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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.
49ERS (-4) AND RAVENS (+8 ) ARE THE PICKS
THE BEST TEAM IN BASEBALL THIS SEASON WILL BE…
CAN SERENA WILLIAMS WIN THE HICKOK BELT?
LOUISVILLE LIKELY TO CRUSH ORANGE
My projected Super Bowl XLVII matchup is the San Francisco 49ers vs. the New England Patriots – the NFL’s arguably most-talented team versus arguably the best coach-QB combination in NFL history (Bill Belichick/Tom Brady).
My “Best Bets’ picks for Sunday are the 49ers (-4 points over the host Atlanta Falcons) and the Baltimore Ravens to lose to the Patriots but by fewer than the generous 8-point spot.
San Francisco 35, Atlanta 27 – The 49ers probably have the most overall talent in the NFL (a league-most 9 players on the All-Pro 1st- and 2nd teams) and don’t have an obvious weakness…Coach Jim Harbaugh’s controversial QB switch from trusty Alex Smith to the more-dynamic Colin Kaepernick has paid off so far. He has a stronger arm and much better wheels than Smith and figures to enjoy the indoor Field Turf carpet…Probably the league’s best offensive line…Talented batch of receivers…The return of Justin Smith from injury amps up the pass rush…The NFL All-Pro Team ‘s four linebackers included three 49ers…Andy Lee is a top-shelf punter…Kicker David Akers has seen better days.
The Falcons are no pushovers, particularly at the Georgia Dome, but they seldom win by a wide margin. …Atlanta doesn’t have a strong pass rush and is vulnerable against the run. The 49ers are a very good running team with Kaepernick, Frank Gore and shifty LaMichael James….QB Matt Ryan seldom loses at home (34-6 including the playoffs) but he doesn’t face many teams as strong as the 49ers…Michael Turner is slipping but came through with 98 yards in last week’s 30-28 win over Seattle…Matt Bryant is a more reliable kicker than Akers…Encouraging note for Atlanta: No. 1 seeds are 6-0 in conference championship games in the past seven postseasons.
New England 33, Baltimore 27 – The Patriots are by far the NFL’s best offensive team but I believe the 8-point spot is too generous to the Ravens, a team playing inspired football with a hot quarterback.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco has won five road playoff games in his career and has played well in recent games against New England. He can throw deep and the Patriots could be vulnerable. He leads QBs in passer rating (120.0; 613 yards passing, 5 TD passes, 0 !NT in 2 games) in these playoffs…Baltimore is a No. 4 seed and No. 4 seeds are 6-1 all-time in conference championship games (including Baltimore in 2000: those Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl)…Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are a solid 1-2 running punch…Jacoby Jones is a dangerous kick returner…Denver’s Trindon Holliday burned Baltimore for two long TD returns last week but New England lacks a similar big-play return man…The impending retirement of LB Ray Lewis has provided a motivational boost to the Ravens. He also has 30 tackles in this month’s two playoff games.
Tom Brady is 86-15 (.851) in home starts (including the playoffs) and the Patriots are 5-1 in AFC title games since he became the starting QB…Before last week’s 41-28 home win over Denver, the Patriots were 2-3 in their previous five postseason games, and Brady had 4 TD passes and 5 INTs in the defeats…New England will miss tight end Rob Gronkowski (re-broken forearm), but not as much as most teams would.
Fellow TE Aaron Hernandez is almost as good…The Patriots still are loaded with weapons and Brady is a master getting the ball to them…New England’s defense is better on the field than on paper.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS : BASEBALL’S BEST TEAM
I believe the best all-around team entering the 2013 Major League Baseball season will be the Washington Nationals. Really.
Washington baseball has mostly been synonymous with losing.
The old Senators were one of the American Leaguer’s original eight teams in 1901. The franchise moved from Washington to Minnesota after the 1960 season….In 60 years, the Senators reached the World Series only three times. They lost in 1925 and 1933. Their only world championship was in 1924 – 89 years ago.
The National League Montreal Expos franchise moved to Washington in 2005 and became the Nationals. They posted seven consecutive non-winning seasons (81-81, 71-91, 73-89, 59-102, 59-103, 69=93, 80-81) before 2012’s breakthrough 98-64.
Washington had Major League Baseball’s best record last season and also had the best run differential (+137, edging the +136 New York Yankees).
The Nationals lost the best-of-five NL Division Series 3-2 to St. Louis.
Last year, Washington ranked 2nd in the NL in home runs, 3rd in total bases and slugging percentage, 4th in batting average, 5th in runs and 6th in stolen bases. The well-balanced Nationals were 1st in the NL in ERA (3.33) and opposing batting average (.237) and 4th in fielding percentage (.985).
Washington should be even better this season:
Pitching ace Stephen Strasberg, shut down by a pitch limit before last year’s playoffs, will have no pitch limit in 2013. He’ll lead a solid starting rotation, complemented by Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Ross Detwiler and heavy-duty AL import Dan Haren.
The signing of Rafael Soriano gives the Nats three solid arms at the back of the bullpen (with Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard). The deep bullpen also includes Henry Rodriguez and Craig Stammen.
Starting catcher Wilson Ramos has recovered from the knee injury that cost him most of last season. The former Rochester Red Wing is expected to be one of the NL’s best-hitting catchers. Kurt Suzuki is a solid veteran backup.
Free-agent first baseman Adam LaRoche has returned, completing a hard-hitting starting infield: 2B Danny Espinosa, SS Ian Desmond and 3B Ryan Zimmerman. Stephen Lombardozzi is a quality sub.
They needed a center fielder and traded with Minnesota for ex-Red Wing Denard Span. Reigning NL Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper is in left field and Jayson Werth is in right field. Tha’s a nice combination of power, speed and defense.
Washington could afford to trade surplus slugger Michael Morse to Seattle on Thursday.
Calvin Coolidge was U.S. President when Washington won its only World Series. I expect Barack Obama to throw a ceremonial first pitch at the 2013 World Series.
HICKOK BELT LOOKS LIKE A TWO-ATHLETE RACE
The Hickok Belt will be presented in Rochester later this year to the pro athlete of the year as determined in a poll of sports media.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson this week was voted the monthly winner for December (by a panel of members of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association).
In order to be eligible for the Hickok Belt, an athlete must have been a monthly winner.
Tennis star Serena Williams has the advantage of being the only two-time monthly winner in 2012. The other monthly winners were Eli Manning, Jeremy Lin, Lindsey Vonn, Bubba Watson, Josh Hamilton, LeBron James, Usain Bolt, Pablo Sandoval , Brad Keselowski and Peterson.
My pick in a four-athlete race would be LeBron James over Serena Williams, with high runners-up Usain Bolt and Adrian Peterson.
The Hickok Belt, begun in Rochester in 1950, was revived after 36 years by Rochesterian Tony Liccione.
HOW THE SYRACUSE ORANGE MATCH UP WITH LOUISVILLE
Top-ranked Louisville and No. 6 Syracuse have dominated the stats against their opponents this college basketball season. Saturday’s showdown in Louisville (4 p.m. on ESPN) is far more evenly matched – at least on paper.
Here’s how the two Big East powerhouses compare:
Records – SU 16-1…Louisville 16-1
Scoring/points per game – SU 79.0 (opponents 57.8)…Louisville 76.9 (opp 56.4)
Average scoring margin – SU +21…Louisville +20.5
Field-goal percentage – SU .456 (opp .354)…Louisville .457 (opp .391)
3-point FG percentage – SU .319…Louisville .326
Free-throw percentage – SU .658…Louisville .714
Rebounds per game – SU 43.2 (opp 34.4)…Louisville 38.6 (opp 32.2)
Rebound margin per game – SU +8.8…Louisville +6.4
Assists per game – SU 16.5 (opp 12.6)…Louisville 14.8 (opp 9.4)
Turnovers per game – SU 13.5 (opp 18.1)…Louisville 12.4 (opp 19.9)
Turnover margin per game: -4.6…Louisville -7.5
Steals per game – SU 10.7 (opp 7.5)…Louisville 11.4 (opp 5.7)
Blocked shots – SU 127 (opp 62)…Louisville 59 (opp 31)
Average home attendance – SU 19,803 (12 games)…Louisville 20,946 (9 games)
Both teams are 4-0 in the Big East:
SU: 78-53 Rutgers…55-44 at South Florida…72-66 at Providence…72-61 Villanova
Louisville: 80-62 Providence…73-58 at Seton Hall.., 64-38 South
Florida…73-58 at Connecticut.
Louisville has the revenge factor after being swept by Syracuse last season, 52-51 at Louisville and 58-49 at the Carrier Dome.
My pick: Louisville 77, Syracuse 61.
Are San Francisco 49ers fans worried about the Sports Illustrated cover jinx? This week’s cover subject is QB Colin Kaepernick, with the heading, “HOLY…Shout it from the mountaintop, Jim (coach Harbaugh) – you were dead on about Colin Kaepernick.”
I hope Notre Dame linebacker Manti Teo’s mysterious girl friend saga causes him to slip to the No. 40 overall pick in April’s NFL college draft and that the Buffalo Bills capitalize and select him.
Cornerback Aqib Talib is proof that an NFL team can receive a huge boost at the NFL trade deadline. Of course it was the New England Patriots that went outside the box and capitalized in a big way.
New Rochester Knighthawks star Dan Dawson has added motivation this season. He’s won every team title in outdoor and indoor lacrosse except the National Lacrosse League Champions Cup. Rochester is his sixth NLL team (Columbus Landsharks, Arizona Sting, Portland LumberJax, Boston Blazers, Philadelphia Wings). A few of the others went out of business and he became a hot property in several dispersal drafts.
You can bid on Curt Schilling’s bloody sock from the 2004 World Series. It is expected to go for at least $100,000 to a loyal Boston Red Sox fan.
In honor of LeBron James’ 20,000th NBA point and 5,000th NBA assist, here are my revised NBA All-Time Tip 5 Players: Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson – with Kobe Bryant on the cusp and a threat to replace Magic or the Big O. What do you think?
The Hershey Bears are celebrating their 75th season in the American Hockey League. They’re the last of the AHL’s eight original teams. Part of the celebration will be the First Outdoor Classic, Sunday against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the parking lot of the Giant Center at Hersheypark Stadium. The projected crowd is 17,000-plus.
The Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year has been a cyclist four times (Lance Armstrong, Lance Armstrong, Lance Armstrong and Lance Armstrong; 2002 through 2005). The only baseball player to be voted AP Male Athlete of the Year more than once was Sandy Koufax (1963 and 1965).
Sports Illustrated’s NFL preview rates the playoff-bound Buffalo Sabres as the sixth-best team in the Eastern Conference.
According to ESPN.com NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr., the top five quarterbacks in the 2013 college draft are (in order) Mike Glennan (North Carolina State), Matt Barkley (USC), Geno Smith (West Virginia), Tyler Wilson (Arkansas) and Ryan Nassib (Syracuse). He rates Nassib as “early- to mid-second round.”