Morning Line Archives: January 30-February 5

Friday, February 3-thru Sunday, February 5

As we sit here on the Friday before the Super Bowl, there’s been so much talk about how New England’s secondary can match up with New York’s receivers, or where the respective places in history are for Tom Brady and Eli Manning, or what does Peyton Manning’s future hold, that we’ve ducked the really tough question surrounding this Super Bowl matchup—who exactly do New York Jets’ fans root for?

On my Monday podcast with Greg DePalma at PrimeSportsNetwork, I asked him this question, as Greg’s a longtime Jets fan. He’s picking and betting the Patriots, so his heart is with his wallet, but all things being equal he liked the idea of the Giants representing the New York area he grew up on. However, Greg hastened to point out that he’s since taken his talents to South Beach, and a friend of his back in the Big Apple had a different take, telling him pointedly—“If you were living in New York and working in an office with 90 percent Giants fans, you’d think different.”

I guess it all depends on location as far as whom Jets fans are pulling for—which makes sense. Those who live outside the area think about the standings and the Patriots more than they do a city rival they only play once every four years. For those in the New York City area? Different story, with a Giant fan around every cubicle corner. Either way, I’m guessing this Pats-Giants Super Bowl has to be more painful than the 2007 matchup, since the Jets were not a competitive team at the time. Now they’ve gone through first losing two straight AFC Championship games, then imploding this year and now watching the two teams they hate most. America might be looking more favorably on a Romney-Obama showdown than Jets fans are on Sunday night.

I’ll be on with Greg again today at 3 PM EST and we’ll go into detail on the Super Bowl. If you miss the live show, tune into the podcast at your convenience.

Here at TheSportsNotebook we’ve complete the look at what’s on tap for the weekend in sports, including…

*Final Super Bowl Preview
*The college basketball weekend ahead.
*What’s on tap in the NBA/NHL from Friday through Sunday.
*A look at Saturday’s three key Kentucky Derby prep races.

The SportsNotebook also expands  its museum as we take a trip into the middle of the 1990s and what it was like to be a football fan in Nebraska, when you could watch the Cornhuskers on Saturday, with three national championships in four years, and then have the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. While they never made a Super Bowl, 1993-97 was KC’s best run since they won the Super Bowl in 1969. Re-live the memories of those football weekends on the plains.

Thursday, February 02

Super Bowl coverage starts in earnest today at TheSportsNotebook and our two features are complete looks at the starting lineups of both the Patriots and Giants. The personnel review sets the stage for the final game analysis and preview that’s up tomorrow.

While the NFL reaches the end point of its season, baseball is at the beginning and February means pitchers and catchers reporting can’t be far around the corner. This was supposed to be the year that baseball added a second wild-card to the playoff mix. I love this change because it appeals to both traditionalists (as I more or less am) and modernists. The modernists love the additional playoff teams, but as a traditionalist who wants a renewed focus on winning division titles, this would make finishing in first place, as opposed to just getting in. all that much more important.

The proposed format would have two wild-cards play either a one-game or two-of-three battle to advance and join the three first-place teams in the Division Series. Remember the excitement of last year’s season finale, when you had Boston and Tampa Bay fighting in the American League, while St. Louis and Atlanta dueled in the National League for the wild-card berth in each league. Imagine that every year in a pair of head-to-head showdowns. The only downside I can think of there is that since ESPN probably wins the TV rights, it means Rick Sutcliffe likely has to announce one of the games. But on the field, it’s a no-brainer.’s Buster Olney takes a look at why there’s a holdup in getting this format implemented. The deadline is March 1 and it’s proof that baseball can overcomplicate anything. If you listen to the video commentary, Olney said baseball is trying to figure out what to do if two teams tie for first place. Do you settle with a head-to-head tiebreaker, as was done in the past—a tacit admission by baseball that no one really cared how you got in, just as long as you made the playoffs. Or, given the new emphasis and rewards on finishing first, do you play it off, with the loser then going into the wild-card round. To me, that’s obvious. You play off the division title on Monday, do the wild-card game on Tuesday and start the Division Series on Thursday. Any other complex problems I can help with?


Wednesday, February 1

Illness is the story of the day in the New England camp right now, as offensive linemen Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer have a case of the stomach flu. Normally this story wouldn’t even register on my radar, but it’s a little ironic. The last time the Patriots played a championship game in Indianapolis, the same thing happened. That was the 2006 AFC Championship Game and a flu bug had ripped through Foxboro the week leading up to the game. While New England got off to a fast start in that game, building up a 21-3 lead, fatigue eventually caught up and Indianapolis pulled out a 38-34 win in one of the great conference championship games ever played. We’ll see how Light and Vollmer recover, although the prospect of having to block Jason Pierre-Paul can enough to make one throw up under the best of circumstances.

Today, TheSportsNotebook gives a shout-out to my brother, who’s celebrating his 36th birthday, and will be assisting on coverage here in the coming NASCAR season, as we get closer to Daytona.

For today’s features, we’ll settle in on the Mountain time zone. Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and BYU are all fighting for the NCAA Tournament in the West Coast Conference and we take a closer look at these three midmajors. For the NBA, it’s time to evaluate both Denver and Utah, each off to nice starts in the Western Conference.

Tuesday, January 31

The targets of Tom Brady are in the news this morning from Indianapolis. The Patriots’ practiced yesterday and tight end Rob Gronkowski was not a part of it, still suffering from the ankle sprain he took in the AFC Championship Game. I won’t insult anyone’s intelligence by informing them that “Gronk”, as the Pats’ fans call him, would be a huge loss and quite frankly, probably a game-deciding one. But is it out of the question that there’s some Belichikian (the NFL’s word for Machiavellian) maneuvering going on, to keep the Giants defensive game-planning off balance? Will this be like the episode in the old Craig T. Nelson sitcom series Coach, where star quarterback Bo Whitley had been presumed injured at a Hawaiian luau, only to appear and lead the winning touchdown drive?

Wes Welker is also in the news, as he’s not signed to a contract for next year. This really isn’t “news”, but as part of the Super Bowl hype, Welker has been asked about whether he plans to be back in New England. I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say it really doesn’t matter all that much. As long as Tom Brady is healthy and keeps the aging process at bay, they can fit someone else into the slot role. Welker’s not Gronkowski, who’s an imposing physical target. Welker is a very intelligent receiver who makes the most of limited physical gifts. It speaks well of him that he can do that, but there have to be others out there who can do the same thing.

Today at TheSportsNotebook, our college basketball feature is a look at the Big 12 middle, where Iowa State, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Kansas State are all battling for NCAA Tournament position. And our second feature is an NBA/NHL combo from the state of Tennessee. The NBA’s Grizzlies are sitting on .500 after being considered a live dark horse this season. And the NHL Predators are more than a live dark horse, they’re a real Stanley Cup contender and TheSportsNotebook probes deeper into their chances at June glory.


Monday, January 30

Game week is finally here for the Super Bowl. NFL fans just finished having to endure Pro Bowl week, where the league’s All-Star game, along with that of the NHL, provided vivid evidence of why neither sport is really meant for this type of showcase. The AFC beat the NFC 59-41 and in the NHL, Team Chara beat Team Alfredsson 12-9. The high scores suggest no one was taking it all that seriously.

Now that Super Bowl Week is here, TheSportsNotebook will have commentary each day here in The Morning Line through Wednesday, and then on Thursday we’ll start cranking up specific featured commentaries looking closely at each team before doing the final preview on Friday. I’m pulling hard for the Patriots in this one—while the Redskins are my favorite NFL team, my other pro sports favorites are the Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins, so I feel kinship with the good people of Sawx Nation, especially playing New York’s pre-eminent team.

For today the focus will still be on the basketball court and we’ll be in the Midwest.  In college, it’s the Big East, where Marquette surges as Cincinnati slides. And the Milwaukee-Ohio theme continues in the NBA, where the Bucks and Cavs are each in competition for a playoff spot. Please also check out a historical feature from the Museum, recalling 1977 and Al McGuire’s run to the NCAA title in his last year at Marquette.

I also make twice-weekly appearances on the podcasts at PrimeSportsNetwork with Greg DePalma. I’ll be on today at 3 PM EST and the same time on Friday. You can listen live or just tune into the archived podcast at your convenience. Visit Greg’s network site and check us out.