What To Watch This Week In US Sports: 8 January 2013
More excitement in January with the fun bit of the football season and the NHL lockout is over. Wild Card Weekend and the College Football National Championship are in the books, so let’s jump straight in!
Wild Card weekend is over and it’s time to kick things up a notch – bring on the Divisional Playoffs.
Must Watch Game
Green Bay Packers (11-5) @ San Francisco 49ers (11-5-1)
Time & Date: Sunday January 13, 12:00pm
Coverage: LIVE on ESPN, ESPN HD and ONE w/Replay on ESPN and ESPN2 at 9:30pm (See TV Guide for details)
And so the wheel has come full circle my friends…these two teams started their respective seasons back on September 9 at Lambeau Field and now the season will end for one of these two NFC powerhouses with this playoff matchup. Back on that Sunday, the 49ers beat the Packers 30-22 on their home frozen tundra. With that big win against a quality opponent, they signalled to the league that they really could live up to big expectations.
The Packers: Last week, Green Bay beat divisional rivals Minnesota 24-10 in their Wild Card game. Granted the Vikings were beaten-up with injury, particularly with Christian Ponder out and Joe Webb in. (Sidenote: I think Webb’s game may have been the worst QB playoff performance I’ve ever seen – and yes, I did see Tebow vs New England last year!). Be that as it may, the Packers look like they’re coming good at the right time. They’ve got all five of Aaron Rodgers’ top receiving targets healthy for the first time all year and Rodgers himself looked phenomenal. It’s hard to read too much into their defensive play, but having safety Charles Woodson back from injury definitely added much needed calm, experience and poise as they ‘shut down’ Adrian Peterson – keeping him to only 99 yards (Yes, AP gets my MVP vote!).
The 49ers: San Francisco has had a week off to get healthy and prepare for this game and they’ve got no injuries to worry about. In particular, watch for their pro-bowl defensive end Justin Smith who returns after missing the last two games of the regular season – it’s always nice to be able to bring back a dominant pass rusher who has averaged SEVEN sacks per season since joining San Francisco in 2008. Jim Harbaugh has also had plenty of time to look at game film of the Packers and prepare. The 9ers will start Colin Kaepernick at QB again, to spearhead the third ranked running game in the NFL (they average 5.1 yards every time they run the ball).
Final word and prediction: No surprises here – the Packers bring one of the best passing attacks in the NFL (40 TDs for the year, second only to the Patriots with 43), whereas the 49ers bring a brilliant defence and that running game. To me, this game is all about Aaron Rodgers – if he can pick apart the 49ers who have the second best pass defence in the league, then they’ll win this one. However, Green Bay hasn’t been consistent enough for my liking, while the 49er defence has. I’ll take San Francisco in a shootout 32-28.
January rolls on and we can see that the Western Conference is still looking considerably superior to the East, despite the Lakers sucking. There’s eight teams over 0.500 in the West and only six in the East.
So, to the weekly who’s hot and who’s not?
- San Antonio Spurs (27-9, 8-2 in their last 10) – Coach Gregg Popovich is now cementing his legacy as one of the best coaches we’ve seen in the past 20 years in the NBA. He’s flipped his team from a disciplined, defensive-minded unit, to a disciplined, offensive-minded unit. Also great to see Aussie Patty Mills getting more significant minutes in the past three weeks.
- LA Clippers (27-8, 8-2) – The winning streak is over, but the Clippers had a thumping win over the Lakers during the week. They’re the real deal this year and the best team in L.A.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (26-7, 7-3) – Well coached and professional, the Thunder ride the hot hands of KDTrey5 and Russ Westbrook as needed to pummel teams into submission.
- Houston Rockets (20-14, 8-2) – The Rockets have really started gelling, with James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin starting to click on offense. Defence is still their big problem, but centre Omer Asik (averaging 10.6 points, 11.4 rebounds and one block per game) is the linchpin there.
- Orlando Magic (12-21, 2-8) – After starting really well and against all odds holding down a playoff spot through the first 20 games, the Magic are struggling with their lack of quality off the bench. They’ve lost their last eight games in succession.
- Dallas Mavericks (13-21, 2-8) – Despite the return of Dirk, the Mavs are struggling badly recently – they’ve had a VERY tough stretch though, having played Miami and the Spurs twice, Denver and OKC in their last 10 games, losing all of them.
Must Watch Game
Oklahoma City Thunder (26-7) @ LA Lakers (15-18)
Time & Date: Saturday January 12, 2:30pm
Coverage: LIVE on ESPN and ESPN HD w/Replay at 8:00pm on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD (See TV Guide for details)
Oh dear…Steve Nash is back in the team, but the Lakers are still struggling. As I mentioned in a previous article, I lay the primary blame at the feet of the Lakers management and new head coach Mike D’Antoni. The lack of defensive structure is obvious and the potent offence isn’t able to make up all the points. It’s not Dwight’s fault though – he’s started looking healthier and happier this past week.
Meanwhile OKC are just doing what they do – run, be young and beat teams down. The superstars are doing their thing, but it’s improvements in Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin that lead the way here.
My Tip: I think OKC’s offence is too much here. I like them to win by 7.
So, the labour dispute is resolved! Huzzah! So, what does it all mean for the 2012-3 season? Well, it will start in two weeks and teams will play only 50 games in a condensed schedule. So get your penalty boxes ready, it’s nearly time for another tilt at Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Ok, get to it people! Happy watching.