Rounding the bases…
ä First Base: In less than five months, the NFL will send its top two teams to the Superdome to meet in the 47th Super Bowl. It says here that the Patriots and Packers will face off to see which team takes the title. The two teams enjoy the NFL’s two weakest regular season schedules, with the Patriots facing only four opponents who won at least nine games in 2011. Yet the bet here is that the Packers will do what they did in the first two Super Bowls: win.
AFC EAST: The Patriots sleepwalk their way to the AFC championship in the conference’s weakest division, clinching the division before Thanksgiving. The Jets are football’s version of the Mets and the only other AFC East team capable of winning nine games. The Bills could go 8-8 if everything works well for them, while the Dolphins sink to the bottom of the division.
AFC NORTH: The Ravens are the cream of the division’s crop, but the fourth toughest schedule will have them sweating out a division title because of Pittsburgh’s much weaker schedule. These are the only two teams with a shot at winning the division. The Bengals can’t sneak up on anybody this year. Besides, they lost all four meetings against the Steelers and Ravens last year. The Browns will be done before Halloween.
AFC SOUTH: The Texans won the division last year despite key injuries. They should repeat in another division that offers little challenge from the other three teams. The Titans have little hope for an 8-8 record, while the Jaguars and Colts have little hope…period. Andrew Luck will offer Indy fans a glimpse of a brighter future, but none for the present.
AFC WEST: By default, the Broncos win the division, as long as Peyton Manning remains healthy. Look for the Chiefs to finish second and the Chargers third, as both teams are improved but can’t overtake Denver. The Raiders continue to try to find a winning combination.
NFC EAST: In maybe the best division in pro football, the Giants are just a little better than the Dallas Cowboys. The overrated Eagles always find a way to ground themselves. Look for Robert Griffin III to be the best of the freshmen quarterbacks, but the Redskins won’t challenge for a playoff slot.
NFC NORTH: Green Bay has worked hard to plug its defensive holes from last year, while the Lions must work to keep their news on the sports page, not the police blotter. Chicago will be improved this year, while the Vikings won’t be able to keep up with the other three.
NFC SOUTH: Atlanta has no competition since NFL Commish Roger Goodell stripped the Saints from any chance of making the playoffs. In fact, they’ll wind up behind Cam Newton’s improved Panthers. Football’s Bucs won’t make the playoffs, either.
NFC WEST: The 49ers will win in another one stud, three duds division. Seattle, St. Louis, and Arizona have surprisingly similar weaknesses, none of which bodes well for anything more than seven or eight wins for each team.
CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS: AFC—Patriots down the Ravens; NFC—Packers beat San Francisco.
Super Bowl: Green Bay 30, New England 21.
ä Second Base: Okay, I give up. The Pirates give their fans no reason to think that the results of their final 21 games will be any different from their 6-15 record in the previous 21 games going in to last night’s game. Fun while it lasted.
äThird Base: It makes no difference whom the Pirates are playing. They just aren’t playing good baseball. In fact, a winning season now even seems in jeopardy. If the club doesn’t win at least 82 games this year, it will be most devastating season of the 20 straight losing campaigns.
ä Home Plate: Root Sports will air all remaining Pirates games after adding games not on the original schedule: Friday and Thursdays, Sept. 20 and 27.
Jim Sankey is a baseball columnist for the Allied News.
Rounding the bases…
STAIRWAY TO SEVEN: Mike Adams is an example about making good decisions
ANOTHER OFFSEASON AND another Pittsburgh Steeler in the news for all the wrong reasons.
This time, it was second-year offensive tackle Mike Adams, who was stabbed in the stomach and forearm last weekend during a reported carjacking.
According to police reports, a witness flagged down police around 3 a.m. near Carson Street in Pittsburgh and Adams was found bleeding in a nearby restaurant.
EXTRA INNINGS: Nobody hit home runs like Willie Stargell
THE MOST IMPORTANT fact about Garrett Jones’ monster two-run home run Sunday is that it tied the Reds-Pirates game at 4 in the eighth inning. But the most historic fact about the achievement is that the shot made him the first Pirate in the 13-year history of PNC Park to hit a ball on the fly into the Allegheny River.
Before Sunday, the only other player to reach the water on the fly was Houston’s Darryl Ward, when he connected off Kip Wells in July 2002.
THE CHECKERED FLAG: Holtgraver doubles up at Mercer
LAST FRIDAY I planned on taking in the World of Outlaw Sprint Car show at Attica (OH) Raceway Park, but Mother Nature had other ideas washing out the event for the second straight year. Storms were all throughout the Buckeye State that washed out just about every venue including the first ever Patriot 360 Sprint Car event at Raceway 7.
The weather though was clear at Lernerville Speedway and I finally made my first visit of the season to the Sarver oval.
NCAA Football: Rock 6-1 after 17-3 win over Cal U
Slippery Rock University rode a length-of-the-field scoring drive by its offense and a goal-line stand by its No. 1-ranked defense late in the first half of action Saturday to a 17-3 win over 14th-ranked visiting California (Pa.).
NFL: Steelers top Jags as Mendenhall makes return
Mike Tomlin isn’t ready to say the Pittsburgh Steelers are back. Not after watching his team sleepwalk through the second half against Jacksonville on Sunday.
IndyCar Racing: Crash takes Wheldon’s life
Every race car driver heads onto the track understanding this race could be the last and hoping it won’t be. On Sunday, IndyCar drivers got a harsh reminder when the worst happened to one of their own.
NHL: Sabres beat Penguins 3-2
The Buffalo Sabres have had trouble with the Pittsburgh Penguins whether Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin play or not.
NHL Quick glance: Montreal at Pittsburgh
A breakdown of the National Hockey League game Thursday night between the Pittsburgh Penguins and visiting Montreal Canadiens.
High School Highlights: Oct. 19, 2011
A look at the last few days in local high school fall sports action.
Leading Off: Oct. 19, 2011
News and notes from the local, regional and national sports scene.
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- STAIRWAY TO SEVEN: Mike Adams is an example about making good decisions