Didinger's championship round scouting report

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Didinger's championship round scouting report

Sizing up Sundays NFL conference championship games:

San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons
(Sunday, 3 p.m., FOX)

Key stat: The 49ers rolled up 579 total yards, a franchise postseason record, in their 45-31 win over Green Bay. They gained 323 yards on the ground and controlled the ball for more than 38 minutes, which kept Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense off the field.

Hot and cold: 49ers tight end Vernon Davis has just seven catches in the last seven games but he is a freakish talent 6-3, 250 pounds with 4.4 speed who holds the team record for touchdowns by a tight end (35). After seeing how much damage Seattle tight end Zach Miller did to the Atlanta defense (eight catches, 142 yards, one touchdown) the 49ers might expand Davis role in this game.

Momentum: The 49ers have lost their last five playoff games on the road. The last time the 49ers won a playoff game on the road was 1988 when they knocked off the Bears in Chicago, 28-3. Jim Harbaugh (now their coach) was a quarterback with the Bears.

Xs and Os: Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was head coach of the 49ers from 2005 until 2008. He is familiar with most of their personnel but he wasnt there to coach Colin Kaepernick, and the young quarterback is the key to this game. Nolan will have to find a way to contain him. Kaepernick ran for 181 yards against Green Bay (most ever by an NFL quarterback). Nolan will play primarily zone coverage so his linebackers and defensive backs can keep their eyes in the backfield.

Intangibles: Matt Ryan finally won his first NFL postseason game against Seattle. He had an up and down game (three touchdown passes, two interceptions) but he made two clutch throws on the final drive to set up the winning field goal. With that burden off his shoulders now, "Matty Ice" may be looser and better against the 49ers.

Injury factor: Atlanta defensive end John Abraham reinjured his ankle last week and played only 15 snaps against Seattle. With Abraham on the bench, the Seahawks' Russell Wilson ran wild in the second half. The Falcons need Abraham at full strength or close to it if they hope to contain Kaepernick.
Player to watch: Safety Donte Whitner is the most underrated player on a very good and very physical 49ers defense. He will be responsible for covering Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez. The future Hall of Famer is Ryans go-to receiver.

Prediction: The Falcons could not stop Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who totaled 704 yards (502 passing, 202 rushing) and six touchdowns in two games this season. They didnt have much more success with Wilson last week. Now here comes Kaepernick fresh off his record-setting performance against the Pack. This is a very tough matchup for the Falcons, even at home.

49ers 27, Falcons 17

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
(Sunday, 6:30 p.m., CBS)

Key stat: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has 40 postseason touchdown passes, five behind his boyhood idol Joe Montana.

Hot and cold: The Ravens scored 17 or fewer points on the road five times this season. That wont get it done against the Patriots, the NFLs highest scoring offense.

Momentum: Ravens QB Joe Flacco has stepped up his game in the postseason. In the wins over Indianapolis and Denver, Flacco threw five touchdowns with no interceptions. He had an efficiency rating of 120.0 compared to 88.1 in the regular season. Flacco outplayed Brady in last seasons AFC title game, passing for 306 yards and two touchdowns.

Xs and Os: Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith has developed into a game-changing deep threat. He had two touchdown catches against the Broncos, burning veteran Champ Bailey in the process, and he scored three touchdowns in the last two games against the Patriots. The threat of his deep speed creates space underneath for tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, who have combined for nine catches in the postseason.

Intangibles: The Ravens have rallied around linebacker Ray Lewis, who will retire after this season. The desire to win it for Ray is a strong motivator for the team and the future Hall of Famer is doing his part by playing inspired football (17 tackles against Denver). The Ravens also remember last seasons bitter 23-20 loss to the Patriots in the conference final. This is their chance for payback.

Injury factor: The Patriots are without tight end Rob Gronkowski (broken forearm) and may be missing running back Danny Woodhead (thumb), so that takes away two of the teams best receivers, but Brady still has plenty of weapons in Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd (who had nine catches for 108 yards against the Ravens earlier this season).

Player to watch: When the Ravens have beaten the Patriots three years ago in the playoffs and again this season Ray Rice was the key. He had an 83-yard scoring run to open the playoff game and he ran for 101 yards and a touchdown in the 31-30 win this season. When the Ravens lost to the Pats in the conference final last season, Rice was a non-factor (67 yards). They need to get him going in both the running and passing game.

Prediction: The Ravens play the Patriots tough, even in Foxborough, but you have to wonder how their aging defense will hold up this week. Denver had success running a hurry-up offense against Baltimore last week and the Ravens' defense has played 184 snaps the last two games. With Brady cranking up the tempo, it will be hard for Lewis and company to keep pace.

Patriots 30, Ravens 20

E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Royals 3

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USA Today Images

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Royals 3

BOX SCORE

The Phillies opened their final homestand before the All-Star break with a 4-3 win over the defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night.
 
The Phillies’ fourth win in a row gave them a 36-45 record at the mathematical halfway point of the season.
 
The Phillies went 0-6 on their last homestand and were winless in their last seven home games, dating to June. With the victory, they avoided losing eight straight at home for the first time since 1972.
 
The Royals had won 12 of 18 coming in.
 
Starting pitching report
Jeremy Hellickson pitched well. He gave up just one run over six innings, walked one and struck out six. Four of the five hits Hellickson gave up came in the first two innings. He has given up just two earned runs over 12 innings in his last two starts, both wins. For the season, Hellickson is 6-6 with 4.06 ERA.
 
Kansas City right-hander Ian Kennedy (6-7) gave up six hits and three runs over five innings. He left trailing, 3-1. 
 
Bullpen report
Rookie Edubray Ramos allowed a leadoff double in the seventh, but got three straight outs to strand the runner and protect a three-run lead.
 
David Hernandez inherited a three-run lead in the eighth and turned it into a one-run lead when he allowed two hits, including a two-run homer.
 
Jeanmar Gomez protected the one-run lead for his 22nd save.
 
At the plate
The Phillies have reached double digits in hits eight of the last 10 games.
 
Odubel Herrera knocked in two runs for the Phillies. He led off the bottom of the first inning with a homer and had a run-scoring single in the sixth.
 
Maikel Franco had an RBI single and Cody Asche an RBI double.
 
Cameron Rupp had three hits, including two doubles. He leads the Phillies with 16 doubles.
 
Kendrys Morales had a two-run homer for the Royals in the eighth. The Royals scored a two-out run against Hellickson in the second on a double by Alcides Escobar and a single by Cheslor Cuthbert.
 
Signing day
The Phillies will sign more than a dozen 16-year-old prospects from Latin America on Saturday (see story).
 
Up next
The series continues Saturday night with Aaron Nola (5-7, 4.45) opposing Kansas City lefty Danny Duffy (3-1, 3.24). First pitch is 5:50 p.m.
 
Nola is looking to rebound from four straight poor starts in which he has had difficulty keeping the ball down. His ERA has risen from 2.65 to 4.45 over that span.

Ben Simmons, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot headline Sixers' summer league roster

Ben Simmons, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot headline Sixers' summer league roster

The Sixers set their roster for the upcoming summer leagues in Utah and Las Vegas. The squad is compiled of incoming rookies, returning roster players and free agents. 

First overall pick Ben Simmons will headline the roster. Twenty-fourth pick Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot will also play for the Sixers. Twenty-sixth pick Furkan Korkmaz is not going to participate. 

T.J. McConnell, Richaun Holmes and Christian Wood, who played for the Sixers last season, will play. The only other player with NBA experience is James Nunnally. He played for the Sixers and Hawks during the 2013-14 season.

The roster is rounded out by Bryon Allen, Javon McCrea, Alex Caruso, Maodo Lo, James Webb III, Kwame Vaughn, Levi Randolph, Shawn Long and Tomasz Gielo. Caruso, Gielo, Lo, Long, and Webb III worked out for the Sixers before the draft. 

The Sixers will begin summer league action on July 4 in Utah at 7 p.m. against the Celtics. The next day they face San Antonio at 5 p.m., and on Thursday they play the Jazz at 9 p.m. All will be live on TCN and re-aired on CSN.

Assistant coaches Billy Lange will coach the Utah squad and Lloyd Pierce will coach in Las Vegas. 

The roster:

• Bryon Allen, guard, George Mason
• Alex Caruso, guard, Texas A&M
• Tomasz Gielo, forward, Mississippi
• Richaun Holmes, forward, Bowling Green
• Maodo Lo, guard, Columbia 
• Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, guard, France
• Javon McCrea, forward, Buffalo
• T.J. McConnell, guard, Arizona
• James Nunnally, forward, UC Santa Barbara
• Shawn Long, forward, Louisiana Lafayette
• Levi Randolph, guard, Alabama
• Ben Simmons, forward, LSU
• Kwame Vaughn, guard, Cal State Fullterton
• James Webb III, forward, Boise State
• Christian Wood, forward, UNLV

Phillies set to sign a host of 16-year-old prospects from Latin America

Phillies set to sign a host of 16-year-old prospects from Latin America

The Phillies’ current 25-man roster features seven graduates of the organization’s Latin American program.
 
On Saturday, the club will add more than a dozen new Latin American prospects when the international signing period for 16-year-old players begins.
 
These players are expected to spend at least a year, and in most cases more, in the Dominican Summer League before the team determines if they are worthy of advancing to one of its minor-league teams in the U.S.
 
Maikel Franco, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, Hector Neris, Carlos Ruiz, Severino Gonzalez and Edubray Ramos, all currently on the Phils’ active roster, are all homegrown products of the organization’s scouting development program in Latin America.
 
According to multiple baseball sources, this year’s group of Phillies’ Latin American signings features five standout prospects from Venezuela. Three of the players were rated in the top 50 in Latin America by Baseball America. Here are the top-five players, all 16-year-olds, that the Phillies will sign:
 
Francisco Morales, P, Venezuela – A 6-5 right-hander with a plus slider and a fastball that ranges from 91-95 mph. Ranked 12th by Baseball America.
 
Bryan Gonzalez, SS, 2B, Venezuela – The strong-armed switch-hitter has a line-drive stroke and reminds some of Placido Polanco. Ranked 19th by Baseball America.
 
Nicolas Torres, SS, Venezuela – Leadoff-type hitter with good wheels. Ranked 45th by Baseball America.
 
Juan Aparicio, C, Venezuela – He played third base in national competition, but is changing positions and projects as an offensive-type catcher. He was ranked 47th by Baseball America.
 
Jose Tortolero, SS, Venezuela – He shows an average big-league arm and has excellent hitting tools.