- Remember all the hyperventilating talk show hosts predicting the end of the Patriots during pre-season with the retirement of tackle Matt Light and release of center Dan Koppen? I guarantee none of them are revisiting the offensive line of the Patriots which has gelled into the strongest unit on the team outside of quarterback. Opening running lanes, shutting down pass rushes, pulling out on runs, clearing out in space on the rejuvenated screen-pass calls, this unit has done it all, even without all-pro guard Logan Mankins most of the season. Players like center Ryan Wendell and guards Dan Connolly and Donald Thomas have quietly done an excellent job. Tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer (even Marcus Cannon when he rotates in at right guard to spell Vollmer occasionally) have quieted some serious pass rushers so far this season. Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has once again made the Patriots offensive line, once filled with question marks, into one of the best units in the league.
- Is this the year? Does big mouth Rex Ryan run himself out of New York? As Hurricane Sandy battered New York and New Jersey, Rex Ryan is hopefully bunkered down trying to figure out how to apply his defensive acumen to the Jets offense. After the New England Patriots spent their previous Sunday afternoon driving the fan base nuts with their inability to play effective pass defense and trotting out an inconsistent offense that sputtered and moved in fits and bursts as they outlasted the hapless New York Jets in overtime 29-26. Let me be clear on one thing: Rex Ryan is an excellent defensive coach. His game plan to stop the Patriots high-powered offense with a defense missing all-world cornerback Darrell Revis was nearly fool-proof and was good enough to earn a victory. Fortunately for the New England Patriots, as good as he is on defense, he appears to be lost on the offensive side of the ball, handing the reins to former Dolphins head coach and Dallas Cowboys assistant Tony Sparano, who seemed to do everything in his power to give the game to the Patriots. After last off-season, the Jets blamed everything on offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and replaced him with Sparano, who has made Schottenheimer look like Mike Martz. The Jets game against the Patriots was their Super Bowl (just as it was for Arizona, Baltimore, Seattle, Buffalo, etc. The Patriots may as well change their name to "the Measuring Sticks") and they folded in the end. After trash-talking all week, they got blown out by the Matt Moore (not a typo!) led Miami Dolphins. This team is imploding in a hurry (much to the delight of everyone in New England) and may cost Sexy Rexy his job this off-season. Memo to Bill Belichick: Rex Ryan would be a hell of a defensive coordinator in New England. Just putting it out there.
- Everton faced the John Henry Eleven (Liverpool) in the Merseyside Derby on last Saturday morning. For the third match in a row, Everton slinked away with one point and a tie. This time, however, they came roaring back in the first half to tie Liverpool after falling into a 2-nil hole courtesy of Liverpool's resident villain, Luis Suarez. An own goal (thanks to Suarez) and another goal by him had Everton down early. After coming back to tie it up in the first half courtesy of Leon Osman and Steven Naismith goals, the Toffees fought back, but only after putting themselves in the untenable position of being down early for the third straight time. Falling behind early and digging out may build character, but it only nets one point. Now in 5th place ahead of Arsenal by a point sounds good, but thinking that coming out stronger and picking up a few extra points would have them neck-and-neck with the Manchester squads (City and United) at #2 and #3 is hard to swallow.
- Both squads in the derby had chances in the second half, especially Liverpool where Suarez was denied an extra-time winner by a terrible call by the referee, but the good guys in blue were lucky to escape with a point this time. This squad has to get over this hiccup and come out ready to perform. They cannot let this fast start be squandered. A draw versus an emotionally charged Liverpool is acceptable. Slow starts and draws versus Wigan and Queens Park was embarrassing for an Everton squad expected to be a top performer this season. Fulham, Sunderland, Reading, and Norwich City are the next four fixtures for the Toffees, and they need to buckle down and pick up all twelve points (or a minimum of ten--Fulham is a legit opponent and a draw versus them would not be unexpected). Sunderland, Reading, and Norwich City are bottom-feeders: sitting and idling at the relegation station. Everton needs the points as November turning to December brings Arsenal, Manchester City, and Tottenham Hotspur back-to-back-to-back.
RED SOX/BASEBALL/WORLD SERIES:
- Congrats to the San Francisco Giants for winning a World Series that half the country ignored completely by sweeping the Detroit Tigers. I enjoyed the games immensely, maybe knowing I have to wait five months until baseball is back, but Giants are an entertaining squad. Detroit had their offense go out right when they ran into a National League team whose pitching staff peaked at the right time. Hardly a classic, all time great series, at least it was somewhat entertaining for a sweep.
- Pablo "Panda" Sandoval is a great entertainer, and leaves me scratching my head as to why the Red Sox did not trade for him last season to replace David Ortiz as DH. Seriously, how did they miss the opportunity? His trade value was zero (San Fran had benched him) and he was the perfect designated hitter and replacement for Ortiz. Now, there is no chance to get him and Red Sox have to look at bringing back Ortiz at top dollar.
- I bitched about it all last year, and I'm not stopping now: shortstops Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie both made more sense to stay in Boston and play rather than trading them for nothing in the off-season. The Giants (after trading for the much-traveled Scutaro) and the Astros got stellar play from both (see: NLCS MVP, Marco Scutaro; see: 16 home runs by Jed Lowrie), and the Red Sox dump their replacement, Mike Aviles, to Toronto for the right to hire their lame-duck manager, John Farrell. As far as I'm concerned, the Red Sox have a gaping hole at shortstop for no reason yet again. Three starting-quality shortstops gone in the past year with absolutely nothing of value back in return. I hate to say it, but I have no confidence in the talent evaluation of general manager Ben Cherington going into the off-season.
- Halloween, World Series, NHL Lock-out, Red Sox managerial search, East Coast Hurricane/Tropical Storm/Perfect Storm Sandy, and despite all these distractions at the end of October, the Boston Celtics are ready to kick-off the NBA season with a match-up against the world champion Miami Heat. Certainly, the Ray Allen saga is the big news of the match-up, but for the Celtics fans, the real news is the new look Celtics. The Boston Green Team went from old and tired to the San Antonio model of wily veterans surrounded by gobs of young talent and athleticism. The Celtics have three young, talented guards in Rajon Rondo, Courtney Lee, and (the currently injured) Avery Bradley and super-sub Jason Terry. Big guy and defensive role model Kevin Garnett mans the middle again, but now there is a lot of depth behind him with (stifle your chuckles) Darko Milicic and Jason Collins at center. What are the odds two players go down with heart issues? The Celtics had two last season in forward/center Chris Wilcox and forward Jeff Green who both will be key contributors to this squad. Add in returning wide body Brandon Bass and new wide body Jared Sullinger, and this team is ready to load up behind Paul Pierce and go big or small against anyone. They are big, they are veteran, they are small, they are young and athletic. This team has serious balance, youth, athleticism, and depth for the first time in a long time. This entire season will be a great battle between the Heat and the Celtics. It all starts tonight. I cannot wait.
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