For the majority of the teams in the National Football League, the playoff picture is beginning to take shape. On the AFC side, things are relatively clear-cut. The New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Denver Broncos have clinched the AFC East, South and West, respectively, and the Baltimore Ravens have claimed the North.
The New York Jets, the ugly step-sister in the eyes of New Yorkers infatuated with the Giants are out of the playoffs, and have benched their quarterback. The big-sister Giants, don't forget, won the Super Bowl last year in a dramatic fashion.
On the NFC side of the football divisions, the Green Bay Packers have secured the North, as has become habit for the publicly-owned team. The Packers are looking as strong as ever, but perhaps not as strong as the San Francisco 49ers, who have sealed at least a playoff berth in the NFC West, and are well thought-of in the ESPN Power Rankings. The 49ers and the Packers both have favorable schedules to end the season.
The Atlanta Falcons have ruled the NFC South's roost so far and sent a bruising message last week to the Giants and, perhaps, the rest of the NFC East as well. But that's where things get confusing.
The Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and those champs from last year, the New York Giants, are all tied at the top of the NFC East with records of 8-6, leaving this competitive division as the last playoff knot to untie. And with only two weeks of regular season games left to play, the schedule makers have done football fans a huge favor by making sure that, even if next week is relatively calm, exciting rivalries are short in coming.
The last week of the regular season will bring over-hyped (and almost mathematically eliminated) Philly to the home of the Giants and, most importantly, Dallas to Washington. By scheduling these division rivalries at the end of the season, the NFL succeeds in two respects. First of all, neither the Cowboys nor the Redskins will be resting any players who should otherwise be playing. They'll want every able body to fight for playoff position. Secondly, we get super-compelling TV to watch, even when some of the other games that week (The Jets in Buffalo, anyone?) aren't going to be very interesting.
This past weekend, the National Hockey League should have been entering its ninth week of the season. While ESPN's front page for the NHL touts their collaboration with EA Sports on an innovative video game, no simulation highlights package is going to cover up the fact that the NHL, having canceled their season through mid-December's All Star Break, is in a precipitous position.
When the NHL announced that it was scrubbing the All-Star Game, the season should have already been under way. In truth, this has been a long time coming. Some hockey fans might even claim that it's a remnant from the previous lockout.
The poll results on ESPN's article, although far from scientific, speak strongly to people's beliefs that there will not be a hockey season this year. The commissioner of the NHL, Gary Bettman, has taken his fair share of the blame for this lockout. But there will always be those who look at the situation from the outside and think any players refusing to play a game for thousands—or hundreds of thousands—of dollars are the greedy ones. With the NHL Players’ Association union chief, Donald Fehr claiming that the sides are close to working out a deal and Bettman claiming the opposite, it's hard to know what exactly is going to happen with this season.
Stars such as Sidney Crosby are reportedly looking into playing overseas. This is a fine option if you're one of the most marketable names in the entire league, but doesn't help many more than the top ten percent of the NHL. Having gone witnessed one recently, NBA fans are familiar with situations such as JR Smith's delayed return from China and the troubles that might be associated with playing outside the U.S.
The back-and-forth of professional hockey has been more of a rule than an exception in comparison to other leagues, but that doesn't excuse the lack of progress by now. Bettman's palpable anger at a recent press conference is merely the latest salvo in a war that's been waged since he took over as commissioner of the league. It's also a sharp reminder that the NHL is the only major sports league in America to ever miss an entire season. Seven years ago, the entirety of the 2004-2005 season was lost to labor disputes.
With rumors circulating this morning that that more games had been canceled, the NHL is teetering on the brink of furthering its own irrelevance and setting back most, if not all, of the gains that had been made since that lost season.
Major League Soccer has officially put the 2012 season to bed. In a rematch of last year's finals, the Los Angeles Galaxy beat the Houston Dynamos 3-1 after scoring all three of their goals in the second half, two of which were penalty kicks.
The game, of course, was a fitting cap to David Beckham's career, which is all anyone can talk about when it comes to soccer. In America, we're still waiting for a transcendent star to break the glass ceiling of soccer's appeal to the masses. Many thought it would be Beckham, but while plenty are finding reason to celebrate in his going out on top, there have been rough patches in his MLS career as well.
The simple truth is that soccer, even at its post-Beckham level, is nowhere near the popularity of the four major sports in America. Football is king. There are a myriad basketball and baseball purists. Even hockey, a virtually unheralded sport in New Mexico, has regional swells of popularity. By pure television rankings of championship events, the Super Bowl crushes all the sports combined. An estimated 111 million Americans tuned in to the big game last February. The last baseball championship, where the San Francisco Giants swept the Detroit Tigers, managed 15.5 million viewers for Game 4. The Miami Heat’s triumph over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 nabbed 18.4 million viewers. When the Los Angeles Kings beat the New Jersey Devils in Game 6, the NHL only wrangled five million viewers. This year's MLS Cup meanwhile, backtracking on the progress they'd made last year, managed only a 0.7 Nielsen rating. This translates to just over one million viewers.
Experts have offered suggestions about how to improve the ratings, but it still remains that soccer is averaging significantly fewer viewers for its championship game than the NCAA women's college basketball championship game, which is dismissed outright by many sports fans. It seems to be a chicken or egg problem: sponsors aren't going to spend money supporting a game that isn't bringing sets of eyes to the tube, but without that money and hype, how will people be attracted?
David Beckham was going to be that answer. For now, the question remains unsolved. But don't feel bad for Beckham. He's going to play for another year somewhere before returning to MLS with some sort of managerial or ownership role. And don't pity the Los Angeles Galaxy. Joining the NHL Kings, they're now the reigning champs of a sport that few might be tuning in for, but which still allows plenty of room for growth.
The University of New Mexico's men's soccer program began their season as the number two team in the country. Their successful season ended on Sundayin Storrs, Connecticutas as the number 13 Lobos fell to number 4 University of Connecticut. The Lobos scored the lone goal of the first half in the 32nd minute, but gave up an equalizer in the second half. UConn's Mamadou Diouf put a header in the back of the net in the 76th minute to knot things up. Despite coming out of the second-half break on fire, UNM never found the right mix, even missing a point blank shot with only two minutes left in regulation.
Heading into the overtime periods, the rules change from the regular season, and the Lobos had to fight for every inch, knowing that the golden goal would send whichever team scored first to the Elite Eight. Both teams only managed one shot on goal, UNM in the first OT and UConn in the second. It was this kick in the 105th minute that sealed the deal.
UConn will play in Storrs again next weekend when they face Creighton, who beat Akron with a 5-4 penalty count after 2 scoreless overtime periods. That game will be played to determine who will to make the trip to the Final Four.
UNM ended their season in the Sweet Sixteen for the second consecutive year, disappointing fans who were looking for improvement on last year's incredible, undefeated season. The bitter taste is sure to hang heavily on senior Devon Sandoval, who played a phenomenal game and had an excellent season. Sandoval, one of six seniors on the team, recorded 15 goals for the season. He had been mentioned all season as one of the top seniors in the nation, and is now considered as a possible draft pick in Major League Soccer's draw.
Although Sandoval stands out as the senior with the most prospects for the future and the Lobos are heading home earlier than both they would like, it should be noted that these six seniors helped the team equal a record set by the the 2004-2005 Lobos: 35 wins over a combined two seasons. The net result of those teams? A national runner-up spot in 2005 after losing to Maryland in the final game of the season. The lesson here is that Lobo soccer is back. Losing six seniors will hurt, but this team should be a force to reckon with for some time.
Yesterday afternoon, the University of New Mexico men's soccer team was defeated by the Air Force Falcons, losing the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation division title to the team that has now contributed three of the Lobos four losses this season. Of course Lobo fans are familiar with the official ruling of the outcome. Despite losing this game in penalty kicks, the game is officially recorded as a tie, an oddity of a rule which caused our team to exit the NCAA Tournament two years ago in disappointing fashion, but with an undefeated record. The Lobos, despite starting the season ranked number two in the country—and sitting at number nine when the game started—were never been able to get over the hump of these division rivals and closed out the conference tournament with another loss to the little team from Colorado that could.
With the defeat, the Lobos will miss out on the automatic bid into the post-season tournament, and will be anxiously watching the televisions at Coaches Bar and Grill at 3:30 p.m. After starting the first half in their traditional, aggressive style, the Lobos were rewarded with a goal from freshman Ben McKendry at the 30-minute mark. However, when the Lobos returned to the field after half-time, they had a brief hot start, but then played a sluggish, slow-paced game, managing only one less shot than in the first half, but allowing 2 for Air Force after none had been attempted in the first half. With a mere 16 seconds left in the match, Kevin Durr blasted one into the back of the net for the Falcons and the game was sent to overtime.
In the extra periods, the Lobos continued their tired play, allowing three shots and only forcing one save. Goalkeeper Patrick Poblete, in fact, had his hands full in the overtime periods, saving two shots successfully. However, when the overtimes were finished, the score still read 1-1, so the game moved to the bane of every soccer fan's existence—penalty kicks. Nobody likes a game to be decided in that way, and although the Falcons will gratefully take the win, they would surely rather have decided the game during the match.
There were plenty of opportunities to do so, though, for both sides, and no team lost for lack of effort. While the Lobos appeared tired, Air Force had played three games in four days and clearly wanted the win, playing out to the very end of the clock and being rewarded with that spectacular equalizer just moments before they were out of time.
The San Francisco Giants swept the Detroit Tigers last night to capture their second World Series championship in the last three years. The game went into extra innings, fitting for a desperate Detroit attempting to wring the last bits of magic out of their otherwise-remarkable season. The extra innings also appropriately gave Tigers fans that familiar false sense that the Giants had finally been put against the wall. Throughout the postseason, San Francisco would fight and cling their way back from the edge of defeat, only to then make victory look easy. So when the game went to a 10th inning, plenty of nervous fans back in San Francisco must have been holding their collective breath. Had these Giants put themselves into a corner once again?
After playing their way out of a hole in every series—coming back from a 1-3 hole in the League Championship Series against St. Louis and an 0-2 hole against the Cincinnati Reds—there was nothing easy about this march to the championship for the Giants. Therefore, the worry felt by Giants fans, even while 3-0 over a team that had just steamrolled the Yankees, seemed rational. The worry, it turned out, was unfounded.
The doubt of victory may have crept in to the minds of fans, but the players never let it creep in—and if they did, they certainly never showed it. The team that battled back over and over and over again this postseason never had to do so in the finals. The Giants forced the Tigers into batting a worse-than-pedestrian .159 average during this World Series, and San Francisco looked every bit as mighty as the Tigers had previously felt. The questions that loom over the future of the Tigers will ensure some serious debate during the offseason, but this moment isn't about them.
This moment is about celebrating a team that pulled it all together and, in a rarity in this day and age of baseball, now has their World Series championship actually in place before October's end. The San Francisco Giants left the baseball world in the dust to become champions in a whirlwind postseason that won't easily be forgotten.
October's chill is lingering everywhere in America, which means that it's time for baseball's biggest stage—the World Series starts on Wednesday night. It'll be the Detroit Tigers against the San Francisco Giants, after a stunning seven-game series sent the Giants to their second finals in three years. The Detroit Tigers, on the other hand, swept the heavily-favored New York Yankees in a dominating fashion. Their ample rest time and the momentum of previous upsets allow for a perceived advantage.
The Tigers made the normally superstar Yankees look terribly mortal in their League Championship series. During their first two games in New York, the Yankees' vaunted captain Derek Jeter fractured his ankle and once-invincible Alex Rodriguez was benched after subpar hitting. The post-season disappointment was enough for General Manager Brian Cashman to declare that A-Rod was no longer untouchablein an angry rant that surprised no one.
The Tigers didn't look as impressive during the five games it took them to dispatch the Oakland A's, but their consistency means that, despite New York's always-expected headlines, Detroit is the team that's still making waves for good reasons.
The Cardinals won it all last year, the Giants the year before. It should have been expected that this match-up would mean a spectacular series, but when opening games were split in San Francisco, some people doubted the resolve. Of course, we should have seen this coming considering not only both prgrams' last two seasons, but also this year's regular season. Neither team knows how to quit.
Sadly for St. Louis fans, game 7 in San Francisco brought a dramatic end end to this epic fight. The Cardinals were rolled 9-0. Not-so-sadly for Giants fans, their team can carry this victory with them as the latest sign that they can never be counted out.
The Tigers may have the larger momentum, but San Francisco has a deep-seated belief that they will never lose. They were down in the NLCS 1-3 and beat the odds to win games 5, 6 and 7, with the margin in this last closeout game being the largest of the series.
The World Series is the best time for the casual baseball fan to get excited and embrace a team. Despite the Yankees’ continued headline dominance and decorated history, baseball begins to feel like a sport that has achieved true equivalence. In the last ten years, eight different teams have risen as champions, with the repeaters being the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. The Giants now have a chance to join that repeaters club (if they can get over the Detroit Tigers of course). It is going to be a fantastic battle.
Last weekend, Lobo football defeated Texas State for their third victory of the year, matching the total wins of their last three seasons combined. When Bob Davie took over the cherry and silver head coaching duties, not even the most jaded Lobo fan could have imagined such a convincing change of course.
Infamous former head coach Mike Locksley evoked some ridicule with an early statement that the Lobos were going to need “... a third digit for the scoreboard ...” because they were going to be piling on the points under his leadership. So far this season, the Lobos are still nowhere near that level of ambitious boasting, but they are averaging more than 28 points a game, which far surpasses previous records. Consider that in 2011, the Lobos scored a meager 17 touchdowns over the entire season (and only 21 in each of the two before that).
Unlike the Lobos' first victory this season, their last two have come over respectable, even if not powerhouse, Division I schools. The win two weeks ago against instra-state rivalry NMSU was extremely important to most sports-loving New Mexicans. But the near-win last week against burly Boise State seemed to say even more. With these games adding to the Lobos' self-esteem and win total, things seem to be primed for a turnaround.
As exciting as the early season has been, don't declare the future a bed of roses just yet. Despite a Lobo triumph, the game against the Bobcats wasn't pretty. New Mexico managed only one completed pass in the entire game. Though rushing yards were ample, making up for the lack of a passing game, that won't be enough to assure wins in the future. The Lobos have now rushed for more than 400 yards in four separate games, but they'll need to balance out their attack in order to see victories over more quality opponents.
And the more quality opponents are on their way. All of the games from this point on are conference matches, and the Lobos currently sit at 7th in the Mountain West. Staring up at our opponents is not necessarily the way we want to start conference play but, fortunately, next week the Lobos face Hawaii (one of the three teams that hasn't won a game in our conference thus far).
If the winning ways can keep up, even just for next week, the Lobos can lay claim to something they haven't had in more than four years: a winning record halfway through the season.
The No. 4 University of New Mexico Lobos looked a bit sloppy against the Houston Baptist University Huskies on Sunday, allowing a goal in the 16th minute. However, they managed to put two in the back of the net to come out on top in Houston.
The Lobos continue their march forward in the wake of last year's undefeated season—a remarkable season that, due to the odd rules of soccer, concluded in the third round of the NCAA Tournament with a match that sent the Lobos home, but did not count as a loss.
The Huskies have lost five games this season, but the Lobos have taken only a single loss. Their tenacity after a 13-hour weather delay and a site change for the game shows how focused this team is on improving last year's considerable accomplishments.
This game was the conference opener for the The Lobos and who now face nine consecutive matches with members of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation all vying for the NCAA Tournament automatic bid. UNM's last conference game will be another against Houston Baptist on Saturday, November 3. In between, of course, there will be plenty of tough matches, though none against the old giants of the MPSF, Sacramento State and Colorado. The Lobos should still brace themselves October 21 for a home battle against CSU Bakersfield, another Mountain Pacific team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament last year.
In a year full of individual accolades that continue to pile up for the Lobos, the most promising praise is the national ranking and the knowledge that, after such repeated success, this team deserves to be considered among the national title contenders.
This weekend, the Lobos will continue their assault on two in-conference visitors: Air Force on Friday and Denver on Sunday. Both matches should showcase the Lobos' talents and serve as excellent opportunities for fans to jump on the wagon and get behind a local team that could make waves come championship time.
At the start of NFL 2012 season, the regular crew of referees have not been in charge of officiating the games. The NFL Referees Association and the National Football League are having trouble agreeing on money (what else is new?), but early on it didn't seem like a particularly big deal. When quarterback Joe Flacco came out with strongly worded comments condemning the NFL for using replacement refs instead of hammering out a deal with the old guard, the news was largely met with silence, if not outright scorn. Flacco was just upset, said the contrarians, because his team lost.
Eagles' running back LeShean McCoy even claims that a replacement referee told him outright that he needed McCoy to do well for his own fantasy league.
None of this is good press for the NFL, which have seen Young's comments played out publicly. If they stand ground, they run the risk of confirming what he said. If they rush out of the gates in an attempt to show concern for both player safety and the integrity of the game, they risk appearing weak with the locked-out refs.
This turning point, however, does not mean that this matter has passed the point of no return. The upcoming choices the NFL makes in regards to the money they will or won't pay their old refs will be reflected one way or another in future games. And if we reach a point where it seems the replacement refs actually do decide a game, that point will have arrived, and Young's words will have their veracity tested.