Monday Morning Realist: Divisional Playoff Edition

By: Akiem Bailum (@Li495Akiem on Twitter)

Technical Faults

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Unfortunately, the last few weeks, I have been MIA on TRST due to some internet issues pertaining to where I was staying at over the Christmas break. I have since returned to campus, where my computer works beautifully with the internet & have missed writing columns, doing videos, talking to fans, and dropping an occasional one-liner online. But I’m back and just at the right time—when it looks like the NFL playoffs may have hit its peak in terms of competitive games.

Instant Classic

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It was the Divisional Playoff Round this week in the NFL, which means that the teams that won last week in the Wild Card matchups headed on the road to face those teams that had earned byes. One of those was the Baltimore Ravens who have plans on having Ray Lewis (and potentially Ed Reed as well) retire from the NFL as Super Bowl Champions as did John Elway, Jerome Bettis, and Michael Strahan. They beat the Colts last week in Baltimore.

This week, their opponent was Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field in the Mile High City, and going into the game, almost everyone (except me and a few others) picked the Baltimore Ravens to win this football game. Most of the national football press felt it would be a rout and that there was no reason to be played.

This game was the reason why there is the phrase “Any Given Sunday”. At the beginning of the game, it looked like it would be a Broncos coronation party. The first score of the game came on a special teams play as Denver’s Trindon Holliday returned a punt return 90 yards for the first touchdown. Denver took a quick 7-0 lead. That would be erased by a 59 yard bomb from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith to tie it at 7. Then, Peyton Manning threw an interception (one of his two for the game) to Corey Graham who returned it 39 yards for the score.

Poor Champ Bailey.

Baltimore 14-7. All of a sudden, the Ravens who everyone wrote off were in it on the road vs. the high-octane offense of the Broncos.

It was tied going into halftime thanks to another TD pass from Flacco to Smith. 21-21.

Holliday Season apparently wasn’t over in Colorado as Holliday had on his Devin Hester (circa 2008) cleats on. After his punt return, he returned a kickoff return for 104 yards for a Denver touchdown. 28-21. The Ravens later tied it again.

With the score at 35-28 late in the 4th quarter, John Fox made an extremely questionable decision by not throwing on a 3rd & 7 with Peyton Manning as his quarterback. That would’ve sent the Ravens home packing their valuables for the spring & summer months. That gave the Ravens new life & they capitalized. A 70 yarder from Flacco to Jacoby Jones tied it up again at 35. One thing has to be said about the Ravens—most say that the receiving corps of the Atlanta Falcons is the best in the NFL with Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, etc. Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin aren’t too shabby either.

The game eventually went into two overtimes with the Ravens winning 38-35 on a 47 yard field goal from Justin Tucker that came after an interception of Manning. Ray Lewis will play another game & Peyton Manning has another loss in the postseason.

Oh, and yeah, the Tebow memes began immediately on Twitter.

Flacco was 18/34 for 331 yards and 3 TDs. Ray Rice rushed for 131 yards. Smith and Jones had huge receiving days for Baltimore. Peyton Manning’s line was 28/43 for 290 yards, 3 TDs and 2 picks. Eric Decker (who is now dating supermodels apparently because of the notoriety he’s gained from catching Manning’s passes) had 6 of them for 84 yards.

This game was the game of the playoffs so far and was an instant classic. One of the best playoff games in history. It belongs in the archives.

Baltimore’s season goes on as they are clearly playing to get Ray Lewis one more ring before it’s all set & done for #52. Their opponent in the AFC Championship Game will be the New England Patriots, as it was last year.

New Game, New Stakes, Same Venue, Same Result

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42-14.

The numbers 42 and 14 were on the minds of the Houston Texans all week as they prepared for their AFC Divisional Matchup in Foxboro vs. the New England Patriots. That was, of course, the score that the Pats thrashed the Texans by back on Monday Night Football late in the season in Foxboro, despite the fact that it was billed at the time as what could’ve been the best football game on the 2012 Monday Night Football programme.

Midweek, fans were abuzz as runningback Arian Foster used critical words from a Dan Shaughnessy Boston Globe column that basically called the Texans a fluke team and that Houston would be easy pickings for Brady’s bunch—as his Twitter avatar.

Similar to the armchair quarterbacking going on by pundits concerning the Ravens/Broncos matchup, almost no one outside of Houston picked the Texans to defeat the Patriots.

The first play of the game was a 94 yard kickoff return from the Texans’ Danieal Manning. Just what Houston needed to get off to a quick start & send New England a message that this wasn’t Monday Night Football anymore.

Instead, 3 plays later, they had to settle for a Shayne Graham 27 yard field goal to put Houston up 3-0. It should’ve been 7-0. Those first few minutes were emblematic of the Texans’ offense over the last few games. They struggle in the red zone and Matt Schaub wasn’t the same Matt Schaub that led the Texans to an 11-1 record through the first 12 games of the season.

Of course, you can’t settle for field goals when you play Tom Brady and the Patriots and it was only a matter of time before they made Houston pay. They took the lead at the end of the 1st quarter and would ultimately extend it to a 17-3 advantage. We haven’t heard much of the name Shane Vereen before this game, but Brady has an ability to turn unknowns into household names down the road. He had 3 touchdowns on the day.

While the Texans did hang tough and made it a game at halftime with the score at 17-13, it’d be an entirely different story in the 2nd half as the Patriots began doing what the Patriots seem to do a lot of the team—make their opponents look like they belong in college. They’d get the ball back in the beginning of the 2nd half, and scored a touchdown on their first possession thanks to a Stevan Ridley 8 yard run. Ridley is one of the things that makes this Patriots team so dangerous. They could run the ball in previous years when they had players like Corey Dillon, and it looks like they’ve got that again with Ridley—believe it or not.

The Patriots won the game 41-28 & will play the Ravens in a rematch of last year’s AFC Title Game that is well known for Billy Cundiff’s Wide Left—better not mentioned in the state of Maryland.

I have to give credit to the Texans for hanging tough. They kept on playing hard football until there were triple zeros on the clock at the end of the 4th quarter. They got a couple of more touchdowns, even though they came 3 quarters too late. Houston has rising stars like J.J. Watt, Arian Foster, and a future Hall of Fame wideout in Andre Johnson. What some in Houston will be clamoring for is a quarterback that can perhaps challenge Schaub’s starting job but that’s not happening.

As for the Pats, this AFC Championship Game should be a fun one. If any AFC team can prevent New England from going back to the Super Bowl, it’s Baltimore. It should’ve been Baltimore last year if weren’t for the…well…we know by now.

The game, though, came at a cost as Rob Gronkowski reinjured his left forearm and has been declared out for the remainder of the postseason.

Bottom line is this: Sunday night can’t get here soon enough.

San Francisco’s Treat

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With a home win vs. the short-handed Minnesota Vikings under their belt, the next test for the Green Bay Packers would be on the road in San Francisco vs. the 49ers. They didn’t look like the same team they were when they hit their peak shortly after the controversial Golden Tate “Fail Mary”, but still looked good enough to win postseason games. Injuries, of course, hurt them throughout the season as well. Also, there was the (I believe, overhyped) element of Rodgers being passed over in favor of Smith by the 49ers in the NFL Draft.

The story for the Niners was that Colin Kaepernick was playing in his first postseason game since Jim Harbaugh made the decision to stick with Kaepernick after the injury to Alex Smith. When it came to playoff experience, Rodgers (a 1 time Super Bowl champion) vs. Kaepernick looked like a mismatch.

And it was…for the team hailing from the Badger State of Wisconsin.

Early on, a Sam Shields Pick 6 interception of Kaepernick to make it 7-0 Pack seemed to confirm the concerns some had about Kaepernick in this kind of environment in his first playoff game. He made up for it by running 20 yards for a touchdown to tie it at 7. The score would be 24-21 going into the half.

After that, the Packers would tie it on a field goal from the much maligned Mason Crosby. 24-24. From that moment on, Candlestick Point was Colin Kaepernick’s world and the Packers were simply living in it. Kaepernick’s total line was 17/31, 263 passing yards, 181 rushing yards, 2 passing TDs, 2 rushing TDs, and 1 pick. That 181 is an NFL record for any QB, regular season or playoffs. The 181 is also more than the entire rushing attack of the Packers, who finished with 104.

Frisco also got huge outings from Michael Crabtree (9 catches for 119 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Frank Gore (23 carries, 119 yards, 1 TD). For the Packers, Aaron Rodgers went 26/39 for 257 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.

Green Bay’s season has ended with a thud on the road. Their offseason will be filled with talk of potential free agency departures, most notably Jermichael Finley and Greg Jennings. The stuff coming from Jennings himself, as well as what’s coming from the team, make it a near inevitability that Jennings will not be returning to Lambeau Field in 2013-2014. Jennings, of course, will demand major dollars for a team to commit to his services.

As for the 49ers, they’ll be returning to the NFC Championship Game. After Kaepernick’s performance vs. Green Bay and the fact that they have a stellar defense on top of everything else, there are many that will predict the Niners to win their matchup when they head on down to…..

Atlanta.

Snatching Defeat From the Claws of Victory (And Vice Versa)

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Even though at the beginning of the year I picked the Atlanta Falcons to represent the NFC at the Super Bowl, I spent the entire second half of the season zoned in on the NFC and, in particular, who looked like the surprise team that would give someone like an Atlanta or Green Bay or San Francisco issues in the playoffs. While no one mentioned it because of their distance from the East Coast, the Seattle Seahawks looked like that team.

Not only were the Seahawks making a run, but with the news that the Sacramento Kings were on the verge of being sold to two Seattle based businessmen to return the Sonics back to the city, Seattle sports were running on Cloud 9 status.

Earlier in the year, the Falcons were having a tough time stopping the run. The Seahawks have a Pro Bowl runningback in Marshawn Lynch. They have a defense as good as anyone’s in the league—just the ingredients needed to pull off an upset against Atlanta’s Dirty Birds.

Such a scenario played itself out Sunday afternoon at the Georgia Dome & for the first half, Atlanta looked to be answering the bell rather soundly and smoothly. Russell Wilson made some rookie mistakes and there was the huge stop that the Falcons got on both 3rd & 1 (and 4th and 1) when it looked like the Seahawks would score their first touchdown of the game down big early.

Another one of them was late and had to do with clock management, but there is conversation in Seattle that the last 1st half play run by the Seahawks actually was got off in time.  

Meanwhile, it was 20-0 Falcons heading into overtime and 49ers fans by the Bay began calling their travel agents to book flights for Atlanta.

Seattle wouldn’t get their first score until 9:47 remaining in the 4th quarter on a 29 yarder from Wilson to Golden Tate. 20-7 Atlanta. A Falcons drive late in the 3rd quarter led to Jason Snelling touchdown pass from Matt Ryan making it 27-7. Maybe, that’s where the game was over.

Seattle then said, not so fast as they have played the NFL’s version of the Boston Red Sox circa 2004 a lot this season—always playing 4 quarters. Down 27-14, the Seahawks’ Earl Thomas picked up a key interception—one of Ryan’s two interceptions on the day. That gave the Seahawks a chance to inch closer and it became 27-21. With 31 seconds to go, the ‘Hawks got their first lead of the day courtesy of a two yard run from Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch to make it 28-27.

But, it was with 31 seconds to go.  And as the Bears in 2008 and this year’s Panthers and Raiders will tell you, you are giving Matty Ice 30 minutes if you give him 30 seconds. Two long passes were all the Falcons needed to get into field goal range for Matt Bryant, who was called the other “Matty Ice” by head coach Mike Smith in the Falcons’ postgame press conference.

The 49 yard kick from Bryant was wide right and sure to go down in history as one of the lowest moments ever in Atlanta sports—except for Pete Carroll calling a timeout on the sidelines. A clear instance of the bush league move known as “icing the kicker”. In my opinion, such a move is bogus and ought to go into the category of unsportsmanlike penalties. It should be an automatic 15-yard penalty.

So thanks to Carroll pulling off a move that he should’ve left at USC, Bryant got another shot and split the uprights beautifully. 30-28. An onsides kick would make it interesting at the end, but the Seahawks weren’t playing the Packers and it wasn’t Monday Night Football in Seattle. This Hail Mary attempt from Wilson wound up in the hands of Julio Jones. Falcons will host the 49ers in the NFC Title Game.

Seattle’s season is over, but there’s clear reason for optimism in the Emerald City. No one (me included) had the Seahawks even making the playoffs and now they have a bright future with Wilson at the nucleus of it. The Seahawks have nothing to be ashamed of. They will be back next year and likely for years to come.

As for the Falcons, they’ve finally won a playoff game & have (for now) put to rest the common talking point among football pundits that it’s a team that’s only built for the regular season & can’t win in the playoffs. They’ve won. Now, can they send the Falcons to the Super Bowl for the first time since losing 34-19 to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII—John Elway’s last game.

As for stats, Matt Ryan was 24/35 with 250 yards, 3 TDs, and 2 INTs. Even though there was been increasing talk around Atlanta surrounding Jacquizz Rodgers, veteran runningback Michael Turner had himself a resurgent game with 98 yards on 14 carries.

For the Seahawks, Wilson went 24/36 for 385 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT. He’d also be sacked twice, once by Vance Walker and once by Johnathan Babineaux. For the most part, the Falcons’ defensive line turned off “Beast Mode”. While Lynch had the 1 TD that put the Seahawks up late, he only had 46 rushing yards on the day on 16 carries. Zach Miller and Golden Tate did have huge receiving days as both went over 100 yards and each scored a touchdown (8/142 for Miller, 6/103 for Tate).

And among everything else, my preseason Super Bowl prediction of Ravens vs. Falcons is still alive for another week. I’m not boasting, though.

Did I mention earlier also that this upcoming Sunday can’t get here soon enough?

Check out The Real Sports Talk on YouTube and at TheRealSportsTalk.com for all your NFL Playoff coverage! We’ll have analysis and previews of the AFC and NFC Championship Games Throughout the Week!

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Early NBA Championship Contenders: Stacked Out West

Written by Tom Mullins, TRST NBA columnist. Follow him on Twitter @tomullins

Now that we’ve seen plenty of basketball this season, teams can be separated more easily, the good from the bad, and then there’s the Wizards.

While it’s slim pickings in the Eastern Conference, out West there are several championship contenders. As usual the Spurs and Thunder are the teams to beat, with the Clippers and Grizzlies close behind. As we all know the Lakers are struggling early, and young teams such as Golden State can seize the opportunity.

Other than Miami and New York, yes that’s right, the Knicks are a championship caliber team, the Eastern Conference lacks the ‘elite’ teams. Atlanta and Chicago have played well to date without a true star, while Boston, Brooklyn and Indiana are barely over .500.

Right now you can’t look past Oklahoma City, despite their loss to the Timberwolves last night. Durant’s continuing his brilliant play from last season, looking like a serious MVP candidate. Russell Westbrook has kept improving, now distributing the ball better to his teammates. Losing Harden hasn’t impacted the Thunder, with Kevin Martin fitting in perfectly to the offense and giving them a dangerous weapon from beyond the arc. Serge Ibaka is playing like a borderline All-Star, making consistent mid-range baskets, it almost seems unfair. OKC will probably finish with the top seed in the West, and don’t be surprised if they’re in the Finals for a second consecutive year.

Defending champions the Miami Heat haven’t looked quite as good just yet, especially defensively, though they are still playing at a level greater than most other teams around the league. LeBron James is unstoppable as usual and Chris Bosh is playing efficiently on offense, however Dwyane Wade needs to recover from a slow start in order for this Miami team to be successful down the track. They should be able to escape the East for the third season in a row and defend their title, though the Knicks could challenge them in the playoffs.

Who would have thought the Knicks would be on top of the East only days away from Christmas? Carmelo Anthony has led this new look outfit to the second best record in the league. If their threes keep falling and Amar’e Stoudemire can play effectively with Melo, this New York team could be very dangerous.

Tim Duncan has turned back the clock so far this season and is playing at an extremely high level. The Spurs have cooled down a bit recently, but are still an elite team with guards such as Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, along with a solid bench. They’re not going to let young teams such as the Thunder, Clippers and Grizzlies take over the West without a fight.

The Clippers are the best team in LA right now, thanks to the best point guard in the league, Chris Paul. It’s scary to think how good they could be, as they’re arguably the deepest team in the league with role players still on the sideline (Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups). Expect a deep playoff run from them, with a WCF’s berth in sight.

After a disappointing exit to the playoffs earlier this year, the Memphis Grizzlies look to go much further this season, and with the best frontcourt in the NBA, they have a great chance to succeed. It’ll be tough to get out of the West, though if their key players in Gay, Gasol and Randolph play efficient basketball, along with Conley and production from the bench, Memphis could definitely make some noise.

Look out for teams like the Bulls (if Rose is back healthy), Hawks and Warriors come the playoffs, who have played well early and won’t get the same amount of hype as the true contenders.

Teams who will improve as the season wears on include the Lakers, Celtics, Nets and Pacers. The Mavericks and Sixers should also step up their level of play when their star players return, if Bynum ever plays in Philly.

NFL Week 14 Recap: Thrillers and Blowouts

It may not be the most popular sports league in the world, but the NFL has to be the most exciting.

Week in and week out teams produce quality contests and entertain millions of fans across the globe. This week was no exception, as intriguing storylines resulted from the multitude of games.

Only three weeks remain in the regular season and after a week of off-field tragedies, players took the field on Sunday and put on a show for fans.

Even though there were plenty of one-sided games, others went down to the wire and finished in thrilling style. Some teams threw away their playoff hopes, while others gained momentum towards the end of the season.

On Thursday Night Football the Broncos continued their recent dominance, extending their winning streak to eight games by comfortably defeating the Raiders. Peyton Manning was finding his receivers like usual, though it was the run game led by Knowshon Moreno, who ran for 119 yards and a touchdown. A first week playoff bye is Denver’s main focus and should be possible.

St. Louis kept their slim playoff chances alive when quarterback Sam Bradford threw a late touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson, giving them a two point victory against the Bills. Ryan Fitzpatrick had a solid game for Buffalo, but just like their disappointing season, it wasn’t enough for success. Fred Jackson was another negative for the Bills, only rushing for fourteen yards and was carted off with a knee injury.

After an emotional week, the Cowboys stayed in the NFC East race defeating the Bengals with a game winning field goal as time ran out. Anthony Spencer was a standout on defense for Dallas, recording two sacks and eleven total tackles. Both teams are now 7-6 and need to perform well down the stretch if they want to be playing come the first week of January.

The game which nobody cared about got off to a frantic start when Jamaal Charles scored on an eighty yard touchdown run. Other than Charles’ play and Travis Benjamin’s punt return, this matchup was difficult on the eyes. Browns blowout the Chiefs to record their fifth win of the season. Congrats?

Not many people would have predicted that the Colts would have a better record after week fourteen than the Steelers, Bears, Cowboys, Lions, Chargers, Eagles, Buccaneers, Panthers, Saints, Giants and Seahawks. But they do. Even though they’ve had an “easy” schedule and a record doesn’t mean all that much, they’ve certainly been impressive this season. A second half comeback got them over the top of the Titans by four points.

For the second straight week the Bears have blown games against winnable opponents. Their clash with Minnesota was crucial in terms of playoff seeding, and with a banged up defense they couldn’t stop the force that is Adrian Peterson. Cutler left the game late with a neck injury and Campbell wasn’t able to orchestrate a win.

Ben Roethlisberger returned from injury, however his Steelers were thumped by the Chargers. Yes, that’s right, the Chargers. Philip Rivers played well and didn’t turn the ball over, which resulted in the easy win for San Diego, who at one point led 27-3. But again the Chargers leave it too little too late. Pittsburgh doesn’t need to stress too much, since the Ravens and Bengals also lost.

Another team who was desperate for a win was the Eagles. They snapped an eight game losing streak thanks to a last second touchdown pass by Nick Foles, leaving Tampa Bay victorious. Foles carried the offense with McCoy out injured, and certainly won the QB matchup against Freeman. Good to see Philly finally get a win, but Andy Reid, you’re still fired.

This contest felt like a playoff game, but the Redskins’ victory was slightly overshadowed byan injury to Robert Griffin III. It was close the entire game, before the Ravens stretched their lead to eight late in the fourth. Cousins was able to rally Washington in OT and keep the ‘Skins in the playoff race. RG3′s fine by the way, thank God.

A dominant display from Carolina resulted in a comfortable win against Atlanta, which the final score didn’t resemble. This game was a minor hiccup for the Falcons who are now 11-2. They’ve got three tough games to end the season, as for the Panthers, they’ll be looking for positives to take into next season.

The Jets’ running game was on song against the Jaguars, with Powell and Greene combining for over 150 yards and two touchdowns. Other than that there’s not much else to say, Jets won, Tebow didn’t play and they’re surprisingly still a chance to make the playoffs.

San Francisco got back on track with a win over the Dolphins. Kaepernick sealed the victory with a 50-yard touchdown run and completed eighteen of his twenty-three passes with no turnovers. Miami kept it close for most of the game and had a chance late, though they weren’t able to convert on fourth down.

Talk about an insane game. The Saints took the lead early, but the Giants never looked back, ultimately blowing out New Orleans at home. Rookie David Wilson was brilliant for New York, with a total of 327 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. Four turnovers cost the Saints, including some more picks from Drew Brees who’s struggled as of late.

58-0. Yes you read that correctly. Seattle DESTROYED Arizona in a completely one sided affair. Marshawn Lynch went off, scoring three touchdowns and rushing for 128 yards. This game was over at the half and the result completely embarrassed the Cardinals. Poor Larry Fitzgerald. #FreeLarry

In the freezing cold conditions, Detroit challenged the home team in the first half, but mistakes proved to be crucial in their loss to Green Bay. The Packers are finding form late in the season and also a run game, rushing for a total of 140 yards, which included a 27-yard touchdown run by Aaron Rodgers. They now control their destiny and could clinch the division next week in Chicago.

We were all looking forward to a close game on Monday night between the top teams in the AFC, instead we got a blowout which was decided in the first half. Tom Brady threw four touchdowns in the dominant Patriots’ performance, making them Super Bowl favorites overnight. Looks like we’ll have to wait until they face the 49ers for the thrilling game we all hoped to see.

Week 14 Edition of the Monday Morning Realist

By: Akiem Bailum

Twitter: @Li495Akiem

In the past, Monday Morning Realist columns have featured a specific theme to them. An earlier one was centered around coaches that may very well be on the hot seat on Black Monday after Week 17 is finished. There’s one to this week’s as well.

In Week 14, things went due South for the AFC North.

Playing Through Tragedy

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First up this week are the Cincinnati Bengals who came into their home game at Paul Brown Stadium vs. the Dallas Cowboys at 7-5 and barely on the outside looking in for the AFC playoffs. While the Bengals were looking to pad their playoff positioning, it was another tragic week throughout the league as a whole.

The NFL is still fresh off the Javon Belcher murder-suicide from last week in Kansas City that took the lives of two people and left a 3 month old girl without a mother and father.

This week, the league would deal with more tragedy as it was found out that the Cowboys’ 25-year old Jerry Brown was killed in a car accident that also involved teammate Josh Brent. Brent has since been charged with intoxication manslaughter and his bail amount has been set at $500,000. The most glaring piece of information on his record is that it’s not the first time Brent has had DUI related issues to deal with. He’s a repeat offender as he did it once while in college.

It’s simply the second straight week where something has meant a lot more than football in this case. Once again, on behalf of The Real Sports Talk, condolences to Brown’s family and the Cowboys organization.

Brent has since vociferously tried to lament that he’s heartbroken about what happened to Jerry Brown. The obvious answer to him is that none of this would’ve happened if Brent used common sense and realize that you don’t drink and drive. Add that to the fact that he’s a repeat offender clearly shows that he and his attorneys are on a PR tour. It’s another sad episode that should be a lesson to everybody and, once again, saps a lot of the fun out of what should be excitement about playoff races. For better or for worse, the game of football was trivialized again by tragic circumstances.

As for the game itself, the Bengals did maintain a 19-10 lead into the 4th quarter, but they had multiple opportunities to put the game away on both sides of the football. Key drops, including one from wide receiver A.J. Green where he would’ve had an easy touchdown, kept an emotional Dallas team in the game. Tony Romo also almost threw a late interception that was also dropped.

It allowed the ‘Boys to stay in it and Romo to engineer a game-winning drive resulting in a Dan Bailey field goal.

Romo was 25/43 for 268 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton went 20/33 for 206 yards, 1 TD, and a pick. Playing through tragic circumstances is never easy to do as the Kansas City Chiefs did last week. This game went beyond football for Dallas this week.

Dallas is now 7-6 and will return to Arlington to play the Steelers in Week 15.

As for the Bengals, they now face a short week at 7-6 before traveling to Philadelphia to play the Eagles. They may rue the day they “dropped” this game as it could be the difference between January football and beginning their offseason in that month—as evidenced by everything else that occurred throughout their division.

Banged Up in the Beltway

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The Baltimore Ravens were smarting after losing in stunning fashion last week to the Pittsburgh Steelers and their third string quarterback Charlie Batch. One would expect that this would be the game for them to get back on track as they went to Landover, Maryland to play the Washington Redskins in what has been termed as the “Battle of the Beltway”.

One reason had to be why—the Pittsburgh Steelers have a real defense. The ‘Skins defense is 28th ranked in the NFL. But it was a defense that was able to hold its own last week vs. their division rival New York Giants. When it seemed like they were out of it, London Fletcher, Alfred Morris, and Robert Griffin III have put the Redskins back in the middle of the NFC playoff chase.

They came into this game at 6-6. Baltimore was at 9-3. While it was back-and-forth throughout, the Ravens did have to sustain more injuries as would be evidenced by those to Jameel McClain and Terrell Suggs (the Suggs injury occurred prior to the game).

The injury bug wouldn’t only bite the Ravens. Late in the 4th quarter, Robert Griffin III sustained a knee injury. He attempted to come back, but he clearly could no longer play a few plays later. He would be replaced by Kirk Cousins who would not only complete a game-tying drive late in the 4th quarter, but remained in the game to be part of a game-winning drive in overtime. Washington also received a huge play on special teams from Richard Crawford who returned a punt 64 yards all the way to Baltimore’s 24 yard line. A few plays later, Kai Forbath would make a 34 yard field goal to win it for the Burgundy and Gold.

Washington is now 7-6 and is in the thick of things in the NFC playoff race. The main question for them right now is will Robert Griffin III be healthy for next week’s game vs. the Browns, a game they should win. RGIII was able to avoid an ACL injury and he’s currently listed as having only a knee sprain, but his status still is unknown, according to reports.

Even without RGIII, Washington still has plenty of issues on defense and some are even hinting at a quarterback controversy between RGIII and Kirk Cousins. Those defensive issues will not win them too many postseason games even with their rushing attack led by Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin III. Prior to the injury, Griffin was 15/26 for 246 yards and 1 touchdown in addition to rushing for 34 yards on 7 carries. Morris had 23 carries for 122 yards. They also got 5 receptions on 87 yards from Pierre Garcon.

Joe Flacco’s statistics are someone misleading—16/21 for 182 yards on 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. They would also get 20 carries on 121 yards from Ray Rice. Torrey Smith vented his frustration on Twitter about the team not being able to hold leads. The bottom line is that they have a lot of injury issues and the last couple of games were games they had great chances of winning—but didn’t.

Next week it doesn’t get any easier for the 9-4 Ravens—they go back home to play Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos.

Pitt-iful

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The previous 3 weeks for the Pittsburgh Steelers weren’t very memorable. They managed to go 1-2, but what showed more than anything else was that when Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t their starting quarterback, their offense was lost.

This week, they would get their two-time Super Bowl winning QB back and fans expected a return to the form that had Pittsburgh earlier in the season looking like the hottest team in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the San Diego Chargers are virtually done, especially after 4th and 29 two weeks ago vs. the Baltimore Ravens. And mid-week, there was the San Diego Union-Tribune report that said team owner Dean Spanos would fire head coach Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith at the end of the year. Spanos denied the report. We’ll see on Black Monday….

With both teams coming into their Week 14 tilt at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field colder than Steel City weather in December, something had to give. What gave out was Pittsburgh’s offense for the majority of the game. Towards the closing of the third quarter, the Steelers’ deficit was 27-3 and Philip Rivers looked like the Philip Rivers from circa 2008 instead of circa 2011.

Rivers went 21/41 for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns. Roethlisberger also had 3 TDs while going 22/42 with one interception. Mike Wallace also had 7 receptions for 112 yards in a losing effort for the Stillers.

The loss now sends Pittsburgh to 7-6 while San Diego is 5-8. The Steelers get the Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium in Week 15. The Chargers’ playoff hopes are slim if not done at best. They play Carolina at home next week, but judging from the last 3 weeks, Cam Newton and the Panthers are playing their best football of the year. Whoever doesn’t make the playoffs out of the AFC North may rue Week 14. All 3 top teams lost when they had chances to make their playoff standing more solid.

Oh, and the Browns won too. Go figure.

T(Win) Cities

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You wouldn’t notice it if all you watched was the Bears/Vikings game inside the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, but a major snowstorm hit the Twin Cities metropolitan area over this weekend. Some areas throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin are reporting as much as 16 inches of snow.

Luckily, The Dome’s roof didn’t collapse as it did during that year’s mishap (what I called the MetroFail) in 2010.

December. Snow. Outside. Cold weather. Bears weather.

Domed stadium. Advantage Minnesota Vikings.

No Brian Urlacher for the Bears—advantage Minnesota Vikings. The Purple-People Eaters were 5-1 at home coming into this game. They can thank that roof in what would be otherwise cold weather conditions for their victory over the Bears on Sunday.

Oh, and Adrian Peterson helped out a lot too. He’d rush 31 times for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns. By the end of the first quarter, he’d have 100 yards already. Apparently, Christian Ponder learned from last week’s Green Bay Packers game that the key to the Vikings winning football games is Peterson pounding the rock and the defense doing the rest of the work.

They were able to do its work on Jay Cutler as they sacked him twice and also picked him off twice. One of those times would be a pick six to Harrison Smith. Other than that, he’d go 22/44 for 260 yards and 1 touchdown.

That was before he’d have to be taken out of the game with a neck injury. It is fresh in the minds of Bears fans what their offense looked like without Jay Cutler and they’re hoping he’s not out for any lengthy period of time.

In came Jason Campbell again. He did go 6/9 for 64 yards and 1 touchdown pass (to Brandon Marshall), but the late score came with less than 2 minutes left to go in the game. Minnesota won 21-14.

Minnesota is now 7-6 and will play the Rams in Week 15. They should win that game. Chicago is 8-5 and will get Green Bay in Soldier Field next week.

This Section Brought to You By the Number 58

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The Seattle Seahawks defeated the Arizona Cardinals 58-0 on Sunday.

An NFL team defeated another NFL team by 58 points.

Enough said.

If Only The “D” Train Went to East Rutherford…

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After getting to .500 at 5-5 before Thanksgiving week, the New Orleans Saints had their fans feeling a little bit more cautiously optimistic about the season. The 5 wins included a huge one at home vs. the division rival Atlanta Falcons in where a goal-line stand sealed the deal for New Orleans.

But, since Thanksgiving week, a lot has changed. They’ve lost at home to the San Francisco 49ers when Colin Kaepernick was starting just his 2nd game for the Niners. The week after that on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football, they lost on the road to the Atlanta Falcons after they had beaten Atlanta on 11 of their previous 13 meetings. Drew Brees threw 5 interceptions that game.

In Week 13, they’d travel to New York/New Jersey to play the Giants who were coming off a loss to the Washington Redskins in FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland on Monday Night Football. One thing that hasn’t changed all year long about the Saints—the fact that this team still has the worst defense in the entire NFL.

It showed again as they’d allow 52 points to the Giants—the most they’d allow to a team all season long. Eli Manning threw 259 yards on 22/35 passing with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.

Rookie runningback David Wilson would have a breakout game. Not only did he rush for 100 yards on 13 carries, he’d also return 4 kicks for 227 yards including one for 97 yards and a touchdown. And according to statistics, he’s the first player ever in NFL history to return kicks for at least 200 yards and rush for at least 100 yards. Victor Cruz also caught 8 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown.

For the Saints and Drew Brees, the turnover issues continued. New Orleans turned the ball over 4 more times, including 2 interceptions from Drew Brees—both to the Giants’ Stevie Brown. Other than that, he’d go 26/43 for 354 yards and 1 touchdown.

New Orleans is now 5-8. They’re finished. Their high-octane offense could not overcome their porous defense and it caught up to them in New York. They’re not getting into the playoffs out of the NFC with Chicago and Seattle both at 8-5. They will not be playing in a Super Bowl in their home stadium, so if those stories haven’t been scrapped already, scrap them now.

As for the New York Giants, they’re 8-5. It’s very important for them to win the remainder of their games because there’s still a chance that only one team out of the NFC East makes the playoffs. Washington is continuing their hard-charging run and so is Dallas. They’ve been very inconsistent their last 4 games. They looked great vs. Green Bay and New Orleans (teams that either had bad defenses or were injured) and not so much against Cincinnati and Washington (of course, the ‘Skins defense is hella suspect as well).

Next for the Saints—a home game vs. the Buccaneers who last this week to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants go to the Georgia Dome to play the Atlanta Falcons. That game should be fun to watch.

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

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Unlike in Minnesota where they have a dome, there’s no such contraption encompassing Lambeau Field. And they did get snow which meant less-than-normally-visible conditions for Sunday Night Football in Green Bay. It’s December, so you wouldn’t want to see it any other way. Football played in the elements—it’s a beautiful thing.

Also, take into consideration that the last two games for the Detroit Lions were losses where they probably should’ve got wins—both over playoff caliber teams in the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts.

That’ll happen when your defense is suspect like Detroit’s is…and when there’s concern that one of the players who is supposed to be one of your defensive standouts is getting the side-eye from people about being a dirty player.

That, of course, is Ndamukong Suh.

Green Bay would once again enter this game with two of their top defensive players still sidelined due to injury—Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews.

Early on, it looked like those same defensive difficulties would come home to roost yet again. Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ offense looked crisp early on as they jumped out to an early 14-0 lead. What began the turnaround for the Green Bay Packers would be a fumble recovery off Stafford from Mike Daniels. He’d return the ball 43 yards to the other end to make it 14-10.

Green Bay got the lead by Aaron Rodgers completing the 2nd longest run of his career—27 yards for a TD that made it 17-14. This game began to look like the Houston and Indy games for Detroit. Good starts, but fading late. What stuck out was how much the Packers ran the ball. Collectively, Rodgers, Alex Green, Dujuan Harris, John Kuhn, and even Ryan Grant combined for 140 yards on the ground. The Lions also ran the ball rather well themselves with 135 yards, but all of the Packer TDs would come via run plays. Rodgers went 14/24 for 173 yards. Randall Cobb also had a huge game with 7 receptions and 102 yards.

Matthew Stafford would go 27/45 for 264 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. It would also be another big day for Calvin Johnson. Megatron’s line—10 receptions for 118 yards. He continues to lead the league in receiving yards with almost 1500 on the season. And as NBC pointed out, he’s closing in on Jerry Rice’s record for most receiving yards in a season.

With the Lions at 4-9 now on the season, that’s practically the only thing they have left to play for. They’ll play the Arizona Wildca….uh…I mean the Arizona Cardinals in Glendale in Week 15. They better win that game. The 9-4 Packers, on the other hand, have plenty to play for. The NFC North title can once again be painted green and gold if they defeat the Chicago Bears in Soldier Field next week.

If the Playoffs Began Today….

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 Texans 11-1 (1st round bye)

Broncos 10-3 (1st round bye)

Patriots 9-3

Ravens 9-4

Colts 9-4

Steelers 7-6

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Falcons 11-2 (1st round bye)

49ers 9-3-1 (1st round bye)

Packers 9-4

Giants 8-5

Seahawks 8-5

Bears 8-5

Stay tuned to TRST for the most in NFL coverage, including The NFL Final Score every Sunday!

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RG3 and Cutler hurt, Seahawks slaughter Cards 58-0, Cowboys win for Jerry Brown-The NFL Final Score

Hosted by Tim Kelly-Host,Owner, and Founder of The Real Sports Talk

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Vote: 2012 TRST Athlete of The Year

In 2011, Aaron Rodgers won his first Superbowl, and had lead the Packers to a  regular 15-1 season behind an MVP performance. This led the viewers of The Real Sports Talk, or as it was called back then The Ka$h Kelly and AC Sports Report, to vote Rodgers as 2011 athlete of the year. Fast forward 12 months, and Rodgers has stayed hot but not hot enough to defend his title as Athlete of the Year. Here are the four candidates. Vote at the poll on the bottom of the article. Votes will be counted until December 22.

Eli Manning Quarterback New York Giants-In 2012 Eli Manning truly did reach his goal of being elite. After by far his best regular season of his career, Manning once again upset Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Superbowl 46, winning his second Superbowl MVP.  At the end of 2012, Manning has the Giants sitting on top of the NFC East at 7-5, having tossed 16 TDs and 3,170 yards.

Eli Manning

LeBron James Small Forward Miami Heat and Team USA- In 2011 LeBron James was viewed by many as the most unsuccessful athlete of the year. In 2012 “King James” won his third league MVP, and finally got his first NBA Title and Finals MVP. After that LeBron was just adding on by leading the USA Men’s team to Gold in the London Olympics. As 2012 winds down, LeBron is averaging 25 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists.

LeBron with trophies

Usain Bolt Sprinter Jamaica- Coming into the 2012 London Olympics, many wondered if 2008 Olympic hero Usain Bolt would be out-shined by his countryman, Yohan Blake. Coming out of the 2012 London games, those same critics wondered if Bolt was the greatest sprinter of all-time. Bolt cruised to a 100 meter dash record 9.63 seconds. Bolt also edged out teammate Yohan Blake, to win his second straight 200 meter title, with a time of  19.32 seconds. Bolt became the first sprinter to ever win the 100 and 200 meter races at back to back Olympics. As we ponder if Bolt is the 2012 Athlete of the Year, he is likely training for  the 2016 games, which he has committed to running in.

London Olympics Athletics Men

Miguel Cabrera Third-Baseman Detroit Tigers- After the Tigers signed Prince Fielder, forcing Miguel Cabrera to move to third base, numerous experts thought Cabrera may have a down season. Instead Cabrera won his first MVP, after becoming the first player to hit for the triple crown since Carl Yastrzemski. He did so hitting .330 with 44 homeruns and 139 RBI’s. Cabrera also lead the Tigers to their first World Series appearance since 2006, before the Tigers were swept by the Giants.  Regardless of the loss in the World Series, Cabrera had a truly historic year in 2012.

Miggy

Players who just missed: Johnny Manziel, Manti T’eo, Michael Phelps, Mike Trout, Buster Posey, Kevin Durant, & Anthony Davis.

Ravens-Redskins, Bears-Vikings, Texans-Patriots, and the Rest of NFL Week 14 Previews & Predictions!

Hosted by Akiem Bailum, host of TRST’s “10 Minutes on the Clock”

Twitter: @Li495Akiem

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