Monday, December 15, 2014

NFL Playoff Picture after Week 15


Johnny Manziel had a few good games at Texas A&M. Sorry, this is the NFL. The guy is a talentless and arrogant and will be out of the league shortly. As the Browns are out of the playoffs.

NFC

Ari 7-1     Ari 8-1    Ari 9-1    Ari 9-2    Ari  9-3    Ari 10-3    Ari 11-3
Det 6-2     Det 7-2    Det 7-3    GB  8-3    GB   9-3    GB  10-3    Det 10-4
Phi 6-2     Phi 7-2    Phi 7-3    Phi 8-3    Phi  9-3    Phi  9-4    Dal 10-4
NO  4-4     NO  4-5    Atl 4-6    Atl 4-7    Atl  5-7    Atl  5-8    NO   6-8
Dal 6-2     Sea 6-3    GB  7-3    Dal 8-3    Sea  8-4    Sea  9-4    Sea 10-4
Sea 5-3     Dal 6-3    Dal 7-3    Sea 7-4    Det  8-4    Det  9-4    GB  10-4
--------    --------   --------   --------   ---------   ---------   ---------
GB  5-3     GB  6-3    SF  6-4    Det 7-4    Dal  8-4    Dal  9-4    Phi  9-5
SF  4-4     SF  5-4    Sea 6-4    SF  7-4    SF   7-5    SF   7-6    Car  5-8-1
Car 3-4-1              NO  4-6    NO  4-7    NO   5-7    NO   5-8    Atl  5-9

Dallas returns to the top 6 with their win over Philadelphia, who suddenly find themselves outside of the playoffs. Detroit between Green Bay earlier in the year, and their 8-2 conference record gets them the first-round bye over Dallas, while Green Bay's season-opening loss to Seattle gives them the final seed. The NFC South battle rages on.

AFC

NE  6-2     NE  7-2    NE  8-2    NE  9-2    NE   9-3    NE  10-3    NE  11-3
Den 6-2     Den 7-2    Den 7-3    Den 8-3    Den  9-3    Den 10-3    Den 11-3
Cin 5-2-1   Pit 6-3    Cin 6-3-1  Cin 7-3-1  Cin  8-3-1  Ind  9-4    Ind 10-4
Ind 5-3     Ind 6-3    Ind 6-4    Ind 7-4    Ind  8-4    Cin  8-4-1  Cin  9-4-1
KC  5-3     KC  6-3    KC  7-3    KC  7-4    SD   8-4    Pit  8-5    Pit  9-5
SD  5-3     Cle 6-3    Mia 6-4    SD  7-4    Mia  7-5    SD   8-5    Bal  9-5
--------    --------   ---------  ---------  ----------  ----------  ----------
Buf 5-3     Cin 5-3-1  SD  6-4    Bal 7-4    KC   7-5    Bal  8-5    KC   8-6
Mia 5-3     SD  5-4    Bal 6-4    Pit 7-4    Buf  7-5    Hou  7-6    SD   8-6
Bal 5-3     Buf 5-4    Pit 6-4    Cle 7-4    Bal  7-5    Mia  7-6    Buf  8-6
Pit 5-3     Mia 5-4    Cle 6-4    Mia 6-5    Pit  7-5    KC   7-6    Hou  7-7 
Cle 5-3     Bal 5-4    Hou 5-5    Buf 6-5    Cle  7-5    Buf  7-6    Mia  7-7
Hou 4-4     Hou 4-5    Buf 5-5    Hou 5-6    Hou  6-6    Cle  7-6    Cle  7-7

Baltimore jumps into the playoffs for the first time with their win over Jacksonville. Buffalo's upset over Green Bay keeps them alive, while Houston, Miami, and Cleveland are pretty much done for the year, though mathematically alive.

Best,

Sean

Monday, December 8, 2014

NFL Playoff Picture after Week 14


Cleveland, Buffalo, and San Francisco all probably bowed out of the race this past weekend, but they are still listed because this season, nothing is a given.

NFC

Ari 7-1     Ari 8-1    Ari 9-1    Ari 9-2    Ari  9-3    Ari 10-3
Det 6-2     Det 7-2    Det 7-3    GB  8-3    GB   9-3    GB  10-3
Phi 6-2     Phi 7-2    Phi 7-3    Phi 8-3    Phi  9-3    Phi  9-4   
NO  4-4     NO  4-5    Atl 4-6    Atl 4-7    Atl  5-7    Atl  5-8
Dal 6-2     Sea 6-3    GB  7-3    Dal 8-3    Sea  8-4    Sea  9-4
Sea 5-3     Dal 6-3    Dal 7-3    Sea 7-4    Det  8-4    Det  9-4
--------    --------   --------   --------   ---------   ---------
GB  5-3     GB  6-3    SF  6-4    Det 7-4    Dal  8-4    Dal  9-4
SF  4-4     SF  5-4    Sea 6-4    SF  7-4    SF   7-5    SF   7-6
Car 3-4-1              NO  4-6    NO  4-7    NO   5-7    NO   5-8

No changes to the standings. Cardinals still take the top spot because of a better conference record than Green Bay. Philly takes the NFC East because of their Thanksgiving win over Dallas, who is still out of the playoffs due to their 6-4 conference record, worse than the 7-2 sported by Seattle and Detroit. The Seahawks get the 5th seed based on a better record than the Lions in common games.

AFC

NE  6-2     NE  7-2    NE  8-2    NE  9-2    NE   9-3    NE  10-3
Den 6-2     Den 7-2    Den 7-3    Den 8-3    Den  9-3    Den 10-3
Cin 5-2-1   Pit 6-3    Cin 6-3-1  Cin 7-3-1  Cin  8-3-1  Ind  9-4
Ind 5-3     Ind 6-3    Ind 6-4    Ind 7-4    Ind  8-4    Cin  8-4-1
KC  5-3     KC  6-3    KC  7-3    KC  7-4    SD   8-4    Pit  8-5
SD  5-3     Cle 6-3    Mia 6-4    SD  7-4    Mia  7-5    SD   8-5
--------    --------   ---------  ---------  ----------  ----------
Buf 5-3     Cin 5-3-1  SD  6-4    Bal 7-4    KC   7-5    Bal  8-5
Mia 5-3     SD  5-4    Bal 6-4    Pit 7-4    Buf  7-5    Hou  7-6
Bal 5-3     Buf 5-4    Pit 6-4    Cle 7-4    Bal  7-5    Mia  7-6
Pit 5-3     Mia 5-4    Cle 6-4    Mia 6-5    Pit  7-5    KC   7-6
Cle 5-3     Bal 5-4    Hou 5-5    Buf 6-5    Cle  7-5    Buf  7-6
Hou 4-4     Hou 4-5    Buf 5-5    Hou 5-6    Hou  6-6    Cle  7-6

Indy jumps Cincy into third, while Pittsburgh moves up from 10th to 5th. The Steelers have a better divisional record than Baltimore (3-2 to 2-3), and a better conference record than San Diego (7-3 to 6-4), while the Chargers take the final spot due to their win in Baltimore in Week 13.

Best,

Sean

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Bethune-Cookman Wildcats 67 at UCF Knights 75 (NCAA Basketball) - November 30, 2014


If you read my last post, you know that I was stuck watching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers commit two stupid penalties to cost themselves a chance at an upset victory over Cincinnati. This pushed their game past the 4:00 mark, leaving me with little time to get to Orlando in time for the 6:00 start of the UCF basketball game. Once the outcome was decided, I ran out of Raymond James Stadium and over to my car about 10 minutes away. My parking choice in Lot 13 was smart as I avoided the postgame snarl, at least until I discovered the nearby on-ramp I had planned to use was closed as a result of ongoing construction on I-275 through Tampa. This added 15 minutes to my trip as I had to head back into the traffic, using Dale Mabry Hwy to get to the 275. After much cursing, I was finally on the highway heading east, and quickly made my way to I-4, with about 100 miles to go to the arena in Orlando. Then I ran into my second delay: the left-lane lollygagger. This driving specimen is most commonly found in Florida, where it leisurely occupies the leftmost (read fast) lane without noticing the long line of frustrated drivers behind it. When the speed limit is 65, the left lane on a three lane highway is for going 80 or faster. Not for going 70. Or 75. If the car behind you is closer than the car in front of you, you are going too slow. Get over. I got a game to get to.



Anyway, I eventually did get to Orlando and arrived at the UCF parking garage ($5) just around tipoff. From there, I ran to the CFE Arena box office to get a $5 ticket and then into the arena, taking my seat with five minutes gone in the first half. Good enough. With Bethune-Cookman in town, there weren't that many fans, as you can see in the empty lobby shot below.



CFE is a credit union in Central Florida that bought the naming rights to the arena last year. The previous name was UCF Arena, so CFE paid an awful lot of money for one letter. The Knights colours are black and gold, which you can probably figure out pretty quickly as soon as you enter the seating bowl.



Even the court is uniquely designed; you won't mistake seeing this place on TV. As UCF is part of the American Athletic Conference, their games are all on ESPN3, so you can watch at home, should you live in the US, have cable, and actually care about college basketball featuring unranked teams. Which you should, as without the hype, the games are pretty interesting.



By the way, if you do happen to see a game here, avoid the upper deck if you can. They seem to turn the lights off there, making it even darker than Barclays Center, as you can see below.



I'm not going to recap the game, other than to say that one player stood out on this evening: Justin McBride, on the left below. Do a Google search and you'll find a bull rider as the top hit, but UCF's McBride might just take over top spot if he continues to play like he did this night. At 6'10 and 325 pounds, he is built more like an NFL offensive lineman, but he has a surprising finesse game that was on full display.



From the moment I sat down, McBride was on fire, including several layups like the one below. He finished with 31 points and 8 boards along with a steal and a block, all in just 22 minutes off the bench. UCF had a 10-9 lead when I walked in and a McBride bucket made it 12-9, after that Bethune-Cookman never got closer than two points. It was really impressive to watch and although McBride's build will likely preclude him from achieving NBA stardom, he might end up with a cult following should UCF make it to the NCAA tournament.



There's your final below, Bethune-Cookman had three players in double figures but it didn't matter with McBride doing so much damage, scoring over 40% of his team's points.



Notes

The UCF volleyball team won the American title and were feted at halftime (below, note the trophy). They lost in the first round of the national tournament to Miami.



I saw four games this weekend, and the two college hoops games were more entertaining than the NFL and NHL games. It helps when you can sit close and the games are competitive, but in terms of value for price paid, college basketball, when featuring teams that aren't in the top 25 at least, is one of the best options out there for sports travellers.



Finally, I've never seen the mascot do this before. Pretty impressive. UCF actually won the national title for cheerleading (yes, there is such a thing) in 2003 and 2007, although I am pretty sure having the mascot participate would not help your chances.

Best,

Sean

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cincinnati Bengals 14 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13 - November 30, 2014


When the NFL schedule first came out, Week 13 was to be my visit to TCF Bank Stadium in Minnesota. Then my friend Eddie suggested the Columbus Day weekend for the Vikings and thankfully I listened as I also saw the Golden Gophers and avoided a brutally cold game this past weekend. Next, I considered San Diego at Baltimore for my Week 13 tilt as another friend had recently located to Charm City and I thought I would visit him on Thanksgiving weekend. But he was out of town then, so that plan was quickly quashed. Then I booked my Florida trip and figured I'd drive up from Tampa to Jacksonville for the Giants and Jags. Only when I looked at the schedule further did I notice that the Buccaneers would be home as well, playing the Bengals to boot, so I finally decided on that tilt, which promised to me more interesting than another Jaguars loss.



The weather was perfect, 76 degrees and sunny, as you can see above. I had to drive to the game as I had plans to race to Orlando afterwards to see UCF basketball, so I parked in Lot 13, the cheapest at $15 but also one of the easier lots to exit. By the way, $15 is the total amount I paid for parking on my entire 2013 trip to all 32 stadiums (I had a press pass here in Tampa then) but there is little you can do in Tampa to avoid the parking charge when you are no longer a member of the media.

I bought a ticket from a scalper which had me at midfield on the west side of the stadium behind the Buccaneers bench. This is the side to choose if you want to avoid the sun in your eyes for those 1 pm games, and the Bucs know this, charging more for west side seats.



I was expecting a blowout but Cincinnati was awful. Andy Dalton (below) threw a pick on the first play from scrimmage, one of three he tossed in the first half. Tampa Bay is also awful though, and despite starting first and goal from the 9, could only come away with a field goal. On that drive they committed a false start penalty (1 of 13 for them on the day) and Garrett Gilkey, making his first start at center, snapped the ball along the ground on the next play, netting himself the first of two fumbles. Despite this early ineptitude, the Buccaneers managed a touchdown on a nice nine-play, 71-yard drive, capped by a Doug Martin (#22 above) 7-yard scamper. Up 10-0, Tampa Bay was looking for an upset, but Dalton scored on a 5-yard keeper to complete a 4-minute march near the end of the first half to keep the Bengals alive.



Near the end of the third quarter, Dalton connected with A.J. Green on a 13-yard touchdown pass to give Cincinnati the 14-10 lead, but Tampa replied with a field goal early in the fourth to set up what could have been a pretty exciting finish. But it wasn't. Bizarre and annoying, but not exciting. Remember how I was hoping to get to Orlando for that basketball game starting at 6? I had planned to sneak out of this one a bit early, but it was not to be as neither team could muster any offense.  I can't leave a game that has yet to be decided, so I watched as both teams continued to play horrible football. The next five possessions resulted in punts, and Tampa Bay started at their own 20 with 2:01 to go and a chance to win. Amazingly, they started to move the ball, highlighted by a 29-yard pass and run play from Bobby Rainey that moved them to the Bengals 36 with 44 seconds to go. A Cincinnati penalty (they had 10 of their own) move the ball to the 31 and it looked like the NFC South might get a rare win over the AFC North. Then Gilkey committed a stupid holding penalty on a run. Bye-bye field goal position.

After an incompletion, Josh McCown found Louis Murphy over the middle and Murphy gained 21 yards to the Cincy 20. Hello field goal position! Oh wait, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has thrown a challenge flag. But he can't do that! There are less than two minutes in the game! The play went under review anyway. By the way, it was now 4:00 and I was itching to get out on the road to Orlando, but I couldn't leave without seeing what was about to happen. Finally, the referee announced the ruling: Tampa Bay had too many men on the field! Yes, Lewis threw the flag to delay the game a bit and give the booth a chance to review the play, which showed the poor Buccaneers had played the last snap with 12 men. Sorry, Tampa Bay, this ain't the CFL! The 5-yard penalty pushed the Bucs back to the Cincinnati 46. Bye-bye field goal position. McCown threw two incompletions and on 4th and 20, threw a 13-yard completion to Mike Evans. Game over.



I raced to my car to try to make it to Orlando, which I did eventually. You'll have to read about that in the next post though.

Notes

Adam "Pacman" Jones (below) is the Bengals punt returner and he has a reputation for not calling fair catches. On two occasions he was demolished, leading him to call for a fair catch on the next punt, ending a streak of 96 straight punt returns without calling for a fair catch.



The NFC South did get a win that week, with New Orleans beating Pittsburgh. Overall, they are 2-11-1 on the season against the AFC North.

Three games finished with a one-point differential on this day - the second time that has happened in NFL history. Interestingly, the other two were San Diego at Baltimore and the Giants at Jacksonville, two games I had considered visiting previously.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Ottawa Senators 1 at Tampa Bay Lightning 4 - November 29, 2014


After a quick drive downtown from the USF Sun Dome, I made my way over to Amalie Arena, the former St. Pete Times Forum that I visited in 2010 to see the Leafs lose. Amalie is a motor oil company that bought the naming rights earlier this year, leading to many confused hockey fans wondering why a French movie was advertising in Tampa.



Free parking can be found on the street a few blocks north of the arena, which lies on the southern edge of downtown Tampa. You will also find a few scalpers on the way, and you should be able to haggle them down. The cheapest seat at the box office was $21 for this game. Upon entering, I did my usual tour and was happy to find a standing area in each corner of the lower concourse. These areas are open to all fans and as I had purchased a seat in the second-to-last row of the upper deck, I decided to stake out a spot here instead, for an obstructed view as you see below. Sure, I had to stand for a couple of hours, but it is a great place to watch the game, although if you leave to grab something to eat, someone will likely take your spot. Many fans chose to stand here for one period, so you can always move here during an intermission.



Food here is terribly overpriced unless you are a full season ticket holder, which seems to net a 20% discount. I am not a season ticket holder, so was about to forgo any sustenance when I happened upon a "gourmet" grilled cheese stand that had a regular sandwich for just $4. Even better, it is made while you wait, and even comes with a few potato chips. Truly one of the better bargains in the league I am sure and served well as my dinner.



My hometown Ottawa Senators, led by captain Erik Karlsson (above), were in town, fresh off a disappointing loss to the Florida Panthers the night before. As a Toronto fan, I am contractually obliged to hate Ottawa, so I was certainly cheering for the Lightning, who came out wearing their third jersey, which is black with white trim and reads "Bolts", as you can see below in the enormous scoreboard.



Despite having played the night before, the Sens came out with some jump and had a number of chances that were turned away by Ben Bishop. Eventually Tampa Bay took a penalty and David Legwand (below, playing in his 1000th career NHL game) scored on the power play to open the scoring.



The Lightning got that back in the second period when Steve Stamkos and Ryan Callahan broke out on a 2-on-1. Callahan tipped a perfect Stamkos pass over a helpless Robin Lehner and we entered the third knotted at a goal apiece. This is when the long road trip caught up with Ottawa, who had played in Detroit and St. Louis earlier in the week as well (not to mention a west coast trip the previous week). Tampa Bay's top line of Stamkos, Callahan and Alex Killorn again provided the firepower as as Killorn tipped home a point shot from Anton Stralman just 1:16 in. Ottawa was clearly tired, and the Lightning's strong forecheck resulted in Brendan Morrow adding his first as a member of the Lightning just after the eight-minute mark to double the lead, with Nikita Kucherov closing out the scoring on another deflection six minutes from time.



The shot total flatters Ottawa, who were not really in this once the third period started. A relatively dull game but the local fans went home happy.



Notes

This was my fifth NHL game this season and the one with the most goals after a 2-1 game in Boston, 1-1 in MSG, and two 1-0 games in Detroit and Jersey.

Best,

Sean

Monday, December 1, 2014

Jacksonville Dolphins 65 at USF Bulls 79 (NCAA Basketball) - November 29, 2014


In the old days when I lived in Japan, my sports road trips were planned months in advance and usually lasted at least a week if not two. You can't just fly halfway around the world on a moment's notice, at least not without some serious damage to your bank account, and if you do, you'll want to spend longer than a weekend. Now that I live in the States however, I can make spontaneous trips when a weekend opens up. The days after Thanksgiving happened to become free just a couple of weeks ago, and it didn't take me long to find a four-game weekend in a warm area of the country, namely Tampa and Orlando. Flights to Florida are typically cheaper because so many families head down to Disney, and I was lucky to get a relatively inexpensive ride to Orlando, leaving Friday evening after work.



The first game was a Saturday afternoon affair at the University of South Florida in Tampa, about an hour southwest of Orlando. USF plays out of the USF Sun Dome (above, please note the perfect blue sky), a large facility on the southern edge of campus that also hosts many concerts. Driving in, you will be charged $10 to park, a sign that USF is part of the American Athletic Conference, a remnant of the Big East (defending champ UConn plays out of the American, so it is no chump collection of schools). Still, ten bucks to park! That's the most I've ever paid to park for a college game, but I had little choice. You'll have trouble finding a free spot nearby, even on the weekend. Every lot is permit only, 24/7 within at least 10 minutes of the Dome, and I grew tired of looking.



Inside, the team colours of green and gold are rather noticeable in both the concourse and the seating bowl. Take a quick tour around and check out the display describing the founding of the university in 1956 and its history over the ensuing six decades. USF is rightly proud of its status as one of America's top-50 research universities.



The seating bowl is two levels, and tickets here are not cheap at the box office. I used StubHub to get a lower level seat facing the free throw line for $8 but face value was $40; those in the upper deck are $20 or $25. That's crazy for an early-season non conference tilt - definitely scout out the secondary market here before arriving. There are no bad seats anyway, as you can see above and below. This place reminded me a bit of the Super Pit at North Texas with its green seats, but the Sun Dome is nicer, having completed a renovation in 2012.



The visitors were the Jacksonville Dolphins out of the Atlantic Sun conference. They were the national runner up in 1970, losing to John Wooden's record-setting UCLA squad, but haven't made the tournament since 1986. A close game wasn't expected, and the rather sparse crowd was evidence of that; with many likely staying away to watch the Florida vs Florida State football game that was about to start.



The Bulls got hot early with Corey Allen Jr. (#4 above) the catalyst as they jumped out to a 31-17 lead. Then they started to hot dog it, treating Jacksonville like a high school team, and trying for the highlight reel play instead of fundamental basketball. The Dolphins were not impressed and responded with a 20-5 run to finish the half up by a point. You knew that Bulls coach Orlando Antigua, who served under John Calipari at both Memphis and Kentucky, was not going to be happy with his team's lackadaisical play, and I expected USF to be more focused in the second half.



Sure enough, they started on a 9-3 spurt to reach the first media timeout and never looked back, cruising to a 79-65 win, with Anthony Collins (#11 above). I like the scoreboard here that includes the first four letters of the player's last names. The star for the visitors was Andris Misters (#22 in both pics) from Latvia who finished with 18 points, while Allen totalled a career-high 29 in the win.



This was a very entertaining game for me; basketball is so much better when you are sitting close and you can appreciate the athleticism and see the emotion of the players faces. It was interesting to notice how the USF players began to take their opponent lightly and paid for it over the final eight minutes of the half. After the game, while driving downtown, I listed to the postgame show and Antigua said exactly that - his charges were not taking the game seriously, and in basketball, as in any sport between competitive teams, that arrogance can be fatal. Antigua seems like a very good coach and USF might be a fun team to watch over the next three months.



Notes

There are 351 Division I college basketball programs spread out over 32 conferences. I figure it would take about 10 years of roadtripping to see them all. I used to hate this sport because it would take so long on the ESPN ticker to go through the scores, but as I see more and more of these less popular teams, I find it quite exciting.



The trend in college sports these days is to have both cheerleaders and a dance team. This might have been the trend for years now, I really don't know, but I wonder if the dance team feels inferior when the cheerleaders do these poses like the one above. It certainly seems that way as the dance team has turned their backs on the cheerleaders! By the way, college cheerleading is not as dangerous as has been reported, at least on a per capita basis. Even then, I see at least one cheerleader in a cast at nearly every event I attend, especially as the season goes on. Be careful out there!

Best,

Sean