weekly award. Ilya Kovalchuk, Danny Briere and Shane Doan were other finalists.
Goalie of the Week- Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
The 29-year-old Swede made two starts against top 10 offenses and won both games with some incredible saves in huge moments, including a third period penalty shot in the Winter Classic. In that game in Philadelphia, King Henrik saved 34 shots in a 3-2 win. In Pittsburgh on Friday night, Lundqvist stopped 37 of 38 shots to earn the award.
Top Five Power Poll
1) New York Rangers (2)- An impressive week coupled with Chicago’s skid give the Blueshirts the top spot in terms of points and this important and influential poll.
2) Vancouver Canucks (4)- A huge win on Saturday over Boston vaulted Vancouver into the top spot in the West, for the time being.
3) Boston Bruins (3)- They’re still beating teams by extremely large margins, see last week’s Calgary and New Jersey games, but the loss to Vancouver kept them from moving up.
4) Detroit Red Wings (5)- The win over Chicago on Monday allowed the Wings to move up as they battle in a hotly contested Central Division.
5) St. Louis Blues (N/R)- Chicago’s losing and the Blues winning streak gives them a tenuous hold on the final spot in the ranking.
Games To Watch
Monday- Two interesting games make up the schedule, with the highlight being Vancouver visiting Florida in a battle of division leaders.
Tuesday- Besides the teams that played on Monday, the other 26 NHL teams play on Tuesday night. Minnesota will look to turn things around on the NBC Sports Network, as they take on San Jose. Ottawa is among the hottest teams in the league as they visit Pittsburgh.