Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Setting up the Super Bowl: a tale of two solid teams

As a diehard football fan, I thoroughly enjoyed Sunday's NFL conference championship games. Both the Packers-Bears and Jets-Steelers games offered some compelling drama, with both looking out of range early on and then getting close down the stretch thanks to solid comeback attempts. In the end, Green Bay and Pittsburgh prevailed, and that sets up a very intriguing Super Bowl matchup Feb. 6 between two of the NFL's most storied teams. The early indication is that the Packers are three-point favourites according to the Super Bowl spread courtesy of BetUS, and that line also carries plenty of stories with it.

It's interesting to me that Green Bay's coming into this as a solid favourite. Their performance was perhaps the more impressive one of the weekend, as they never really let Chicago get too close, but Aaron Rodgers wasn't up to the incredible standards he'd set earlier in the postseason (the ones that motivated me to pick the Packers last weekend). Rodgers finished a respectable 17 of 30 for 244 yards, but he didn't throw a touchdown pass and was picked off twice. If the Bears hadn't had plenty of quarterback issues of their own between Jay Cutler, Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie, this might not have been a Green Bay triumph.

Granted, Pittsburgh wasn't all that impressive Sunday either, and they were outscored 16-0 in the second half. In fact, Ben Roethlisberger's performance under centre was even worse by the numbers (10/19,133 yards, 2 picks). Still, the Steelers did a much better job on the ground, and their defence reinforced the plaudits it had received all year. Based on what both squads have done so far, I don't necessarily think there's a huge advantage one way or the other. To me, everything sets up for a very close contest and a fascinating game.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

NFL conference championship predictions, metal-style

Just a note that Mark Milner and I have our conference championship picks up over at The Good Point. There should be a couple of great games today; I'm looking forward to seeing how the condition of Soldier Field affects the Bears - Packers matchup, and the Jets and Steelers should be a perfect clash for those of us who like hard-hitting defence. The above link has my full breakdown of each game, so rather than write the same stuff over again, here's a song for each team to get you ready for the games:

Pittsburgh: Judas Priest - Metal Gods

This classic track from the British Steel album seems thoroughly appropriate for a team from the Steel City. Also, it isn't tough to imagine James Harrison and the rest of the Pittsburgh defence ripping men apart.

New York: Iron Maiden - Aces High

The best non-crappy aerial song I could think of (and yes, there was no way in hell we were going with Benny and the Jets or Jet Airliner here). Besides, Rex Ryan's blitz-happy defence definitely lives by a do-or-die philosophy.

Chicago: Dio - Holy Diver

I've got a feeling Jay Cutler has been down too long in the midnight sea. Life with him as your starting quarterback is definitely riding the tiger, and there's always the chance of a sudden interception knocking you off. (Also, as a rivalry game, this might get as violent as the Hot Fuzz/Killswitch Engage version of this).

Green Bay: Dream Theater - In The Presence Of Enemies, Part I

As everyone has reminded you this week, Packers - Bears is the NFL's oldest rivalry, so that definitely qualifies as enemies. Moreover, though, Aaron Rodgers' incredible draft-day fall definitely qualifies him as forgotten, a body scorned and broken. He may have been initially rejected, but right now, he's looking like a pretty good chosen one.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Divisional round playoff predictions

The NFL playoffs are always one of my favourite times of year, and if last week's games are any indication, we're in for a good playoff season. My picks for this round are up over at The Good Point, so go check those out! The game I'm most interested in is the Steelers-Ravens clash, which gets under way shortly. From an impartial perspective, it's one of the NFL's most interesting divisional rivalries, featuring two teams that have been quite good for the last decade and more. They play similar styles, and for those like me who enjoy great defence, they're some of the best franchises to watch. Of course, I'm not entirely impartial, as I've been a Steelers' fan for most of my life, so I'm definitely decked out in my black and gold today as you can see below. Feel free to hurl insults, but the B.C. chapter of Steeler Nation is reporting for duty.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Oregon carries its own ethical questions into BCS title game

Tonight’s BCS national championship game between the Oregon Duck Star and the Auburn Tigers is about more than just the action on the field. There are rumours of shadowy background figures, stories of vast sums of money, and questions about undue influence floating around—and that’s just on the Oregon side!

I’m obviously exaggerating for effect there, but it does bother me a bit that all the questions people are raising about ethics and morality are surrounding Auburn, and particularly Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton. I’m not here to defend Newton or the NCAA’s convoluted decision to declare him eligible despite finding evidence of a pay-for-play scheme that’s certainly against their rules as they currently stand. Whether those rules are right or not is another question entirely, and whether it’s possible to change them in a way that’s fair and equitable to all athletes is yet another issue, but I understand where the people who want to put black hats on Auburn are coming from. I don’t necessarily agree, but I understand it.

What I don’t get is the corresponding desire to paint Oregon as the good guys, the cavalry that are going to come charging over the hill to save amateurism from the evil Cam Newton. To me, the Oregon program comes with just as many questions, and yet few of them have really been talked about much. The Newton story revolves around a reported demand of $200 thousand; Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight has reportedly given $200 million to the Oregon athletics department over the last 25 years. Here’s what Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated recently wrote:
Knight's influence on Oregon is so great that calling him a booster is like calling the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff a concerned citizen. Without Knight, Oregon would be thrilled to go to the Holiday Bowl. Without Knight, Oregon would be asking for money instead of printing it.
Without Knight, Oregon would be ... (gasp!) Oregon State.
Knight holds the key to Oregon athletics in his wallet, and everybody there knows it. The new basketball gym -- Matthew Knight Arena, named after Phil's late son -- is his project. The school's uniforms, more than any other team's, are a billboard for his company, Nike. There is a sense that every new building and every important hire needs Knight's stamp of approval.
And John Henderson, in The Denver Post:
How do you go from one of the pack to one of a kind? How does Colorado go from the bowels of the Big 12 Conference to battling Oregon at the top of the Pac-12? Find a booster like Phil Knight.
They aren't found at the local Elks Lodge. No Colorado alumnus is worth $11 billion, is a former athlete at the school and is one of its most rabid fans. But the power of one wealthy, loyal booster can change the course of an entire athletic department and, thus, a university.
What has Knight meant to Oregon?
Said Bellotti, "What is the sun to life on Earth?"
The main difference seems to be that Knight and Nike are playing by the NCAA’s rules. In an athletic environment that claims to value amateurism but is really about big bucks, they aren’t daring (at least not that we know of) to go around actually giving money to the players who do the real work and sacrifice their bodies. Instead, they’re dumping money into swanky new facilities, highly-regarded coaches and fancy uniform designs that turn those unpaid players into walking, talking advertisements for an apparel company that carries its own set of ethical concerns. All of that appears perfectly fine with the NCAA, which wants amateur players but professional quality in everything else. Meanwhile, the NCAA sees Cecil Newton’s reported scheme and others’ similar moves as the real problem. There is some merit to that, as Newton’s scheme directly contravenes the rules while Knight’s works within them. All I’m saying is from this corner, the shadow Phil Knight casts over Oregon is just as ominous as Cecil Newton’s over Auburn. Root for either, but let’s not reduce this to a good guys-bad guys story.

[Meanwhile, on the yes-there's-an-actual-game-going-on front, here's my prediction:  Oregon 31, Auburn 24. Things should go well for Auburn initially, but Oregon’s conditioning might give them the edge in the second half. I think Darron Thomas can move the chains against Auburn’s struggling secondary, and that could open running holes for LaMichael James. For more detailed analysis, I point you to Matt Hinton, Chris Brown and Spencer Hall.] 

Friday, January 07, 2011

Sebastian Bach's Oregon power ballad

Like many other college football fans, I'm looking forward to the BCS championship game on Monday; it's a lousy way to determine a champion, but hey, it should be a good football game at least. Oregon's high-powered offence goes head-to-head with Heisman winner Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers in what should be a thoroughly entertaining show. However, Oregon has one advantage Auburn may not be able to top. That advantage? Canadian metal star Sebastian Bach performing a school power ballad {lyrics NSFW}:

I don't know if it can compete with some of his earlier work, but what can?

The gauntlet for Canadian rock stars has been laid, Auburn, so you might want to give Geddy Lee a call. It's possible he could be impressed by Cam Newton's mean, mean stride.

[Via Dr. Saturday]