Sports Centralby Cian Fahey
- We've moved to The Sports Central
- Avery Bradley's stuttering start to Boston Celtics career is no more
- New England Patriots - a case for keeping Brandon Lloyd
- Tom Brady's contract extension puts pressure on New England Patriots to perform in short-term
- Jeff Green's approach epitomizes Boston Celtics Post-Rajon Rondo
When the Boston Celtics drafted Avery Bradley with the 19th pick of the 2010 draft, they acquired a developmental 19-year-old guard with more question marks than answers. Bradley had played point guard at Texas, but his inability to run an offense or be an impact scorer meant that his position amongst his professional piers was unclear.
Ever since the New England Patriots were beaten in the AFC Championship game by the Baltimore Ravens at the end of last season, there has been constant speculation surrounding the status of Brandon Lloyd. Lloyd didn't have the statistical impact that many expected when he signed with the Patriots, and the off-season has seen unnamed sources cite his behaviour as erratic during the year.
According to Sports Illustrated's Peter King, New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady signed a contract extension with the team this week. Brady's extension is for three seaons and is worth just $27 million. Considering the going rate for quarterbacks in today's NFL, that is significantly less than Brady could receive elsewhere and actually alleviates the pressure on the Patriots when it comes to cap concerns. Brady's deal will save the Patriots $15 million over the next two seasons, $8 million this year and $7 million next season.
Jeff Green is 26 years of age. He has been playing basketball from a young age and has played over 370 games as a professional during five seasons in the NBA. Green was considered the fifth best player in the draft of 2007, selected fifth overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder, while the Boston Celtics identified him as a key piece when they traded starting center Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder.
As of Monday, the 19th of February, NFL teams are allowed to use their franchise and transition tags for the 2013 season. Although the tags can be applied to prospective free agents from now until early March, there is no rush for franchises to guarantee one of their players a top salary for next season. Players are unable to counter the franchise tag if it is used on them, while those same players are unable to talk to other franchises until free agency begins next month.
Kevin Garnett is 36 years old. He is under contract with the Boston Celtics for the next two seasons after this one. Garnett is not a part of the Boston Celtic's long-term future. Nor does he stand much chance of winning one more championship ring in the short-term. The chance that Garnett plays past this season is also relatively low. From every possible basketball angle, Garnett should be determined to leave the Celtics before the trade deadline this year.
When Rajon Rondo suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier this season, veteran Leandro Barbosa followed in his footsteps by seamlessly stepping into his role as offensive protagonist at the point guard position. Unfortunately for the Celtics, Barbosa has taken his Rondo act one step too far, as he also tore his ACL and is now ruled out for the season.
Being that it is the off-season and this is Bill Belichick's New England Patriots, it's safe to always expect the aggressive when unsure about trade rumors. In recent years, the Patriots have made multiple high-profile trades both during the off-season and even once in the regular season. Aqib Talib, Chad Johnson(then Ochocinco), Albert Haynesworth, Nate Solder, Ras-I Dowling, Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower and Tavon Wilson have all been added to the Patriots' roster through trades in recent years.
It was a play that had been run thousands of times. Kevin Garnett was backing down Earl Clark in the post, before he gathered the ball and shifted away from the Los Angeles Laker player to knock down a fadeaway jumpshot from the top of the paint. It looked like any other of Garnett's career field goals, and it was just another two points in a game the Celtics would win comfortably, but this time the basket was special. It was special because those two points early in the second quarter last night, pushed Garnett over 25,000 points for his career. The long-time Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics forward became just the 16th player in NBA history to crack that milestone.
At 36 years of age, Garnett can feel proud of that historical footnote, but he likely won't...yet.
In typical Garnett fashion, he was reserved in his acknowledgement of the individual achievement. He took time out to raise his hand to each side of the crowd as they stood to applaud him, but his focus barely left the task at hand. The task at hand being an important victory over the Lakers. Even though the Lakers can't be considered a tough matchup for anyone this year, the Celtics needed to win last night in order to keep their post-Rondo momentum moving forward.
The New England Patriots know the pain that the San Francisco 49ers are in the process of enduring this week. Not only did they suffer the same disappointment two weeks ago, when their season ended without a Super Bowl ring, but they also suffered defeat when favored in last year's Super Bowl when they couldn't score a late touchdown. The 49ers somewhat beat themselves in the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens, but when the Patriots lost to the Ravens it wasn't because of uncharacteristic mistakes. Injuries, coaching decisions and execution on the day played a part, but realistically, the Patriots simply didn't improve enough from 2012 in Indianapolis to 2013 in Foxboro.
It's difficult to really value the Boston Celtics' recent victory over the Sacramento Kings. Calling the Kings a bad basketball team isn't completely fair, they do have some level of talent in spite of their 17-30 record on the season. However, when they came to TD Garden on Wednesday night, they brought with them some of the worst play that has been on show all season. Highlights of the constant futility were multiple missed open layups, an inability to play team defense and a shooting percentage of 39 that was bloated by a second half of garbage time.
The king was slain. The major was shot. The ship's captain slipped off the deck and that rickety bridge snapped before the white knight could rescue the princess from the top of the tower. All of those disasters combined couldn't replicate the heart-sinking feeling of pure pessimism that overcame Boston Celtics fans this past Sunday.
Almost a week on, the dust is finally beginning to settle on the New England Patriots' disappointing finish to the 2012 season. Fans are still trapped in the misery that comes with a failed season, but the organization itself is already collecting the pieces they can move forward with next season, while assessing what losses need to be replaced. The Patriots are typically an active team in the off-season, as Bill Belichick is always willing to explore all avenues that could potentially improve his team. This off-season should be similar as there are some key areas that need to be rebuilt.
One of those areas comes outside the numbers at the wide receiver position.
For what feels like the 50th time in the past five years, the New England Patriots slumped to another defeat just short of their ultimate goal. A loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship in 2013 can be added to a Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants in 2012, a divisional round upset to the New York Jets in 2011, another loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the Wildcard Round in 2010 and that infamous Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants in 2008.
Two teams driven by past failures will meet today in Foxboro for the AFC Championship game. For the Baltimore Ravens, the venue is the same. The Ravens' season came to a close at this point last year when Lee Evans couldn't fight off Sterling Moore for a last second touchdown, before Billy Cundiff pushed his field goal attempt outside of the posts. The New England Patriots celebrated that day, but two weeks later the pain would come. For the second time in five years, Tom Brady couldn't out-duel Eli Manning in the Super Bowl. Both teams still palpably feel that pain, which gives them both the motivation to battle ferociously today.
Roughly 12 months ago, then New England Patriots' defensive back Sterling Moore made the biggest play of the AFC Championship game. With the Patriots leading by just three points as the end of the game approached, the Baltimore Ravens were driving towards the endzone. On second and 14 with 27 seconds to go, Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco threw the ball to the corner of the endzone where receiver Lee Evans was awaiting the football.
The 2012 AFC Championship has been set. After victories over the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos, the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens will meet in Foxboro next Sunday to decide what team will represent the conference in the Super Bowl. With those two franchises involved, thoughts must immediately meander back to last year's Championship game when these two teams did battle previously.
A melancholic result on the first day of the NFL divisional round of the playoffs has offered the New England Patriots both added motivation to make the next round, as well as fair warning to those expecting an easy result in Foxboro. The Baltimore Ravens' overtime victory over the Denver Broncos shocked the NFL world and turned the AFC bracket of the playoffs on it's head.
For some time now, there has been a lot of debate about Houston Texans' quarterback Matt Schaub. As NFL fans, analysts and just as people in general, labelling people is seen as a necessity in identifying the capabilities of that person, whether it be playing football, teaching children or whatever walk of life a person chooses for themselves. For Matt Schaub, there are any number of labels that the masses are trying to stick to his helmet.
Having already beaten the Houston Texans earlier this season, the New England Patriots won't be intimidated by the prospect of facing them again in the AFC Divisional round this weekend. The Texans will travel to Foxboro after beating the Cincinnati Bengals in the wildcard round of the playoffs this past Saturday. As the second seed in the conference, the Patriots haven't played in two weeks and will have homefield advantage throughout the playoffs if they can avoid the Denver Broncos.
What will unnerve Bill Belichick during his week of preparation however, is how the Texans will approach the game. The Patriots proved that they had a sure gameplan to shut down the Houston side's regular approach during the regular season, but if the Texans feel confident enough in Matt Schaub and their young receivers, they could completely flip their offensive attack to take advantage of the Patriots' frailties.
Even though the Patriots won't be able to face the Cincinnati Bengals this weekend no matter what happens, they will likely be supporting them all the way in advancing this weekend. Andrew Luck may be a superstar quarterback who could decimate the Patriots on second viewing, but the Indianapolis Colts' defense would be severely overwhelmed in a second matchup. The Ravens have plenty of playoff experience, but are fortunate to even be in this postseason, nevermind beat one of then best teams in the league.
Defensively, the Dolphins are a bit of a mixed bag of talent that comes in all different sizes. Players such as Cameron Wake, Randy Starks and Reshad Jones could be all-pro players on any given Sunday, but the defense as a unit has had days when it has looked particularly bad. They do rank sixth overall in points allowed per game, giving up just under 20 points per game, but have also had days such as that in Tennessee when the Titans scored 37. The Dolphins will look to get pressure on Tom Brady to contain the Patriots offense, however they will likely need to eclipse their four sack tally from the two teams' last meeting if they are to effectively manage that.
The 2012 calendar year for Irish sports fans was one filled with glorious moments of sheer delight as well as gutting moments of despair and disappointment. National pride took its hits and blows repeatedly, but some athletes kept fighting through the blows to deliver what fans' dreams were made of.
10. Underdogs Ulster Reach Heineken Cup Final.
Ireland's recent struggles as an international footballing powerhouse(!) have opened the doors to this other sport known as rugby. A sport at which the Irish international teams have recently dominated at different levels. The International team has had its ups and downs over the past few years, but there has been a level of consistency at the provincial level that has surpassed all expectations. Leinster have become the most feared club side in the world, but their counterparts in the North, Ulster, have timed their rise to prominence perfectly as Munster appear to slide out of relevance. Ulster shocked European Rugby this year when they marched their way into the 2012 Heineken Cup Final, only to be beaten by an unstoppable Leinster side. With youth on their side however, the future appears bright for this province.
Following a Week 15 that gave the New England Patriots the present of the San Francisco 49ers, along with a loss to bring their fans back down to earth, Week 16 offers the team a much less enticing, but also less challenging matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars have one of the worst records in the NFL with 12 losses already locked down, in fact nobody has a worse record but the Kansas City Chiefs do match their two wins all season.
The Jaguars' two victories this year were uninspiring also. A late Cecil Shorts' touchdown allowed them to sneak past the Colts in Indianapolis early in the year, while their only home victory all season came against the Tennessee Titans, who have had almost as underwhelming a season. The Jaguars haven't been helped my multiple losses of key players. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert and running-back Maurice Jones-Drew get most of the attention, but the early hits losing Laurent Robinson, Will Rackley and Daryl Smith all significantly hurt the team also.
Sullinger has made a somewhat promising start to his career for the Celtics and could develop into an important piece in the future. However, he does have lingering question marks over his health from the draft evaluations and may be one of the better players on a bad team once the Celtics' veterans retire. Sullinger and Lee would be the two most likely trading chips if the Celtics move for Gortat, unless they can somehow convince the Suns to take Chris Wilcox, Jason Collins or Fab Melo in his place.
Having dominated the Houston Texans, the San Francisco 49ers will be more determined than ever to make a statement against the Patriots on their own turf. In order to prevent that from happening, the Patriots need to match the 49ers' physicality more so than outwit them with their gameplanning. They passed their biggest test of the season last week, but just like interceptions from Ryan Fitzpatrick, as soon as the first one has happened a second is sure to follow.
To beat the Patriots you need to have consistent pressure and excellent coverage without sacrificing quality run stopping. In essence, you need to have an elite defense. To be the best you have to beat the best. So while the Patriots are the favorites right now, it means nothing until they prove that they can get past every obstacle that emerges between now and February.
WR Lestar Jean (knee)
The Texans have very good depth, but it is their high quality and notable quantity of stars makes them a difficult matchup for anyone.Offensively, they can light up the scoreboard on the ground or through the air. Defensively they can contain passing attacks and shut down running backs while still creating turnovers. They can suck the life out of the clock on offense or put points on the board with their defense. Essentially, they are the most well-rounded team in football.
Sitting those starters would probably cause them to lose rhythm and timing with each other, but that rhythm and timing shouldn't be a lost cause if they were brought back in at the end of the regular season, because the Patriots' key players are all veterans who know how to manage such situations.
It's not the easiest trip for the reigning AFC East champions, but it is very much a winnable game and opportunity to cement their place in the playoffs.
With the Patriots offense missing Rob Gronkowski still, the Patriots can't afford to keep losing starters because they need to prepare for the playoffs. They are very close to clinching a playoff berth and shouldn't have any issues with their remaining schedule. However, not having key performers playing for the team during the run up to the playoffs could come back to haunt them at a later date.
The Jets' offense is not an impressive unit, but it does have the potential to complement the defense if the Patriots' offense is kept in check. For the Patriots to convincingly beat the Jets, they must find a way to get off to a hot-start without Gronkowski. That could prove to be very difficult.
Although the Jets have already lost to the Patriots this year, they lost by just three points in a game they easily could have won. Forcing the Patriots to play in New York, on a short week with a key contributor missing, could be the tipping point for the potential upset.
While it is often media hype that pits two quarterbacks against each other in head-to-head matchups between football teams, this game is the epitome of a quarterback battle as both Andrew Luck and Tom Brady will be able to take advantage of weak defenses in Foxboro. Because Luck has struggled to maintain his consistency on the road, Patriots fans will likely feel very confident entering today's game.
Devil's advocate would state that this would be the perfect time for Luck to have a staple performance, and even a victory, against a questionable defense for a franchise his own are determined to overcome. Beating Peyton Manning's greatest rival in a season when Manning himself failed to manage that feat, would be a very sweet way for Luck to kickstart his career on the road.
While the Patriots' schedule plays to their strengths and should allow them to easily secure a number one seed in the playoffs, a lack of consistent challenges in the regular season could put them a step behind other teams when the post-season actually begins. Sometimes it is better to be exposed severely in the regular season, so it becomes easier to fix those issues before the playoffs. Once the playoffs begin, it will already be too late.
The Bills' 3-5 record already includes a loss to the Patriots, when Brandon Bolden's breakout performance helped the Patriots to a 52-28 victory. Since then Bolden has only tallied 82 rushing yards since then, before being suspended four games for violated the league's substance abuse policy. Despite Bolden's disappearance, the Patriots have continued to run a balanced offense.
Yet, it is not a player who has just been suspended, rather a player who is just coming off suspension who will attract all of the attention of Patriots' fans this week. Aqib Talib is set to make his debut for the Patriots after the team traded for the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers' cornerback at the deadline just over a week ago. Talib brings a physical presence to the Patriots' secondary and shifts Devin McCourty from starting cornerback to starting free safety.
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the Heat were a team with much better chemistry and decisiveness because the Celtics are still trying to find themselves. With seven new active players on the roster, the Celtics are still defining roles for players and settling on a rotation. At different times of the year the rotations will adjust to keep older players like Kevin Garnett fresh, but first Doc Rivers must find his best combinations.
One of those new faces has already forced a lineup change. Rookie first round draft pick Jared Sullinger has already forced his way into the starting lineup, just a handful of games into his career. Sullinger replaced Brandon Bass after the team started off 0-2, the second loss coming against the Milwaukee Bucks. Even though Bass has dropped to the bench, he has remained a prominent piece of the rotation notching 28 and 33 minutes from the bench. Sullinger has jumped from averaging 13 minutes per game to 26 as a starter.
That leaves the Patriots with two decisions to make regarding starters in the secondary. Choosing the second safety should be significantly easier though as Patrick Chung is a better fit with McCourty over rooke Tyler Wilson. Chung hasn't lived up to his draft stock throughout his career, but is more likely to start than veteran Steve Gregory. Whoever is starting with McCourty, they will need to improve their own personal level of production.
That serves as little comfort to the thousands, maybe millions, of fans across the world who want to watch their team today. Instead of watching the Patriots, you can do many things. You could cut the grass, clean the windows, walk the dog, go to the gym or...heaven knows...take the wife/girlfriend out to dinner. But since all of those tasks sound incredibly boring and completely unrelated to the Patriots, instead you could sit inside and watch the rest of the NFL. Except, do so with your favourite team in mind.
Here is a guide of how to watch the bye week as a Patriots fan.
In a lockout shortened 2011-12 NBA season, the Boston Celtics defied the expectations of most onlookers with an impressive run in the playoffs. After getting past the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers in two tough series, the Celtics' season was ended by Lebron James and the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. James' team would continue past the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals to be crowned the league's champions.
When the Patriots played the Buccaneers in 2009, they ran out easy 35-7 winners. After finding out that this time it was the Rams who they would play, fans could be forgiven for expecting a similar blowout.
In recent times there hasn't been a less efficient franchise in the NFL than the St. Louis Rams. Entering this season, the Rams had a record of 10-38 over the past three seasons. During those years, the Rams were led by then head coach Steve Spagnuolo. However, Spagnuolo's teams were so futile that the Rams replaced him in the off-season with Jeff Fisher.
Hernandez' ankle injury has limited him from cutting as he continues his rehabilitation despite playing in recent weeks. While the Patriots won't fear the Rams without Hernandez, he could prove to be an important loss.
The Rams are not yet power houses of the league, but their defense is substantially better at this point than it was last year. An off-season of investment in their secondary has resulted in the team having some of the better cover cornerbacks in the whole league. Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan have proven to be very physical and productive cornerbacks who can be trusted in single coverage with opposing receivers.
The Patriots outlasted the New York Jets this past Sunday evening to take a one game lead in the AFC East. Despite the victory, the Patriots are still only 4-3 after a season when some people predicted them to go 16-0.
Now while 16-0 was always a pipe dream, the team is definitely not reaching it's own lofty expectations coming into the season. Injuries during the season and so much turnover before the season even began certainly hasn't helped. Bill Belichick was hoping to keep a balance of veteran and youthful players on his offensive line, but the retirements of Robert Gallery and Brian Waters as well as the persistent injury problems for Logan Mankins have restricted Belichick to a less experienced unit upfront.
Even though the Jets are coming to Boston off the back of a big victory over the Indianapolis Colts, this team does not resemble the Jets' teams of the past who repeatedly went to the playoffs. Against the better teams on their schedule so far, the Jets have been convincingly beaten two out of three games. The Pittsburgh Steelers trashed the Jets in Week 2 by 27 to 10, before the San Francisco 49ers shut out the offense and dismantled the defense in a 34-0 win in New York. Even when the Jets played well, they still lost to the Houston Texans by six points.
A familiar adversary dealt the first blow for the Seattle Seahawks on their way to a comeback victory over the New England Patriots in Week 6. Braylon Edwards touchdown catch against Alfonzo Dennard brought the Seahawks within 23-17, before Sidney Rice split the Patriots safeties on a massive touchdown reception to seal a 24-23 victory.
In a game where the Patriots were facing their biggest test on offense of the short season so far, it was their defense that failed to hold onto a significant lead in the second half. The Seahawks defense held the Patriots offense in check during the second half, but that was after giving up 20+ points in the first half.
Not only are the Seahawks only giving up the equivalent of two touchdowns on every outing, they also lead the league giving up the least amount of yards and have already dismantled the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers' defenses at home this year. If the Patriots can go into CenturyLink Field and dominate this defense, then they will be the most feared offense in the NFL.
What makes that task even more difficult than what it appears to be on the surface, is that the Seahawks are an incredibly physical team who have the ability to take away the Patriots' mismatch advantages that they enjoy against most teams. Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman are two of the biggest cornerbacks in the NFL, but they could also be the two best. Sherman and Browner both have the agility to move with Wes Welker or the size to handle Rob Gronkowski.
And he's doing it perfectly.
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