UFC 209: Oh No!

By: S. Davis

209

I woke up this morning to put the finishing touches on this piece…and then I got on the internet. Should I delete this? No, I’ll post it incomplete as I was excited to dive into the subject.

The two best lightweight fighters in the world step into a cage…for the toy that’s at the bottom of the cereal box. (Do breakfast cereal companies even include toys in their products anymore?) Sorry. I’m torn on how I should feel about the clash this weekend to be honest. On one hand, sign me up! A pure contrast of styles; the exact foundation on which the entire sport of mixed martial arts was created decades ago. I’m giddy, excited, smiling from ear to ear, but then the two words appear that truly have me considering dropping the sport from the dwindling precious hours of leisure time I have: Interim Championship.

I’d rather someone farted on my sandwich right before I bit into it before another division has to deal with ego, muck and disdain from a champion who isn’t injured (and is actively chasing another fight…in a different sport). I have fully convinced myself that Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson are competing for the UFC Lightweight Championship on Saturday night. Period. It just works better for me that way.

UFC Interim Lightweight Championship: Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson

Nurmagomedov wins if he can glue himself to his opponent and stifle the creativity that allows Ferguson to systematically tear his opposition to pieces (while also taking some dangerous gambles). We all know the blueprint for the Eagle: close the striking range and then chain his brutal and stellar Combat Sambo and wrestling hybrid into the most effective grappling attack in the entire sport…unless your name is Demian Maia.

At that point he can launch an endless array of trips, double-legs, wizards, leg sweeps, knee taps, single legs, traditional throws, suplexes, etc. He blends grappling techniques that don’t necessarily bleed into one another traditionally: setting up a judo throw while closing distance to catch wrestle while mixing in freestyle wrestling and jiu-jitsu which then culminates in lethal ground and pound.

Insert deeper analysis here…

Ferguson wins if he finds a way to curb his instinctual urge to be wild, just enough to avoid finding himself eating punches and elbows while he’s fighting off his back because he was sloppy one too many times and served Nurmagomedov an effortless takedown. For a long time, Jon Jones chose to be labeled as a freestyle fighter during introductions and it’s applicable to Ferguson as well. He studies his opponent during battle and sifts through all the ways he can inflict damage while making it seem like he’s fighting on a completely different level of existence. His talent and plethora of weapons are undeniable.

You want to make the fight a striking showcase? He excels there. Do you want to engage in dirty boxing with some clinch work? He’ll adjust accordingly and carve your flesh with sharp, precise, elbows and knees. You want to test the limits of his ground game? Be careful with any movement because he will snatch your neck with one of the quickest and most technical D’Arce chokes in the world. Another skill worth mentioning: Wrestling is his base; don’t forget that.

El Cucuy has the greatest chance of becoming champion the longer he manages to keep the fight on striking terms. The Eagle isn’t a novice there but his chances of capturing gold favor him the more times he can clasp his hands together around his opponent. Mixed martial arts are about using what you do well to tip the scales in your favor. A slightly measured and committed Ferguson could win the battle on points if he’s composed.

A huge key will be takedown defense. He should take a look at the footage from the Gleison Tibau bout versus Nurmagomedov. Tibau was diligent in using his left arm as a lever whenever the talented grappler tried to secure a double-leg. Nurmagomedov tried, in vain, to shift his own weight forward onto the left side of Tibau to secure the takedown but the arm placement, strength and dedication to keeping this left arm close to his ribs allowed him to use the limb as a counter to make sure he wouldn’t spend the night under a man who wrestles bears as an escape from training.

I’m hesitant to say that Ferguson will stick to a formulated strategy for the duration of the championship contest (however long it should last) but I do feel confident that he won’t be afraid to hit the mat a few times. Personally I do think he has the talent to battle back to his feet but there are so many times one should opt to play around with lighter fluid, right?

Both fighters have been orbiting the throne of the sport and are hours away from making a dream into a reality (one symbolized in gold).

Again, the fight has been cancelled as Nurmagomedov had to visit a hospital as a direct result of his weight cut but he has since been released and is recuperating. Get well and rest up. 

I felt that both men earned the right to fight for the true championship but I gave a slight preference to Ferguson since he’s been active and healthy. He should be slated to challenge the lightweight title holder if said title holder ever gets around to making a defense.

UFC Welterweight Championship: Tyron Woodley (C) vs. Stephen Thompson

I went with Woodley at UFC 205 to retain, and while I was technically correct, I couldn’t forecast a draw. It’s common knowledge in combat sports to favor the fighter who lost the first meeting when a rematch is announced. For whatever reason that fighter enters the rematch having made key adjustments to their skill set while sharpening their flaws – and maybe the determination to even the score aids them the second time around.

There wasn’t a winner in November so which fighter will make the adjustments necessary to walk out of the cage the victor? I can see Woodley going all out if he staggers Thompson to chase the finish. Additionally, I do think he will use his wrestling more than he did in their first chapter. Wonderboy needs to shore up his defense and be diligent about keeping his left hand close to his head. I wonder if he’s been using knee attacks this training camp. If Woodley chooses to grapple more actively, an opening may present itself for a crushing knee that could change the fight.

Mark Hunt vs. Alistair Overeem

With the litigation, presently, transpiring between Hunt and the UFC one has to wonder if he’s sharp, mentally, this weekend. We all know how important it is for a fighter – maybe above other athletes – to be of sound mind. It puzzles me how everyone kicks dirt on the heavy guys for having glass chins – and the disrespect that hovers the entire division at-large. Has anyone stopped to think that humans that strong aren’t meant to punch one another with small gloves?

I can see Overeem winning a point-fighting contest. On volume alone he could secure a victory by staying in kicking range and copying the patient strategy that he ridiculously abandoned when he almost captured UFC gold against Stipe Miocic. The fact that this fight is three rounds leans heavily in his favor but Hunt only needs one shot to connect so the length of the fight may not matter ultimately.

A brief thought about Georges St-Pierre:

So I heard that he’s cutting past every deserving middleweight and will compete for the 185 title? The nerve! I HATTTTE everything! I’m joking, naturally. How is this fight a cause for so much anger? Really, this is Pandora’s Box?

The hypocrisy of MMA fans is hilarious. Do I like the fight? Not really, to be honest but at least GSP has a track record of being a dominant fighter – with title defenses – that bolster his case to bypass the queue. He’s one of the greatest fighters – the best ever, along with Jones, in my opinion – with a resume that speaks for itself. Like him or not, I like Michael Bisping as UFC Middleweight Champion; is it his fault that Luke Rockhold treated him like an unworthy competitor and served his chin nice and high on a platter?

For all the crying about Dan Henderson not “deserving” a championship opportunity: Was that meeting a wipeout? Most of the viewing public was split on whether Hendo should be wearing the belt right now.

“Deserving” as it pertains to MMA is absolutely devoid of all merit and/or logic.

It’s odd how fans crying over this news happen to be the same ones that had no problem with the current lightweight champion jumping the line, talking his way into title fights, while simultaneously avoiding the top contenders in two divisions. This here, though, is wrong?

Maybe GSP missed the adrenaline or the spotlight – although he never seemed to be thirsty for fame – but I would feel infinitely better about this if he was 32 years old and not 36, which he will be at the time he and Bisping meet in the cage.

Picks: Thompson, Hunt, Lando Vannata and Rashad Evans.

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That Luck Contract

By: S. Davis

You’ve read the news by now about the agreement reached between Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. An impressive $140 million extension – which is an arbitrary figure as far as NFL contracts go – over the span of six years (with $87 million guaranteed). Oddly enough the deal seems to be…lacking.

What’s amusing, while not surprising, has been the public response. Fans are screaming in the manner in which they usually do because they’re “fans” – which is short for fanatics – by pouting and posting angry rants across social media and comments sections. They’re knocking Luck because, what exactly? His compensation in comparison to theirs; I won’t even tackle that one. It’s not about you at all.

This isn’t rocket science or advanced physics here. It’s simple, really. Andrew Luck will never have as much leverage as he does now and the biggest notch he has in his bargaining power is his youth. Additionally, he has a few division titles, playoff wins and is regarded as the future face of the entire league. This is the time – and the man to change the market for marquee players going forward. In such a violent game nailing down the guaranteed money is paramount yet “fans” seem to miss this point. Really? Why are most pro-management in this case? I’m always pro-player, especially in this sport, yet “fans” make such compelling arguments such as “Well, he’s rich so why complain?” and “That’s too much money for an athlete anyway.” That completely misses the point, fanatics.

Where’s the argument about how much the owners make? Also, the NFL salary cap is going up…again! Since 2013 the salary cap jumped 26 percent from $123 million to $155.27 million. Luck should’ve said “Five years, 125 million, fully guaranteed. No? I’ll hit free agency and watch me get it.”  Personally I think 10-14 teams would’ve looked at his demands and someone would’ve bit. It only takes one team.

I’m happy he got his contract but it could’ve changed things had he held firm. Someone will eventually challenge owners in contract negotiations and Luck had the opportunity. He let them off and I’m sure all 32 owners are breathing a sigh of relief. If he isn’t the player – at quarterback, no less – to scare them during contract negotiations who will be the one to do so? A monumental opportunity was missed here. The NFLPA should’ve met with Luck and his representatives to coordinate a unified front – provided that’s allowed under the collective bargaining agreement – to get Luck to push for a fully guaranteed contract. It would’ve been grand. There is nothing preventing owners from handing out a contract actually worth the money it’s reported to be…but the players. Selfishly, I wanted to see Luck pin the Colts into a corner and see how the other 31 teams would shutter knowing, eventually, they would reach that point with one of their players. This was bigger than a ho-hum extension…until it turned out to be business as usual.

He’s making too much, huh? Would anyone turn down any of that money? Franchises can restructure the payout through deferments to make sure the cap is cleared up to make other signings; teams do it all the time. Stop being fanatics.

NFL: Super Bowl XLIX

By: S. Davis

This is the last game of the year – and I hear that it’s a pretty big deal. Since I’ve stayed away from the stories dominating the off-week, all I’m focused on is the product on the field.

Considering last year’s waste of a viewing experience, the Seattle Seahawks would have to shut the New England Patriots out completely for this game to be worse that the one that was contested last February. For the second year in a row we are gifted a final game featuring the best teams from both conferences and I think it will be tight from kickoff up until the final whistle.

Who’s going to be elated once the confetti falls?

I could easily give the nod to the Patriots without a shade of doubt. Why? Well they have the ability to be just as stout defensively as their opponents while also being a consistent offensive threat. The Patriots average 29.3 ppg while allowing 19.6 and the Seahawks have offensive/defensive splits of 24.6/15.9. Bill Belichick will have his team prepared to attack in so many different ways, offensively, that I can see them doing enough on that side of the ball to ensure the Seahawks fall three or four points short.

Three-to-four points will be huge in this one because all of the Patriots’ Super Bowl appearances in the Tom Brady era have either been won or lost by that razor-thin margin. There’s no need to count your fingers, football savants, it’s a field goal (more or less) deciding titles. Being that the Patriots average 4.7 points more than the Seahawks per game, it would be in their best interest to bring every trick they have to keep the Seahawks guessing on defense.

Now the Seahawks have only surrendered 24 points (or more) in only four games this entire season – but they were all losses. I’m almost certain Brady and Belichick are devising ways to find 24 points somewhere in their complete strategy. However since the ‘hawks have surrendered just 15.9 points over the season I don’t see them going against their stellar standard of defensive play.

Let’s just pick the Seahawks then, right?

Well I could go with a tried and true statement: Defense wins championships. It also travels well and since the Super Bowl is being played in ideal weather conditions – it’s almost a guarantee they’ll compete. The ‘hawks possess so much speed on defense that they cannot be compromised laterally so the best way to beat speed is to run straight at it. Is that you LeGarrette Blount?

Power backs give every team in the league trouble – the Patriots will have to contend with that Marshawn Lynch guy as well – but if the Seahawks will be pushed around it’s going to take a heavy dose of Blount. You want to bludgeon the best defense in the league to completely negate the speed they can unleash. I expect both backs to make key plays to steal and/or gain momentum throughout the course of the game. One thing to pay attention to is where both running backs will find creases to gain the tough yards. Vince Wilfork is such an inside force that he will push Lynch, outside and off-tackle, to try to get into Beast Mode.

How will the Patriots deal with Russell Wilson?

If the game is tight in the fourth quarter – and I expect it to be – Wilson begins attacking with his legs in hopes to coax the defenders into the box so he can throw over them. There is a reason why he tends to depend on his elusiveness as the game wanes: defenders get tense and overlook basic technique when it comes to keeping containment.

This is going to be a great game. Look out for Shane Vereen as a receiving threat, Rob Gronkowski along the seams, Doug Baldwin in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, Revis Island, Bobby Wagner, the effectiveness of both offensive lines and the health of Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.

Ready?

My pick: It’s a hard one to call, seriously. Seahawks over Patriots, 24-23.

Championship Sunday: 1-1
Playoffs: 7-3
Regular Season: 174-82

NFL: Week 15 Picks

By: S. Davis

Computer trouble this week interrupted my ability to get this out before the Thursday game so here they are. I cannot believe that the regular season has two more weeks before the knockout round, it sure flew by.

Week 15:

Arizona 13 @ St. Louis 10: I did go with the Cardinals – and in the very near future their defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles, will be head coach in the league. The one thing I don’t like is that he orders full blitzes at crucial points (usually towards the end of games). That won’t sustain them once the tournament round begins.

Additionally…

What are they going to do going forward at the quarterback position? Tim Tebow is available.

Pittsburgh 30 @ Atlanta 27: The Steelers could win big or lose by having Julio Jones – if he plays – undress their entire secondary. I want to pick a tie but I guess someone will win the game. Watch the Falcons win by 15 points since I picked the schizophrenic Steelers.

Washington 17 @ NY Giants 38: Giants.

Miami 20 @ New England 33: As someone who doesn’t like the concept of a shutdown corner, meaning I’d want one on my team but I don’t like how opponents view them, I don’t think an offensive game plan should ever avoid throwing to one side of the field.

Darrelle Revis, though, needs another label because he shadows top receivers no matter where they line up and limits them. Revis is the best corner playing today with Patrick Peterson, Vontae Davis, Joe Haden and Richard Sherman all on the second level. He was one of the reasons I picked the Patriots to make the Super Bowl (where I had them losing to the Saints) and maybe I should have picked them to win.

Oakland 10 @ Kansas City 20: Chiefs…if they want to remain alive in the last three weeks of the season in a mad dash for the last two AFC playoff spots.

Houston 14 @ Indianapolis 30: I like J.J. Watt be he is not the league MVP, Andrew Luck has a great case to be.

Jacksonville 10 @ Baltimore 24: Ravens.

Green Bay 30 @ Buffalo 16: Packers.

Tampa Bay 17 @ Carolina 14: I don’t have a C-L-U-E. Although I wish the Buccaneers could qualify for the division crown. Well maybe…

Cincinnati 27 @ Cleveland 18: The Browns make a few plays and Johnny Football makes it exciting but the Bengals give them a dose of reality.

NY Jets 12 @ Tennessee 13: Titans.

Denver 26 @ San Diego 24: The problems that the Chargers can present the Broncos are intriguing but the visitors will be a hair better on defense.

Minnesota 27 @ Detroit 34: Lions, but I will NOT be shocked if the Vikings made it interesting or walk off the field with the victory.

San Francisco 9 @ Seattle 20: Will the Seahawks put the nail into the 49ers’ season? I think so.

Dallas 31 @ Philadelphia 28: So I like the ‘Boys to get their revenge for the Thanksgiving beating they took.

New Orleans 20 @ Chicago 23: This is kind of personal because of the way the Saints have played – and I REALLY want the NFC South champion to enter the postseason with no more than six victories. Boy was it smart to underestimate the value Darren Sproles brought to the team.

Last Week: 12-4
Season: 141-67

NFL: Playoff March

By: S. Davis

Everyone in the NFL has played at least nine games which tells a pretty clear story about the their playoff chances once January rolls around (unless said team plays in the NFC South). What a difference three weeks makes, because if you recall, about that amount of time ago the world was kicking dirt on the Pittsburgh Steelers and singing the praises of the Dallas Cowboys.

Look closer, what’s there to see?

The Steelers are looking like a strong contender while the Cowboys’ annual swoon is happening in late-October/November instead of December. Since the ‘Boys have dumped water off their sinking ship – after escaping London with a victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars – they’ve kept the buzzards at bay, at least for a week while also finding a way to keep Tony Romo alive. In what world are back fractures safe?

Let’s start by looking at the teams that are scouting for next season:

Oakland Raiders (0-9), Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9), Tennessee Titans (2-7), NY Jets (2-8), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-8)

I think Rex Ryan is going to be fantastic on television next year. It boggles my mind in this era of football how a defensive HEAD coach can have no concept of an offensive philosophy. Bill Belichick, John Fox and Mike Tomlin are all known as defensive head coaches but grasp the idea of coaching offense. (I know that having Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger help with scoring points but you get where I’m going. Offensive coordinators are vital as well but the head coach has fingerprints everywhere on his team.)

Belichick was known as a “defensive savant” and is also known as an “offensive genius.” Now I’m not here to wax-poetic about football coaches but you get the point. Just because you’re good at one thing DOES not mean you cannot add to your repertoire. Players are asked to adapt, grow and expand their knowledge, right? Why in the hell do coaches get a free pass?

The gas-bag that is Ryan all but ruined a good quarterback named Mark Sanchez, almost ending his career just by association. Coaches and their egos make me just as sick as the media who fawn over them. By all accounts Ryan is intelligent so I hope whenever he gets a top job again he will learn – especially in this passing era – that offense isn’t an unsolved mystery, it actually can win you games. Rushing for two yards and a cloud of dust no longer is the blueprint for sustainable success in the league.

Still Too Early
There are some really good teams clustered together that I have no clear opinion of – it’s still too early to tell who they are. Better play can elevate them into the elite group or they can have their partners plan their vacations next month while the front-office evaluates their draft boards.

Cleveland (6-3), New Orleans (4-5), San Francisco (5-4), Cincinnati (5-3-1), Baltimore (6-4), Buffalo (5-4), Miami (5-4), San Diego (5-4)

We have to pump the brakes when discussing the Browns because, well, they are still the Browns. Yes, they are leading their division – and they have looked strong but are we sure they won’t dive over their last seven games? Exactly.

I’m not buying stock in either the Saints or the 49ers but at least the team representing Santa Clara has a true – and proven – identity over the last few seasons. Oops, my fault we know the Saints mode of operation as well: unpredictable. When the Saints are solid, defensively, they are a tough team to defeat (remember I picked them to hoist the trophy) but they are relatively easy to plan for these days. Playing in the NFC South is the only reason they’re division leaders. As for the 49ers, when they run the ball and limit Colin Kaepernick’s responsibilities they are a tough team for anyone lining up against them.

Yes, the Bengals are slotted into a wild card if the postseason started today but they’re too inconsistent to trust for more than one or two games – which is a problem when the NFL schedule mandates each team compete in 16 games per year, ditto for the Ravens.

How the Bills, Dolphins and Chargers close the season intrigues me. Unfortunately the Panthers (3-6-1) and Falcons (3-6) are still alive in the playoff hunt in the NFC South. I love how it’s fair game to beat the drums about Cam Newton’s “regression” when his receiving corps was taken from him, his offensive line isn’t as stout and his running backs are rarely on the field. Evaluate!

Man, I wish all playoff seeding went by record, first, and then division winner, secondly. Basically all division winners should still be guaranteed playoff berths but should NOT host a game if the wild card posts a better record over the regular season.

Contending
Teams still in the hunt.

Arizona (8-1), Detroit (7-2), Philadelphia (7-2), Dallas (7-3), Green Bay (6-3), Kansas City (6-3), Pittsburgh (6-4)

The Cardinals are almost a definite playoff contender at this point – and I feel they’ll win one of the wild card spots, at least when factoring the Carson Palmer injury – but you just never know how things will break. With nine games in the books, they could play as poorly over the last two months as they played well in the first two.

For some reason I think the Lions might possibly lose four of their next five games – @ ARI, @ NE, CHI, TB, MIN – and just, you know, be the…Lions again. Color me a skeptic until they clear the next five going 4-1 or 3-2. As for the Packers, well Aaron Rodgers is great but all too often, recently, he’s been tasked with carrying a weak defensive unit. I’m not confident in them until they win a game where Rodgers has a below average outing – and the defense must lead the way.

With Nick Foles’ collarbone injury, the Sanchez resurrection begins – and while I believe he’ll keep them right at the top of the NFC East – you just never know how much of the Jets experience still lingers. He was a confident player coming into the league – and during his first two-and-a-half years – before the bottom fell out and his management stopped trying to acquire talent for the offensive side of the ball. Unlike, most of the world it seems, I was not surprised that he led the way in dominating the Panthers last night. Who’s the person in the Saints organization that decided Darren Sproles was expendable?

Jason Garrett is going to have to will a way for his team to make the passing attack respectable so they can run as effectively as they have while getting Romo back in one piece. The ‘Boys ripped through the Jaguars and, thankfully, Romo is still able to stand upright.

So the mighty Chargers that everyone was tripping over have lost three in a row while the Chiefs, who were left for dead at the beginning of the season, have won the same number of games consecutively. I didn’t understand the hype for the bolts just like I didn’t get why the national media felt Andy Reid’s squad wouldn’t qualify for the postseason…before a single game was even contested.

Of course I thought the Steelers would beat the Jets a few days ago; what was I thinking?

Playing For The Trophy
You understand what this group is about.

New England (7-2), Denver (7-2), Seattle (6-3), Indianapolis (6-3)

Seattle is not as good as they were last season because their lack of a pass rush puts their secondary in jeopardy because they now are forced to cover for three-to-five more seconds than they’re able to. League rules make it damn near impossible to blanket receivers for more than eight seconds. All that said they are still able to impose themselves physically on every level of their defense – and although they are a pedestrian offense right now Russell Wilson rarely makes a crippling decision with the ball.

When the world was kicking dirt on the Patriots, well, I was laughing. Why would anyone jump to a rash conclusion just because a crazed Chiefs team took them apart in Week 4? Stay off the ledge, media guys. Regardless of their recent resurgence, Belichick the general manager has wasted Brady’s last few years and he should be judged more harshly for it.

As much as I hate to say it as a fan of Manning, his team will get eliminated in either the AFC Divisional weekend or the AFC Championship (which could be in Massachusetts). A lot is asked of Andrew Luck and that raises a good deal of doubt about whether he’s leading a good team or carrying a terrible one. I think they’re actually good because two of their three losses were by a combined 10 points – and the other loss was a 51-34 blowout by the Steelers. It seems that Trent Richardson is not a good running back, anymore,  which puts more on the plate of Luck. If the Lombardi trophy went to Indiana when the season wrapped, I would not say it was inconceivable.

We only have two FULL months of football left – which makes me sad – so please enjoy it.

NFL: Week 6 Picks

By: Shawn Davis

Another Thursday evening showcase of NFL action, excited? If there’s any contest that has to interrupt the blowouts we’ve been treated to this season I’m trying hard to think if this will be that game.

Week 6 picks:

Indianapolis 28 @ Houston 23: At this point I’m just hoping for a good game tonight.

Jacksonville 13 @ Tennessee 12: Jaguars find a way to get a win in Tennessee where the Titans are great at holding leads. (They’re not.)

Baltimore 24 @ Tampa Bay 20: The Buccaneers have, at least, been competitive lately so I wouldn’t be surprised if they put a real scare into the Ravens – or beat them.

Denver 34 @ NY Jets 16: I could see a weird set of circumstances where….forget it.

Detroit 20 @ Minnesota 16: This could really end in a tie!

New England 24 @ Buffalo 19: Are the Patriots really considering moving on from Tom Brady after this season? I keep hearing this story – from reputable outlets – and it’s compelling.

Carolina 20 @ Cincinnati 27: I don’t know how explosive the Bengals will be without A.J. Green but I feel confident that Andy Dalton will find a way to manufacture touchdowns.

Pittsburgh 23 @ Cleveland 21: Steelers?

Green Bay 31 @ Miami 13: Packers.

San Diego 27 @ Oakland 9: Chargers.

Chicago 21 @ Atlanta 26: I picked the Falcons to win…and now they will lose.

Dallas 20 @ Seattle 24: The Seahawks won’t be able to fall asleep in this game.

Washington 17 @ Arizona 20: I’ll stick with the stronger defense on this one because I have no idea who’s going to start at quarterback for the Cardinals.

NY Giants 38 @ Philadelphia 34: I’m not going to say that the G-Men have that look but they are making plays – and Eli Manning is getting acclimated to the new system after a bumpy start. I think this will be the best game of the weekend. The Eagles are 29th in pass defense and have fallen behind too often (while of course storming back). They do here as well but they run out of time Sunday night.

San Francisco 21 @ St. Louis 15: If the Rams had a better option at quarterback I would take them in this game without even a hint of reservation.

 
Last Week: 11-4
Season: 51-25

NBA: San Antonio Spurs

By: Shawn Davis

So life got in the way and I never got a real chance to give a review of the NBA Finals that the San Antonio Spurs snatched away in five games from the Miami Heat. Is it surprising? Not at all, however the way in which it unfolded was either beautiful or awful to watch (depending on your rooting interest).

I wrote that for the Heat to have any shot in the series they would need to keep scoring “in the high-80’s to low-90’s” and we all saw how great they were in trying to make that a reality. That didn’t happen and the Spurs margin of victory was 18 points in their four victories. Their offensive pacing and passing would always keep the Heat fearful of the scoreboard hitting triple digits because LeBron James would have to carry his team just to reach the 90’s. Mind you, the Heat topped out at 98 points – in their Game 2 victory – and scored 86 and 87 in Games 4 and 5, respectively.

For all the “fans” who say James didn’t “score enough,” well, he could have put up some 40-point outings but that would have played right into the Spurs’ defense. You see outside of him – and Michael Beasley who should have been given ample minutes as this series was going to come down to offense for Miami – the Heat are lacking shot creators. I understand that Beasley had his issues grasping the defensive sets and terminology but his ability to shoot, put the ball on the floor and score in the post would have been a heavy load for Boris Diaw while also pulling Tim Duncan away from the rim.

Like Gregg Popovich in last year’s Game 6, Erik Spoelstra tried to be too clever. His biggest mistake was refusing to tailor his Finals lineup towards offense. His rotations weren’t consistent from game-to-game; guys would collect DNP’s and then find their way into the starting lineup. I openly admit that I was wrong in picking the Heat to win the series in seven games but my rationale was that it would be a tight series and the best player in the world would tip the scales. Was that crazy of me to think? No.

All that considered the Spurs were not going to let the trophy out of their grasp a second year in a row. Watching Game 5, I paid close attention when they clawed back after taking the Heat’s initial, emotional, punch. They looked focused and invigorated while the Heat looked like Ivan Drago once it became clear that Rocky Balboa would have to be killed in the ring for him to stop fighting.

The Spurs (seemingly) endless offensive attack of passing, 3-pointers and unselfishness was a joy to watch. Seeing Manu Ginobili erase the filth he played under last year was inspiring and the driving lefty slam was a vintage play that, maybe, broke the Heat. Tony Parker closing strong after missing all his shot attempts in the first half was clutch and seeing Tim Duncan, my favorite, active, player, get his fifth championship made for a great viewing experience.

Kawhi Leonard playing James as close to even as just about anyone in the league has while having to defend him every play is worth of mention – and that’s why I’m mentioning it. See what I did there?

There is not a single player on the planet that can guard James (Paul George can be effective in spurts, while Kevin Durant isn’t a good on-ball defender and is too thin to prevent being overpowered) but Leonard did about the best job I’ve seen. I do hope that the masses jumping on the Leonard bandwagon realize that he isn’t going to average 25 points next year, the Spurs DO NOT play that way. Their offense isn’t tailored to one player; it is focused on a concept: passing. Passing for a better shot that the good shot that you have. The offense will continue to run through Parker, Duncan, and Ginobili with Leonard taking on a bigger role. Remember what Popovich said after they clinched the title at the press conference: “I don’t call plays for him (Leonard), I don’t call his number. He gets his (offensive numbers) in the flow of the game.”

Congratulations to the San Antonio Spurs for continuing their run of excellence.