by Hal Bent, BostonSportPage.com
Columbus Day weekend means a relaxing Sunday morning to pontificate on Boston sports while still basking in the glow of winning last weekend's illegal, underground Texas Hold'Em game for the first time. It definitely made up for the fantasy baseball season ending another big stinkeroo for me and watching my fantasy football teams being betrayed by Tony Romo yet again. Grabbing my cup of joe and ready to go:
Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning is always the marquee matchup any week in the NFL, and eleven years after their first meeting and with Manning in Denver now, it is still a big game. The Patriots are 2-2 and need to start putting together wins to get some momentum going and stringing wins together. Yes, their two losses were by a combined 3 points and came down to the last play, but they have to be ready each week to face a team that is playing their personal Super Bowl. Every team sees the Patriots as one of those "measuring stick" teams where they are bringing extra motivation because it is the Patriots they are matching up against. This is nothing new and is certainly the case against a Denver team whose defense was blown off the field twice last season by the Patriots offensive attack.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR TODAY:
Both teams are predicated on the play-action pass, using it to open up the short pass and getting their receivers open in space. While the Patriots are going to be using their Big 3 running backs (Steven Ridley, Brandon Bolden, and Shane Vereen replacing Danny Woodhead when he is healthy) to pound against nickel and dime defenses that opposing defenses bring out to combat the Patriots passing game, the Broncos have Willis McGahee at running back and desperately need to get linebackers and safeties caught up inside the box because Peyton Manning is not going to be airing any deep passes, rather going outside the numbers with short passes to the wide receivers in space to let them make yards with their legs. Bill Belichick is going to have to have his defense get up on the Denver receivers and bump them and be in their face within the five yard legal bump area. Beyond five yards, the Patriots are going to have to make Manning try to throw deep, strong, and accurate passes down the field, which he has yet to show he can do.
The second big key I want to see is if former Patriots center Dan Koppen can hold off Big Vince Wilfork and Kyle "Feel the" Love inside. Remember, at training camp these two abused Koppen and played a key part in making sure he was not in the red, white and blue this season. Getting pressure up the middle on Peyton Manning is a sure-fire way to disrupt his rhythm and timing. He can wave his arms around like Big Bird all he wants pre-snap, but it doesn't do any good if he's being forced out of the pocket. Just like Tom Brady, Manning is excellent at stepping up or sliding away from outside pressure, but both have their worst games against consistent pressure up the middle. Watch the two Super Bowl losses to the Giants, the pressure right up the middle is what derailed the Patriots. If either team is able to get up the gut at the opposing quarterback, that is a huge step towards pulling out victory.
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Second place...oh crap. One week after leapfrogging the EPL standings, the Toffees lay an egg against Wigan (freaking Wigan, really?) and struggle to tie a match that they need to be winning if they are to be a legit challenger this season. Everton has been a solid, top-of-the-middle-of-the-pack squad these last few years, but to make a real run this season, they cannot drop these kind of matches. Falling behind 1-0, then dropping behind 2-1 after coming right back with the equalizer by Nik Jelavik is frustrating to say the least. Credit the boys in blue (well, they had broken out the black kit for this match) for not giving up and not taking any points, but having to pull out a draw with an 88th minute penalty kick (Leighton Baines saves the day again!) is the old Everton, not the 2012 squad that takes down ManU and is at the top of the fixtures. With a bye week and then Queens Park Rangers on the schedule, the Toffees should be well rested and ready for John Henry's Liverpool goons in Goodison Park on the 28th of the month.
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The Celtics opened the pro basketball season in Turkey this week, and as they move across Europe in a (hopefully) team building pre-season as they get ready for the season. Again, it looks like a three team race in the East, with Boston and Miami fighting it out with Indiana. Chicago has one big question (Derrick Rose's health) that looms over their season and their chance to be a contender this year.
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If I never see another Peyton Manning commercial, it is too soon. Yes, Tom Brady makes a number of commercials, but nothing like Manning. It seems as if a viewer can see an entire block of nothing but Manning commercials. Gotta say, the DirectTV ads with Deion Sanders where he (and brother Eli) have little fairy wings is particularly annoying. Of course, when I get annoyed by his crappy car commercial, or pizza pitching, I just thank the Lord I'm not watching the Manning boys sucking down Oreo cookies talking about "Lick-Offs". Ugh.
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Finally, congratulations to the best manager in Boston Red Sox history, Terry Francona, as he leaves the announcing booth to get back in the dugout with the Cleveland Indians. With Bobby the Bozo Valentine being fired, the Red Sox once again start their search for a manager with all the Terry Francona traits while not admitting they made a colossal mistake in firing him in the first place. As the Sox ended up cleaning house anyway in the clubhouse, it made less and less sense to fire the best manager for this unique baseball squad. As fans, we should cross our fingers and hope for Dale "Francona-lite" Sveum in the dugout next year.
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