Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Devils vs. Islanders: Flatbush Avenue Face-Off

From the desks of:  
NO SLEEP TILL BELMONT  and  THE BRICK CITY STYX

METROPOLITAN DIVISION RIVALRY

TUESDAY
DEVILS
vs.
ISLANDERS
FROM
Barclays Center
FLATBUSH


New Jersey Devils: Cheating Themselves Out of Valuable Points Now Threatening Their Place In The Standings.

The New Jersey Devils are demonstrating the value of fast starts.  With a 22-12-8 record to date, they enter Tuesday's game against the Islanders in third place of the Metropolitan Division, and in sixth place of the conference standings.

But how much longer can Newark keep this up?  Remember how they jumped out to an 8-2 record in October?  They have played sub par hockey since then, going 14-10-8 over their last 32 games.

Just when they appeared to be turning things around with five straight wins in late December, they start the New Year losers of six straight.

Now they draw the Islanders, whom with a victory, can tie New Jersey in the standings with 52-points.

The Devils finished at the bottom of last year's Eastern Conference standings with a 28-40-14 record (70-points).  Their 14 OT/SO losses were second most in all the NHL.  Their eight OT/SO losses so far this season are once again tied for most among current playoff contenders, and tied for second most in the league.

... all the hallmarks of a young, rebuilding team.

The inexperienced Devils are nevertheless doing well - far better than fans could have ever expected.  Perhaps sooner than later they'll learn how to finish games instead of giving away points.

They can start by not exposing Cory Schneider to so many shots of goal.  The opposition is averaging 32 shots on goal against Schneider this season.  But that doesn't explain Saturday's performance against the Flyers - does it? -  when he allowed five goals on just 25 shots.

In Cory's defense, his .911 SV% over his last 93 games is somewhat reflective of the New Jersey's rebuilding.  Otherwise, he previously averaged a .923 SV% during his first three years with the Devils.


New York Islanders: Look Who's Number Eight! Thomas Greiss Rewards Coach Weight; John Tavares Takes Care Of The Rest.

Speaking of goalies, the Islanders two-headed monster must surely be killing Doug Weight.  While it would be prudent for him to chose one, and just give it a go, what's a head coach to do with two troublesome goalies?

It took consecutive wins in his two most recent starts against the Devils and Rangers just for Jaroslav Halak improving his record to 13-12-2 through 28 games.  At present, his 3.19 GAA is way above his career 2.46 goals against average, while his .906 SV% is down from his usual .916 save percentage.

Instead of allowing Halak a fourth straight start, Doug Weight elected to play Thomas Greiss against the Canadiens on Monday.

It was Greiss' 21st appearance of the season.  Entering Monday's game, he owned an unsightly 3.89 GAA, and an equally unsettling .882 save percentage.

But were it not for Thomas Greiss, the Islanders do not defeat the Habs on Monday; they do not win their third game in a row; and most importantly, they do not leapfrog over the Rangers into eighth place of the Eastern Conference standings.

Greiss made Doug Weight sweat, though.  He faced an absurd 56 shots, allowing four goals.  The Islanders blew leads of 2-0 and 4-2 before Max Pacioretti's game tying goal at 13:01 of the third period.  It was Greiss, though, who kept the Islanders alive allowing John Tavares to end the game in overtime with his 24th goal of the season.

Then again, scoring isn't this team's problem.  Defense is.

The Islanders are second in the league in scoring, averaging 3.6 goals a game.  Their power play is slightly above average, ranking 12th in the league.  Ponderously, the Isles rank 31st in goals against, and 30th on the penalty kill.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Knicks Crash Nets Holiday Party at Barclays

From the desks of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH  and  DUTCH PANTS CAN'T JUMP


EAST RIVER SHOWDOWN - III
Knicks lead series 3-0
I - NYK 107; BKN 86
II - NYK 111; BKN 104
III - NYK 119; BKN 104
IV - January 30

MLK DAY
Knicks   119
Nets       104
FINAL


New York Knicks: Michael Beasley Finishes What The Unicorn Started.

I guess those fans anticipating an MLK Day battle in the paint between Enes Kanter and Jahlil Okafor no doubt left Barclays Center disappointed.  For those graduates of old-school in attendance for Monday's holiday game in Brooklyn, a neo-clash of NBA centers never materialized.

After his acquisition on Dec. 7, and for purposes of conditioning, Jahlil Okafor only played one game through New Year's Day.  On Jan. 3, he finally began a string of five games where he averaged 12.6 minutes.  On Friday, he scored 17-points in 12-minutes at Atlanta.  But he only played eight minutes against Washington, and was limited again to just seven minutes Monday against the Knicks.

Enes Kanter likewise only saw nine minutes of floor time.  But he was coming off 36-minutes and 18points against New Orleans yesterday at the Garden.

Kristaps Porzingis led all scorers with 26-points.  But after the Nets pulled within 81-83 with a 39-point third quarter, it was Michael Beasley who sparked the Knicks 4th quarter charge.  He scored 23-points off the bench and secured a game-high 10 rebounds.

Frank Ntilikina also contributed a double-double off the bench with ten points and ten assists.


Brooklyn Nets: Brick!

Brooklyn's ball distribution was clearly lacking.  Spencer Dinwiddie led the Nets with five assists, but they only managed 16 as a team.  The Knicks had 27 team assists to go along with 51.2% accuracy from the field.  The Nets meanwhile converted on just 36.8% of their attempts, and were a dismal 14 of 44 (22.5%) in the first half.

DeMarre Carroll led the Nets with 22-points in 30-minutes.  Caris LeVert likewise logged 30-minutes, while adding 20-points.

The Nets unfortunately lost their bearing in the fourth quarter, getting outscored 23-36, en route to a 119-104 defeat at Barclays.


Prior to Monday's game, there were 13 NBA team yet to achieve 20 victories this season.  The New York Knicks are no longer one of them.  The Knicks improve to 20-24 on the season, while the Nets fall to a 16-28 record.


N.Y. Rangers: Killing Us Softly With Poke Checks

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS


UNDER SIEGE

New York Rangers: Who Fails To Answer The Battle Cry Of Henrik the Great?  Why Are There No King's Horses?  Where Are The King's Men?

Just as the Rangers were felled by the old one-two against the Islanders and Penguins back in October, they walked right into the same stiff jab and overhand right ... again.

Let me take you back to October 17; the Rangers play the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden.  Henrik Lundqvist faces 33 shots on goal and the Rangers lose 5-4 in overtime.  Two nights later, the Rangers host the New York Islanders.  This time Henrik faces 38 shots on goal, and the Rangers lose 4-3 in shootout.

This past weekend ... one day after getting KO'd by the New York Islanders, the Rangers allowed the Pittsburgh Penguins 46 shots on goal.

I repeat, the Rangers, on Sunday, allowed the Penguins 46 shots on goal.

What in the name of Lester Patrick ... forty-six freaking shots on goal..!

The Rangers entered the mid-winter recess losing two of three, sandwiching a victory over the lowly Coyotes in between a pair of losses against Chicago and Vegas.

That's when I decided to crunch some numbers.  Sure enough, my suspicion was correct - Henrik Lundqvist is facing more shots on goal this season than at any other time in his career.

Under John Tortorella, Lundqvist was facing an average of 28.5 shots on goal per game.  That number inched up to 28.9 during Alain Vigeault's first two seasons as head coach.  During the next two seasons from 2015 through 2017, that number shot up to 30.2 shots on goal.  This season, the opposition is now averaging a whopping 31.9 shots on goal against Alain Vigneault's system Henrik Lundqvist.

As previously noted, the soft Rangers were off last Monday through Friday.  So, in order to get Henrik a full seven-days week of rest, Ondrej Pavelec started on Jan. 7 at Vegas, where he faced 34 shots on goal.  He then started Saturday's return from the break against the Islanders.  But Alain Vigneault was forced to pull him, not because he faced 19 shots and allowed five goals in under 27 minutes, but because the rest of the SMURFS team failed to show up.  Lundqvist wound up facing 18 shots in just over 33 minutes of wasted time.

No day off for you!

Then Sunday happened.

In yet another slow start, the Rangers fell behind just 3:14 into the game.  However, thanks to (reliable veteran) Michael Grabner, (and the rarest of goals from) Brendan Smith, the Rangers took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.

But the lead was short-lived.  After the Rangers bailed themselves out of trouble early in the second period with two successful penalty kills, opposing blueliners Brendan Smith and Jamie Oleksiak decided to go at it.  After which, the Rangers seemingly lost their fight(?).  Two even strength goals later, and Rangers trailed 3-2 after two periods.  Pittsburgh was able to unleash 18 shots on goal in the second period.  They took another 16 shots on goal in the third period en route to another pair of goals, and a 5-2 final score.

In two games against the Islanders, the Rangers have now allowed 75 shots on goal.  After three games against the Penguins, Lundqvist and Pavelec together have now faced a total of 124 shots on goal (Pavelec faced 44 SOG on Dec. 5).  It's no wonder the Rangers were outscored 14-29 in these five games alone.

Henrik turns 36-years old in March, yet has now appeared in 37 of the Rangers 44 games played to date.  This puts him on pace to appear in his most games since 2010-2011, when he appeared in 68 games as a 29-year old.  Unfortunately, the schedule only gets tougher from here on out.  Therefore, opportunities for time off will be far and few between.  You watch.

How can I be so sure?

Because here we are following the same old script: the SMURFS Rangers will grow increasingly desperate over the final twelve weeks of the regular season, invariably scrambling to snag a wild card spot.

Henrik Lundqvist knows this better than anyone in that locker room.  He knows damn well what lies ahead; he sees this as clearly as the nightly parade of bodies in front of his net with nary a Ranger jersey in sight.  He also knows the Rangers are spineless points differential is tanking - now down to only plus/three - and fading fast.

And then what?

On the chances they do make the playoffs, the media makes Henrik the scapegoat anyway.  So if you do not think these very matters were circulating through his mind while he admonished the team in front of a packed Garden crowd on Saturday, then I beg to differ.  He's been there, done that.

The proof is in the standings.

The Metropolitan Division is packed tighter than my kitchen junk drawer.  Washington, Columbus, and New Jersey, still maintain the all-important top three spots.  How long the junior Devils continue playing above expectations remains to be seen, although, I do believe their style is sustainable.  The Rangers fan in me also believes the Devils will somehow ultimately decide the Blueshirts fate on Apr. 3, when they meet at the Rock.

I digress.

Losers of three straight, the Rangers remain stalled at 49-points.  With Sunday's victory, the Penguins (51-points) move into fourth place ahead of the Rangers.  Tangled up right behind the gutless Rangers with 48-points are, Philadelphia, the Islanders, and Carolina.

And right on cue, the Rangers have also been bumped down to eighth place in the conference standings.

So start growing those beards now.  Must win hockey has begun ... in January.

New year ... same Vigneault crap.

Poke check that..!



UPDATE: THE RANGERS ARE NOW ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN.
Islanders (50-points) defeat Montreal; move into eighth place of Eastern Conference standings. Ninth place Rangers (49-points) face the Flyers (48-points) on Tuesday.



Sunday, January 14, 2018

LIU/Brooklyn Blackbirds: Flatbush Hoops Upset Rival Wagner Seahawks

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH



FINAL
WAGNER               67
LIU/BROOKLYN   69


LIU/Brooklyn Blackbirds: Flatbush Scores Upset Over Staten Island Rival.

All seemed fine when Julian Batts' three-pointer at 14:36 of the second half put the Blackbirds up by nine.  He converted a layup during his very next trip up the floor making the score 48-40 in Brooklyn's favor.

That's when Wagner began chipping away until finally tying the score at sixty-seven off a pair of free-throws with just 0:13 second left on the clock.

Off the ensuing change of possession, Julian Batts reemerged, and his lay-up with just 0:02 seconds left sealed Brooklyn's huge 69-67 victory over the NEC's second place team at the Wellness Center.

Joel Hernandez secured a game-high seven rebounds.  Meanwhile, the Seahawks only pulled down seven rebounds all game.  The Blackbirds dominated the boards with 36 total rebounds.  Hernandez also tied Wagner's Romone Saunders with a game-high 18 points.

Batts was second on the team with 13 points, connecting on 5/7 from the field, including 3/4 from beyond the arc.

The victory is Brooklyn's second straight.  The Blackbirds previously scored a 90-85 revenge win over Fairleigh Dickinson University on Thursday.  LIU now evens their conference record at 3-3, while improving to 5-3 at home.



Saturday, January 13, 2018

N.Y. Rangers: Debacle on 33rd Street

From the desks of: 
NO SLEEP TILL BELMONT  and  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS

THE RIVALRY - II

Islanders lead series 2-0
I - NYI 4; NYR 3*
II - NYI 7; NYR 2
*shootout

New York Rangers: So Much For Henrik Lundqvist's Day Off..!

Were it not for the mid-winter break, Henrik Lundqvist gets no break at all.  He has now appeared in 36 of the Rangers 43 games played to date.

Exactly one week after writing how Henrik Lundqvist is facing more shots on goal than ever, the Rangers ruined his scheduled day off with an absolutely abysmal effort against the visiting New York Islanders.

The Rangers were beaten, badly, by the likes of second year winger Anthony Beaullivier, and second year center Mathew Barzal - both of whom were Islanders first round selections in the 2015 entry draft, and both of whom registered a pair of goals each through the first two periods of Saturday's debacle at 33rd Street.

Less than seven minutes into the second period, Alain Vigneault pulled back-up goalie Ondrej Pavelec upon surrendering the Islanders' third goal of the period, and to that point their fifth goal of the game.

Both the Rangers and Islanders had been idle since last Sunday.  Therefore, rust is no excuse.  So let's be clear.  The Rangers flat out sucked.  Why mince words?  Every forward, and every defenseman, played regrettably terrible hockey.

Every one ...

Madison Square Garden wreaked of piss-poor performance.  But paying customers aren't entitled to refunds, and for that the Blueshirts should be ashamed of themselves.  Henrik Lundqvist let them know it, too.  He took his time donning his pads, then skated the length of the bench, admonishing his mates in front of the entire crowd before taking his position in net.

The Belmont-bound Islanders struck twice more in the third period en route to a 7-2 thrashing of their old division rivals.  Throughout the entire game, odd man rushes ruled the day.  Shane Prince, Cal Clutterbuck, and Thomas Hickey (thanks to a MatsZucs deflection) also participated in the scoring.

Nary a big hit from the SMURFS Rangers.  The box score says they laid 28 hits.  Somehow I must have missed them all.  I know none of them occurred in between the dots, or in front of the net.  Feeble stick checks abounded, though.

With little exaggeration, it seemed as if the Rangers unfurled a welcoming mat down center ice honoring the league's fourth best scoring team.

This is without a doubt a low point in the Rangers season.

What lies ahead is anyone's guess.

My opinion, however, remains unchanged.  Their defensmen are too small and passive; they're one of the league's weakest teams up the middle; overall they have no real toughness about them; and I do not like Alain Vigneault's system.

Saturday's loss stalls the Rangers at 49 points, and leaves them tied with the Penguins for seventh place in the Eastern Conference.

The Islanders are right behind them in ninth place, trailing by one point.


PIGSKIN 2017: Divisional Round



PIGSKIN
DIVISIONAL WEEKEND



SATURDAY GAMES

Falcons -3 (EAGLES)
The way I see things, Las Vegas says the home team will lose by six.  Very interesting.  The Eagles were one of four teams to finish the regular season with an NFL best 13-3 record.  On closer inspection, their only three losses came against teams with winning records (Chiefs, Seahawks, and Cowboys).  Eight of their thirteen victories came against teams with losing records.  But that's just called taking care of business.  Otherwise, their five noteworthy victories came against the Chargers, Panthers, Cowboys, Rams, and the (8-8) Cardinals - none of which are active this weekend.  There's something to be said for not judging Philly based on their performance over the last two weeks of the season - which they essentially treated as garbage time.  Fools, I say!  I'm a huge proponent of playing out every game and finishing strongly.  And Nick Foles's performance against the Cowboys during the regular season finale should indeed be held against him.  But, Mike!  Five of Atlanta's six losses this season came against teams which qualified for this year's playoffs.  That doesn't inspire much confidence, does it?  Yeah, I know.  They're clearly not the same team they were last year.  Looking back on the season, there does appear to have been a slight disconnect between Matt Ryan and his new offensive coordinator.  But that does not diminish the fact Ryan is one of the league's top quarterbacks.  I know Philly has a damn good defense, but do not underestimate that of the Falcons.  I expect a hard fought game, with both teams attempting to establish the run.  That said, I'm "loading the box" against Philly and daring Nick Foles to beat me if I'm Atlanta.  Offensively, the veteran and playoff tested Matt Ryan will remain relatively calm, cool, and collected.  Nick Foles?  I'm not so sure.  Who is more likely to make the big mistake in a close game?  I'm siding with the defending NFC champs.
LOSS  15-10 Eagles


PATRIOTS -13 1/2 (Titans)
Sorry Titans fans, it's pumpkin time for Cinderella.  The numbers just do not add up.  I know stats alone don't always tell the full story.  But it's two minutes to midnight and prince Derrelle Revis is nowhere in sight.  Sadly, there will be no happy ending; no Marcus Mariota self-pass touchdown reception to save Tennessee this time.  Evidence supporting the notion Kansas City choked last week far outweighs any argument favoring the Titans' performance during their stunning 22-21 victory over the Chiefs.  Fairy tale fortune aside, 22-points will not be good enough against the Patriots.  It takes more than pretty glass slippers to escape Foxboro with a victory.   After allowing an average 32-points through their first four games of the season, the Patriots have allowed just 14-points per game since!  Over the final 12 weeks of the season, only the Steelers and Dolphins(?) managed 20+ points against them.  Meanwhile, Tennessee only averaged 20.8 points per game this season.  In fact, they posted a -22 point differential during the regular season.  Meanwhile, we know well how Tom Brady and the Pats love to pile on points and have covered larger spreads than this.  The Patriots posted a +162 point differential this season.  Besides, when Bill Belichick gets two weeks to prepare for an opponent, they're as good as done.  On defense, Simon Bar Belichick takes away the one thing teams do best.  So who is it gonna be, Mariota or Derrick Henry?  If Belichick gives the Titans a dose of bend-don't-break, Mariota could very well wind up rushing for more yards than passing.  But what good will that do?  Victory is achieved in the pocket.  So, flee at your own risk, I say.
WIN  35-14 Patriots


SUNDAY GAMES

STEELERS -7 (Jaguars)
What is the Jaguars pass rush against tumbling stumbling rumbling Big Ben Roethlisburger?  When they last met in Week Five, JAX sacked Ben twice, and hit him seven other times.  The Jags also picked him off five times!  Moreover, they limited Le'Veon Bell to just 47 yards on 15 rushes.  Big Ben otherwise threw for over 300 yards (no touchdowns), while Antonio Brown had ten receptions for 157 yards.  On offense, Jacksonville rushed for over 200 yards en route to a 30-9 blowout victory in Pittsburgh.  Here's the problem: despite getting out of Steel City with a huge victory, Blake Bortles was only 8/14 for 95 yards, and threw an interception.  Has anything changed since then?  The answer is NO.  Bortles was 12/23 for just 87 yards, with a TD pass, during last week's yawn inspiring 10-3 Jags victory over the Buffalo Bills.  I'm sorry, but he's not even on Trent Dilfer's level, and this isn't the 2000 Baltimore Ravens defense.  In other words, The Jags need so much more from Bortles if they are to defeat the Steelers for a second time in Pittsburgh, much less in the playoffs.  That's because Leonard Fournette will not rush for 188 yards (90 yards on one play) again.  Coach Mike Tomlin will make sure of that.  And he's going to force Blake Bortles into plucking a rabbit out of his posterior ... when he's not sitting on it, that is.  Do not anticipate Big Ben throwing another five picks.  That said, after the main objective which is chasing down a Super Bowl, the Steelers enter this game with nothing but revenge on their minds.  They have gone 10-1 since that lopsided Week Five loss.  Jacksonville meanwhile ended their regular season with losses against Jimmy Garopolo's Niners, and the Titans.
Loss  45-42 Jaguars


Saints +5 (VIKINGS)
These teams met back in Week One.  Sam Bradford threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns en route to a 29-19 victory over the Saints at Minnesota.  The Vikings Dalvin Cook also rushed for 127 yards that game.  Due to a season-long knee injury, Bradford's only other start came back in October against the Bears.  Cook, meanwhile, tore his ACL in Week Four.  In other words, nothing about Week One matters if you're the Saints.  However, back-up quarterback Case Keenum has filled in well, throwing for over 3,500 yards through 15 regular season games.  He threw for 300+ yards in a game twice this season, most recently in Week Sixteen against Tampa.  He has 22 TD passes versus just seven INTs.  That's great for a back-up, particularly if you're a Minnesota fan.  But what really matters this week is that Drew Brees is a Super Bowl champion, and Case Keenum is making his first playoff start.  In the backfield, Latavius Murray has averaged just 67 yards a game since taking over for Dalvin Cook.  The Carolina Panthers defeated the Vikings in Week 14 despite ineffectual passing from Cam Newton.  Instead, Carolina defeated the Vikings 31-24 primarily on the ground with 200+ yards rushing.  Unlike Week One, perhaps Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram this time around can better carry their fair share of the load.  Despite them, Drew Brees threw for 291 yards and a TD that game.  While it's true that Minnesota yielded the least points in the NFL this season, the Saints have also limited opponents under 20-points in eight of their eleven victories.  In other words, the weight of the world is on Case Keenum not to screw it up.  With another representative effort from New Orleans' defense, and a turnover, perhaps the Saints keep marching on.
PUSH  29-24 Vikings





Saturday, January 06, 2018

N.Y. Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist Facing More Shots Than Ever

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS




EMPIRE STATE
NHL WINTER CLASSIC 

FINAL
Rangers   3
Sabres      2
overtime


Today's game against the Phoenix Coyotes marks the midway point of the The New York Rangers season.  After a poor opening month of October, in which they posted 4-7-2 record, the Blueshirts have gone 17-7-3 since.

With an overall 21-14-5 record (47-points), the Rangers presently reside in fourth place of the Metropolitan Division, and seventh place of the Eastern Conference standings - just one point ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes.  Pittsburgh, meanwhile, unexpectedly finds themselves in ninth place with 45 points.  The tenth place Islanders have 44 points (but are third in the league in scoring).

The Rangers went 8-6-1 in the first half against the other top seven Eastern Conference teams, but are 8-6-3 when back-to-back losses against the Pens and Islanders are added.  They will face the Islanders and Penguins on back-to-back nights again next weekend.

Until then, the Rangers must first get through the lowly Coyotes, and the surprising Western Conference leading Vegas Golden Knights.

They have so far only faced five of the top eight Western Conference teams (Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Dallas, and San Jose) against which, they've posted a 3-2 record.  They are yet to play Winnipeg, St. Louis, and Minnesota.  However, the Rangers are only 1-3 against the likes of Chicago, Anaheim, and Colorado.

As we Blueshirt fans know well, without a top flight centerman, Rangers scoring is a collective effort, and as such they're eighth in the league, averaging 3.1 goals per game.  Defensively, the Rangers rank tenth having allowed 2.8 goals per game.  Their penalty kill is equally solid - ranked sixth in the league - but the power play is middle of the pack.

As usual, Rick Nash continues to lead the team by a wide margin in shots on goal, yet Mats Zuccarello once again leads the team in points.

Otherwise, everything else falls desperately on the shoulders, glove, blocker, stick, pads, and skill, of Henrik Lundqvist.

Let me know when this stops sounding hauntingly familiar ...!

For three straight seasons between 2007 and 2010, Henrik Lundqvist made at least 70 starts.  He's presently on pace to make 68 starts (or so...) - something he hasn't done since the 2010-2011 season when he made 67 starts.  In 2013-2014, he started 62 games, and two years ago made 64 starts.

Henrik turns 36-years old this coming March.  Entering Saturday's game, he has so far started 34 of the Rangers 40 games.  If this keeps up, Lundqvist could threaten his career high of 39 victories set during the 2011-2012 season.  He won 35 games just two seasons ago.

Here's the problem: he's presently facing more shots on goal than at any other time in his career.

During John Tortorella's four seasons as Rangers head coach, the opposition averaged 28.5 shots on goal against Henrik Lundqvist.  In Alain Vigneault's first season, the Rangers opposition averaged 29.1 shots against Henrik, and in 2014-2015, the opposition only averaged 28.8 shots against him.

The cast of blue line characters has obviously changed since then.  Starting with the 2015-2016 season, the opposition has averaged thirty shots or better per game against Henrik Lundqvist:

  • (2015-2016) 30.3 shots on goal
  • (2016-2017) 30.0 shots on goal
  • (2017-present) 31.7 shots on goal against Lundqvist.

That being said, his 2.58 Goals Against Average is .25 points above his career average, while his .922 SV% is on par for his career.

Or, said another way, the Rangers are barley getting by.  They're younger and faster, but their over reliance on Henrik Lundqvist has only grown through the years.

He's faced 1,078 shots on goal so far this season, with at least a thousand more to come.


PIGSKIN 2017: Wild Card Weekend



PIGSKIN
WILD CARD WEEKEND



SCOREBOARD:
Week Seventeen Record:  7-9
Overall Record:  93-113-6
Schmear of the Week:  8-8
Bagels in the Basket:  -26



FIRST ROUND BYE:
  • AFC - New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • NFC  Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings.


YELLOW FLAGS:

  • The Baltimore Ravens must still be kicking themselves in the posterior over last week's loss.  Buffalo and Tennessee will forever be thankful.  The Bills and Titans are the only playoff teams without double-digit victories, and are the only two playoffs teams with negative point differentials.
  • The Dallas Cowboys finished the regular season with a 9-7 record.  They arguably could have bumped the Atlanta Falcons (and/or the Panthers/Saints) from this year's playoffs had Ezekiel Elliott not missed six games ... debatable.  Jerry Jones still thinks he's a good general manager, though.
  • In fact, it can be argued the suspension of Ezekiel Elliott and the injury to Aaron Rogers damn near shuffled the entire NFC playoff picture.
  • Hey, Minnesota!  Thanks for ruining our season! - Green Bay fans.
  • Todd Bowles deserved a contract extension, however, I can't believe the Cincinnati Bengals extended head coach Marvin Lewis!  Meanwhile, Jack Del Rio was fired in Oakland, with Jon Gruden reportedly being to be his replacement.  That's huge ... for Las Vegas, I guess.
  • Calling all Los Angeles fans!  Come out, come out, wherever you are!


SATURDAY GAMES

CHIEFS -8 1/2 (Titans)
And Reid will out-coach Mike Mularkey.  Alex Smith with outplay Marcus Mariota, and the more playoff-polished Chiefs will finally put an end to Tennessee's overextended season.  Between the crowd and weather, Arrowhead Stadium can be an inhospitable place for visiting teams in January.  Game time temperatures are expected to be reasonable, though, near 32-degrees.  The Chiefs posted a 6-2 record at home this season, and enter this game winners of four in a row.  Alex Smith is a smart, very efficient QB, who is not prone to mistakes.  Marcus Mariota, on the other hand, is prone to throwing picks, which is exactly what may happen once the Titans are forced into playing catch-up football.  Although the Chiefs do not stop the run very well, they won't have DeMarco Murray to worry about, who is out with a knee injury.  That's why I say Alex Smith will be throwing on his terms whereas Marcus Mariota will be throwing on Kansas City's.
Loss  22-21 Titans

Falcons +6 (RAMS)
Home field advantage?  Pfft!  Don't make me laugh.  No such thing as home field advantage at Los Angeles.  The Rams were only 4-4 at home this season, and otherwise did all their damage on the road.  Now ... how do you stop an offense that scored an NFL high 478 points?  Answer: keep em on the sideline.  Jarred Goff and Matt Ryan are going to do their respective thing.  This point spread boils down to the running game.  Both teams rush rather well.  Defensively, however, the Falcons do a far better job stuffing the run than does Los Angeles.  Atlanta center Alex Mack's left leg was reportedly barking at him again last week.  If you recall, he fractured his fibula during last year's NFC championship game, which then caused him sit out the second half of last year's Super Bowl against the Patriots.  Atlanta's running game goes as Mack goes.  At their best, the Falcons are balanced and win time of possession.  If Alex Mack remains up for the task, the Falcons offense will be just fine.
WIN  26-13 Falcons


SUNDAY GAMES

JAGUARS -8 (Bills)
Even if Shady McCoy plays, a sprained ankle limits him to being a north/south runner.  If Buffalo's running game is easily containable, then the brunt of responsibility falls on the shoulders of Tyrod Taylor.  That may be asking too much against Jacksonville's ability for disrupt the quarterback.  If the Bills are one dimensional, the Jags are free to expand and elevate their defensive aggression.  The Bills offense, then, will be a turnover waiting to happen.  On offense, all Jacksonville will need to do is run the ball (which they do very well), keep moving the chains, and control the clock.  Blake Borttles can wisely pick his spots, and in turn, pick apart what will become an overtaxed Bills defense.
Loss  10-3 Jaguars

SAINTS -7 (Panthers)
I like the Saints because Drew Brees isn't being made to carry the weight of an entire team on his shoulders anymore.  This is a much more balanced New Orleans team than we're accustomed to, with a rushing game featuring Alvin Kamara, and a good defense.  Then throw in Drew Brees, and you got a legitimate NFC title game candidate.  For all their talent, Cam Newton and Carolina are still too Jekyll and Hyde.  With a division title potentially on the line, they flat out played a stinker last week against the Falcons.  The Saints beat the Panthers twice this season primarily via the ground.  If Carolina over adjusts, Drew Brees will eat them up.  New Orleans just happens to match-up very well against them.  It is what it is.  Can't wait for Cam Newton's post game interview.
Loss 31-26 Saints


Schmear of the Week:
Chiefs -8 1/2



HAPPY NEW YEAR!



Sunday, December 31, 2017

N.Y. Giants: New GM Dave Gettleman Vows To Kick Ass

From the desk of:  DO IT FOR THE DUKE


Gett This House In Order


New York Giants: David Gettleman Named New General Manager ... And I Couldn't Be More Happy.

My genesis as a Giants fan occurred while Andy Robustelli (1974-1978) still served as general manager.  But I do not remember much, if anything, about him.

I vividly recall, however, the day the Giants hired George Young, and his 18-year tenure as general manager.

From 1994 through 1997, Ernie Accorsi served as assistant GM under George Young.  Upon his retirement after the 1997 season, Young appointed Ernie Accorsi to succeed him as next general manager of the Giants.

Jerry Reese likewise began working for the Giants in 1994 as a college scout.  In 1997, he was elevated to pro scout by George Young.  In 2004, Accorsi made him director of player personnel.  Upon his own retirement after the 2006 season, Ernie Accorsi named Jerry Reese general manager.

It was also Ernie Accorsi who originally brought David Gettleman into the New York Giants fold as a scout back in 1998.  He was elevated the following year and served as pro personnel director through the 2011 season.  In 2012, Jerry Reese promoted him to senior pro personnel analyst.

When the Carolina Panthers were in search of a new general manager, they brought in Ernie Accorsi as a consultant, whom recommended Dave Gettleman.  Gettleman in turn served from 2013 through 2016 as general manager of the Panthers, posting a 40-23 regular season record over his four years.  The Panthers made three straight playoff appearances under his stewardship, and after posting a 15-1 record in 2015 opposed the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl Fifty.

After co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch moved to release Jerry Reese and former head coach Ben McAdoo, they similarly consulted Ernie Accorci, who once again recommended Dave Gettleman (whom in 2016 experienced a falling out with Panthers managing owner Jerry Richardson).

His interview effectively ended with haste the Giants search for Jerry Reese's replacement.  And now David Gettleman becomes the fourth lineal general manager of the New York Giants during my lifetime.

Simply put, I love the move!

This is not just another typically safe in-house selection.  Dave Gettleman's resume speaks for itself. He has been a part of four different Super Bowl contending organizations.  He has scouted or served as general manager for two different AFC champions, and two different NFC champions.  All told, he's been associated with nine Super Bowl appearances:
  • Buffalo - 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993.
  • Denver - 1997.
  • NYG - 2000, 2007, 2011.
  • Carolina - 2015.

Gettleman began his NFL career scouting for the Buffalo Bills in 1986, and through the 1993 season.  For those of you still too young at the time, or not yet born, those Bills were frighteningly stacked with Hall of Fame and Pro Bowl caliber talent, whom together won four consecutive AFC championships.

From 1994 through 1997, Gettleman then served as a scout for the Denver Broncos.  Denver went 7-9 during his first season associated with the organization, then followed with an 8-8 record during his second.  The Broncos elevated to 13-3 in 1996, then posted a 14-2 record in 1997 en route to winning Super Bowl XXXII.

Then began his first stint in East Rutherford.  He was on staff during the Giants Super Bowl run of 2000, and for both their 2007 and 2011 championship seasons.

Said another way, the man understands winning.  Moreover, he understands New York Giants football.



Jerry Reese was widely criticized for his failure to effectively rebuild the offensive line, and poor drafting overall.  And while it's true that not one player from the 2011 and 2012 drafts presently play for the Giants, to be fair, Gettlemen and Marc Ross, were still a part of that process.

Since 2013, the Reese and Ross connection have arguably hit on a few players (some more debatable than others): Justin Pugh, Odell Beckham Jr., Weston Richburg, Landon Collins, Sterling Shepard, B.J. Goodson, and most recent addition, Evan Engram.

A few of their more notable busts are proving to be Eli Apple, Ereck Flowers, and newly departed Bobby Hart.

Point being, Jerry Reese, Marc Ross, the entire scouting department, and extended staff, indeed left much to be desired.

And so, here we are.



Prior to interviewing Dave Gettleman, the Giants previously extended their very first interview opportunity to Marc Ross.  On board since 2007, Ross spent his first six years with the organization serving as their director of college scouting, and for the last five years has served as the Giants vice president of player evaluation.

The New York Daily News suspects his interview did not go very well, because on Saturday David Gettleman fired Marc Ross.

At the very least, one should immediately ponder the future of Ken Sternfeld (director of pro personnel) as well.

David Gettleman does not operate in grey zones.  His decisions, rather, gleam with conviction.

He refuses to pay one dollar beyond what he thinks is their fair market value, and certainly won't pay for past performance late in careers.  In fact, he'd rather cut a player too early than too late, and is quick to eliminate malcontents from his locker room.  Look no further than his treatment of former Panthers favorites Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams, Jon Beason, and Josh Norman.

Speaking of which ... I hope Odell Beckham Jr. is paying attention.  Or, maybe he should call right tackle Bobby Hart.  It was reported during Sunday's Giants/Redskins telecast on FOX, that Bobby Hart allegedly refused to play in Sunday's meaningless game.  Dave Gettleman in turn waived him.

During his introductory press conference, Gettleman listed among his top his priorities: rebuilding the offensive line; reestablishing the running game; and rebuilding the defensive line.  If you look at his team building in Carolina, he consistently maintained a strong presence at linebacker as well.

Is Dave Gettleman set on bringing back the good old days of Smash Mouth?

That remains to be seen.

But he did say rather matter of fact, his goal is to kick ass.



PIGSKIN 2017: Week Seventeen



PIGSKIN
FOOTBALL SUNDAY
Week Seventeen

RESULTS
Week Fourteen
OFF WEEK (15)
Week Sixteen


Scoreboard:
Week Sixteen Record:  8-6-2
Overall Record:  86-104-6
Schmear of the Week:  8-7
Bagels in the Basket:  -21


1st and Ten: 
  • NFC South Title > New Orleans Saints or Carolina Panthers (loser gains Wild Card).

2nd and Short:
  • AFC > Baltimore seems a lock; if Tennessee wins they're in; both Los Angeles and Buffalo need a lot of help.
  • NFC > New Orleans or Carolina will take one spot.  Atlanta and Seattle are playing for the other.  I predict an Atlanta loss, and a Seattle victory.

No Gain:
  • With a loss, the Cleveland Browns would join the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams to post an 0-16 record in the sixteen game era.

PUNT!
  • What's the over/under on head coach firings?  Six?


WEEK SEVENTEEN:
Friday Line ~ NYDN

PATRIOTS -15 (Jets)
It's a good thing Todd Bowles already has a contract extension in hand because this is gonna get ugly.  Belichick wants home field advantage.  The Patriots do not give away late season games, much less at home.  They play to the finish.
WIN  26-6 Patriots

D.C. Hogs -3 (GIANTS)
Motivation is subjective.  The Hogs want to finish the season with an 8-8 record, right?  Thanks to the schedule makers, they couldn't have drawn a more downtrodden opponent than the Giants.  New general manager David Gettlman will be watching very closely.  A number of Giants can potentially play themselves out of town based on Sunday's performance alone.
Loss  18-10 Giants

RAVENS -9 1/2 (Bengals)
The Bengals might love and respect their head coach, but they don't win for him.  The Cincy front office would be doing Marvin Lewis a huge favor by firing him.  His success is waiting for him elsewhere.  The Ravens would love to end the season with ten victories.  It just looks better in the morning papers.
Loss  31-27 Bengals

Packers +6 1/2 (LIONS)
Big game losers!  The Lions blew their shot at making the playoffs last week against the Bengals.  The Packers in turn may have their way against a deflated pride of cats and thus avoid a losing season for their stockholders back home.  Green Bay's coaching staff is in the spotlight.
Loss  35-11 Lions

Bills -2 1/2 (DOLPHINS)
The Bills need a victory and a lot of cooperation from the Ravens, Titans, and Chargers.  I do not trust the South Beach Sea Mammals, and by the looks of this spread, neither do Bills fans.
WIN  22-16 Bills

Panthers +3 1/2 (FALCONS)
Atlanta center Alex Mack may not play Sunday.  Remember what happened to the Falcons after his injury in last year's Super Bowl against the Patriots?  Atlanta lost their ability to run the ball, sustain offensive possession, and keep Tom Brady off the field.  The masses enjoy saying the Falcons choked.  But no one ever brings up the injury to Mack as the reason why.
Loss  22-10 Falcons

Saints -7 (BUCS)
Oh when the Saints, win the NFC South ...  They're 3-3 on the road and have the inside track over Carolina.
Loss  31-24 Bucs

Jaguars + 3 1/2 (TITANS)
Titans are home and desperate for a win.  They won their first game against the Jaguars, but I don't think they'll sweep the season series.  Covering a close game is another story.  Tom Coughlin may not be Jacksonville's head coach, but after last week's loss against the Niners, you can bet he's preaching about how to finish.
Loss  15-10 Titans

COLTS -4 (Texans)
Both teams have nothing to play for.  Both head coaches could get fired (although in Houston's case that would be a mistake).  The question now becomes which is the more despondent team?
WIN  22-13 Colts

STEELERS -10 1/2 (Browns)
The Browns have already locked up next year's number one draft pick.  On Sunday they seek to add their names to the list of worst teams in NFL history.  Go Browns!
Loss  28-24 Steelers

VIKINGS -12 (Bears)
The Bears are ready for hibernation.  They'll pose little resistance against the Vikings.
WIN  23-10 Vikings

EAGLES +2 1/2 (Cowboys)
The Eagles defeated the Raiders last week, while the Cowboys fell to the Seahawks.  Yet, the Cowboys are favored in Philadelphia?  Are people souring on the Eagles?  If I were them, I would want to finish the season strongly.
Loss  6-0 Cowboys

CHARGERS -7 (Raiders)
The Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders just wanna get this season over with.  What's the over/under on Chargers fans showing up for the game?  In any event, desperation rules the day.  Chargers should take care of business - key word being, should.
WIN  30-10 Chargers

SEAHAWKS -9 (Cardinals)
Not sure if the Seahawks cover.  But the Cardinals window of opportunity officially closes this week.  They need to rebuild.
Loss  26-24 Cardinals

Chiefs +3 (BRONCOS)
After starting the season 5-0, the Chiefs lost six of seven.  They've since won three straight and clinched the AFC West.  Truth of the matter is the rest of the division sucked.  Andy Reid knows he needs his bipolar team entering the playoffs on a winning note.
WIN  27-24 Chiefs

49ers -3 (RAMS)
Sudden league MVP favorite Jimmy Garoppolo is the savior of the universe.  He's gonna throw four TD passes, and rack up 500 yards passing.  Happy freakin New Year, Jimmy!  You're the best.
WIN  34-14 Niners


Schmear of the Week:
Panthers +3 1/2
LOSS



Thank you for sticking around for another season of PIGSKIN.  Good luck, and have a Happy Football Sunday, everyone!


Post Game:
Week Seventeen Record:  7-9
Overall Record:  93-113-6
Schmear of the Week:  8-8
Bagels in the Basket:  -26


Saturday, December 30, 2017

LIU/Brooklyn Blackbirds: Open NEC Season With Loss Against FDU

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH


SUNDAY
Mount Saint Mary's
vs.
LIU/Brooklyn Blackbirds
FROM
Ashland Place
DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN


LIU/Brooklyn Blackbirds: Flatbush Undone By Turnovers; Fall to Fairleigh Dickinson University in NEC Opener.

Despite a closely contested first half, the Blackbirds actually spent few of the first twenty minutes playing with a lead.  Up by five with 2:44 left, LIU headed into the locker room trailing the Fairleigh Dickinson University Knights 39-36 at the break.

A three-pointer by Jashuan Agosto in the opening minutes of the second half briefly put LIU ahead 43-41, but the gain was short lived.  After trading missed field goal attempts, FDU's three-pointer at 17:11 put the Knights ahead.  Although a Raiquan Clark layup put the Blackbirds back up again by one, FDU regained the lead at the 16:00 mark and never looked back.  The Knights led by as many as 13 points with just 3:28 left, and effectively kept LIU at arms length by converting on all six of their free throw attempts within the final minute en route to an eleven point margin of victory.

The Blackbirds out-rebounded FDU, but turned the ball over 15 times involving nine steals by the Knights, who in turn outscored LIU 18-5 on points off turnovers.  FDU was also more efficient from long range, connecting on 9/23 (39%) while the Blackbirds lagged with 5/22 (22%) from beyond the three.

FRIDAY FINAL
Knights       82
Blackbirds  71


The Blackbirds host Mount Saint Mary's at the Wellness Center on Sunday.  Mount Saint Mary's likewise dropped their NEC opener against the Wagner Seahawks.  They enter Sunday's game with a 6-8 overall record; the Blackbirds enter with a 5-9 record (and a 3-3 mark at home).



Sunday, December 24, 2017

LIU/Brooklyn Blackbirds: Bring on the NEC

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH




LIU/Brooklyn Blackbirds: Flatbush Closes Out Non-Conference Schedule With First Road Victory of Season.

Flatbush concluded their non-conference schedule on Friday with a 74-66 victory over the Binghamton University Bearcats.  In gaining their fourth victory over an America East opponent, the Blackbirds improve to 5-8 overall.

Although they previously earned a neutral site victory earlier this season at the Jamaica Classic, their recent triumph over Binghamton at upstate Vestal, New York, additionally marks the Blackbirds' first road win of the season.

Despite jumping out to a 13-4 lead, and still leading by eight with six minutes left in the half, LIU only took a one point lead into the break.

The Bearcats, however, spent the second session in foul trouble while the Blackbirds took full advantage, converting 15/23 from the charity stripe.  They were similarly effective from the field, shooting 14/24 (60.8%) in the second half despite only converting 1/7 from beyond the three.

Binghamton's shooting from the field, meanwhile, lagged throughout, finishing just 43.4% for the game.

Flatbush otherwise out-rebounded Binghamton by a 33-25 margin, and likewise outscored them by a 9-2 spread in second chance points.

Joel Hernandez led all scorers with 25 points to go along with a game high eight rebounds.

Raiquan Clark added 23 points, and five boards.  He was 6/6 from the field, but inflicted particular damage from the free throw line, converting on 11/15 chances.

*

The Blackbirds are 3-2 so far at home this season, where they will open their Northeast Conference schedule on Dec.29 against Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Entering conference play, Wagner presently leads the standings with a 7-5 record.  Saint Francis U and Central Connecticut are the other teams presently playing above par.  Point being, the sixth place Blackbirds aren't necessarily entering conference play far behind the competition.



Saturday, December 23, 2017

PIGSKIN 2017: Week Sixteen/Sunday



PIGSKIN
FOOTBALL SUNDAY
Week Sixteen

Saturday's Games

RESULTS
Week Fourteen
#15 OFF WEEK


Scoreboard:
Week Fourteen Record:  6-8
Week Fifteen: None
Overall Record:  78-98-4
Schmear of the Week:  8-6
Bagels in the Basket:  -18


Attention all Wild Card contenders, it looks as if you'll need ten wins to qualify.
  • AFC - The Baltimore Ravens (9-6) already won on Saturday.  The heat is now on Buffalo, Tennessee, and Kansas City, to keep up.  The Chargers can stay in the hunt with a victory over the Jets.
  • NFC - As it stands entering Week Sixteen, both Wild Cards will emerge from the NFC South.  Dallas, Detroit, and Seattle, are essentially playing must win games.  However, all eyes are on Atlanta.  If the Falcons slip, the pack will pounce.

Game of the Week I - Saints vs. Falcons
Game of the Week II - Cowboys vs. Seahawks

  • Big news!  Linebacker James Harrison was released by the Steelers.  Don't be surprised if the Patriots pick him up.
  • Will this be Marvin Lewis's last game in Cincinnati as head coach of the Bengals?
  • Ezekiel Elliot is back in action for the Cowboys, and Jerry Jones still thinks he's a good general manager.


WEEK SIXTEEN
Friday Line ~ NYDN

Chargers -7 (JETS)
Josh McCown was the Jets.  Bryce Petty is in the saddle now.  Can you say - three and out?  That should afford Philip Rivers a few more offensive possessions to work with.
PUSH  14-7 Chargers

CARDINALS -3 1/2 (Giants)
Dare I say the Giants can actually win this game ... but I doubt it.  I'll stick with the trend.
WIN  23-0 Cardinals

Lions -5 (BENGALS)
Not the cat fight this could have been.  The Lions are in a must win situation, while the Bengals have nothing to lose (except their head coach).
Loss  26-17 Bengals

Rams -7 (TITANS)
The Titans aren't ready for this yet.  Rams will demonstrate much more polish.
Loss  27-23 Rams

BEARS -6 1/2 (Browns)
The Toilet Bowl - Can the Browns really finish the season without a win?
WIN  20-3 Bears

PANTHERS -10 (Bucs)
The Panthers seem to have finally gotten over their catnip hangover.  They're peeking nicely at the right time.
Loss  22-19 Panthers

SAINTS -5 (Falcons)
Dome Sweet Dome ... I like the Saints in a shoot-out.
WIN  23-13 Saints

D.C. HOGS -3 1/2 (Broncos)
I say the Broncos lose by six.  Notice I didn't say the Hogs win ...
WIN  27-11 Hogs

CHIEFS -10 1/2 (Dolphins)
That's a lot of points, but the Sea Mammals do not travel well.  They'll be landlocked in Kansas City where the Chiefs still have a lot to prove.
WIN  29-13 Chiefs

PATRIOTS -12 (Bills)
Just looking for the Bills to give the Patriots a tough game.  With any luck, and a turnover, they can cover.
WIN  37-16 Patriots

Jaguars -4 1/2 (49ERS)
The Jaguars will seek out and destroy Jimmy Garoppolo.
Loss  44-33 Niners

COWBOYS -5 (Seahawks)
I thought long and hard about this one.  Seattle looks done.  And Ezekiel Elliott's return won't help.
Loss  21-12 Seahawks


  • Schmear of the Week: Jaguars -4 1/2  LOSS


CHRISTMAS DAY

Steelers -9 (TEXANS)
Pitt slipped up big time last week in the closing minute against the Patriots.  Nine points is a little bit of a stretch.  Hopefully a late field goal gets this spread over.
WIN  34-6 Steelers

EAGLES -9 (Raiders)
The Eagles will soar to sure victory at home.  It's not like things will suddenly go right for the Raiders.
PUSH  19-10 Eagles


Post Game:
Week Sixteen Record:  8-6-2
Overall Record:  86-104-6
Schmear of the Week:  8-7
Bagels in the Basket:  -21



Friday, December 22, 2017

PIGSKIN 2017: Week Sixteen/Saturday



PIGSKIN
FOOTBALL SATURDAY
Week Sixteen

RESULTS
Week Fourteen
#15 OFF WEEK


Scoreboard:
Week Fourteen Record:  6-8
Overall Record:  78-98-4
Schmear of the Week:  8-6
Bagels in the Basket:  -18


Sorry about not posting Week Fifteen picks.  Something called real life, and a matter called work dominated my time.



SATURDAY'S GAMES


RAVENS -13 1/2 (Colts)
This game has all the makings of a blow out.  Lay the points and fly with the Ravens.  Baltimore (8-6) is still playing must win football.  And luckily for them, Joe Flacco is playing like a top flight quarterback again.  Baltimore is 5-2 over their last seven games in which they've averaged 30.7 points per game, while allowing only 15.2 points per game (with two shutouts).  The Colts on the other hand have gone just 1-6 over the same span.  Despite allowing a modest 20.8 points per game, Indy's Andrew Luck-less offense has averaged just 15.1 points per game.  The Colts (3-11) are serious contenders for next year's overall number one NFL draft selection, and so there's no sense in letting pride get in the way of another futile effort.
Loss  23-16 Ravens


Vikings -9 (PACKERS)
Having already clinched the division title, I'm sure Minnesota still wants to author a strong finish to their season regardless of this week's sweater weather forecast in Green Bay.  The Vikings better bring their earplugs as well.  It was Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr who broke Aaron Rogers' collar bone with a hit back in Week Six, which essentially derailed the Packers season.  Despite a brief comeback, Rogers has officially been shut down for the remainder of the season.  In other words, the Packers have thrown up the white flag.  Oh, and Mike McCarthy is the most overrated head coach in the NFL.  Just saying...
WIN  16-0 Vikings



Good luck, and Happy Holiday!