As days go by the NFL playoff picture just gets more murky. Last week's "big" game was a blowout and the easy win games turned into surprise upsets. Since when does the NFL act like college football?
Nothing in the NFL is usually a lock. For years however it was just known which teams would be good and which would be terrible, and that has both stayed the same but also changed completely. If you had told someone years ago a game between the New England Patriots and the Houston Texans would be heavily anticipated and impact the playoffs, you might have been slapped. On Monday night the two met and the game was expected to be an even fight between two powerhouses, and then Tom Brady remembered he will probably be a Hall of Famer. The Patriots scored 21 points unanswered in the first half and never wavered afterward trying to lock themselves as the best team. The Texans are not out of it for sure and how a team plays now and in the playoffs can make a big difference but hopefully this isn't a death bell for a pretty good Texan team.
Other big games from the weekend include the Chicago Bears visiting the Minnesota Vikings hoping for a playoff spot underneath the Green Bay Packers in their division. The Bears seemingly had a lock on the wild card spot but the Vikings had other thoughts behind the legs of their quick and nimble running-back Adrian Peterson who ran for 51 yards on the very first play the Vikings had. This set the tone for the game which the Vikings one and put themselves back into the playoff picture and but the Bears into a more murky future. The Pittsburgh Steelers were hoping the return of their starting quarterback would change things in the steel city but the visiting San Diego Chargers had other thoughts when their own, sometimes fickle, quarterback Philip Rivers matched Ben Roethlisberger's performance and the Chargers were able to stun the Steelers at home and further dash their hopes for a postseason appearance.
This coming weekend has plenty of important games when it comes to teams playoff hopes. The 8-5 New York Giants head off to face the 11-2 Atlanta Falcons in hopes of proving the Falcons are an inflated team and the Falcons hope to prove themselves against a very good team. The Packers are off to Chicago in a game that could solidify their playoff trips or if the Bears win open the door for the Bears and Vikings. The Denver Broncos visit the Baltimore Ravens, the Ravens need a win after having loss twice in a row to some very good teams but may have trouble against the Peyton Manning led Broncos. The Indianapolis Colts are down to Houston and the Texans where the Texans don't need to win to make the playoffs but may need one emotionally to get their season back on the tracks. And finally you have the San Francisco 49ers are off to visit the, perfect at home in December, New England Patriots. Both are good teams but the Patriots are just better at home and in the cold.
Boxing, to a lot of people, is a dead or dying sport. That doesn't mean it isn't still out there making money and getting viewers and fights like Saturday night's fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez for the fourth time. That's right, these two have faced one another in the ring three times before Saturday night and none of them were won by Marquez. Each bout would always leave some controversy, two of which many believe Marquez had won outright, but all were based on points and knockdowns, no knockouts. Then came Saturday night where the two faced off for what would supposedly be the final time. Both fighters were prepared and both knocked the other down during the course of the 6 round bout. But then after a missed punch Pacquiao was knocked out by a vicious counter-punch from Marquez. It was a big, conclusive win, for Marquez who is nearing 40 and the inevitable end of his career. The loss for Pacquiao puts a stain on his great career to this point, especially since this is the second straight loss for the early 30s fighter. Will the loss further the true superfight between Pacquiao and longtime rival but never enemy in the ring Flloyd Mayweather? Probably not.
The troubles for the LA Lakers don't seem to be going away even for a team stacked when it comes to superstars. Most seem to believe new coach D'Antoni's new strategy is to blame for the lack of continued success and Kobe Bryant's continued support of D'Antoni doesn't seem to help since Bryant has a huge sway over the Lakers moves and decisions. Meanwhile teams like the New York Knicks, LA Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and of course the Miami Heat seem to be the teams to beat in their divisions packed with both superstars, which are unnecessary in the NBA these days, and plenty of momentum.
Going into his second title defense of the year it could be argued that Benson Henderson should not have the belt around his waist. Coming out of his second title defense, it is inarguable that Benson Henderson successfully defended his bit of UFC gold. Henderson stifled Stockton, California’s Nate Diaz at every point in the fight using the clinch to wear on and shutdown the active boxer. Diaz never got to do what he does best, box. Relegated to grabbing at kimura and leg lock attempts, never gaining positional advantage or advantage in general against Benson Henderson. Winning a unanimous decision (50-43, 50-45, 50-45) on the judges score cards. Ending the all around best night of fights the UFC has put on FOX.
Color commentator Mike Goldberg, perusal, used the “changing of the guard” cliche as a narrative for the night. Poorly grafting it onto the lightweight title fight. It was entirely applicable to the BJ Penn-Rory MacDonald and Shogun Rua-Alexander Gustafsson. In both cases the guards were changed. MacDonald dominated BJ Penn in a way only GSP has done inside the octagon. MacDonald was unable to get the finish but showed off good combination punching and kicks. The wars seem to have caught up to Shogun Rua. Rua showed off a willingness to go for leg locks and takedowns early but as the fight wore on and he tired went headhunting, catching the Alexander Gustafsson a few times. Beyond those few times and a good first round was thoroughly dominated by the Gustafsson, who won on the scorecards (30-27, 30-27, 30-26). Matt Brown knocked out Mike Swick in the second round after a grappling heavy first round.
The UFC is busy this week with UFC on FX 6 (Dec 14) and The Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale (Dec 15). Both cards have some entertaining fights booked. On the Finale card Pat Barry-Shane Del, Guilard-Varner make up the meat of a better than normal TUF Finale card. In the land down, under on UFC on FX 6 middleweights Hector Lombard vs. Rousimar Palhares square off in the most interesting main card fight.