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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.
STEELERS OVER MIAMI IS THE “BEST BET”
THOUGHTS ON YANKEE ELLSBURY AND OTHER MLB MOVES
PASS ATTEMPTS/RUNS RATIOS IN THE NFL
SOME GOOD INK FOR THE KNIGHTHAWKS
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins are battling for an AFC wild-card playoff (and a probable first-round loss).
The Steelers, 5-3 since their 0-4 start, have the home field advantage Sunday, plus quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
This week’s “Best Bet”: PITTSBURGH (-3) 24, Miami 15.
Sunday’s other picks
(home team in CAPS)
CINCINNATI (-6 1/2) 28, Indianapolis 17 – I don’t trust QB Andy Dalton but his Bengals are the stronger overall team.
Atlanta 20, GREEN BAY (-5 ) 14 – When in doubt, take the better quarterback: Matt Ryan over anyone the Packers start instead of Aaron Rodgers.
NEW ENGLAND (11 ½) 30, Cleveland 10 – The Browns might not announce their starting QB until Sunday. We know who’ll be starting QB for the Patriots.
NEW YORK JETS (-2 1/2) 24, Oakland 14 – It hurts to pick the team starting Geno Smith at QB, but the Jets still are better than the Raiders – aren’t they?
PHILADELPHIA (-2 1/2) 35, Detroit 27 – The Eagles are the pick until Nick Foles proves otherwise.
Buffalo 27. TAMPA BAY (- 2 1/2) – The Bills have more talent and are due for some breaks.
Kansas City 27, WASHINGTON (+3) 20 – Can’t see the Chiefs losing a fourth straight game.
BALTIMORE (-7) 28, Minnesota 15 – The defending Super Bowl champions have enough left to beat the one-dimensional Vikings.
DENVER (-12) 37, Tennessee 13 – Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick. Need more?
ARIZONA (-6 ) 24, St. Louis 14 – The Cardinals are surprisingly good. The Rams are predictably bad.
SAN DIEGO (-3) 27, New York Giants 15 – The Chargers are mediocre. The Giants are worse.
SAN FRANCISCO (-2 ½) 28, Seattle 20 – The 49ers appear to be rounding to top form and the Seahawks could be ripe for a letdown after a ridiculously easy home romp over New Orleans.
NEW ORLEANS (-3) 33, Carolina 21 – The Saints figure to rebound at home after Monday night’s embarrassing loss at Seattle.
Monday night’s game
Dallas 30, CHICAGO (-1) 17 – This looks too good to be true. You know how that usually works out.
Thursday night’s pick was the Houston Texans, long overdue for a victory, by more than the 3-point spot over host Jacksonville. Houston lost 27-20.
Last week’s “Best Bets” results: 12-4 picking winning teams straight up (124-67-1 this season) and 11-5 picking winners against the Las Vegas point spread (92-93-7 this season)...The “Best Bet” is 8-5 straight up and 5-8 against the spread after 9 ½-point favored San Francisco, picked to beat St. Louis 28-10, won 23-13.
THOUGHTS ON THE RASH OF SIGNIFICANT MLB MOVES
Sometimes in baseball, the player moves in the offseason are more exciting than the games during the season. The first few days this week were an example. Here are my takes on some of the major movesw:
The Yankees signed free-agent center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (7 years/$153 million) – A great move by the Yankees. They improve while significantly damaging divisional rival Boston... Ellsbury is a deluxe version of incumbent Yankees CF Brett Gardner, w ho now moves to LF...I thought Ellsbury was the AL MVP in 2011 (he finished second, behind Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander): .321 batting average; 212 hits; 119 runs; 32 HRs;’ 105 RBI; 39 stolen bases...Is he worth $153 million for 7 years at age 30? In the long run, probably not. Speed is a big part of his game. But the Yankees can afford to focus on short-term returns, and for three or four seasons, Ellsbury should give them one of baseball’s best all-around leadoff hitters...if he stays healthy. That’s the big short-term gamble here. He was limited to 18 games in 2010 (rib injuries) and 74 games in 2012 (shoulder).
Washington obtained pitcher Doug Fister from Detroit – Great move by the Nationals. On paper, they now have the best five-man starting rotation in baseball: Jordan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Fister and No. 5 Ross Detwiler...Washington is the team to beat in the NL East.
Denver signed free-agent first baseman Justin Morneau (2 years/$13 million) – Concussions have derailed a Cooperstown-type career, but he’s still a dangerous hitter (.259, 17 HRs 77 RBI last season with Minnesota/Pittsburgh) and only 32 years old. Playing home games at hitter-friendly Coors Field can’t hurt. He didn’t care for Minnesota’s pitcher-friendly Target Field.
Boston signed free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski (1 year/$8.25 million) – Red Sox fans figure to embrace his outgoing persona on and off the field. He turns 37 this month but he’s been durable (at least 125 games every year since 2002), still can hi and throws better than departed Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Oakland traded with Baltimore for Jim Johnson -- He’ll probably be Grant Balfour’s replacement as closer...The A’s usually are smarter than the rest of baseball. Relief pitching is more valuable than ever And they’ve loaded up their bullpen. It arguably is the deepest in MLB. Don’t be surprised it pays off in 2014.
Detroit signed free-agent closer Joe Nathan – He’s a big improvement over departed Joaquin Benoit...He’s 39 and missed all of the 2010 season after Tommy John shoulder surgery but has been as good as ever since: 6-2, 43 saves, 1.39 ERA with Texas in 2013.
Tampa Bay obtained catcher Ryan Hanigan and reliever Heath Bell from Cincinnati – I don’t why any team trades with the Rays. Don’t be surprised if Hanigan has a big offensive season and Bell returns to form.
ONLY THREE NFL TEAMS HAVE MORE RUNS THAN PASSES
The NFL is known as a passing league. The rules favor offense – particularly passing.
So it is no surprise that – entering Week 14 – 29 of the NFL’s 32 teams have more pass attempts than rushes.
Interestingly, the three teams that have more runs than pass attempts have a combined record of 28-8:
Seattle (11-1 record) – NFL-most 396 rushes/316 pass attempts (-80)
San Francisco (8-4 record) – 379 rushes/NFL-fewest 304 pass attempts (-75)
Carolina (9-3 record) – 377 rushes/366 pass attempts (-11).
Of course, part of the explanation is that the teams with the best records are ahead most of the time and don’t need to turn pass-happy to get back into games. But it also strongly suggests that teams with strong running games still can be successful.
For the record, the Buffalo Bills have had 841scrimmage plays, fourth most in the NFL. They’ve had 394 runs (second-most, behind only Seattle’s 396) and 411 pass attempts (23rd).
The most-balanced attacks in terms of plays: NY Jets (352/362)...Carolina (377/366)...Philadelphia (371/386)...Buffalo (394-411).
KNIGHTHAWKS A HOT TOPIC
Inside Lacrosse magazine is counting down the Top 10 Stories of 2013 in the world of lacrosse. The Rochester Knighthawks winning back-to-back National Lacrosse League championship is No. 9 on the list.
The Knighthawks are the cover subject of the January 2013 issue of Inside Lacrosse, with the headline “Dynasty in the Making.” The article highlights how owner-general manager Curt Styes “turned the 2012 team into champs and made the 2013 team ever better.”
Reporter-writer Casey Vock asks, “With the many NLL story lines heading into the 2014 season, one of those is inevitably going to be on everyone’s mind: Can Rochester win three in a row.”
The article hails the “high-profile group of Iroquois player coming into their own or on the rise as professionals, arguably some of the very best and most of them from Styres’ home of Six Nations.”
HARNESS HORSEMEN RALLY TO AID DRIVER THEY NEVER MET
Anthony Coletta is a 31-year-old harness racing driver who was seriously injured in an on-track accident at Harrah’s Philadelphia Sunday, Nov. 17. A horse fell in front of him and he was catapulted into the air. When he landed, he was trampled by another horse and sulky. He was in critical condition and remains hospitalized.
The extended harness racing family throughout the East coast and Canada has rallied to aid Coletta and his family. Many people at Batavia Downs, most of whom have never met Coletta, responded to the “Stay Strong Anthony Coletta” fund drive. Local fund organizer Jami Chatt, a parade marshal at Batavia Downs, organized wrist band sales and silent autctions. Drivers, trainers, staff and fans attending the races made donations. Long-time Vernon-based horseman Lon Frocione and son Todd made a $5,000 donation. Rochester’s Howard and Michael Ouriel chipped in $3,500.
The Batavia fund drive concluded with the final Wednesday night of the season this week. Almost $13,000 was raised for Anthony Coletta and his family to help pay medical expenses as he recovers. Said Bruce Tubin, president of the Western New York Harness Horsemen’s Association, “Horsemen will always come through to help others in time of need.”
YOUR CHANCE TO CHECK OUT JORDAN LYNCH
If you’ve never seen Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch play, you can check him out Friday night in the Aid-American Conference championship game: Northern Illinois (12-0) vs. Bowling Green (9-3) at Detroit’s Ford Field (8 p.m., ESPN2).
Lynch probably means more to his team than any player in major college football. He has rushed for 1,755 yards (7.1 yards per carry) and 20 TDs and passed for 22 TDs this season. With a victory Fridsy night he has a great chance to finish second or third in Heisman Trophy balloting. Had Jameis Winston (Florida State) been charged with sexual assault, Lynch might have won the Heisman Trophy.
It will be interesting to see how Lynch fares against a solid Bowling Green defense (ranked fifth among BCS schools) that will be keying on him. He had rushing games of 321 and 316 yards this season. He won’t approach those numbers, but he figures to do whatever it takes to win. Northern Illinois is favored by only 4 points over the Falcons. My pick: Northern Illinois 30, Bowling Green 24.
Entering Friday night, the NBA’s Western Conference has a ridiculous 63-26 record head-to-head against the Eastern Conference...Two East teams are above .500 (Indiana and Miami). Ten teams in the West are above .500.
Syracuse product and rookie Michael Carter-Williams is off to an impressive start with the Philadelphia 76ers: 15 games (all starts); 36.7 minutes per game; 17.7 points per game; 5.8 rebounds per game; 7.3 assists per game; 3.7 turnovers per game; .408 field-goal percentage (95x233); .324 3-point field-goal percentage; .670 free-throw percentage (53x79). His salary for this season is $2,200,920.
Area boxing fans can check out New York state’s best young amateurs in Silver Gloves competition Saturday (1:30 p.m.) and Sunday (10:30 a.m.) at Wilson Foundation High School, 200 Genesee Street. Open class winners will advance to the Region I championships in Elmira Jan. 4-5. Admission is $10.
Kansas City as a pro soccer town has come a long way since around 2000, when there was speculation that it might be replaced by Rochester in Major League Soccer. Sporting Kansas City will host Real Salt Lake Saturday, 4 p.m., (ESPN) in the MLS Cup. Sporting Kansas City won the 2012 U.S. Open Cup.
After Thursday night’s 3-1 home loss to the New York Rangers, the Buffalo Sabres now have 46 goals in 29 games (6-21-2 record; 14 of 58 possible points in the standings). The Sabres have been shut out five times and had one goal in 9 other games. They’re on pace to score 130 goals this season. Buffalo’s record low was 190 goals in the 2002-03 season. The NHL record low (since 1967) is 151 goals by the 1997-98 Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Brooklyn Nets are so bad that they made the New York Knicks look good Thursday night. The Knicks won 113-83 to improve to 4-13. Brooklyn is 5-14.
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.