Posted on: December 1, 2008 2:51 pm

Patriots Playbook: Patriots Playoff Picture

Before Sunday's matchup against the Steelers there was a graphic flashed on the screen indicating the Matt Cassel, with his performance against the Dolphins 2 weeks ago, became only the 5th player ever to throw for 400 yards in back to back games. Of the other 4 QBs, the three relatively prolific ones, Dan Marino, Phil Simms, and Dan Fouts, went on to play well and win their next game while the relatively unknown player, Billy Volek, threw for only 111 yards in a losing effort.

Looking at those stats I wondered to myself, "Is Matt Cassel, at this point in his career, more like Marino or Volek?" Sadly, by the end of the game I got my answer.

I'm not saying that Cassel's four turnover performance in the Patriots' 33-10 drubing suffered at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers means he's going to end up a never-was like the Volek (now a backup in San Diego), but it does show that Cassel has a long road ahead of him. You can chalk this one up as a learning experience for the young QB who hadn't played a game in poor weather all season, and probably not ever in those conditions in his life, having grown up in California and playing (or sitting) his college ball at USC.

But the Patriots have larger problems than Matt Cassel's ability to play in New England weather, and that is their place in the standings. At 7-5, the Pats find themselves on the outside looking in in terms of the AFC playoff race.

Although New England appears to be only 1 game out of the playoffs behind the Colts, Ravens, and Jets, the Patriots are, for all intents and purposes, 2 games back. This is why:

Wild Card Playoffs: Colts own tie breaker (Head-to-head).  Even if the Pats win out and the Colts go 3-1 against Cincinnati, Detroit, Jacksonville, and Tennessee (which they probably will), the Pats will lose the first WC tie breaker. For the Pats to get in over the Colts, New England would have to go 4-0 and the Colts 2-2 down the stretch...unlikely.

Wild Card Playoffs: Baltimore owns tie breaker (Conference record). With 5 AFC loses (Pitt, Indy, NYJ, Miami, SD) the Pats would lose to the Ravens in the second Wild Card tie breaker (Ravens have only 3 AFC loses, their fourth being to the NYG).

There is an outside chance New England could steal the tiebreaker from the Ravens. Baltimore has one of the toughest schedules down the stretch playing host to Washington, Pittsburgh, and Jacksonville and travelling to Dallas. If the Pats can go 3-1 (only loss to Arizona), and Baltimore goes 2-2 (Losing to both the Steelers and Jags), the two teams would be forced to go to the 4th tie breaker which is Strength of victory (which is defined as combined winning percentage of the opponents a team has beaten). Although this would be close (neither the Pats nor Ravens have beaten any good teams), the Pats would probably pull this one out because they have wins over the Jets, Dophins, and Bills (all .500 or better) whereas the Ravens only have 1 victory over a winning team (Miami). If the Ravens lose to the Jags and Steelers, however, it is more likely they will lose to one of the two NFC East teams as well and the Pats can scoot by with a better record.

Since NFL rules stipulate Wild Card tiebreakers between divisional opponents will be decided by divisional tiebreaking rules, the following scenarios would playout in the event of a tie in the division or wild card between these teams:

Wild Card Playoffs/ Division Playoffs: Patriots own tie breaker (Divisional record). The Dolphins, with a record of 2-2 in the division would at this moment would lose a tie breaker to the Pats in either the division or wildcard because of New England's 3-2 AFC East mark. This could change, however, if the Pats go 3-1 the rest of the way with a loss to the Bills and Miami goes 3-1 with wins over both the Bills and Jets. If both teams were to win out and go 4-2 in the division, they would tie at 10-2 in common opponents, and the Patriots would again lose the in-conference tie breaker having 5 AFC loses and the Dolphins only 4.

Wild Card Playoffs/ Division Playoffs: Jets own tie breaker (Divisional record). Whereas the Pats are 3-2 in the division, the Jets are 3-1. If the Jets were to lose to either the Dolphins or Bills and the Pats win out, the Pats and Jets would be forced to go into the strength of victory tie-breaker, which the Jets would most likely win due to their W against Tennessee.

In short



The Patriots are going to be hard pressed to win tie breakers against any team they are currently in battle with for playoff spots. If they go 10-6, they will most likely not make the playoffs, and if they go 11-5 there is still no guarantee.
Posted on: November 27, 2008 11:31 am

Celtics Weekly: Warrior Woes and Great Guard Play

In a game where the Boston bench for the first time this season noticably underperformed, shooting only 4 of 12 from the field and largely contributing to the C's 13 point deficit at halftime, the Celtics' starters rose to the occasion to help lead the the green to a 119-111 victory over the Golden State Warriors.

All five Celtic staters played well above their season averages in minutes and the increase in playing time was reflected in the stats as Allen (25), Rondo (22), Pierce (21), and Garnett (21) all dropped more than 20 points. The story of the game, however, was two sided; the gigantic holes in Golden State's game showing in the second half and Rajon Rondo's offensive surge in the 3rd quarter.

The Warriors' large halftime lead was due in large part to their shooting 55% from the floor in the openning two quarters, and contrary to popular belief, that inflated fieldgoal percentage isn't necissarily a product of poor Celtics defense, but the Warriors' willingness to settle for long jumpshots and, at the same time, the ability to knock them down. On the fast break in the first half the C's played solid D by clogging the lane and forcing Golden State to take tough shots, and the trigger happy ballers from the west coast just happened to get them to fall.

That wasn't the case in the second half.

Golden State's inability to pass up long, open shots in exchange for developing a play to the point where they can get inside for an easy hoop hurt them, shooting only 39% from the floor and scoring a total of 38 points in the paint for the game (compared to the C's 66). In defense of the Warriors, their only inside threat, Andris Biedrins, was abused during the second half, forcing more ill-advised shots from perimeter players, but the fact that the Warriors are undersized isn't going to change without personel changes and their inside game (or lack there of) will lead to them being exposed game after game because they can't win unless they shoot out of their minds like they did in the first half last night.

Another drawback to the Warriors' lack of any inside presence is that they can't crash the boards on either end of the floor, ultimately resulting in the Celtics outscoring them on second chance points 24-6.

The Warrior's inability to stop the Celtics in the paint in the second half, interestingly enough, didn't lead to a big game for Garnett or Perkins, but to the Celtics' most consistant player so far this season; Rajon Rondo. In the third period the Celtics' point guard was able to drive the hole and match the entire Golden State team by scoring 16 points and singlehandedly erasing a 14 point hole. Rondo, along with putting up a season high 22 points, took down 8 boards and added 7 assists, all of which led to Paul Pierce saying after the game that, "I think when he's on [Rondo] like he's on tonight, we're unstoppable".

The Celtics, now 14-2, playing a strenuous schedule with more games against winning teams in a shorter length of time than a year ago, have the same mark as they did last season through their first 16 games. I know you're all thinking it, so, Is it too early to crown the Boston Celtics Atlantic division champions?

Posted on: November 25, 2008 3:17 pm

Patriots Playbook: Weird feelings for Matt Cassel

For all the females who are reading this in hopes of picking up some juicy insight on the total hunk that is Matt Cassel, I'm sorry, I'm not talking about that kind of feeling.

What I'm talking about is lack of fulfullment.

When I watch Cassel improve every game, move around in the pocket, throw on the run, rush for first downs, make tough throws, and win big games, I think, "Wow, look at this guy. He's young, he's got great talent, and he's a winner. I can't wait to watch him develope over the next 10 years and become a franchise quarterback!"

Then I remember that Cassel, assuming Brady's rehab continues as expected, will be wearing a different uniform next year.

It's unreasonable to believe that Cassel will remain as the backup with the Patriots when he could be making a projected $12+ million as a starter for one of the many QB desperate teams in the NFL...but you can believe that if his new team is on the Patriots' schedule next year there will be a large contingent of New Englanders who will be very nervous going into that match-up (including the Patriots' secondary).

So why is it that I feel cheated when I watch Cassel play? I compare watching the Pats' QB to watching a child grow up. You put all your effort and care into that child, encourage him to do his best even when other people might tell you he's not going to amount to much. Then, when he is finally turning into something you can really be proud of, he's taken away from you. Your child is given to new parents who benefit from the time you put into him and it's possible that he might make his family better than yours.

I guess what I'm saying is while I love watching Cassel play and excel the way he has been, that it's hard for me to put my whole heart into it because I know next year our baby is going to sign with a new family and leave us behind to watch him prosper elsewhere.

But, in the big picture, it's not so bad. We still have our oldest son Tom.

Posted on: November 23, 2008 8:37 pm
Edited on: November 23, 2008 8:39 pm

Boston Sports Shoutout (Winning ways on the Road)

A weekend full of watching Boston sports teams is a good time. A weekend full of watching Boston sports teams WIN BIG GAMES is a GREAT time.

The Patriots, Celtics, Bruins, and Boston College Eagles were all in action on the road on either Saturday or Sunday, and all four emerged from hard faught conference battles victorious. This is how it went down:

Boston College 24 - Wake Forest 21: The Boston sports weekend kicked off (literally) in Winston, North Carolina where the Boston College Eagles took to field to take on ACC Atlantic foe Wake Forest. The back and forth battle was decided when Dominique Davis made up for his two fumbles (both returned for touchdowns) by plunging into the endzone for a 1 yard score, putting BC in the lead to stay. The win saw the Eagles improve to 8-3 (4-3 in the ACC) which means if they win next week against Maryland (7-4, 4-3 in ACC), a team that got trounced by Florida St. this weekend at home 37-3, BC will win the ACC Atlantic (due the head to head tiebreaker they own against FSU) and play in the ACC championship game with a chance to earn an automatic bid to a BCS game (or in other words, the right to get destroyed by Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, or USC). If they happen to qualify for a BCS bowl, hopefully they get to play the winner from the Big East and at least have a shot at extending their 7 game active bowl winning streak (longest in the nation).

Boston Bruins 3 - Montreal Canadiens 2 (SO): Saturday night Boston's winning ways continued when the Bruins were able to take down a struggling Canadiens team (3-4-2 in their last 9) in a shootout. While a lot of focus in Boston is on the defending champion Celtics and streaking Patriots, the Bruins (14-3-4), with this win quietly moved into first place in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of the New York Rangers. Tim Thomas, who was in danger of losing his job during the preseason to veteran Manny Fernandez but has now emerged as an early favorite for the Vezina Trophy, led the way for the B's with 33 saves and helped them improve to 9-0-1 in their last 10. Wouldn't an NHL championship be just the thing Boston needs to put an exclamation point on probably the best decade in Boston sports history?

Boston Celtics 118 - Toronto Raptors 103: The Celtics picked up right Sunday afternoon right where the Bruins left off the night before by picking up a conference victory over a struggling opponent. Right from the get-go the C's took it to a beat up Raptors team which had lost a heartbreaker against New Jersey only two nights before. Boston started the game on a 21-6 run, and despite Toronto bringing it to within 6 partway through the 2nd quarter, the Celtics never relinquished their lead and extended their lead in the Atlantic Division to 5 games over New York and Philadelphia. The Celtics had their best statistical offensive game of the year shooting 61% from the floor and over 50% from behind the arc. It was a fun game to watch as 7 different C's scored in double figures. Ray Allen led the way with 21 points while Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, and Tony Allen all pitched in with 15 a piece.  

New England Patriots 48 - Miami Dolphins 28: The Boston sports weekend came to a marvelous conclusion when the Patriots were able to go into Miami and avenge a 13-38 loss suffered at the hands of these same Dolphins earlier this year in Foxboro. The now 7-4 Patriots, after last week's bitter loss to the first place Jets, were in danger of falling into third place in the AFC East, however, the ever improving Matt Cassel wasn't about to let that happen. Cassel overcame an early turnover to throw for 415 yards and 3 touchdowns (all to Randy Moss) and vault the Patriots into a tie for one of the Wildcard playoff spots in the AFC. In a game that saw an NFL season high 6 lead changes, Moss along with Welker, Gaffney, and Faulk all set season highs in reception yards while Cassel became only the 5th quarterback since the merger to throw for 400 yards in back to back games.

Congratulations to all the Boston sports teams who made this an enjoyable weekend in the Northeast. If you were away on business or traveling somewhere on a family missed out...but don't distress! All four teams are back in action next weekend and the way things are going for all four teams, we can only hope for four more W's.

Posted on: November 21, 2008 3:52 pm

Celtics Weekly: The Big 3 vs. The Little 2?

If Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett are the Big Three, then I guess that makes Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins the Little Two.

Reggie Miller is a knucklehead, but he did make one good point last night. He mentioned that people just assumed the Celtics SHOULD win a championship because they went out and got Garnett and Allen to help support Pierce last year; but he also pointed out that that was a ridiculous assumption. He supported his arguement by providing instances where teams were stacked with hall of famers in order to win championships but ultimatley fell short: The Lakers' signings of Malone and Payton to compliment Shaq and Kobe, and the aquisition of Barkley and Pippen to back up Hakeem in Houston.

"The Celtics must have done something differently here to win a championship", Miller mused.

Exactly. The C's go more than three deep. They also have Rondo and Perkins.

Last night against the Detroit Pistons, as team that just knocked off the Cavaliers and Lakers in back to back games, die-hard Rajon Rondo fans like my girlfriend had a lot to cheer about. The Celtics' smallest starter came up huge, out duelling fellow pointguard and future hall of famer Allen Iverson to the tune of a game high 18 points and 8 assists.

When asked before the season what his personal goals were for the season, Rondo didn't say that he wanted to become a bigger scoring threat or be the best pointguard in the league, but he merely stated that he had two goals; get the the free throw line more and make the NBA's all-defensive team. Doesn't that sound like a guy that you want in your starting lineup?

Perkins, although he didn't fare as well offensively as you thought he might have against an overall disapointing Kwame Brown last night, was able to pull down a game high 10 boards shot 50% from the field. The biggest improvement in Perkins' game this year is his passing. He only had one helper last night, but Rondo, Powe, and Pierce all missed layups after the C's starting big man put balls right in their hands streaking to the dish.

You can tell that Garnett's presence has had an amazing influence on Perkins on both ends of the floor, but unfortunately it has also affected his oncourt demeanor as well. With one second left in the first half Perkins ran his mouth after an altercation with the Piston's Brown and ended up getting slapped with his 7th technical foul in 13 games this season. After Iverson made the shot it brought Detroit to within seven at the break, and although it didn't end up costing the C's last night, Perkins can't be giving away free points every other game. If there is anything Perkins should learn from Garnett it is that although it is okay to talk smack to get pumped up, doing what is best for the team always comes first, even if that means swallowing your pride (Sorry for the corny lesson...but the big boy's got to learn!).

Look out for Rondo and Perkins (if he says out of foul trouble) to play a larger role in C's success throughout the year...and after watching the way the little guy played against Iverson last night, don't be surprised if he accomplished his goal of being on the All-defensive team!

Posted on: November 20, 2008 3:21 pm

GM for a Day: AJ Burnett...proceed with caution

Although at the beginning of the offseason Red Sox GM Theo Epstein expressed his opinion in say the Sox didn't need to make a lot of moves to improve a team that nearly went to its third World Series in five years, but it seems like Boston has been involved in negotiations with a majority of the big names on the market, most recently: AJ Burnett.

CBS is reporting the rumors are untrue because if they were valid the fireballer would have jumped at the five year deal worth upwards of $85 million; however, I feel as though Burnett might realize the Yankees are more desperate for starting pitching and since they have seemingly bottomless pockets they could possibly produce a bigger offer than the Red Sox, especially if Sabathia signs elsewhere (which is looking more and more likely now the Giants have jumped in on the action and Sabathia himself has said that he would rather pitch in the NL so he can hit, and preferably in his home state of California).

Although I feel like giving Burnett $17 per season is outrageous, I can't help but smirk when I think about a rotation of Beckett, Matsuzaka, Lester, and Burnett. That said, if I were Epstein I would not sign the soon to be 32 year old right hander. This guy is a clear cut contract year pitcher. Last season he set career highs in wins (18), starts (35), Innings (221.3), and Strikeouts (231). Prior to that, all of his career highs were set in he 2005 (12 wins, 32 starts, 209 innings, 198 Ks), which, coincidentally happens to have been the only other contract year of his career.

Another reason to stay away from the former Blue Jay and Marlin is that in his nine full seasons as a professional, Burnett has endured 10 different trips to the disabled list. Worse yet, there have only been 3 years that the nine year veteran has not found himself spending extended time injured. In translation, if you play the averages game, and the Red Sox sign Mr.Burnett to a five year deal, you're looking at getting a healthy 85 million dollar pitcher for two full seasons.

As tempting as it is to go after a big name free agent, as GM I would prefer to see Clay Buchholz be given the 5th spot in the rotation starting in April. I know you're rolling your eyes last year because the kid struggled mightily, posting a 2-9 record with a 6.75 ERA, but he is still only one year removed from his impressive debut with the Sox where his numbers were a more than impressive 3-1 record, 1.59 ERA, with 22 Ks in 22 innings. Don't forget that young pitchers don't always throw well right out of the gate. If you remember back to Lester's first year in the bigs his ERA was nearly 5.00. We'd all be kicking ourselves if we gave up on him after that debacle, now wouldn't we?

Posted on: November 19, 2008 4:41 pm

Celtics Weekly: Gettin the W minus the Big Ticket

After suffering the loss of Kevin Garnett due to a ridiculous suspention, the Celtics were forced to play host to the New York Knicks Tuesday night without their All-star power forward. Despite almost blowing a 14 point fourth quarter lead, the C's were able to escape with a 110-101 victory over the now 6-5 Knicks.

Keys to Victory:

Equal distribution of contributions: The five players on the Celtics who played the most minutes last night (all 28+ mins) were Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Leon Powe, Ray Allen, and Kendrick Perkins. All five took between 9 and 14 shots, 4 of the 5 had 14-16 points (Pierce, who had 22, was inside that domain until he handled all of the C's possesions late in the game and got to the line 7 times in the last 2 mins), and with the team's leading rebounder out of the game, 4 of the 5 grabbed 7 or 8 boards (the exception being Allen). When one of your big guns goes down, everyone else has to fill in the missing pieces, and that's exactly what Boston was able to do last night.

Size does Matter: The Knicks are currently missed the four tallest guys on their roster: Jared Jeffries (6-11), Eddie Curry (6-11), Danilo Gallinari (6-10), and Jerome James (7-1). This meant that last night Zack Randolph (6-8), a natural power forward, was forced to start at center and match-up against 7 foot Kendrick Perkins. Not only that, but the bench players who entered to man-up on Boston's big boy were David Lee and Malik Rose, both of whom are incredibly undersized, and they got absolutely toasted. The Knicks might as well have put Nate Robinson on Kendrik the way Perk was backing their "centers" down into the paint for easy layins. In the first half Powe was able to do much of the same (although he is only 6-8 himself).

Common Criticism:

The Celtics' defense suffered without Garnett: This statement is only somewhat true. While the 101 points allowed to New York was 12 points higher than their season average of 89.7 points per game allowed, that is also 4 points less than the Knicks PPG average of 105.2. So while you obviously want to see KG in the lineup every night, it is good to see that the C's can still function both offensively and defensively against a winning team (Knicks were 6-4 entering the game) without a key member of the big three.

Posted on: November 18, 2008 4:30 pm
Edited on: November 18, 2008 8:10 pm

GM for a day: Red Sox possible transactions

While there aren't a whole lot of questions facing this off-season, and as Tony Massarittu said in a recent article, "[The Red Sox] are not truly desperate for anything. Even if the Sox make no moves, they will return with a club that came within one victory of another trip to the World Series." There are however few rumors circulating that would have perked my interest as a GM and one is as follows:

Sending Julio Lugo to the Tigers for either Dontrelle Willis or Nate Robertson. These talks fell through due to monitary restraints on the Tigers part, but it brings up the point that the Sox have two players on their current roster who don't have a place in the starting lineup, but could possibly be shipped out for young tallent; Lugo and Coco Crisp.

Okay, so the Sox would be happy just getting rid of Lugo and his $9.25 million a year contract for a bag of balls. There isn't a team out there that will give the Sox any real talent in return for a 33 year old Lugo who managed a MAJOR LEAGUE WORST .139 batting average with risp last season, but with the emergence of Lowrie, who is not only a far superior fielder, but hitter also, the Sox need to do all they can to ship lugo out of town...they can find another pinch runner for cheaper...

Crisp isn't going to be the cornerstone of any deals this off-season either, but unlike Lugo he doesn't have some attraction as a deal sweetener for some teams. Coco, who finished last season with a .284 BA, 7 HR, 55 R, and 20SB in just 381 atbats is still only 29 years old and is scheduled to make just $5 million next year. Crisp would be the starting centerfielder on any number of teams in the league and the Sox just need to find a team that has some semblance of catching depth in order to make a deal.

The most well known trade talks right now that may include Coco Crisp are with the Texas Rangers who, with the departure of Milton Bradley, leaving a whole is CF, as well as significant catching depth (Jerrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, and Jerald Laird), seem to be the perfect fit for a trade with the Sox. The latest rumors have Clay Buccholz and Crisp being sent to Texas for Saltalamacchia, a catcher who despite his mediocre 2008 (.253 BA, 3 HR, 26 RBI in 200AB) has amazing upside.

The Rangers seem set on keeping Teagarden, the youngest and most highly praised of the three Texas squatters, but since the Sox seem equally set on keeping their young pitching tallent, don't be surprised to see Crisp traded straight up for Laird later in the winter. Another possible transaction that might be in the works is sending a package comprised of two of three young pitching prospects from the Sox (Bowden, Masterson, Hagadone) and Crisp for Saltalamacchia.

Other possibilities for players you could package Crisp for that I dream about (longshots): Ryan Doumit (PIT) , Ramon Hernandez (BAL), Kelly Shoppach (CLE).

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or