The NFL playoff picture tightens, the NBA gets crazy, the NCAA bowls are ready to go, and baseball decides it will never stop making news. All the while boxing is in the background trying desperately to get viewers.
Races to make it to the playoffs make themselves clearer and muddled all at once as we inch ourselves closer to the end of the regular NFL season. We start off with Monday night's game where the New York Giants were hoping to knock off division rival the Washington Redskins, but the Redskins' rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III had no plans to just roll over. In a close game all night long RG3 looked like he belonged on the same field as Giant QB Eli Manning. Even a fumble by RG3 as he ran the football ended up in the hands of another of his own players ending up in a touchdown, it was as if he could do know wrong. This through the Redskins smack dab in a playoff run and the Giants playoff hopes grow much more hazy. Then you have the Pittsburgh Steelers, a strong team suffering from plenty of injuries and have a backup QB leading their team in hopes of saving a floundering season, going against the horribly tough Baltimore Ravens which looked like it would be an easy win for the birds. Except that backup Steelers QB, and longtime NFL QB, Charlie Batch didn't let that happen. He led his team 61 yards as time waned down which allowed the game winning field goal kick and breathing life back into the Steelers. And now this week starter Ben Roethlisberger is back and starting again which gives hope to the Steeler nation that all isn't lost.
This week has some big games that will have plenty of playoff impact. The Chicago Bears visit the Minnesota Vikings which might be a last hope the Vikings have at reaching the playoffs by winning their division title from the Bears. Then you have the Ravens, off that Steelers loss, visiting the magical RG3 in hopes of ensuring their playoff ticket but the Redskins and their rookie sensation may have something to say about that. And then on Monday night you have the Houston Texans, an 11-1 team team who haven't lost on the road and are already in the playoffs, are off to face the New England Patriots in what might be an early preview of a playoff game in a few weeks. Can the Patriots protect their home turf or are the Texans just so good that they can't be stopped this year?
The bowls are set and the only game left to play is the Army/Navy game. The bowls don't even start until the 15th and you have to wait until the 20th until they really start to come day by day. As the games get closer I'll try and preview some of the bigger match-ups and smaller overlooked schools. Few surprises were in store for the final week of full college football play. Alabama beat Georgia in the SEC championship game to get to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for the big championship game of them all. One big upset was Northern Illinois, who in the final week upset then #17 Kent State, made their mark as they were the last team picked to be in the top 15 of the final BSC rankings. This ensured them a BCS bowl game, the important ones that don't quite have ridiculous names, and put an underdog and often overlooked team among the big boys and gives them a chance at the TV coverage and money normally not handed out to teams like Northern Illinois.
Now that the NBA season is underway I can readily admit I both don't follow and don't like the NBA. I do enjoy basketball but I don't like the style of play the NBA takes on basketball and much prefer more balanced play like that of the NCAA which I get more of an eye on. But that doesn't mean I don't listen to or pay attention to the basketball big leagues. Recently the superstar packed LA Lakers have been the talk of the league and not for their spectacular play. Pau Gasol, a star and high commodity for the Lakers, simply hasn't been flourishing within the system out in LA. Combine that with recent injuries and the Lakers may be hoping to just make the playoffs let alone win any. In the same city however you have the LA Clippers, another jam-packed team but with more youth, who are first within their division and show no signs of stopping. On the Eastern side of things it seems the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks will be the two teams battling it out for the remainder of the year but will both, most likely, reach deep into the playoffs.
UFC ON FOX 5 - HENDERSON VS. DIAZ is this weekend at 8PM/5PM ET/PT on your local FOX channel. Preliminary fights on FX. For the first time it seems like the UFC has delivered a card worthy of network TV. The card will be headlined by current UFC Lightweight champion Benson Henderson, defending against TUF5 winner Nate Diaz. It is hard to imagine this fight being boring. Even though Henderson has the wrestling advantage, but he uses it more in fast paced scrambles that favor his natural athleticism. Both Diaz brothers have shown improvement and a more conscious effort to go for sweeps in a more active BJJ game off their backs. What Nate Diaz is really known for is his boxing, a constant barrage of punches, which might not hurt in the first round but going into the third can wear down opponents. Henderson is not the volume strike Diaz is but brings powerful striking that should clash at least visually with the Diaz barrage. Lightweight is the best division overall in MMA and this could go 25 minutes, plenty of time for something awesome to happen.
Supporting the main event is two interesting veteran vs prospect fights and Mike Swick vs Matt Brown. The less said about the later the better, it should provide an entertaining enough opener but little beyond that. Former UFC Light Heavyweight champion Shogun Rua has been one of the hardest fighters to call in his UFC career. He just hasn't looked consistent, recently going 4 tougher than expected rounds against Brandon Vera. His opponent, Alexander Gustafsson, has all the marks of youth in the fight game, moving quickly in Dominick Cruz like fashion with overall improvements coming fight to fight. Helping or hurting Rua, is the grittiness his fights feature. This makes him just tough to finish despite a depleted gas tank. It could be argued he has only been stopped by strikes once, to Jon Jones at UFC 128. Gustafsson has the cardio to go three rounds and win at least two enroute to a decision victory. BJ Penn wants you to once again believe that he is “back”...again. He has abs this time. If Penn is physically ready for Rory MacDonald half the battle is might be won. It is the mental side of the former 2 division UFC champion that makes me pause. Simply he just doesn't seem to have that drive, having recently become a father and no longer really needing the money from fighting. BJ Penn still has better boxing than the surging welterweight contender that could win him the first round or two and make it interesting. Penn historically hasn't looked great cardiovascularly at welterweight. As it goes on McDonald's size and staying power could simply last longer enroute to a competitive if not dominant decision over Penn.
The Winter meetings are just that in baseball, a series of meetings among every MLB team held after every season to address issues from the previous season. Try to throw a bunch of GMs in one room and have them not walk out with a trade and that's exactly what everyone has been doing. The biggest news so far has been the Washington Nationals adding Dan Haren, a right handed pitcher, to their already talented and stacked rotation making it one of the best in baseball and possible makes them a championship caliber team. Or the Tampa Bay Rays getting both Short Stop Yunel Escobar and In Fielder Derek Dietrich from Miami, big mostly because Miami had just got Escobar in a huge trade only weeks ago making it so strange that Miami seems to keen on getting rid of all big salaries. Rumors are even out there that the New York Yankees are offering a contract to Kevin Youkilis, long time Red Sox player, to a 1 year deal. Strange things will happen when you're desperate and it's cold outside.