From the "soon to be determined studios" here we go...
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan watches from the sidelines during the second half of an NFL wild card playoff football game against the New York Giants Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Wow, thanks for stopping by and dropping a big No. 2 on the scoreboard in the playoffs, Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. The fact that the Falcons lost 24-2 was more than ironic, it was fitting.
As for the weekend's most eye-popping number, well, that would easily be 316. As in the 316 yards Tim Tebow passed for in Denver's stunning 29-23 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. And yes, more than one person has noted that Tebow — a devout Christian who proudly professes his faith — set a career high with the same number of the most famous Bible verse (John 3:16). And, yes, he did it on 10 completions for a staggering average of 31.6 per connection. Wow. Just wow. Crazy, huh?
That said, let's go mini-list from the weekend's playoffs:
1) The Steelers were overwhelmed by injuries. It was obvious that Ben Roethlisberger's ankle was a much bigger problem than anyone let on — dude was a statue in the pocket, and that's fine for Tom Brady, but that's not Big Ben's game. Plus, coupled with your center (Maurkice Pouncey) and top running back (Rashad Mendenhall) being out, your safety (Ryan Clark, who was Pittsburgh's leading tackler) sitting because he has a blood disorder and then losing two defensive linemen (Brett Kiesel and Casey Hampton) early Sunday was too much.
2) That said, Tebow was amazing against a Steelers pass defense that was far-and-away the NFL's best. Pittsburgh had allowed six completions of 30-plus yards all season before Sunday; Tebow had five completions of 30-plus yards in Denver's win.
3) Ace TFP columnist Mark Wiedmer asks a fair question — and gives a strong response — about whether these Falcons can with big with Matt Ryan as their quarterback. In the ultimate glass half full/empty for Johnny Falcons Fan, Ryan has guided Atlanta to a franchise first three playoff trips in four years; but he's yet to win a playoff game.
4) Two early betting lines for the coming weekend's playoff games: The Denver Tebows are a 14-point underdog going to New England and the Saints are a 3.5-point favorite going to San Francisco. According to friend of the show RJ Bell at pregame.com, the Saints are only the second road favorite in the divisional round of the playoffs since 1982 (Dallas was a 3.5-point pick at Carolina in 1996).
5) Denver cornerback Champ Bailey was awesome Sunday. Dude is 33 and was step-for-step with Pittsburgh's fastest receivers. Bailey, who was at UGA with Jim Donnan for crying out loud, is on the short list of best cornerbacks to ever play. Yes, right there side-by-side with Deion Sanders, who may have been a better pure cover guy, but Bailey is a much better tackler than Sanders ever was.
Extra item: 6) Quick side analysis: The announcing on NFL games is a mixed bag. Little-used Mike Mayock was excellent Saturday afternoon as the analyst for the Texans' win over the Bengals. Chris Collinsworth was his typically stout and stylish self in the Saints' impressive beatdown of the Lions. Troy Aikman was also up to his normal, master of the obvious, self Sunday in the Falcons-Giants game. The 5-at-10 loved Aikman as a quarterback — one of the most underrated passers in the last 25 years, truthfully — but as an analyst, Aikman is a fine quarterback. There's always a concern about talking or writing above your audience's head, but Aikman goes so far in the other direction it's almost insulting to the viewer. (We may rate football announcers later this week. If we forget, someone remind us, OK?) And Phil Simms is almost always forgettable, despite having a great game. So it goes.
LSU head coach Les Miles, right, poses for a picture with Alabama head coach Nick Saban during a news conference for the BCS National Championship college football game Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012, in New Orleans.Photo by (AP Photo by David J. Phillip)
SEC wins, SEC loses
We know the SEC will claim its sixth consecutive BCS title tonight. We also know our SEC ace David Paschall has been ripping it up in the Big Easy with a river of information. From game breakdowns to Aussies to the strangely named Mingos to John Chavis' return to the title, Paschall has been all over it.
This is the end of the college football season. (Tear.) It will be roughly seven months before the start of fall practice. (Another tear.) So, let's enjoy it. Let's take a look at tonight's clash in New Orleans between Alabama and LSU for the BCS title game (and let's hit some Aikman-isms — those painfully obvious observations that make it clear the announcer is only saying something because it's his turn to speak).
— Turnovers will be big: Alabama's defense is legendary, but if they have a knock against them it's that they don't create a lot of turnovers. This statement, though, is the rock of the Aikman-isms. It's almost like coach-speak — the never-ending use of bland sayings that are made by football coaches in an effort to not give the opponent any extra motivation, to keep the real plans secret and to confuse every coach's arch-enemy, the reporter — has taken on an alter-ego of football announcer speak. And fundamental truths of the game such as "Turnovers will be big" and "Have to protect the passer" are such no-brainers that they are insulting to the listener and the announcer. (And yes, writers — including the 5-at-10 — can fall victim to using crutches like these cliches.)
— Converting in the red zone: Another big one that seems pretty universal. That said, after Alabama's four missed field-goal attempts in the Tide's 9-6 loss to LSU earlier this year, this seems like a fine time for an Aikman-ism Hall of Fame phrase. (That said, don't you know the Alabama kickers are a) So tired of seeing the highlights of the first meeting; b) Super-excited to get a chance to redeem themselves; c) Nervous as all get-out; d) all of the above.)
— Got to establish the running game: While each of these teams are run-first offenses and are more physical than an MMA title fight, this Aikman-ism surprises the 5-at-10 because it's not really true. Sure, establishing the run would be desirable, but it's hardly in the ranks of fundamental truths. Look at it this way, if the final score is 21-17 and AJ McCarron throws for 300 yards and three TDs tonight and Trent Richardson runs for 3 yards, any Tide fan would take that right now, no questions asked.
LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu (7) in the second half against Kentucky in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011. LSU defeated Kentucky 35-7 in an NCAA college football game. Mathieu was called for interference on the play. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
Title game this and that
There's so much to cover, we needed two items on the title game. Here are some quick-hitting side points (that hopefully are not Aikman-isms):
— Has there ever been a game this hyped and discussed and dissected before. Count us among the folks that were worn down by this marathon bowl season. Bowl attendance was terrible, TV ratings were down across the board, and the people are noticing. Sure, tonight's match-up will be must-see TV and figures to be a slugfest. Even with some of the games being highly entertaining, this bowl season has been largely Simms-ian — very forgettable.
— Top three players, NFL-wise, on each team (in order): Alabama RB Trent Richardson, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, LB Courtney Upshaw; LSU DB Morris Claiborne, WR Rueben Randle, DE Barkevious Mingo.
— Top three players, who will make a difference tonight (in order): Alabama QB AJ McCarron, WR Marquis Maze, LB Dont'a Hightower; LSU DB Tyrann Mathieu, WR Russell Shepard, QB Jordan Jefferson.
— What are the odds that LSU coach Les Miles will pull out a fake punt, an onside kick or go for it one fourth-and-4 from midfield? We'll say the odds on that are about the same as the odds that uber-detail-phantic Nick Saban said at least 100 times during bowl practice, "Watch out for a trick play."
— The Winners/Losers Bowl-a-palooza is hitting the final turn. If LSU wins CJoyner wins and Believer finishes last. If Alabama wins, Big Shot wins and there is a three-way tie between C-Vol, BBlackmon and Uch for last. We'll have the complete standings later today.
— The less-than-intimidating guy that narrated the "Honey Badger don't care, Honey Badger takes what he wants" video that became a youtube sensation and offered endless chuckles to Verne Lundquist was the subject of an AP story this weekend. If you have not seen the Honey Badger video, it's here, and we're sorry you've been trapped in a cave for the last four months. Naturally, the narrator, some dude named Randall who voiced the video that went viral on the interwebs — this youtube clip has been viewed more than 31 million times and has launched a cottage industry that includes iPhone apps and T-shirts — picked LSU and Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu.
— There were pictures and stories about Alabama and LSU players in casinos this weekend. That's great. The 5-at-10 wants to know if Les Miles stopped by a casino. Because if he did, here's saying the Mad Hatter was dressed to the nines in either a James Bond-style tux or even a suit and top hat with a monocle like the Monopoly dude, and only Les Miles could pull off that look. Here's betting he would play five hands of blackjack and be splitting kings, doubling everything and hitting 17s and juicing the house. Then picture Miles having to be escorted from the scene — "Rainman" style — because he's killing the casino. And on his way out Miles would give all the money to some fellow on the street and saying, "This man has the want to be a better person, now he has the funding and the fundamentals. It's a big thing on the perimeter to be able to enjoy the aftereffects of the entire deal. You know?"
— Our pick? Well, we closed the bowl season with a flourish — nailing Arkansas and SMU this weekend moved us to 17-8-1 in the postseason and 58-29-2 this season. That's over-the-top fortunate. So it goes, and we got a load of entertainment out of those picks (because they were made against the spread and were for entertainment purposes only). Of those picks, we rode LSU and Alabama all season, picking the overpowering duo 15 times this season and losing only once — we picked Alabama to win the previous match-up and we all know how that played out. So, here we are. What has changed since that first meeting? Nothing and everything. LSU feels like it should be the favorite, yet Alabama is a two-point pick according to Vegas. (Granted that has a lot to do with the "Alabama" name, but so it goes.) Alabama has the better defense and the best player on the field. LSU has a far superior kicking game and special teams. We need more time. Right now it feels like LSU by a touchdown.)
This and that
— The upset of then-No. 13 Florida can't be overstated for Cuonzo "The Conz" Martin and his UT basketball program. All things considered, The Conz outcoached Florida's Billy Donovan by at least three dozen clipboards. The Vols had more energy, more hustle and more focus despite Florida's clear edge in talent. Nice job all the way around, and here's saying it will likely get the Vols a bump in the Chas9 Top Tenn poll due out later today.
— Nice win for the Mocs over the weekend, too. And nice moment for Dontay Hampton, the local kid who hit the game-winner over App State.
— Famous golf coach Hank Haney has co-authored a book about his six years with Tiger Woods. The book — titled "The Big Miss" — covers from 2004-2010, Haney's time with golf's biggest star. Haney said he does not delve into the adultery that has become as big a part of Woods' legacy as Nike and major championships, which seems somewhat strange. And if Haney's book is only about Woods and golf, well, the title seems pretty spot on. We'll probably miss it. Big.
Auburn's Michael Dyer (5) is tackled short of the goal line by Oregon's Eddie Pleasant (11) during the second half of the BCS National Championship NCAA college football game Monday in Glendale, Ariz. Auburn won 22-19. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Who you got tonight, and why? What's the crazy thing that will happen that will define this title game?
Last year it was the "tackled-but-not-down run" by Michael Dyer that set up Auburn's game-winning field goal.
Who will be the big winner tonight?
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...