BOB MATTHEWS SPORTS TALK
Weeknights 6:00PM - 8:00PM
on WHAM 1180
Email Bob here.
For over 25 years, Bob Matthews has held the title of Rochester's most popular sports writer/commentator. For over 20 years, Bob has hosted WHAM's nightly sports talk program...consistently ranked at the top of his time slot!
From 1978 to 2012, Bob Matthews was a sports columnist for the Times-Union and Democrat and Chronicle and a regular "As the Sports World Turns" contributor to the Gannett News Service. He is the only person to be selected Press-Radio Club Sportswriter of the Year (five times) and Sportscaster of the Year, and was a pioneer inductee into the Frontier Field Walk of Fame.
A Rochester native, Bob graduated from Brighton High School where he played varsity baseball, basketball and served as student council V-P. Bob is also a veteran, serving his country in Vietnam.
Always opinionated and outspoken, Bob's proudest accomplishment is advocating for Frontier Field. His all-time favorite athlete...former Red Wing Luke Easter. One of his sports regrets……not being around for the glory year of the Rochester Royals.
IS PEYTON MANNING STILL A CINCH FOR NFL MVP?
SEAHAWKS (-7 ½) OVER GIANTS IS THE “BEST BET”
YANKEES RETIRE 17TH NUMBER...WITH MORE TO COME
AMERICAN FOOTBALL IN THE OLYMPICS?
ARMY TEMPTING GETTING 13 POINTS FROM NAVY
Denver quarterback Peyton Manning appeared to be a lock for his fifth NFL Most Valuable Player award before Thursday night’s home game against 11-point underdog San Diego.
Now I’m not so sure. Manning wasn’t his usual sharp self and the Broncos lost 27 -20 to slip to 11-3 with two games remaining: at Houston (4-9 record) and at Oakland (also 4-9). Assuming he plays in both games, he figures to significantly pad his already gaudy numbers: 393x560 (.678) for 4,811 yards, with 47 TD passes, 10 INTs and a 112.9 passer rating.
Manning needs 4 TD passes to top Tom Brady’s NFL-record 60 (set in 23007) and 666 yards passing to top Drew Brees’ NFL-record 5,476 (set in 2011). If he accomplishes both – and he has a very good chance – he’d probably earn his fifth league MVP award.
But at least two other players merit strong MVP consideration and one of them could take MVP honors if he finishes strong and Manning falters:
2—Tom Brady (QB New England) – He doesn’t have his customary knockout numbers. He’s 318x523 (.608) for 3,685 yards, with 21 TD passes, 9 INTs and an 88.3 passer rating. But no playoff-bound team has suffered more season-ending injuries to key players, including TE Rob Gronkowski, OT Sebastian Vollmer, DT Vince Wilfork, DT Tommy Kelly and LB Jered Mayo.
Brady has been the glue that held the team together and is by far the main reason the Patriots are 10-3 with games left at Miami, at Baltimore and home against Buffalo.
Brady has engineered five fourth-quarter, game-winning drives. He was league MVP in 2007 and 2010 and has been at least as valuable this season with a considerably weaker supporting cast. If the Patriots finish 13-3 or even 12-4, it would be an impressive achievement under the circumstances.
3—LeSean McCoy (RB Philadelphia) – He leads the NFL in yards rushing (261 carries for 1,305 yards; 5.0-yard average; 7 rushing TDs). He also has 40 catches for 439 yards and 1 TD. He leads the league in yards from scrimmage (1,744). The Eagles are 8-5 and lead Dallas by one game in the NFC East. Philadelphia’s remaining games are at Minnesota, home against Chicago and at Dallas Dec. 29. If the Cowboys game is for the division title and a playoff berth, and McCoy has a big game, he could be league MVP.
Others worthy of MVP mention include: Drew Brees (New Orleans), Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch (Seattle), Cam Newton (Carolina), Nick Foles (Philadelphia) and Josh Gordon (Cleveland).
“BEST BET” SEATTLE SHOULD CRUSH THE GIANTS
The NFC West is the only division in the NFL with three teams taking winning records into Week 15. It also is by far the best division in the Las Vegas Point Spread Standings (ATS).
The NFL’s best record against the spread this season is 9-4. Three NFC West teams have it (Arizona, San Francisco and Seattle). Cincinnati and Denver are 8-4-1 ATS.
“Best Bets”, happy to be above .500 for the first time this season, is picking the Cardinals, 49ers and Seahawks to win on Sunday – outright and ATS.
This week’s “Best Bet” is the Seattle Seahawks to beat the host New York Giants by more than the 7 ½-point spot. The Seahawks want to prove they can win on the road in less than perfect. The Giants are out of playoff contention and don’t figure to put up much of a fight: Seattle 28, NEW YORK GIANTS 13.
Sunday’s other games
(home team in CAPS)
INDIANAPOLIS (-5 ½) 30, Houston 17 – The Texans are 0-11 since their 2-0 start this season and interim coach Wade Phillips takes over for fired Gary Kubiak. The underachieving Colts are 4-4 since a 4-1 start and will be trying to sharpen up for the playoffs.
Buffalo 24, JACKSONVILLE (+1) 27 – The Bills should be ready for a top effort coming off a humiliating 27-6 loss at Tampa Bay last week. A fact that will live in Bills’ infamy: A record 90 TDs in the NFL last Sunday and Buffalo had zero.
New England 28, MIAMI (+2) 20 – The Dolphins are healthier, playing at home, and coming off consecutive road wins over the Jets and Pittsburgh. The Patriots have Tom Brady.
Chicago 27, CLEVELAND (-1) 21 – I don’t agree with Jay Cutler starting instead of Josh McCown, but the Bears still should have enough firepower to beat the Browns
ATLANTA (-7) 32, Washington 20 – The Redskins might get a boost from new starting QB Kirk Cousins but he can’t help his team’s shabby defense.
San Francisco 27, TAMPA BAY (+5) 17 – The 49ers are rounding to top form and the Buccaneers can’t play Buffalo every week. This is one of those “too good to be true” games.
Philadelphia 35, MINNESOTA (+5) 20 – The Vikings would be outgunned ever if they had a healthy Adrian Peterson. The Eagles are an impressive 5-1 on the road.
Kansas City 28, OAKLAND (+4 ½) 15 – The Chiefs beat the visiting Raiders 24-7 Oct. 13 and the rematch shouldn’t be much closer.
DALLAS (-7) 30, Green Bay 21 – This is assuming Packers QB Aaron Rodgers doesn’t play. The Cowboys have to play better on defense than they did Monday night in Chicago. They should be well rested after that showing.
CAROLINA (-11) 35, New York Jets 10 – The Panthers will be ready to play coming off last week’s 31-13 loss in New Orleans and figure to take out their frustrations on QB Geno Smith.
Arizona 31, TENNESSEE (+3) 20 – The surprising Cardinals are 5-1 in their last six games and rookie running back Andre Ellington has become a nice complement to QB Carson Palmer.
New Orleans 40, ST. LOUIS (+6) 17 – The Saints are significantly better at home than on the road but at least this game will be played in a dome. That’s good for Drew Brees and bad for the Rams.
Cincinnati 27, PITTSBURGH (+3) 20 – The Bengals have much more to play for and the Steelers are only 3-3 at home and coming off costly losses to Baltimore and Miami.
Monday night’s game
DETROIT (-6) 28, Baltimore 17 – The Ravens haven’t won a road game since Week 5 in Miami but the underachieving Lions never are a sure thing.
Thursday night’s pick was DENVER (-10) 35, San Diego 17. The Chargers won 27-20.
Last week’s “Best Bet” results – 11-5 picking winners straight up (135-72-1 this season) and 9-7 picking winners against the Las Vegas point spread (101-100-1 this season)...The “Best Bet: is 8-6 straight up and an embarrassing 5-9 against the spread after Pittsburgh, picked to beat visiting Miami by more than the 3-point spread, lost 34-28.
TORRE’S #6 WILL BE 17th RETIRED NUMBER FOR YANKEES
It isn’t true that the New York Yankees will become the first team in professional sports to need issue three-digit uniform numbers. It just seems that way.
The Yankees this week announced that new Hall of Famer Joe Torre’s No. 6 will be the 17th number retired by the Yankees:
8—Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey
9—Roger Maris (and not Graig Nettles)
Derek Jeter’s #2 surely will be retired. That will make 1 through 10 unavailable.
For the record, the most significant p[layers to wear No. 11 for the Yankees were Lefty Gomez, Joe Page and Gary Sheffield.
The Yankees have not issued Nos. 20 (Jorge Posada) or 51 (Bernie Williams) since their retirements. No. 21 (Paul O’Neill) was briefly worn by LaTroy Hawkins. It will be interesting to see if and when those numbers will be added to the retired list.
Also for the record, the highest number worn by a Yankee was 99 (Charlie Keller and Brian Bruney).
AMERICA’S FAVORITE SPORT BOUND FOR THE OLYMPICS?
Well, probably not. But American football (as opposed to the rest of the world’s football, known to us as soccer), has at least taken a tiny first step.
The International Olympic Committee’s executive board this week granted provisional recognition to the international association that oversees the sport. A vote on approving American football for the Summer Olympics could come as soon as 2017.
One huge problem: World-wide participation is the major criterion for adding a sport to the Olympics. Not many nations have American football. Another high hurdle: Other nations aren’t likely to approve a sport the United States would dominate. Baseball and softball didn’t survive for long.
IS NAVY’S 13-POINT SPOT TO ARMY TOO GENEROUS?
Some people insist that Army vs. Navy is the best rivalry in college football. It will have the stage all to itself Saturday in Philadelphia. Kickoff is 3 p.m.
Navy has dominated the series of late – won the last 11 meetings and 14 of the last 16 – and has the better record this season. Navy is 7-4 and Army is 3-8.
Navy should be favored but a statistical comparison of the two teams suggests that the 13-point spot to Army is too generous in what is expected to be a relatively low-scoring game. Both teams run the football much better than they throw it.
Here’s how they rank among the 123 Football Bowl Subdivision teams):
Total offense – Navy 61st (419.0)...Army 69th (403.7)
Rushing offense – Army 2nd (323.6)...Navy 3rd (320.1)
Passing offense – Navy 122nd (98.9)...Army 123rd (80.1)
Scoring offense – Navy 32nd (34.4)...Army t85th (26.0)
Total defense – Army 77th (416.1)...Navy 83rd (419.6)
Rush defense – Navy 87th (188.8)...Army 99th (201.5)
Pass defense – Army 34th (214.5)...Navy 66th (230.8)
Scoring defense – Navy 71st (27.6)...Army 92nd (31.4)
Turnover margin/game – Navy 16th (+0.8)...Army 48th (+0.2)
Fewest penalties/game – Navy 1st (2.82)...Army 6th (3.73)
Fewest penalty yards/game – Navy 1st (23.09)...Army 12th (32.46).
Scoring differential – Navy +6.8 (34-4 to 27.6)...Army -5.4 (26.0 to 31.4).
Predicted score -- Navy 27, Army 20.
Navy leads the series 57-49-7. They’ve played annually since 1930.
Buffalo Bills QB E.J. Manuel in home games: 7 TD passes, 3 INTs, 62.8 completion percentage...in road games: 2 TD passes, 5 INTs, 52 completion percentage...USA Today Sports Weekly’s fantasy football rankings for Week 15 include 25 quarterbacks. Ryan Fitzpatrick (Tennessee) is No. 24 and Manuel is No. 25. It could be worse. Chad Henne (Tampa Bay) did not make the list.
The Minnesota Twins hope lightning strikes twice in signing independent league superstars. Two years ago, the Twins signed 29-year-old seven-year independent league veteran first baseman Chris Colabello. In 2013, he was the International League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player with the Rochester Red Wings. Minnesota this week, Minnesota signed 28-year-old first baseman C.J. Ziegler. He was Baseball America’s Independent Baseball Player of the Year after hitting .316 with 30 HRs and 100 RBI in 107 games with the Wichita Wingnuts.
Ominous note from Marc Hulet of Hardball Times: Minnesota slugging prospect Miguel Sano has a lingering elbow problem and might need Tommy John surgery sometime soon...Happier note: Hulet writes that Alex Meyer, a good bet to be Rochester’s top starter this season, might have better overall stuff than anyone in Minnesota’s projected starting rotation.
The Rochester Knighthawks this week signed classy veteran goaltender Mikey Thompson to back up Matt Vinc. Thompson has some big years with the Buffalo Bandits and was the hero and MVP for the Peterborough Lakers for the of the 2012 Mann Cup championship.
The Houston Dash are a new entry in the Women’s Professional Soccer League.
Entering Friday night, the NBA Western Conference is 74-31 (.705) head-to-head against the inferior Eastern Conference. Only two teams in the 15-team East have winning records (Indiana 19-3 and Miami 16-6). Nine teams out of 15 are above. 500 in the West...Home teams are 189-138 (.572) this season.
Sad update of the Buffalo Sabres: Still last in the 30-team NHL in point percentage (.250; 16 of 64 possible points in the standings) and scoring (1.56 goals per5 game; 29th-ranked New York Rangers 2.18)...The Sabres are an NHL-best 4-0 in shootouts. The problem is getting there.
Friday night’s expected 10,000-plus crowd at Frozen Frontier for the Lake Erie Monsters at Amerks game should boost Rochester a notch or two in the 30-team AHL attendance derby. Rochester’s average home attendance of 4,351 ranks 18th (Wednesday nights are killers so far)...The rest of New York state’s AHL attendance: Syracuse 5,013 (14th), Binghamton 3,418 (22nd), Utica 3,278 (24th), Adirondack 3,065 (26th) and Albany 2,584 (28th).
NOTE: I will be on vacation until Dec. 26...This column will resume for Friday, Dec. 27...Thank you very much for taking the time to log in and please spread the word that I’m still available on-line every Monday and Friday, 10 a.m., or so...Happy holidays.
KICKING OFF WITH THOUGHTS ON THE BUFFALO BILLS
PATRIOTS “KNOW HOW TO WIN”...ZEBRAS HELP AGAIN
BRONCOS, SEAHAWKS 1-2, BILLS 27TH IN BOB’S NFL POWER RANKINGS
YANKEES OUTFIELD: NO ROOM FOR GARDNER WITH BIGGER NAMES?
Sunday’s 27-6 loss at Tampa Bay was an embarrassment to Buffalo Bills fans on every level.
The Buccaneers did not play well. I’ll give them a C, mainly because they won – by 23 points.
I’ll give the Bills a D-, mainly because the defense played OK in the second half.
The “battle of rookie quarterbacks” was a bust. Mike Glennon of Tampa Bay was lousy, but EJ Manuel of Buffalo was worse. Glennon at least threw a few fruitful deep passes.
The Bills were three TDs down entering the fourth quarter against a bad team in perfect weather. Time to go deep, right? Not if your QB is Manuel and you’re babying him along.
Five things can happen on deep throws: completion, incompletion, defensive pass interference (often called), offensive pass interference (hardly ever called) and interception (usually the equivalent of a punt). In other words, deep passes are a much better way to get back into games than dump passes and runs up the middle. The Bills displayed no urgency in attempting to score ONE touchdown, let alone three.
How much longer do we have to hear that the Bills are “keeping it simple” for Manuel? This is his job. How complicated can stuff like “throw deep” be?
Manuel has shown enough – I suppose – to reject the temptation to suggest that Buffalo’s 2014 first-round pick should be another quarterback. I’m trying to be patient, but games like Sunday make it difficult.
One plus from Sunday’s loss is the end of the ludicrous “we’re still in the running for a playoff berth” talk.
Another plus is that I won’t be dishing out $3,000 to John The Optimist. The odds on the Bills winning Super Bowl 48 (XLVIII if you prefer) entering Sunday were 3,000-to-1. Last week, I put down $1 for John, without fear of having to come up with it.
But I did pick Buffalo to win Sunday. And the Sunday before that. I’ll probably be picking the Bills again for this Sunday’s game in Jacksonville. I hope and think they’re better than the Jaguars. Aren’t they? Buffalo is favored by 1 ½ points on the early line.
MORE THOUGHTS ON THE NFL
Ho-hum. Sunday’s heroes included: Tom Brady 418 yards passing in a New England come-from-behind victory...Peyton Manning 397 yards passing in a Denver victory...Drew Brees 313 yards passing in a New Orleans victory. One of these days, the Bills might have a QB of that ilk.
I would never totally discount the New England Patriots from Super Bowl contention as long as Tom Brady is QB and Bill Belichick is coach, but I don’t believe they can go all the way this season without injured (again) Rob Gronkowski. He’s the NFL’s best tight end by far – maybe the best ever. Brady can be great without Gronk but he’s often fabulous with him.
Dirty hit on Gronkowski? Sure. More to come. Defensive backs now have to hit low to avoid flags and keep their jobs.
By now we all know that the Bills are the NFL’s symbol for “don’t know how to win.” The even more obvious symbol for “they know how to win” is the New England Patriots. They did it again Sunday, helped mightily by an onside kick and another favorable pass interference call from a zebra on a deep throw into the end zone. The Patriots don’t get all of the calls, but they do seem to get far more than their share – particularly the really important ones.
Veteran Arizona Cardinals QB Carson Palmer quietly is enjoying a fine season. He supposedly had a sore elbow all last week but was 27x32 in Sunday’s 30-10 home win over St. Louis to end his team’s 8-game skid vs. NFC West opponents. Arizona is 5-1 in its last 6 games and 8-5 overall....Seattle was trying to post a franchise-record sixth straight road victory but instead suffered a fifth straight loss in San Francisco (19-17).
Josh Gordon (Cleveland) had 151 yards receiving in Sunday’s 27-26 loss at New England and set an NFL record with 774 yards receiving over a four-game span (Detroit’s Calvin Johnson had the record of 746 earlier this season)...Matt Flynn was impressive in Sunday’s 22-21 come-from-behind 22-21 Green Bay home victory Sunday over Atlanta. The Bills could’ve used him in the second half of the loss to Tampa Bay.
San Diego fans had fun booing Eli Manning during the Chargers’ 37-14 home romp over the New York Giants. He’s 0-3 vs. San Diego since letting the Chargers know during the 2004 NFL draft that he didn’t want to play for them and forcing a trade to the Giants...New York Jets 37, Oakland 27: the Raiders have lost 13 consecutive games played in the Eastern time zone...Hard to believe the Jets are 6-7 with rookie Geno Smith as starting QB.
Class move by Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy, who during Sunday’s 31-20 home victory over Detroit, had a franchise-record 217 yards rushing: he hailed Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren, who held the record of 205 yards – set in 1949...Through three quarters, Baltimore led Minnesota 7-6. The two teams combined for 5 TDs in 125 seconds late in the game and the Ravens won 29-26.
Things haven’t exactly worked out in Washington for Mike Shanahan – except for his bank account -- since he passed up a chance to coach the Bills instead of the Redskins...Washington’s 45-10 home loss to visiting Kansas City Sunday was the fifth double-digit loss for the Redskins this season. The stadium was virtually empty in the second half and most of the fans who stayed were booing the home team...The snow was tons of fun in several NFL games on Sunday. Lots of scoring. Lots of big plays. A few crazy finishes. Lots of entertainment. Maybe Super Bowl 48 in New Jersey Feb. 2 won’t be so bad after all – even if the weather is lousy.
WEEK 14’S TOP PERFORMANCES
Tom Brady (New England) 418 yards (won)
Peyton Manning (Denver) 397 (won)
Jason Campbell (Cleveland) 391
Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh) 349 (lost)
Josh McCown (Chicago) 3468 (won)
Andrew Luck (Indianapolis) 326 (lost)
Drew Brees (New Orleans) 313 (won)
Andre Johnson (Houston) 154 yards (lost)
Shane Vereen (New England) 153 (won)
Josh Gordon (Cleveland) 151 (lost)
Cordarrelle Patterson (Minnesota) 141 yards (lost)
Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh) 137 (lost)
Hakeem Nicks (NY Giants) 135 (lost)
Rod Streater (Oakland) 130 (lost)
Marques Colston (New Orleans) 125 (won)
Jordan Cameron (Cleveland) 121 (lost)
Eric Decker (Denver) 117 (won)
Justin Hunter (Tennessee) 114 (lost)
Da’Rick Rogers (Indianapolis) 107 (lost)
Brandon Marshall (Chicago) 100 (won)
LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia) 217 yards (won)
DeMarco Murray (Dallas) 146 (lost)
Jamaal Charles (Kansas City) 151 (won)
Bobby Rainey (Tampa Bay) 127 (won)
Marcel Reece (Oakland) 123 (lost)
Frank Gore (San Francisco) 110 (won)
Daniel Thomas (Miami) 105 (won)
Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville) 103 (won)
Ryan Mathews (San Diego) 103 (won)
Matt Forte (Chicago) 102.
NFL WEEK 14 STAT PACK
Home teams were 14-2 outright (128-79-1 this season) and 10-6 against the Las Vegas point spread (108-91-9 this season)
Las Vegas favorites were 14-2 outright (131-76-1 this season) and 10-6 against the spread (105-95-8 this season)
Teams winning the turnover battle were 8-1 (123-27-1 this season)
Teams leading in time of possession were 11-5 (135-72-1 this season)
Teams with the better record entering the game were 8-3 (88-61-1 this season)
Teams scoring first were 10-6 (131-76-1 this season)
Teams leading after the first quarter were 10-4 (106-58-1 this season)
Teams leading at halftime were 12-4 (139-48-1 this season)
Teams leading after the third quarter were 13-3 (158-35-1 this season)
Four of the 16 games were decided by 3 points or fewer (55 of 208 games this season)
Six of the 16 games were decided by 7 points or less (102 of 208 games this season)
The AFC was 3-1 vs. the NFC head-to-head but the NFC still leads this season’s interconference series 31-27.
There were 859 points in 16 games (53.7-point average). The previous top average points for a week this season was Week 9’s 51.3.
BOB’S NFL POWER RANKINGS
1--Denver...2—Seattle...3—New Orleans...4—Carolina...5--San Francisco...6—New England...7—Kansas City...8—Cincinnati...9—Philadelphia...10--Arizona...11—Indianapolis...12—Baltimore...13Miami...14—Detroit...15—Green Bay...16—Chicago...17—Dallas...18—San Diego...19—NY Jets...20—Pittsburgh...21—St. Louis...22—Tennessee...23—NY Giants...24—Tampa Bay...25—Jacksonville...26—Cleveland...27—Buffalo...28--Oakland...29—Minnesota...30--Atlanta...31—Washington...32—Houston.
THE NUMBERS GAME
An NFL single-day record 90 touchdowns were scored Sunday – no thanks to the Buffalo Bills:
Six TDs – Cincinnati, Denver, Kansas city
Five TDs – Philadelphia
Four TDS – Arizona, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Miami, New Orleans, NY Jets, San Diego, Tennessee
Three TDs – Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, New England, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay
Two TDs – Green Bay, NY Giants, Seattle
One TD – Carolina, St. Louis, San Francisco, Washington
Zero TDs – Buffalo.
--NFL’s best regular-season records in December/January in the last five season (2009 through present):
New England 23-3 (amazing...salute to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady) and San Diego 20-6.
--Quarterbacks with the best records in the final four games of the regular season since 1970 (minimum 20 starts): Tom Brady 41-8...Philip Rivers 27-6...Roger Staubach 24-6...Joe Montana 28-10.
YANKEES OUTFIELD: SEEN BETTER DAYS BUT NO ROOM FOR GARDNER?
The New York Yankees had to add some big names to boost attendance and cable TV ratings and two of the recent additions give the team undoubtedly the wealthiest five-man outfield in baseball history. In their primes, it probably would be the all-time best five-man outfield.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran join holdovers Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki.
Of course, Ellsbury is the only member of the quintet with a chance to post a career-best season. The others have seen better days.
The Yankees are listening to trade offers for Brett Gardner simply because there is no room for him in the star-studded outfield. There is a possibility that the Yankees might eat what is left on the contracts for Suzuki or Wells, but that seems unlikely, even though Gardner probably is the more useful player.
Here is the team’s five-man outfield:
Carlos Beltran – Turns 37 in April...Just signed a 3-year/$45 million contract...2013 stat line with St. Louis: .296, 30 doubles, 3 triples, 24 HRs, 84 RBI, 2 stolen bases in 145 games ...Best season: 2006 with the Mets: .275, 41 HRs, 116 RBI, 18x21 stolen bases...Career stats: .283 (2228x7868), 446 doubles, 77 tri-les, 358 HRs, 1,327 RBI, 308x356 stolen bases (but he’s no longer a consistent base-stealing threat) in 2,064 games...Top contract was $19,401,569 in 2011.
Jacoby Ellsbury – Turned 30 on Sept. 11...Just signed a 7-year/$153 million contract...2013 stat line with Boston: .298, 92 runs, 31 doubles, 8 triples, 9 HRs, 53 RBI, 52x56 stolen bases in 134 games...Best season: 2011 with Boston: .321 (212x660), 119 runs, 46 doubles, 5 triples, 32 HRs, 105 RBI, 39x54 stolen bases in 158 games...Career stats: .297; 476 runs, 865 hits, 65 HRs, 314 RBI, 241x287 stolen bases...Best previous contract was $9 million in 2013.
Alfonso Soriano – Turns 38 on Jan. 7...Final season of a 7-year, $136 million contract...2013 stat line with Cubs/Yankees: .255, 32 doubles, 1 triple, 34 HRs, 101 RBI, 18x27 stolen bases in 151 games...Best season: 2002 with Yankees: .300; 128 runs, 51 doubles, 2 triples, 39 HRs, 102 RBI, 41x54 stolen bases in 156 games with Yankees...Career stats: .272; 2,045 hits, 406 HRs, 1136 RBI, 288x372 stolen bases...Best contract was $19 million for each of 2010 and 2011.
Ichiro Suzuki – Turned 40 on Oct. 22...Final season of a 2-year/$13 million contract...2013 stat line with Yankees: .262, 57 runs, 15 doubles, 3 triples, 7 HRs, 35 RBI, 20x24 stolen bases in 150 games...Best season was 2004 with Seattle: .372 (262x704), 101 runs, 24 doubles, 5 triples, 8 HRs, 60 RBI, 36x47 stolen bases in 161 games...Career stats: .319; 2,742 hits, 323 doubles, 83 triples, 111 HRs, 695 RBI, 472x578 stolen bases in 2,061 games...Best contract was $18 million each in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Vernon Wells – Turned 35 on Sunday...Final season of a 7-year/$126 million contract...2013 stat line with Yankees: .233, 16 doubles, 11 HRs, 50 RBI, 7x10 stolen bases in 130 games...Best season was 2003 with Toronto: .317, 118 runs, 49 doubles, 5 triples, 33 HRs, 117 RBI, AL-most 373 total bases in 161 games...Hard to believe how good he used to be and how quickly he lost it...Career stats: .270; 1,794 hits, 930 runs, 379 doubles, 34 triples, 270 HRs, 958 RBI, 109x146 stolen bases in 1,731 games.
UNITED STATES IN GROUP OF DEATH
The World Cup 2014 draw was last Friday and – as many had feared --the United States wound up in the dreaded “Group of Death.” That means: the toughest of the eight four-nation groups for next summer’s soccer tournament in Brazil.
One way to gauge the relative strength of the eight groups is to compare the latest cumulative FIFA world rankings of the four-nation groups.
Here are the combined rankings as of the most-recent rankings (the lower=the tougher) -- Disclaimer: I realize that most soccer buffs scoff at the FIFA world rankings, but I offer these numbers to justify the “Group of Death” tag):
Group A – 97 (Brazil 10th, Croatia 16th, Mexico 20th, Cameroon 51st)
Group B – 84 (Spain 1st, Netherlands 9th, Chile 15th, Australia 59th)
Group C – 81 (Colombia 4th, Greece 12th, Ivory Coast 17th, Japan 48th)
Group D – 57 (Uruguay 6th, Italy 7th, England 13th, Costa Rica 31st)
Group E – 91 (Switzerland 8th, France 19th, Ecuador 23rd, Honduras 41st)
Group F – 104 (Argentina 2nd, Bosnia-Herzegovina 21st, Nigeria 36th, Iran 45th)
Group G – 45 (Germany 2nd, Portugal 5th, United States 14th, Ghana 24th)
Group H – 113 (Belgium 11th, Russia 22nd, Algeria 26th, South Korea 54th).
The next FIFA world rankings will be announced Dec. 19.
The NFL Redskins are taking the heat off Congress. I don’t know which is more dysfunctional in Washington, DC. Thank goodness for baseball’s Nationals. As of the moment, I believe they are the best and deepest team in MLB.
The previous New York Yankee free-agent addition that most reminds me of Jacoby Ellsbury is Johnny Damon, who spent four seasons with the team (2006 through 2009). Damon’s best season with the Yankees probably was 2006. 149 games; .285 batting average; 115 runs; 35 doubles; 5 triples; 24 HRs; 80 RBI; 25 stolen bases. I won’t be surprised if Ellsbury posts similar stats in 2014.
NBA viewing tips: ESPN doubleheader Wednesday night, Chicago Bulls at New York Knicks (the Madison Square Garden fans will be in a bootiful mood after Sunday’s 114-73 home loss to Boston) and Dallas at Golden State...TNT doubleheader Thursday night, Los Angeles Clippers at Brooklyn Nets and Houston Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers...Friday, 8 p.m., on ESPN, the Los Angeles Lakers at Oklahoma City. It is scheduled to be Kobe Bryant’s third game in his comeback from Achilles surgery.
STEELERS OVER MIAMI IS THE “BEST BET”
THOUGHTS ON YANKEE ELLSBURY AND OTHER MLB MOVES
PASS ATTEMPTS/RUNS RATIOS IN THE NFL
SOME GOOD INK FOR THE KNIGHTHAWKS
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins are battling for an AFC wild-card playoff (and a probable first-round loss).
The Steelers, 5-3 since their 0-4 start, have the home field advantage Sunday, plus quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
This week’s “Best Bet”: PITTSBURGH (-3) 24, Miami 15.
Sunday’s other picks
(home team in CAPS)
CINCINNATI (-6 1/2) 28, Indianapolis 17 – I don’t trust QB Andy Dalton but his Bengals are the stronger overall team.
Atlanta 20, GREEN BAY (-5 ) 14 – When in doubt, take the better quarterback: Matt Ryan over anyone the Packers start instead of Aaron Rodgers.
NEW ENGLAND (11 ½) 30, Cleveland 10 – The Browns might not announce their starting QB until Sunday. We know who’ll be starting QB for the Patriots.
NEW YORK JETS (-2 1/2) 24, Oakland 14 – It hurts to pick the team starting Geno Smith at QB, but the Jets still are better than the Raiders – aren’t they?
PHILADELPHIA (-2 1/2) 35, Detroit 27 – The Eagles are the pick until Nick Foles proves otherwise.
Buffalo 27. TAMPA BAY (- 2 1/2) – The Bills have more talent and are due for some breaks.
Kansas City 27, WASHINGTON (+3) 20 – Can’t see the Chiefs losing a fourth straight game.
BALTIMORE (-7) 28, Minnesota 15 – The defending Super Bowl champions have enough left to beat the one-dimensional Vikings.
DENVER (-12) 37, Tennessee 13 – Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick. Need more?
ARIZONA (-6 ) 24, St. Louis 14 – The Cardinals are surprisingly good. The Rams are predictably bad.
SAN DIEGO (-3) 27, New York Giants 15 – The Chargers are mediocre. The Giants are worse.
SAN FRANCISCO (-2 ½) 28, Seattle 20 – The 49ers appear to be rounding to top form and the Seahawks could be ripe for a letdown after a ridiculously easy home romp over New Orleans.
NEW ORLEANS (-3) 33, Carolina 21 – The Saints figure to rebound at home after Monday night’s embarrassing loss at Seattle.
Monday night’s game
Dallas 30, CHICAGO (-1) 17 – This looks too good to be true. You know how that usually works out.
Thursday night’s pick was the Houston Texans, long overdue for a victory, by more than the 3-point spot over host Jacksonville. Houston lost 27-20.
Last week’s “Best Bets” results: 12-4 picking winning teams straight up (124-67-1 this season) and 11-5 picking winners against the Las Vegas point spread (92-93-7 this season)...The “Best Bet” is 8-5 straight up and 5-8 against the spread after 9 ½-point favored San Francisco, picked to beat St. Louis 28-10, won 23-13.
THOUGHTS ON THE RASH OF SIGNIFICANT MLB MOVES
Sometimes in baseball, the player moves in the offseason are more exciting than the games during the season. The first few days this week were an example. Here are my takes on some of the major movesw:
The Yankees signed free-agent center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (7 years/$153 million) – A great move by the Yankees. They improve while significantly damaging divisional rival Boston... Ellsbury is a deluxe version of incumbent Yankees CF Brett Gardner, w ho now moves to LF...I thought Ellsbury was the AL MVP in 2011 (he finished second, behind Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander): .321 batting average; 212 hits; 119 runs; 32 HRs;’ 105 RBI; 39 stolen bases...Is he worth $153 million for 7 years at age 30? In the long run, probably not. Speed is a big part of his game. But the Yankees can afford to focus on short-term returns, and for three or four seasons, Ellsbury should give them one of baseball’s best all-around leadoff hitters...if he stays healthy. That’s the big short-term gamble here. He was limited to 18 games in 2010 (rib injuries) and 74 games in 2012 (shoulder).
Washington obtained pitcher Doug Fister from Detroit – Great move by the Nationals. On paper, they now have the best five-man starting rotation in baseball: Jordan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Fister and No. 5 Ross Detwiler...Washington is the team to beat in the NL East.
Denver signed free-agent first baseman Justin Morneau (2 years/$13 million) – Concussions have derailed a Cooperstown-type career, but he’s still a dangerous hitter (.259, 17 HRs 77 RBI last season with Minnesota/Pittsburgh) and only 32 years old. Playing home games at hitter-friendly Coors Field can’t hurt. He didn’t care for Minnesota’s pitcher-friendly Target Field.
Boston signed free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski (1 year/$8.25 million) – Red Sox fans figure to embrace his outgoing persona on and off the field. He turns 37 this month but he’s been durable (at least 125 games every year since 2002), still can hi and throws better than departed Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Oakland traded with Baltimore for Jim Johnson -- He’ll probably be Grant Balfour’s replacement as closer...The A’s usually are smarter than the rest of baseball. Relief pitching is more valuable than ever And they’ve loaded up their bullpen. It arguably is the deepest in MLB. Don’t be surprised it pays off in 2014.
Detroit signed free-agent closer Joe Nathan – He’s a big improvement over departed Joaquin Benoit...He’s 39 and missed all of the 2010 season after Tommy John shoulder surgery but has been as good as ever since: 6-2, 43 saves, 1.39 ERA with Texas in 2013.
Tampa Bay obtained catcher Ryan Hanigan and reliever Heath Bell from Cincinnati – I don’t why any team trades with the Rays. Don’t be surprised if Hanigan has a big offensive season and Bell returns to form.
ONLY THREE NFL TEAMS HAVE MORE RUNS THAN PASSES
The NFL is known as a passing league. The rules favor offense – particularly passing.
So it is no surprise that – entering Week 14 – 29 of the NFL’s 32 teams have more pass attempts than rushes.
Interestingly, the three teams that have more runs than pass attempts have a combined record of 28-8:
Seattle (11-1 record) – NFL-most 396 rushes/316 pass attempts (-80)
San Francisco (8-4 record) – 379 rushes/NFL-fewest 304 pass attempts (-75)
Carolina (9-3 record) – 377 rushes/366 pass attempts (-11).
Of course, part of the explanation is that the teams with the best records are ahead most of the time and don’t need to turn pass-happy to get back into games. But it also strongly suggests that teams with strong running games still can be successful.
For the record, the Buffalo Bills have had 841scrimmage plays, fourth most in the NFL. They’ve had 394 runs (second-most, behind only Seattle’s 396) and 411 pass attempts (23rd).
The most-balanced attacks in terms of plays: NY Jets (352/362)...Carolina (377/366)...Philadelphia (371/386)...Buffalo (394-411).
KNIGHTHAWKS A HOT TOPIC
Inside Lacrosse magazine is counting down the Top 10 Stories of 2013 in the world of lacrosse. The Rochester Knighthawks winning back-to-back National Lacrosse League championship is No. 9 on the list.
The Knighthawks are the cover subject of the January 2013 issue of Inside Lacrosse, with the headline “Dynasty in the Making.” The article highlights how owner-general manager Curt Styes “turned the 2012 team into champs and made the 2013 team ever better.”
Reporter-writer Casey Vock asks, “With the many NLL story lines heading into the 2014 season, one of those is inevitably going to be on everyone’s mind: Can Rochester win three in a row.”
The article hails the “high-profile group of Iroquois player coming into their own or on the rise as professionals, arguably some of the very best and most of them from Styres’ home of Six Nations.”
HARNESS HORSEMEN RALLY TO AID DRIVER THEY NEVER MET
Anthony Coletta is a 31-year-old harness racing driver who was seriously injured in an on-track accident at Harrah’s Philadelphia Sunday, Nov. 17. A horse fell in front of him and he was catapulted into the air. When he landed, he was trampled by another horse and sulky. He was in critical condition and remains hospitalized.
The extended harness racing family throughout the East coast and Canada has rallied to aid Coletta and his family. Many people at Batavia Downs, most of whom have never met Coletta, responded to the “Stay Strong Anthony Coletta” fund drive. Local fund organizer Jami Chatt, a parade marshal at Batavia Downs, organized wrist band sales and silent autctions. Drivers, trainers, staff and fans attending the races made donations. Long-time Vernon-based horseman Lon Frocione and son Todd made a $5,000 donation. Rochester’s Howard and Michael Ouriel chipped in $3,500.
The Batavia fund drive concluded with the final Wednesday night of the season this week. Almost $13,000 was raised for Anthony Coletta and his family to help pay medical expenses as he recovers. Said Bruce Tubin, president of the Western New York Harness Horsemen’s Association, “Horsemen will always come through to help others in time of need.”
YOUR CHANCE TO CHECK OUT JORDAN LYNCH
If you’ve never seen Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch play, you can check him out Friday night in the Aid-American Conference championship game: Northern Illinois (12-0) vs. Bowling Green (9-3) at Detroit’s Ford Field (8 p.m., ESPN2).
Lynch probably means more to his team than any player in major college football. He has rushed for 1,755 yards (7.1 yards per carry) and 20 TDs and passed for 22 TDs this season. With a victory Fridsy night he has a great chance to finish second or third in Heisman Trophy balloting. Had Jameis Winston (Florida State) been charged with sexual assault, Lynch might have won the Heisman Trophy.
It will be interesting to see how Lynch fares against a solid Bowling Green defense (ranked fifth among BCS schools) that will be keying on him. He had rushing games of 321 and 316 yards this season. He won’t approach those numbers, but he figures to do whatever it takes to win. Northern Illinois is favored by only 4 points over the Falcons. My pick: Northern Illinois 30, Bowling Green 24.
Entering Friday night, the NBA’s Western Conference has a ridiculous 63-26 record head-to-head against the Eastern Conference...Two East teams are above .500 (Indiana and Miami). Ten teams in the West are above .500.
Syracuse product and rookie Michael Carter-Williams is off to an impressive start with the Philadelphia 76ers: 15 games (all starts); 36.7 minutes per game; 17.7 points per game; 5.8 rebounds per game; 7.3 assists per game; 3.7 turnovers per game; .408 field-goal percentage (95x233); .324 3-point field-goal percentage; .670 free-throw percentage (53x79). His salary for this season is $2,200,920.
Area boxing fans can check out New York state’s best young amateurs in Silver Gloves competition Saturday (1:30 p.m.) and Sunday (10:30 a.m.) at Wilson Foundation High School, 200 Genesee Street. Open class winners will advance to the Region I championships in Elmira Jan. 4-5. Admission is $10.
Kansas City as a pro soccer town has come a long way since around 2000, when there was speculation that it might be replaced by Rochester in Major League Soccer. Sporting Kansas City will host Real Salt Lake Saturday, 4 p.m., (ESPN) in the MLS Cup. Sporting Kansas City won the 2012 U.S. Open Cup.
After Thursday night’s 3-1 home loss to the New York Rangers, the Buffalo Sabres now have 46 goals in 29 games (6-21-2 record; 14 of 58 possible points in the standings). The Sabres have been shut out five times and had one goal in 9 other games. They’re on pace to score 130 goals this season. Buffalo’s record low was 190 goals in the 2002-03 season. The NHL record low (since 1967) is 151 goals by the 1997-98 Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Brooklyn Nets are so bad that they made the New York Knicks look good Thursday night. The Knicks won 113-83 to improve to 4-13. Brooklyn is 5-14.