Monday, December 06, 2010

About the NFL (A lot), NBA (a little)

Watching the New England Patriots dismantle the vaunted New York Jets on Monday Night football made me feel a little better about their dismantling of the Pittsburgh Steelers a few Sunday Nights ago. It also confirmed for me the impression I've had for the past several weeks--that it's New England's year. With their schoolyard victory over Baltimore Sunday, the Steelers got closer to the playoffs. But it's unlikely that they or anyone is going to defeat the Patriots this year, with the usual caveat of injury (to Tom Brady) or just a very stinking bad playoff game.

The Steelers' season is also far from over. Big Ben lurched through Sunday's game on a bad foot, and now he has a broken nose (on a play that as usual didn't even draw a penalty, though today it drew a fine. The week before, Buffalo players beat on his knee and perhaps foot after the whistle, with no penalty. The week before that, an Oakland player sucker-punched him and knocked him to the ground after the play was over, with a fine but no suspension. Moral to Steelers' opponents: Big Ben is fair game.)

The Steelers and the Ravens have pretty much the same schedules remaining. They both play Cinncy and Cleveland, and both have one game against a tough opponent: Steelers play the Jets, the Ravens play the Saints. Neither can let down against or look past the Bengals or especially the Browns, who continue to play pretty well in contrast to how they began the season.

The Steelers probably have a better chance to get past the Jets (depending on how they respond to being thoroughly thrashed by New England) while the Ravens must deal with a New Orleans team that is still getting sharper. (On the other hand, if the Jets rediscover their pass rush--which disappeared against New England--it means another harrowing ordeal for Big Ben.) But even if they both lose these games and get past weaker opponents, the Steelers would now win the division. But in a season like this, and depending on how hurt Ben is, nothing is a given, even this late.

And as goal-driven as even spectating is, getting to the Super Bowl is unlikely for either team. That leaves watching for fun. But these days watching the Steelers is not so much fun. Their defense can be smothering, but they can also look porous and bad, as they did on the Ravens' touchdown drive. While it is dramatic to watch Ben in the malestrom of opposing players, improvising pass plays, it's a far cry from watching Tom Brady dissect the defense and hit receivers with passes breath-taking in their speed and accuracy. Much artier, and more relaxing to watch.

Right now the two teams with the best records are New England and Atlanta, and that's a pretty good bet to be your Super Bowl matchup.

Meanwhile, the NBA season is taking shape. All the preseason hoohaw was about the Lakers vs. the new Miami Heat. While the Celtics and the Magic are giving the Heat the competition that many predicted in the East, I don't recall anybody much forecasting that the Lakers were going to be challenged in the West by at least three teams. Right now their perennial rivals, the San Antonio Spurs, are running away with their division, and the Dallas Mavericks are looking good as well. Some folks like Phoenix. In any case, it doesn't look like a walk in the park for the Lakers by any means, even if you discount their recent four game losing streak. At this point, it's not so certain they'll even get to the finals.