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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

NFL Schedule Announcement - Predictions

I would be remiss if I at least didn't mention the fact that that NFL announced their 2011 schedule.  I mean, this could be one of only few football posts all year if we have to go without a 2011 season.  But before I get ahead of myself and my doomsday predictions, I will take a few moments and comment on my boys in Black N' Yellow.  (you all knew I was going to do that)

The Steelers overall statistically have one of the easiest schedules.  For this fact, and this fact alone, I have low expectations for the seasons.  I know it's a bit of a trend to predict low performance coming off a Super Bowl appearance year but the Steelers seem to always play their best football against the best teams.  With a balanced schedule, I'd at least have hope that would swing toward another great season.  Their perceived ease doesn't give me hope that they will field their best performances week in and week out.  Simply my opinion, and I hope I am wrong.

That being said, the Steelers open the season at the Ravens in Baltimore.  Not the most confidence boosting opponent by any means but I wouldn't want it any other way.  Why wouldn't you want to face your biggest rival in the opening game?  Super Bowl hangover?  There is no time for that.  Not with the Ravens.  These games are always highly contested defensive match-ups that result in some of the best football of all time.  As much as I hate the Ravens, I love that they exist.  Who else would battle it out as the rival team, the Browns?  Please...

Up until last year, I actually didn't know how they picked some of the yearly opponents.  Everyone knows you play two games against your divisional foes, one home/one away.  That takes care of 6.  Another 4 are against another division in your conference, two home/two away.  This years division is the AFC South so back come the Colts, Titans, Texans, and Jaguars...all of which, the Steelers do not traditionally play well against.  That makes 10 games.  Another 4 games are played against another division in the opposite conference, two home/two away.  This year is the NFC West so we get the 49ers, the Seahawks in a rematch of SB XL, the Cardinals in a rematch of SB XLIII, and the Rams in a rematch of SB XIV (is it really a rematch if it takes place over 30 years later?).

Now we are down to 2 games left (remember there is still a bye week...I can do math sometimes).  These were always the ones that I really didn't get.  They always seemed completely random and I figured there was no rhyme or reason to scheduling them.  If I paid a little attention, I could have probably figured it out.  Apparently, the final two games are are played (one home/one away) against the two teams in the conference that finished the previous year in the same place in the standings of their division.  Therefore, by process of elimination, we face the Chefs, I mean Chiefs and everyone's favorite cheaters, the New England Patriots.

If anyone wants access to a PDF version of the schedule, you can click here.  For the rest of you, I will break this down a bit.  The Steelers get Baltimore in Maryland, home vs. Seattle, at the Colts, and at the Texans.  First four games will probably yield 2 wins so 2-2 to start the season.  Next we get the Titans and Jags at home followed by a trip to Arizona and then back to Pittsburgh for the Patriots and Ravens again.  I'm going out on a limb here and going to say we get 4 out of five of these games, 6-3.  The Bengals are up next before the bye week so going in, I'm predicting a modest 7-3. 

Here is where I think it will begin to crack.  The remaining 6 games feature the Bengals again, the Browns twice, the 49ers, Rams, and Chiefs.  Considering how the Browns are never to be taken lightly, I can see these splitting.  The Rams have a long way to go but show moments of greatness and I think they will when they play in Pittsburgh on Christmas Eve.  No question the Chiefs will be taken a little too lightly and will probably come away with one.  The 49ers can go either way so I will give the Steelers the benefit of the doubt here but I don't think they will beat the Bengals twice.  So to close it out, they go 2-4 and finish with a 9-7 record.  I'm saying they back into the playoffs in week 17 but get tossed in the first round.

Now of course we all know I have no idea what I am talking about and this is all conjecture but I'd much rather plan for the worst and hope for the best.  At least I will get the opportunity to watch a couple games on TV in my market (Chicago).  We get three games on Sunday Night in America on NBC, a Monday Night Football game on ESPN, a Thursday Night Football game that should be on NFL Network, and probably the Christmas Eve game on Fox (that's a Saturday).  I can live with that considering there is a chance of at least 2-3 more being games of the week on CBS.

Now get this financial crap handled and get out there and prove my predictions wrong.

PS...I can't go without a hockey comment...I don't think the Canucks realized they still had one more game to win in this series.  

Monday, April 18, 2011

Playoff Update: Pens 3, Lightning 2 (Pens lead 2-1)

Well, once again there was another Pens game that wasn't on TV and I couldn't have been happier with the result.  I didn't get to catch any of the game live since I was at work until almost 9PM but I did see most of the game on fast forward from a recording.  I just wanted to make a few comments about the game.

First, what happened to the famed penalty kill?  The Penguins were near tops in the league when it came to the penalty kill for the year but since the playoffs began, they have gone into hibernation.  The Pens gave up 2 more power play goals in tonight's game, both of which to Marty St. Louis by the way.  I don't think anyone can stay on that guy because he can just skate under you or around you.  He's like a little leprechaun dodging and ducking under toadstools as he travels to the end of the rainbow.  He is certainly good luck for the Bolts so far this post-season.

Second comment...I can't wait for all the negative press regarding the questionable "hits" in tonights game.

The first was Steve Downie launching himself like a missile.  His target, Ben Lovejoy, with his back to the play behind the net.  Luckily, Lovejoy turned around in time to get pulverized into the boards.  The great thing about the play was that it left the Pens on an odd man rush to the other end which immediately led to a goal by Max Talbot.  But at what cost.  Lovejoy got back up and skated off the ice, Downie was headed to the box if not for the score by Maxie.  Suspension worthy?  I don't know.  I don't care.  It looked brutal.  Would I suspend him?  Probably because I am a Pens fan.  I think Ben is fine so whatever.  Plus, after the Raffi Torres debacle, I hardly think Colin Cambell is going to get it right either way. 

Second hit wasn't really a hit.  More of an elbow.  Chris Kunitz, a normally mild mannered, well adjusted player took out some pent up aggression, obviously built up from the Downie hit, and put an elbow right into the back of Simon Gagne's head.  Clearly a dick move by Kunitz, it drew him a penalty and I'm not so sure he is going to get by with just the 2 minutes.  Again, I'm done commenting on this crap because that's what it is...CRAP!  There is no winning an argument because someone is always going to play the victim so I'm done talking about it.  If Kuny sits, fine by me.  If not, still, fine by me.

So despite the potential controversy and water cooler talk (at least in Canada because no one talks hockey around these parts, especially with the Blackhawks riding a train out of playoff town) there was a somewhat decent game that was played tonight.

Fleury, once again, stopped 25 shots, despite seemingly being under pressure way more than in the 5-1 game the other night.  As I said earlier, Talbot got on the board with a rush into the Tampa Bay zone mid 1st period after Downie destroyed Lovejoy.  45 seconds later, Arron Asham made it 2-0.  Tyler Kennedy put Pittsburgh over the top with the game winner just 31 seconds after Tampa tied it in the third.  The Pens take a 2-1 lead in the series as it stays in Tampa for game 4 on Wednesday.

Going forward, if there is any hope whatsoever for the Pens to hang onto this series, they are going to have to fix special teams.  They need to get their mojo back for the penalty kill and for pete's sake, stay out of the stinkin' sin bin.  If you don't give the Bolts the opportunity to screw you with their freakish speed with a man up, you will be much better off when playing at full strength.  As for the power play, or lack thereof, the Pens are now 0 for 15 in the series.  I really don't know what the problem is, other than the obvious absence of Crosby and Malkin.  If that is the only thing keeping them from being at least an average PP team then I guess there is nothing they can do about it.  But something tells me that a re-shuffling of a few lines during the power play could give them the boost they need.

In other news, for all you hockey card prospectors that have been hoarding these for a couple years, Stamkos finally got his first playoff points of his career with an assist on St. Louis first goal.  Also, it was brought to my attention that no one ever got better at hockey by bowling.

Oh, and for the biggest Penguin fan (other than myself) that I know...if you ever read this; Whatever the heck is wrong with you, other than the obvious mental deficiencies I have always claimed you possess, get well soon, little bro'.  Tonight's win was for you (if I was a player, that would have more of an impact I think).