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.
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.
KICKING OFF WITH THOUGHTS ON THE BUFFALO BILLS
They still don’t know how to win.
No excuses for Sunday’s 34-31 overtime loss to Atlanta in Toronto. The Buffalo Bills had much more to play for, were healthier and probably have more talent than the Falcons.
I am convinced that the Bills have advanced to the upper half of the 32-team NFL in terms of overall talent. But they have a lousy 4-8 record.
The main reason: EJ Manuel has been injured and still is under wraps and learning on the job. We know he looks like a prototype quarterback. We’re pretty sure he’ll grow into a solid NFL QB. We hope it won’t take too much longer.
I’m not blaming Manuel for the latest heart-breaking loss – 34-31 to the Atlanta Falcons Sunday in overtime in Toronto. He connected with Stevie Williams and Scott Chandler. They fumbled on the two plays that gave another game away.
But Manuel didn’t exactly take charge. He didn’t throw deep enough – apparently by design – and he passed up the chance to run for a few timely first downs when it looked like he had clear sailing – again probably by design to protect his knees.
These Bills don’t need a makeover. All they need is some fine-tuning and the emergence of Manuel as a confident leader capable of delivering in the clutch.
The Bills will finish 6-10 if they split their remaining four games. That’s a reasonable goal now. That should be good for a No. 10-to-No. 12 draft pick. A linebacker or a big receiver would fill the bill for the Bills.
I commend the eternal optimists for their loyalty to the Bills, but for now, winning consecutive games would be a nice change of pace. It hasn’t happened since Weeks 2-3 of the 2012 season. This won’t be a playoff team until they clear that modest hurdle.
WAS THIS THE GREATEST SPORTS ENDING EVER?
Auburn’s thrilling 34-28 upset victory over Alabama last Saturday made me feel sorry for folks who don’t love sports the way we do -- and couldn’t appreciate what the rest of us saw.
It might have been “the greatest ending in the history of sports.” That’s what New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro called it. The headline: PLAY OF THE CENTURY!
Exaggerations? Maybe. But if so, not by much.
Why this ending was so special:
It came in the Iron Bowl – one of college football’s greatest rivalries.
It came on the last play of the game. Time had apparently run out in regulation when Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon stepped out of bounds. But a replay showed one second remaining. Rather than take a knee to send the game into overtime, Alabama decided to try a 57-yard field goal for the victory. Predictably, it was short. Unpredictably, Auburn’s Chris Davis returned the kick 109 yards for the game-winning TD. How was that for an absolutely amazing turnaround?
It probably cost Alabama a shot at a third straight national championship.
It probably cost Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron the Heisman Trophy. He had a possible Heisman moment with a 99-yard TD pass play for a 28-21 lead in the fourth quarter. Auburn’s rally overshadowed that play.
It made Alabama “genius” coach Nick Saban look human. It was ridiculous strategy to try the long field goal. The Crimson Tide was 0x3 on shorter FG tries in the game (with regular kicker Cade Foster) and freshman Adam Griffith was asked to nail a 57-yarder under extreme pressure. Small wonder he missed. Most of Alabama’s most athletic players were on the sidelines watching slower, beefier teammates – who were on the field to block for the field-goal attempt – look like statues as Chris Davis sped by them.
It made Auburn’s Gus Malzahn a top candidate for college football’s Coach of the Year. Auburn was 3-9 (0-8 in the SEC) and lost to Alabama 49-0 in last year’s Iron Bowl.
Auburn now is 11-1, ranked No. 3 in the nation and will play Missouri Saturday at the Georgia Dome in the SEC championship0 game. If Auburn wins and No. 2 Ohio State loses to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, Auburn probably would play Florida State in the BCS national championship game.
MORE THOUGHTS ON NFL WEEK 13
Peyton Manning (Denver) took a big step toward his fifth NFL Most Valuable Player award with a 403-yard, 5-TD passing performance in a 35-28 come-from-behind victory in Kansas City...New York Jets coach Rex Ryan says he hasn’t decided who’ll start at quarterback Sunday against Oakland. If he starts Geno Smith instead of Matt Simms, I’ll believe Ryan is trying to get himself fired...New England trailed host Houston 17-7 at halftime, and didn’t you just know that Tom Brady had the Texans just where he wanted them. Final score: Patriots 34, Houston 31.
Nick Foles (Philadelphia), the NFL Offensive Player of the Month for November, is off to a strong start in December. He had 3 TD passes, 0 INTs and a 112.0 passer rating in Sunday’s 24-21 home win over Arizona. He set a team record for passes without an INT (233) and is within 1 TD pass of Peyton Manning’s record of 20 TD passes and 0 INTs to start a season... Thumbs up to Adam Vinatieri (Indianapolis), who is building a strong case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Always a clutch kicker, he booted field goals of 37, 45, 47, 48 and 49 yards in a 22-14 home win over Tennessee.
Adrian Peterson (Minnesota) is pretty good. He ran for 211 yards on 35 carries Sunday despite a lingering groin injury. He now leads the NFL in rushing (1,208 yards)...The only reason I don’t think Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin should be suspended by the NFL is that I don’t believe he stepped into the field of play on purpose last Thursday night. Of course, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. For a long time, I thought Saturdays of college football were a watered down brand that helped pass time until NFL Sundays. Now – for the first time – I enjoy Saturdays at least as much as Sundays... I assume Miami will select an explosive offensive player in the 2014 college draft. The Dolphins have managed a 6-6 record despite being the only team in the NFL yet to score 28 points in a game this season.
Cleveland wide receiver Josh Gordon became the first player in NFL history to post consecutive 200-yard receiving games (237 and 261). The Browns lost both games. He is No. 2 in the league in yards receiving (1,249) and has played in one less game than Detroit’s Calvin Johnson (1,299 yards in 11 games). Johnson missed the first two games of the season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy and was available at the trade deadline. Can the rebuilding Browns risk keeping him and what could they get in trade for him?...Seattle playing at home (5-0 by a combined 162-77) looks like the NFC’s trip to the Super Bowl. New Orleans would need to be super sharp to beat the host Seahawks Monday night.
BOB’S NFL POWER RANKINGS (entering Monday Night Football)
1—Seattle...2—Denver...3—New Orleans...4—Carolina...5—New England...6—Sanh Francisco...7—Kansas City...8—Cincinnati...9—Indianapolis...10—Philadelphia.
11—Dallas...12—Detroit...13—Arizona...14—Baltimore...15---Miami...16--Green Bay...17—Chicago...18—Pittsburgh—19--San Diego...20—New York Giants...21...St. Louis...22—Tennessee.23—Buffalo...24—New York Jets...25—Minnesota...26—Cleveland...27—Oakland...28—Tampa Bay...29—Jacksonville...30—Atlanta...31—Washington...32—Houston.
NFL WEEK 13 TOP PERFORMERS
Peyton Manning (Denver) 403 yards (won)
Tom Brady (New England) 371 (won)
Brandon Weeden (Cleveland) 370 (lost)
Josh McCown (Chicago) 355 (lost)
Ryan Tannehill (Miami) 331 (won)
Matthew Stafford (Detroit) 330 (won)
Matt Ryan (Atlanta) 311 (won)
Carson Palmer (Arizona) 302 (lost)
Josh Gordon (Cleveland) 261 yards (lost)
Alshon Jeffery (Chicago) 249 (lost)
Eric Decker (Denver) 174 (won)
Roddy White (Atlanta) 143 (won)
Andre Holmes (Oakland) 136 (lost)
Rob Gronkowski (New England) 127 (won)
Brian Hartline (Miami) 127 (won)
Andre Johnson (Houston) 121 (lost)
Keenan Allen (San Diego) 106 (lost)
Demaryius Tho0mas (Denver) 106 (won)
Julian Edelman (New England) 101 (won)
Calvin Johnson (Detroit) 101 (won)
Adrian Peterson (Minnesota) 211 yards (won)
C.J. Spiller (Buffalo) 149 (loss)
Matt Forte (Chicago) 120 (loss)
Reggie Bush (Detroit) 117 (won)
Montee Ball (Denver) 117 (won)
Ben Tate (Houston) 102 (lost).
NFL WEEK 13 STAT PACK (entering Monday Night Football)
Home teams are 8-7 outright (113-77-1 this season) and 6-8-1 against the Las Vegas point spread (97-85-9 this season)
Las Vegas favorites are 11-4 outright (116-74-1 this season) and 7-7-1 against the spread (94-89-8 this season)
Teams winning the turnover battle are 7-2 (114-26-1 this season)
Teams leading in time of possession are 10-5 (123-67-1 this season)
Teams with the most yards rushing are 9-6 (118-71-1 this season)
Teams with the most passing yards are 8-7 (111-79-1 this season)
Teams with the fewest penalties are 10-4 (93-84-1 this season)
Teams with the fewest yards penalized are 9-6 (95-92-1 this season)
Teams scoring first are 7-8 (120-70-1 this season)
Teams leading after the first quarter are 5-5 (122-46-1 this season)
Teams leading at halftime are 9-3 (126-44-1 this season)
Teams leading after three quarters are 9-4 (144-32-1 this season)
Teams with the better record entering the game are 9-4 (79-58-1 this season)
Five of the 15 games have been decided by three points or less (51 of 191 games this season)
Ten of the 15 games were decided by 7 points or less (96 of 191 games this season)
The NFC was 2-0 head-to-head against the AFC this week and leads this season’s interconference series 30-24.
There have been 687 points in 15 games (45.8-point average).
TRIP TO HAWAII COULDN’T HAVE BEEN BETTER FOR SU HOOPS
Syracuse University’s basketball team departed for the EA Sports Maui Invitational as a dubious top-10 team despite their 4-0 record. They returned to the mainland with a championship trophy, a 7-0 record and the look of a legitimate big-time team.
The Orange host Indiana Tuesday in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Hoosiers are 6-1 (only loss was 69-68 to Connecticut). The Carrier Dome crowd figures to give their team a warm welcome home from its fruitful trip to Hawaii.
Here’s how SU measures up vs. opponents this season:
Scoring – SU 76.7 points per game...opponents 64.1...+12.6 average scoring margin
Field-goal percentage – SU .453 (187x413)... opponents .449 (155x345)
3-point FG percentage – SU .352 (37x105)...opponents ,377 (61x142)
Free-throw percentage – SU .712 (126x177)...opponents .690 (78x113)
Rebounds per game – SU 36.1...opponents 30.6
Assists per game – SU 13.0...opponents 14.4
Turnovers per game – SU 9.7...opponents 17.4
Steals per game – SU 10.6...opponents 4.7
Blocks per game – SU 4.4...opponents 3.6.
Coach Jim Boeheim is giving major minutes to C.J. Fair (36.4 minutes per game) and freshman point guard Tyler Ennis (31.7 per game). Fair leads the team in scoring (18.0-point average) and Ennis is averaging 11.7 points and has a terrific assists-to-turnovers ratio (33 assists and 8 turnovers).
SU has four solid starters – Fair, Ennis, Trevor Cooney and Jerami Grant. Combine Rakeem Christmas and DaJuan Coleman equals 36.3 minutes per game, 10.1 points and 8.9 rebounds.
The most surprising stat is free-throw percentage. SU is doing better than its opponents at the foul line (.712 to .690).
NOLASCO, HUGHES BEEF UP PITCHING FOR TWINS AND THE RED WINGS
The signing of free-agent right-handers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes were positive moves for the Minnesota Twins and the Rochester Red Wings.
Nolaso and Hughes are durable pitchers and almost have to bolster Minnesota’s starting rotation. The Twins had a major-league worst 5.26 ERA last season.
Hughes’ main problem with the Yankees was giving up home runs. Minnesota’s spacious Target Field is one of the best pitchers’ parks in the majors.
Minnesota’s top five starting pitchers heading into the 2014 season figure to be Nolasco, Hughes, Kevin Correia, Samuel Deduno and Scott Diamond. That’s a respectable rotation.
Other starting pitchers on the depth chart include Liam Hendriks, Vance Worley, Kyle Gibson, Alex Meyer, Cole De Vries, Trevor May, Andrew Albers and Kris Johnson. Most of them will begin the season on a loaded staff in Rochester.
SABRES NUMBERS AREN’T PRETTY...BUT THEY ALMOST HAVE TO IMPROVE
NHL-worst .250 points percentage (14 of possible 56 points in the standings)
NHL-worst minus-37 goal differential (48 goals for, 85 goals against)
NHL-fewest 1.61 goals per game...3.04 goals-allowed per game ranks 24th.
25.1 shots per game ranks 29th...35.1 shots allowed per game ranks 28th... minus-10.0 average shot differential worst in NHL.
WILL TAKE CHARGE DID JUST THAT AFTER TRIPLE CROWN FLOPS
Long-striding Will Take Charge won last Friday’s Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs by a head over classy Game On Dude to all but clinch an Eclipse Award as the nation’s top three-year-old thoroughbred race horse for 2013. He likely will outpoll Orb, the Kentucky Derby that recently was retired.
Will Take Charge would become the first horse to win top 3-year-old honors after running in all three Triple Crown races and finishing out of the money in each: 8th in the Kentucky Derby, 7th in the Preakness Stakes and 10th in the Belmont Stakes.
Will Take Charge won the Smarty Jones Stakes in January, the Rebel Stakes at adds of 28x1 in March and later won the Travers Stakes, Pennsylvania Derby and Clark Handicap. He finished a hard-charging second by a nose to Mucho Macho Man in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Owner Willis Horton is undecided on whether to bring the colt back to the races in 2014 or retire him to stud.
TWO NBA TEAMS THAT COULDN’T BE MORE DIFFERENT
The overrated New York Knicks lost 103-99 Sunday night at home to the New Orleans Pelicans to drop to 3-13. The Knicks have lost nine games in a row and a team-record seven straight at Madison Square Garden.
The underrated Portland Trail Blazers beat the host Los Angeles Lakers 114-108 Sunday night to boost their record to 14-3. They’re 6-1 at home and 8-2 on the road.
The Knicks are a mess. No teamwork. Soft defense. A losing mix of talents. Carmelo Anthony (great but pretty selfish), Andrea Bargnani (a center in name only), Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith (completely lost), Raymond Felton, the over-the-hill trio of Amar’e Stoudemire, Kenyon Martin and Metta World Peace, Tim Hardaway Jr., Beno Udrih and Cole Aldrich are tough to watch. Injured hard-nosed, team-oriented defensive stalwart Tyson Chandler is sorely missed.
The Trail Blazers are a true team. They play together on both ends of the court. They are a winning blend of unselfish players. LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, Nicolas Batum, Wesl;ey Matthews, Mamian Lillard, Dorell Wright, Mo Williams, Earl Watson and Thomas Robinson are a relatively anonymous bunch (compared to the Knicks).
Portland plays at home all this week: Indiana Monday, Oklahoma City Wednesday (those two powerhouses had better bring their A games), Utah Friday and Dallas Saturday.
The Knicks play at Brooklyn Thursday (the nation gets to see how lousy this team is), host Orlando Friday and host Boston Sunday (needless to say, that rivalry isn’t close to what it was for so long).
The Rochester Americans rank 15th in the 30-team AHL in average home attendance (4,613 in 11 dates)...The AHL average crowd is 4,783.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are early 2 ½-point favorites over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. That’s sort of embarrassing.