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For over 25 years, Bob Matthews has held the title of Rochester's most popular sports writer/commentator. For over 20 years, Bob has hosted WHAM's nightly sports talk program...consistently ranked at the top of his time slot!
From 1978 to 2012, Bob Matthews was a sports columnist for the Times-Union and Democrat and Chronicle and a regular "As the Sports World Turns" contributor to the Gannett News Service. He is the only person to be selected Press-Radio Club Sportswriter of the Year (five times) and Sportscaster of the Year, and was a pioneer inductee into the Frontier Field Walk of Fame.
A Rochester native, Bob graduated from Brighton High School where he played varsity baseball, basketball and served as student council V-P. Bob is also a veteran, serving his country in Vietnam.
Always opinionated and outspoken, Bob's proudest accomplishment is advocating for Frontier Field. His all-time favorite athlete...former Red Wing Luke Easter. One of his sports regrets……not being around for the glory year of the Rochester Royals.
KICKING OFF WITH THOUGHTS ON THE BUFFALO BILLS
They still don’t know how to win.
No excuses for Sunday’s 34-31 overtime loss to Atlanta in Toronto. The Buffalo Bills had much more to play for, were healthier and probably have more talent than the Falcons.
I am convinced that the Bills have advanced to the upper half of the 32-team NFL in terms of overall talent. But they have a lousy 4-8 record.
The main reason: EJ Manuel has been injured and still is under wraps and learning on the job. We know he looks like a prototype quarterback. We’re pretty sure he’ll grow into a solid NFL QB. We hope it won’t take too much longer.
I’m not blaming Manuel for the latest heart-breaking loss – 34-31 to the Atlanta Falcons Sunday in overtime in Toronto. He connected with Stevie Williams and Scott Chandler. They fumbled on the two plays that gave another game away.
But Manuel didn’t exactly take charge. He didn’t throw deep enough – apparently by design – and he passed up the chance to run for a few timely first downs when it looked like he had clear sailing – again probably by design to protect his knees.
These Bills don’t need a makeover. All they need is some fine-tuning and the emergence of Manuel as a confident leader capable of delivering in the clutch.
The Bills will finish 6-10 if they split their remaining four games. That’s a reasonable goal now. That should be good for a No. 10-to-No. 12 draft pick. A linebacker or a big receiver would fill the bill for the Bills.
I commend the eternal optimists for their loyalty to the Bills, but for now, winning consecutive games would be a nice change of pace. It hasn’t happened since Weeks 2-3 of the 2012 season. This won’t be a playoff team until they clear that modest hurdle.
WAS THIS THE GREATEST SPORTS ENDING EVER?
Auburn’s thrilling 34-28 upset victory over Alabama last Saturday made me feel sorry for folks who don’t love sports the way we do -- and couldn’t appreciate what the rest of us saw.
It might have been “the greatest ending in the history of sports.” That’s what New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro called it. The headline: PLAY OF THE CENTURY!
Exaggerations? Maybe. But if so, not by much.
Why this ending was so special:
It came in the Iron Bowl – one of college football’s greatest rivalries.
It came on the last play of the game. Time had apparently run out in regulation when Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon stepped out of bounds. But a replay showed one second remaining. Rather than take a knee to send the game into overtime, Alabama decided to try a 57-yard field goal for the victory. Predictably, it was short. Unpredictably, Auburn’s Chris Davis returned the kick 109 yards for the game-winning TD. How was that for an absolutely amazing turnaround?
It probably cost Alabama a shot at a third straight national championship.
It probably cost Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron the Heisman Trophy. He had a possible Heisman moment with a 99-yard TD pass play for a 28-21 lead in the fourth quarter. Auburn’s rally overshadowed that play.
It made Alabama “genius” coach Nick Saban look human. It was ridiculous strategy to try the long field goal. The Crimson Tide was 0x3 on shorter FG tries in the game (with regular kicker Cade Foster) and freshman Adam Griffith was asked to nail a 57-yarder under extreme pressure. Small wonder he missed. Most of Alabama’s most athletic players were on the sidelines watching slower, beefier teammates – who were on the field to block for the field-goal attempt – look like statues as Chris Davis sped by them.
It made Auburn’s Gus Malzahn a top candidate for college football’s Coach of the Year. Auburn was 3-9 (0-8 in the SEC) and lost to Alabama 49-0 in last year’s Iron Bowl.
Auburn now is 11-1, ranked No. 3 in the nation and will play Missouri Saturday at the Georgia Dome in the SEC championship0 game. If Auburn wins and No. 2 Ohio State loses to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, Auburn probably would play Florida State in the BCS national championship game.
MORE THOUGHTS ON NFL WEEK 13
Peyton Manning (Denver) took a big step toward his fifth NFL Most Valuable Player award with a 403-yard, 5-TD passing performance in a 35-28 come-from-behind victory in Kansas City...New York Jets coach Rex Ryan says he hasn’t decided who’ll start at quarterback Sunday against Oakland. If he starts Geno Smith instead of Matt Simms, I’ll believe Ryan is trying to get himself fired...New England trailed host Houston 17-7 at halftime, and didn’t you just know that Tom Brady had the Texans just where he wanted them. Final score: Patriots 34, Houston 31.
Nick Foles (Philadelphia), the NFL Offensive Player of the Month for November, is off to a strong start in December. He had 3 TD passes, 0 INTs and a 112.0 passer rating in Sunday’s 24-21 home win over Arizona. He set a team record for passes without an INT (233) and is within 1 TD pass of Peyton Manning’s record of 20 TD passes and 0 INTs to start a season... Thumbs up to Adam Vinatieri (Indianapolis), who is building a strong case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Always a clutch kicker, he booted field goals of 37, 45, 47, 48 and 49 yards in a 22-14 home win over Tennessee.
Adrian Peterson (Minnesota) is pretty good. He ran for 211 yards on 35 carries Sunday despite a lingering groin injury. He now leads the NFL in rushing (1,208 yards)...The only reason I don’t think Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin should be suspended by the NFL is that I don’t believe he stepped into the field of play on purpose last Thursday night. Of course, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. For a long time, I thought Saturdays of college football were a watered down brand that helped pass time until NFL Sundays. Now – for the first time – I enjoy Saturdays at least as much as Sundays... I assume Miami will select an explosive offensive player in the 2014 college draft. The Dolphins have managed a 6-6 record despite being the only team in the NFL yet to score 28 points in a game this season.
Cleveland wide receiver Josh Gordon became the first player in NFL history to post consecutive 200-yard receiving games (237 and 261). The Browns lost both games. He is No. 2 in the league in yards receiving (1,249) and has played in one less game than Detroit’s Calvin Johnson (1,299 yards in 11 games). Johnson missed the first two games of the season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy and was available at the trade deadline. Can the rebuilding Browns risk keeping him and what could they get in trade for him?...Seattle playing at home (5-0 by a combined 162-77) looks like the NFC’s trip to the Super Bowl. New Orleans would need to be super sharp to beat the host Seahawks Monday night.
BOB’S NFL POWER RANKINGS (entering Monday Night Football)
1—Seattle...2—Denver...3—New Orleans...4—Carolina...5—New England...6—Sanh Francisco...7—Kansas City...8—Cincinnati...9—Indianapolis...10—Philadelphia.
11—Dallas...12—Detroit...13—Arizona...14—Baltimore...15---Miami...16--Green Bay...17—Chicago...18—Pittsburgh—19--San Diego...20—New York Giants...21...St. Louis...22—Tennessee.23—Buffalo...24—New York Jets...25—Minnesota...26—Cleveland...27—Oakland...28—Tampa Bay...29—Jacksonville...30—Atlanta...31—Washington...32—Houston.
NFL WEEK 13 TOP PERFORMERS
Peyton Manning (Denver) 403 yards (won)
Tom Brady (New England) 371 (won)
Brandon Weeden (Cleveland) 370 (lost)
Josh McCown (Chicago) 355 (lost)
Ryan Tannehill (Miami) 331 (won)
Matthew Stafford (Detroit) 330 (won)
Matt Ryan (Atlanta) 311 (won)
Carson Palmer (Arizona) 302 (lost)
Josh Gordon (Cleveland) 261 yards (lost)
Alshon Jeffery (Chicago) 249 (lost)
Eric Decker (Denver) 174 (won)
Roddy White (Atlanta) 143 (won)
Andre Holmes (Oakland) 136 (lost)
Rob Gronkowski (New England) 127 (won)
Brian Hartline (Miami) 127 (won)
Andre Johnson (Houston) 121 (lost)
Keenan Allen (San Diego) 106 (lost)
Demaryius Tho0mas (Denver) 106 (won)
Julian Edelman (New England) 101 (won)
Calvin Johnson (Detroit) 101 (won)
Adrian Peterson (Minnesota) 211 yards (won)
C.J. Spiller (Buffalo) 149 (loss)
Matt Forte (Chicago) 120 (loss)
Reggie Bush (Detroit) 117 (won)
Montee Ball (Denver) 117 (won)
Ben Tate (Houston) 102 (lost).
NFL WEEK 13 STAT PACK (entering Monday Night Football)
Home teams are 8-7 outright (113-77-1 this season) and 6-8-1 against the Las Vegas point spread (97-85-9 this season)
Las Vegas favorites are 11-4 outright (116-74-1 this season) and 7-7-1 against the spread (94-89-8 this season)
Teams winning the turnover battle are 7-2 (114-26-1 this season)
Teams leading in time of possession are 10-5 (123-67-1 this season)
Teams with the most yards rushing are 9-6 (118-71-1 this season)
Teams with the most passing yards are 8-7 (111-79-1 this season)
Teams with the fewest penalties are 10-4 (93-84-1 this season)
Teams with the fewest yards penalized are 9-6 (95-92-1 this season)
Teams scoring first are 7-8 (120-70-1 this season)
Teams leading after the first quarter are 5-5 (122-46-1 this season)
Teams leading at halftime are 9-3 (126-44-1 this season)
Teams leading after three quarters are 9-4 (144-32-1 this season)
Teams with the better record entering the game are 9-4 (79-58-1 this season)
Five of the 15 games have been decided by three points or less (51 of 191 games this season)
Ten of the 15 games were decided by 7 points or less (96 of 191 games this season)
The NFC was 2-0 head-to-head against the AFC this week and leads this season’s interconference series 30-24.
There have been 687 points in 15 games (45.8-point average).
TRIP TO HAWAII COULDN’T HAVE BEEN BETTER FOR SU HOOPS
Syracuse University’s basketball team departed for the EA Sports Maui Invitational as a dubious top-10 team despite their 4-0 record. They returned to the mainland with a championship trophy, a 7-0 record and the look of a legitimate big-time team.
The Orange host Indiana Tuesday in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Hoosiers are 6-1 (only loss was 69-68 to Connecticut). The Carrier Dome crowd figures to give their team a warm welcome home from its fruitful trip to Hawaii.
Here’s how SU measures up vs. opponents this season:
Scoring – SU 76.7 points per game...opponents 64.1...+12.6 average scoring margin
Field-goal percentage – SU .453 (187x413)... opponents .449 (155x345)
3-point FG percentage – SU .352 (37x105)...opponents ,377 (61x142)
Free-throw percentage – SU .712 (126x177)...opponents .690 (78x113)
Rebounds per game – SU 36.1...opponents 30.6
Assists per game – SU 13.0...opponents 14.4
Turnovers per game – SU 9.7...opponents 17.4
Steals per game – SU 10.6...opponents 4.7
Blocks per game – SU 4.4...opponents 3.6.
Coach Jim Boeheim is giving major minutes to C.J. Fair (36.4 minutes per game) and freshman point guard Tyler Ennis (31.7 per game). Fair leads the team in scoring (18.0-point average) and Ennis is averaging 11.7 points and has a terrific assists-to-turnovers ratio (33 assists and 8 turnovers).
SU has four solid starters – Fair, Ennis, Trevor Cooney and Jerami Grant. Combine Rakeem Christmas and DaJuan Coleman equals 36.3 minutes per game, 10.1 points and 8.9 rebounds.
The most surprising stat is free-throw percentage. SU is doing better than its opponents at the foul line (.712 to .690).
NOLASCO, HUGHES BEEF UP PITCHING FOR TWINS AND THE RED WINGS
The signing of free-agent right-handers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes were positive moves for the Minnesota Twins and the Rochester Red Wings.
Nolaso and Hughes are durable pitchers and almost have to bolster Minnesota’s starting rotation. The Twins had a major-league worst 5.26 ERA last season.
Hughes’ main problem with the Yankees was giving up home runs. Minnesota’s spacious Target Field is one of the best pitchers’ parks in the majors.
Minnesota’s top five starting pitchers heading into the 2014 season figure to be Nolasco, Hughes, Kevin Correia, Samuel Deduno and Scott Diamond. That’s a respectable rotation.
Other starting pitchers on the depth chart include Liam Hendriks, Vance Worley, Kyle Gibson, Alex Meyer, Cole De Vries, Trevor May, Andrew Albers and Kris Johnson. Most of them will begin the season on a loaded staff in Rochester.
SABRES NUMBERS AREN’T PRETTY...BUT THEY ALMOST HAVE TO IMPROVE
NHL-worst .250 points percentage (14 of possible 56 points in the standings)
NHL-worst minus-37 goal differential (48 goals for, 85 goals against)
NHL-fewest 1.61 goals per game...3.04 goals-allowed per game ranks 24th.
25.1 shots per game ranks 29th...35.1 shots allowed per game ranks 28th... minus-10.0 average shot differential worst in NHL.
WILL TAKE CHARGE DID JUST THAT AFTER TRIPLE CROWN FLOPS
Long-striding Will Take Charge won last Friday’s Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs by a head over classy Game On Dude to all but clinch an Eclipse Award as the nation’s top three-year-old thoroughbred race horse for 2013. He likely will outpoll Orb, the Kentucky Derby that recently was retired.
Will Take Charge would become the first horse to win top 3-year-old honors after running in all three Triple Crown races and finishing out of the money in each: 8th in the Kentucky Derby, 7th in the Preakness Stakes and 10th in the Belmont Stakes.
Will Take Charge won the Smarty Jones Stakes in January, the Rebel Stakes at adds of 28x1 in March and later won the Travers Stakes, Pennsylvania Derby and Clark Handicap. He finished a hard-charging second by a nose to Mucho Macho Man in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Owner Willis Horton is undecided on whether to bring the colt back to the races in 2014 or retire him to stud.
TWO NBA TEAMS THAT COULDN’T BE MORE DIFFERENT
The overrated New York Knicks lost 103-99 Sunday night at home to the New Orleans Pelicans to drop to 3-13. The Knicks have lost nine games in a row and a team-record seven straight at Madison Square Garden.
The underrated Portland Trail Blazers beat the host Los Angeles Lakers 114-108 Sunday night to boost their record to 14-3. They’re 6-1 at home and 8-2 on the road.
The Knicks are a mess. No teamwork. Soft defense. A losing mix of talents. Carmelo Anthony (great but pretty selfish), Andrea Bargnani (a center in name only), Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith (completely lost), Raymond Felton, the over-the-hill trio of Amar’e Stoudemire, Kenyon Martin and Metta World Peace, Tim Hardaway Jr., Beno Udrih and Cole Aldrich are tough to watch. Injured hard-nosed, team-oriented defensive stalwart Tyson Chandler is sorely missed.
The Trail Blazers are a true team. They play together on both ends of the court. They are a winning blend of unselfish players. LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, Nicolas Batum, Wesl;ey Matthews, Mamian Lillard, Dorell Wright, Mo Williams, Earl Watson and Thomas Robinson are a relatively anonymous bunch (compared to the Knicks).
Portland plays at home all this week: Indiana Monday, Oklahoma City Wednesday (those two powerhouses had better bring their A games), Utah Friday and Dallas Saturday.
The Knicks play at Brooklyn Thursday (the nation gets to see how lousy this team is), host Orlando Friday and host Boston Sunday (needless to say, that rivalry isn’t close to what it was for so long).
The Rochester Americans rank 15th in the 30-team AHL in average home attendance (4,613 in 11 dates)...The AHL average crowd is 4,783.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are early 2 ½-point favorites over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. That’s sort of embarrassing.
49ERS OVER RAMS IS THIS WEEK’S “BEST BET”
BASEBALL HALL OF FAME BALLOT IS LOADED
HOW THE AFC EAST TEAMS MEASURE UP
SYRACUSE HOOPS LOOKING GOOD
JAMESIS WINSTON A HEISMAN ???
The San Francisco 49ers are a respectable 7-4 despite a long injury list for most of this season. They’re getting healthier and appear to be improving when it counts the most.
The St. Louis Rams are no pushovers but probably aren’t good enough to pull off a road upset Sunday over the 49ers.
This week’s “Best Bet”: SAN FRANCISCO (-9 ½) 28, St. Louis 10.
(home team in CAPS)
DETROIT (-6) 30, Green Bay 20 – The underachieving Lions owe their fans a holiday top effort and should take advantage of the Packers minus Aaron Rodgers while they can.
DALLAS (-9 ½) 33, Oakland 14 – The Cowboys have a significant edge in overall talent but they’re never a sure thing.
Pittsburgh 24, BALTIMORE (-3) 20 – Love the way the Steelers have bounced back from their 0-4 start and the spot is a bonus. It would help if Ravens RB Ray Rice continues to struggle.
Sunday’s other games
INDIANAPOLIS (-4) 27, Tennessee 20 – The Colts lost their last home game 38-8 to St. Louis and lost 40-11 last week at Arizona. They have a lot to prove against the Titans.
CLEVELAND (-7) 12, Jacksonville 10 – The Jaguars haven’t given up and the Browns shouldn’t spot any opponent this many points.
CAROLINA (-8 1/2) 28, Tampa Bay 17 – The Panthers have won seven straight games and don’t figure to be as sluggish early as they in last week’s victory in Miami.
Denver 30, KANSAS CITY (+4 1/2) 21 – The Chiefs will be fired up to even the score after a 27-17 loss in Denver two weeks ago, but it remains difficult to envision Alex Smith winning a QB showdown against Peyton Manning.
Chicago 23, MINNESOTA (-1) 17 – No logical reason to like the Bears in this spot – except the Vikings are lousy.
PHILADELPHIA (-3 ½) 28, Arizona 20 – The Eagles are back in gear offensively and should win their second straight at home after 10 straight home losses.
Miami 24, NEW YORK JETS (-1) 13 – You might not think much of Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill, but have seen Jets rookie Geno Smith trying to play the last two games?
BUFFALO (-3 ) 28, Atlanta 17 – The Bills aren’t likely to run the table but they’re more than good enough to beat the depleted Falcons.
New England 35, HOUSTON (+9 ½) 20 – We’re tired of waiting for the disappointing Texans to wake up.
Cincinnati 27, SAN DIEGO (1 ½) 21 – The Bengals are the better team. All they need is a decent performance by hot-and-cold QB Andy Dalton.
New York Giants 24, WASHINGTON (+ 1 ) 17 – Tom Coughlin won’t let his Giants quit and it looks like the Redskins already have.
Monday night’s game
SEATTLE (-5 1/2) 35, New Orleans 24 – The Seahawks get a chance to show off and prove they’re the NFL’s best team. The Saints usually play much better at home than on the road.
Last week’s “Best Bets” results: 8-5-1 picking winning teams outright (112-63-1 this season) and 7-6-1 picking winners against the point spread (81-88-7 this season); the Kansas City Chiefs, picked to beat San Diego my more than the 5-point spot, lost 41-38. The “Best Bet” dropped to 7-5 straight up and 4-8 against the Las Vegas point spread this season.
BASEBALL HALL OF FAME BALLOT IS LOADED
For the first time since 1996, the 600-or-so veteran baseball writers who vote for the Hall of Fame last year failed to elect anyone. One reason was an obvious protest against “PEDs-tainted” names on the ballot – several for the first time (Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa).
There will be shutout this time. There are 19 newcomers on the 36-name ballot and several have outstanding credentials:
Likely to be elected on the first ballot – Greg Maddux (who wouldn’t vote for him – but a few voters won’t, just to make sure he won’t be the first unanimous selection).
Might be elected on the first ballot – Frank Thomas (he has the power numbers; two-time MVP; the most outspoken star against PEDs while he was playing...could be hurt by prejudice against designated hitters.
Other first-timers who might eventually be elected (in my order of preference) – Tom Glavine...Jeff Kent (outstanding offensive numbers for a second baseman)...Mike Mussina (likely to have to wait a long time – if he gets in).
First-timers not likely to ever make it (in order of preference) – Moises Alou...Luis Gonzalez (PEDs?)...Kenny Rogers...Hideo Nomo...Eric Gagne (PEDs?)...Armando Benitez...Sean Casey...Ray Durham...Richie Sexson...J.T. Snow...Paul Lo Duca...Jacque Jones...Todd Jones...Mike Timlin.
There are 17 holdovers on the ballot:
Likely to be elected this time – Craig Biggio (appeared on 68.23 percent of ballots last year, needed 75 percent)
Good chance to be elected this time – Jack Morris (his 15th and last time of the writers’ ballot; 67.7 percent last year)...Jeff Bagwell (59.6 percent last year) and Mike Piazza (57.8 percent last year). They never tested positive or admitted using PEDs, but there were whispers. Did they pay their dues in last year’s election? I believe they’ll both eventually be elected.
The PEDs holdovers – Will last year’s three strongly-connected PEDs first-time nominees (Clemens 37.6 percent, Bonds 36.2 percent and Sosa 12.5 percent), and holdovers McGwire (16.9 percent on his seventh try) and Rafael Palmeiro (8.8 percent on his fourth try) get significantly more support this time?...I believe they’ll pick up some votes but not nearly enough to be elected.
The other holdovers (in order of my preference; an impressive group but I don’t think any of them ever will be elected to Cooperstown): Tim Raines (there are worse players in the Hall of Fame)...Fred McGriff...Lee Smith...Curt Schilling...Alan Trammell...Edgar Martinez...Don Mattingly...Larry Walker.
My ballot (I don’t have one) would be:
There also are Expansion Committee nominees (post 1973), including retired managers Bobby Box, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and union boss Marvin Miller. They’d need 12 of 16 voters from the committee to be elected. Any selections would be announced Dec. 9.
HERE IS HOW THE AFC EAST TEAMS MEASURE UP
(rank in the 32-team NFL in parentheses)
Total offense – Patriots 370.9 yards per game (9th)...Bills 331.1 (19th)...Jets 315.3 (27th)...Dolphins 310.0 (28th)
Scoring – Patriots 26.2 points per game (6th)...Bills 21.5 (22nd)...Dolphins 20.8 (23rd)...Jets 16.9 (31st)
Total defense – Jets 322.9 yards allowed per game (9th)...Bills 347.8 (15th)...Dolphins 358.5 (19th)...Patriots 360.1 (21st)
Scoring defense – Patriots 20.9 points allowed per game (9th)...Dolphins 22.3 (t10th)...Bills 24.8 (21st)...Jets 26.1 (25th).
HEISMAN TROPHY RACE EQUALS ???
I have a Heisman Trophy vote and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston would be my runaway favorite based strictly on performance on the football field.
But Winston’s legal situation is a dark cloud over the Heisman race.
The Florida state attorney’s office this week said it could be two weeks or more before it decides whether or not Winston will be charged with sexual assault.
If Winston were charged with a felony, Florida State policy states that he’d be suspended from the football team. There is an “extraordinary circumstances” clause that would enable the university to waive a suspension, but fear of public outcry probably erases that possibility.
Integrity is supposed to count in Heisman consideration. If Winston were charged with sexual assault prior to the Dec. 9 deadline for Heisman balloting, I wouldn’t vote for him and I’m sure I’d have lots of company.
But what if the state fails to make a decision on the charges against Winston before Dec. 9?
If Winston ultimately isn’t charged and loses the Heisman, it would be unfortunate.
But if Winston were to win the Heisman based on voting before the state’s decision on the charge against him, and the state then decided to charge him, it would be worse.
The perfect scenario, would be to delay the vote until the Florida state attorney decided whether or not to charge Winston with a felony. That’s not going to happen.
I’m going to wait until just before the Dec. 9 deadline to submit my Heisman vote. Since I don’t believe I should be judge or jury against Winston, and since I have no idea what really happened between Winston and the woman involved, I’m leaning strongly toward giving him my No. 1 vote. If he is charged with felony assault before the voting deadline, I will not include him on my 1-2-3 ballot.
Meanwhile, AJ McCarron (Alabama) and maybe Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) can boost their Heisman stock in games Saturday.
SU BASKETBALL TEAM IS LOOKING GOOD
Syracuse University’s men’s basketball team, after less than brilliant efforts in its first four games against inferior competition, looked much better in the first two games in Hawaii’s Maui Invitational – particularly sharpshooter Trevor Cooney, flashy forward Jerami Grant and cool freshman point guard Tyler Ennis.
Cooney is averaging 14.8 points and hitting at a .488 clip (20x41) from 3-point range. He’s one of the team’s key components. When he’s clicking from the perimeter and drawing out defenders, his teammates have more space to operate. Grant is looking like a future solid NBA player. Ennis is incredibly poised for a freshman point guard. C.J. Fair is the go-to star every Final Four-type team needs.
SU plays tall and talented Baylor Wednesday night in the championship game of the Maui Invitational (10 p.m., ESPN). The Orange are favored by 2 ½ points.
Buffalo Bills Wall of Famer Fred Smerlas is bucking the trend in predicting NFL games this season. Most public handicappers are having a horrible year picking against the Las Vegas point spread (ATS). Smerlas, who makes his picks Wednesday nights on WHAM 1180 (Bob Matthews On Sports, 6 to 8 p.m.) was 6-1 last week to boost his record ATS this season to a profitable 43-27.
The Hamilton Nationals of the National Lacrosse League have suspended operations for the 2014 season. The expansion Florida Launch (based in Palm Beach) will take Hamilton’s spot and inherit most of the roster. Hamilton came from Toronto via Rochester...As of now, the Rochester Rattlers are scheduled to remain in the league.
The Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears have identical records (6-5) but they’re at opposite ends of the Las Vegas point-spread standings (ATS). The Cowboys are an NFL-best 8-3 ATS and the Bears are an NFL-worst 2-8-1 ATS.
The NHL dug deep for a positive nugget on the Buffalo Sabres: The last three teams the Sabres beat are a combined 44-17-9 (.693) – Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs.
MY NEXT WHAM 1180 COLUMN WILL BE FOR MONDAY DEC. 2...HAVE A GREAT THANKSGIVING.
5-WEEK SEASON FOR 9 AFC TEAMS BATTLING FOR 1 PLAYOFF SPOT
SEAHAWKS NO. 1 IN BOB’S POWER RANKINGS
BAD WEEK FOR HOME TEAMS (4-8-1) AND VEGAS FAVORITES
The Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets were the biggest losers Sunday as the nine-team battle for one AFC wild-card berth got even tighter.
The nine teams now all are within one game of each other.
They all have losing records, but who cares? It is a five-game season now.
Six of the teams are 5-6: Baltimore, Miami, New York Jets, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Tennessee.
The three other contenders are 4-7: Buffalo, Cleveland and Oakland.
Here’s how I handicap the race:
Baltimore Ravens (5-6 record) ... The defending Super Bowl champions deserve to be the favorite...They have one of the three stud QBs in the nine-team field and a very good defense...Ray Rice is a very good running back having a poor season. With a little help from his OL friends, he could be the difference...Pretty tough remaining schedule: host Pittsburgh, host Minnesota, at Detroit, host New England, at Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh (5-6) – The Steelers started 0-4 but are 5-2 since...The defense has improved...The key is protecting Ben Roethlisberger. He has the winning edge over most of the other QBS in this tournament field when he has time to throw...The remaining schedule: at Baltimore Thanksgiving Day, host Minnesota, host Cincinnati, at Green Bay (other contenders hoping Aaron Rodgers will be playing by then), host Cleveland.
San Diego (5-6) – Big road win Sunday at Kansas City...QB Philip Rivers has been in rare form...Remaining schedule is no picnic: host Cincinnati, host New York Giants, at Denver, host Oakland, host Kansas City.
Tennessee (5-6) – QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is playing OK...Big win Sunday at Oakland...Would be dangerous if RB Chris Johnson gets on a roll...Next three games are high hurdles (at Indianapolis, at Denver, host improving Arizona), then close at Jacksonville and host Houston...3-2 on road but only 2-4 at home.
Buffalo (4-7) – Best of the three 4-7 teams...Defense is improving...Strong pass rush...Keys are the running game and rookie QB EJ Manuel, who is coming off his best game...On paper, the softest next-four games in the field: Atlanta in Toronto, Tampa Bay, at Jacksonville, host Miami (combined record 12-32 , but Buccaneers and Jaguars are showing signs of life)...Finishing at New England a potential problem.
Miami (5-6) – Costly home loss Sunday to Carolina...Lack impact players on both sides of the football...Already lost at home to Buffalo. Not likely to get even in the cold at The Ralph...Two gamers against the Jets and presumably erratic rookie QB Geno Smith a plus. Rest of the remaining schedule looks tough: at Pittsburgh, host New England, at Buffalo.
Cleveland (4-7) – Weakness at quarterback and running back has largely negated the work of an underrated defense...The Browns were a promising 3-2 after a 37-24 home win over Buffalo but are 1-5 since...The remaining schedule: host Jacksonville, at New England, host Chicago, at New York Jets, at Pittsburgh.
Oakland (4-7) – QB Terrelle Pryor has a sore knee and remains inconsistent when he is completely healthy...Have a few surprising wins (including over San Diego and Pittsburgh), but only 1-4 on the road...Brutal remaining schedule: at Dallas Thanksgiving, at New York Jets, host Kansas City, at San Diego, host Denver.
New York Jets (5-6) – Have looked awful in their last two games in lopsided road losses to Buffalo and Baltimore...No reason to think rookie QB Geno Smith is going to suddenly turn things around...Remaining schedule: host Miami, host Oakland, at Carolina, host Cleveland, at Miami.
BOB’S NFL POWER RATINGS (entering Monday Night Football)
1—Seattle – NFL-best 10-1...hosts Saints on MNF Dec. 2
2—Denver—blew 24-0 lead in loss at Patriots
3—New Orleans – Brees passes Moon for 5th in passing yards
4—Kansas City – second straight loss after 9-0 start
5—New England – Brady now 10-4 vs. Peyton Manning
6—Carolina – 7 straight wins
7—Cincinnati – Dalton 8 INTs in last 3 games
8—Indianapolis – outscored 93-12 first half L4G (2-2)
9—Arizona – Four straight wins (121-62)
10 – San Francisco – at Washington Monday night
11—Dallas – huge win at New York Giants
12—Philadelphia—close season at Dallas
13—Pittsburgh – Roethlisberger 16-1 vs. Browns
14—Detroit—lost two straight first time this season
15—Chicago— Forte No. 2 on team’s all-time rushing list
16—Green Bay – Matt Flynn hero in rally for tie
17—Baltimore – Timely home win over Jets
18—San Diego – Impressive win in Kansas City
19—Tennessee— Fitz game-winning TD pass
20—Miami – 8 games decided by 4 points or less (4-4)
21—St. Louis – 258 yards rushing in win over Bears
22—Buffalo – 1-4 in regular-season games in Toronto
23—New York Jets – Geno Smith L6G: 10 INTs, 1 TD pass
24—Cleveland – 5-25 vs. Steelers since 1999
25—Oakland – Janikowski 2 missed FGs in 23-19 loss
26—New York Giants – Four-game win streak ended by Dallas
27—Tampa Bay – 3-0 since 0-8 start
28—Washington – hosts 49ers Monday night
29—Minnesota – Salvaged tie in Green Bay
30—Jacksonville – 2-1 in last 3 games
31—Atlanta—clinch losing season
32—Houston – 9 straight losses since 2-0 start.
NFL WEEK 12 STAT PACK (entering Monday Night Football)
Home teams are 4-8-1 straight up (105-69-1 this season) and 4-8-1 against the Las Vegas point spread (91-76-8 this season).
Las Vegas favorites are 4-8-1 straight up (104-70-1 this season) and 3-9-1 against the spread (86-82-7 this season).
Teams winning the turnover battle are 10-0-1 (107-24-1 this season).
Teams leading in time of possession are 7-5-1 (112-62-1 this season).
Teams scoring first are 8-4-1 (112-62-1 this season).
Teams leading after the first quarter are 5-3-1 (89-50-1 this season).
Teams leading at halftime are 8-4-1 (116-41-1 this season).
Teams leading after three quarters are 8-4-1 (134-28-1 this season).
Teams with the better record entering the games are 4-6-1 (69-54-1 this season).
Five of the 13 games were decided by 3 points or less (46 of 175 games this season).
Nine of the 13 games were decided by 7 points or less (86 of 175 games this season).
There were 587 points in 13 games (45.2-point average).
The NFC won both games against the AFC this week and leads this season’s interconference series 28-24.
Sunday had the first tie game of the season (Green Bay 26, Minnesota 26).
NFL WEEK 12’S TOP PERFORMERS
Philip Rivers (San Diego) 392 yards (won)
Josh McCown (Chicago) 352 (lost)
Ryan Fitzpatrick (Tennessee) 320 (won)
Carson Palmer (Arizona) 314 (won)
Ryan Tannehill (Miami) 310 (lost)
Josh Gordon (Cleveland) 237 yards (lost)
Mike Wallace (Miami) 127 (lost)
Keenan Allen (San Diego) 124 (won)
Brandon Marshall (Chicago) 117 (lost)
Calvin Johnson (Detroit) 115 (lost)
Justin Hunter (Tennessee) 109 (won)
Tiquan Underwood (Tampa Bay) 108 (won)
Michael Floyd (Arizona) 104 (won)
Kendall Wright (Tennessee) 103 (won)
Jacoby Jones (Baltimore) 103 (won)
Dezs Bryant (Dallas) 102 (won)
Jimmy Graham (New Orleans) 100 (won)
Adrian Peterson (Minnesota) 146 yards (tied)
Andre Brown (New York Giants) 127 (lost)
Jamaal Charles (Kansas City) 115 (lost)
Eddie Lacy (Green Bay) 110 (tie)
Benny Cunningham (St. Louis) 109 (won).
McCANN SHOULD BE AN INSTANT HERO WITH YANKEES
It shouldn’t take long for new catcher Brian McCann to become a fan favorite with the New York Yankees. It will be easy to forget Chris Stewart, who had to catch way too often for his talent level last season. He ran out of gas late because he wasn’t accustomed to playing so much. With good reason.
My projection for McCann in 2014: .265 batting average, 27 HRs, 78 RBI.
McCann is only average defensively and can’t run a lick but he’ll be a huge improvement over the catchers who combined for a .213 batting average and 8 HRs for the Yankees last season. He’s a left-handed pull hitter and figures to like the short porch in right field. The Yankees will benefit from his offensive talent and attitude. He’s a hard-nosed competitor and fiery leader.
JEFF MANTO LIKELY NEW INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE HALL OF FAMER
The ballots are out for the International League Hall of Fame Class of 2014. I voted for former Rochester Red Wings IL Most Valuable Player Jeff Manto and he is likely to be elected. He was the IL MVP in his only season with the Red Wings and went on to have his number retired by the Buffalo Bisons.
There currently are 110 individuals in the IL Hall of Fame. Here are the 41 with Rochester baseball connections as players, managers or executives: Walter Alston, Joe Altobelli, Don Baylor, Jack Bentley, Jack Berly, Joe Brown, Walter Cazen, Rip Collins, Estel Crabtree, Steve Demeter, Russ Derry, Luke Easter, Bobby Grich, Ed Holly, Merwin Jacobson, Bill Kelly, Joe Knight, Fred Merkle, Rocky Nelson, Jack Ogden, Eddie Onslow, Pat Powers, George Puccinelli, George Quellich, Don Richmond, Cal Ripken Jr., Jimmy Ripple, Mike Ryba, Red Schoendienst, George Selkirk, Billy Short, Morrie Silver, George Sisler Jr., Billy Southworth, George Stallings, Ed Stevens, Bobby Tiefenauer, Specs Toporcer, Frank Verdi, Dixie Walker and Harry Walker.
JAIME RODRIGUEZ LIKELY NEW JOCKEY CHAMPION AT FINGER LAKES
John Davila, Jr., has been one of Greater Rochester’s most underrated pro athletes for a long time. He rode the most winners at Finger Gaming and Racetrack every year from 2002 through 2012.
Davila’s streak will end this year – partly because he cut back on his mounts and partly because probable first-time champion had an extraordinary workload. With 11 live thoroughbred racing days left at the Thumb this season (Nov. 25, 26, 27, 29, and Dec. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10), here is how the two outstanding riders measure up:
Jaime Rodriguez – 747 starts (no one else has more than 600)...138 wins...133 places...112 shows...$1,967,414 purse earnings.
John Davila, Jr. – 409 starts...118 wins...79 places...71 shows...$1,474,162 purse earnings.
Hard to believe how lousy the New York Knicks (3-9) and Brooklyn Nets (3-10) are right now. They’re a combined 5-19 and have a combined 10 straight losses. Both teams are hurting for chemistry. I thought the Knicks were overrated entering this season but I’m surprised the Nets are this bad. I figured they’d start OK and then fade. I still expect Brooklyn to make the playoffs. The Knicks? Not so sure. What do you think?
Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M), Marcus Mariota (Oregon) and Bryce Petty (Baylor) played themselves out of Heisman Trophy contention with weak performances in defeat last Saturday. Jameis Winston (Florida State) is the clear favorite pending resolution of his legal issues. Steady AJ McCarron (Alabama) continues to pick up support as others fall out of contention.