Game 4: Can Flyers Complete the Let's Just Watch the Game.

Game 4: Can Flyers Complete the Let's Just Watch the Game.

I'm
usually someone who demands a reasonable amount of evidence before I
believe something. I don't consider myself a cynic, but I ordinarily
think there is more to a story than is presented, or less. And yet, when
it comes to sports in particular, I find that I'm entirely
superstitious. 

I shouldn't be anywhere near the internet today. Any
mention of the action one does with a broom makes me want to slam my
laptop shut. The cashier saw my shirt and asked for my prediction on the
game tonight, and I gave him my best Peter Laviolette deflection. I
refuse to think about the outcome of this game, and it pisses me off
that you're not all on board with me. 

Do the Flyers have the decided edge in this series?
Would it take a monumental, historic comeback for it not to end with
them advancing? Do the Penguins appear to be regressing rather than
getting back to elite standing? Yes, to all of that. 

But if the Flyers themselves are treating tonight
like anywhere near what I'm reading, hearing and doing my best not to
think… We'll be in for a game 5, at least. This series didn't end on
Sunday. Some pretty tough obstacles stand between the Flyers and a
celebration tonight. Let's take a look. 

The Other Team on the Ice (No, Not the Penguins)Thankfully,
although the Penguins' power play has recently started scoring on the
Flyers after a regular season of futility and a sluggish start in the
postseason, the Flyers' PK has been just about as productive. Tonight,
they may need to be again. The NHL is under the microscope after
suspensions 6, 7, and 8 were handed out last night, and #9 will likely
come tomorrow. The officials from game 3 of this series were criticized
for letting the game get out of hand. If either side wants to bring the
rough stuff, will the refs treat it like that final game of the season,
when run-of-the-mill rule-breaking resulted in ejections?

If so, who will it favor? Who does it usually favor?
To
add fuel to the fire, Hockey Buzz's Bill Meltzer points out a very
curious choice in the refereeing assignment tonight. I have a ton of
respect for Bill, and following him on twitter is highly recommended for
any Flyers fan.
He's a wealth of knowledge on factors that exceed the range of most
fans and many in the media. Today, he pointed out that the refs tonight
will be Chris Lee and Wes McCauley. Lee isn't a household name, which
can be a good thing, but in this case, Meltzer indicates it is in part
because Lee is one of the worst refs in the league and rarely gets the
call in the postseason. 

Tonight, a deciding contest between two teams that
have amassed as many penalty minutes as they have played, the calls will
be at the whim of a man whistling his fifth NHL postseason game despite
being in the league for 10 seasons. 
Poking the LionI don't
lose sleep over whether anyone's opinion regarding the Daily News'
coverage changes based on a joke they run on their cover. I don't
discredit anyone whose opinion is adversely affected, though my own was
not. I do, however, hate the fact that one of the greatest-ever Flyer
killers has a new decoration for his bulletin board. 

Again, my superstition getting in the way of reason? 
Reason
would dictate that the gauntlet was thrown down on Sidney Crosby well
before the paper was printed and handed to him by Lisa Hillary. Although
he's seen some success in spurts this series, he's made headlines for
all the wrong reasons. In fact, he's damn lucky the league's justice
system is based on punishing acts more so than preventing them, because
he was throwing gasoline on a powder keg in game 3, ultimately leading
to several explosions.

Does the all-world talent take over tonight, or will
his demons get the better of him again, forcing his teammates to focus
on protecting the star rather than passing to him?
Speaking
of his teammates… Man… I almost don't even want to mention #71. The
odds-on favorite for MVP has been locked in Sean Couturier's trunk for the past week. It's appeared as if Cooter is winning the matchup,
but Malkin is also in a slump. He's shooting wide, sloppily, and without
his usual precision. Is he frustrated by his competition, or just a
little off? 

Marc-Andre Fleury has allowed a historic amount of
goals through three games. The defense in front of him will be even more
banged up tonight, and the forward ranks a little thinner without the
three suspension recipients. But can he really be flogged this badly
four games in a row?

By now, I hope I've shaken all the black cats you
people have been throwing in my path to the game tonight. I'll be in the
building with a ticket, top row of the upper deck. I want to be SINGING
on my way out. But not til then… There's at least 60 more minutes of hockey
the Flyers need to treat like they did the last 60 minutes. Despite the
series record, this is not an opponent we want getting even a whiff of
its passion back…

Week 13 NFC East Recap: Hey, the Eagles aren't the only ones that lost

Week 13 NFC East Recap: Hey, the Eagles aren't the only ones that lost

As the sun slowly sets on another Eagles season, and gut instinct is to focus exclusively on an offseason of secondary upgrades and potential wide receiver free agents, there is still great pleasure to be found here in 2016.

After all, the NFC East might not be as great as we thought.

Sure, Dallas seems on their way to home field advantage throughout the playoffs, which feels like getting your earlobe stuck in a car door. And sure, currently the Giants and Washington are in the Wild Card spots, which is a lot like someone trying to pierce your belly-button while you’re trying to remove said earlobe from said car door. But none of that matters this week! Because this week, two out of three of the Eagles division rivals provided concrete evidence that neither may be as good as their playoff-worthy records dictate.

And when you can’t find joy in your own accomplishments, well, it’s always recommended one finds a little silver lining in the demise of those closest to you. That’s just life.

Here’s a look at what happened this week in the NFC East:

 

Dallas Cowboys

What Happened: It was one of Dallas’ tougher victories on the year, which is like saying the Chicken Mini Quesadilla is the healthiest item on the Taco Bell value menu. Minnesota played the Cowboys extremely tough, forcing two turnovers, winning the time of possession, and holding Canton-bound Dak Prescott to a measly 139 yards in the air. 

Alas, none of that ended up mattering because with 25 seconds remaining, Sam Bradford’s two-point conversion pass sailed out the back of the endzone, and the Cowboys were able to hold on for their 11th consecutive victory, 17-15. 

Sure, there was a lot more to it than that. Prescott fumbled on a 3rd-and-1 that could have allowed Dallas to run out the clock. A Vikings punt returner fumbled in the 4th quarter that gave Dallas a key redzone opportunity. And Bradford did lead an impressive 65-yard touchdown drive to give his team the chance to send the game into overtime.

But none of that really matters, as Dallas walked away with another win. And before you get too down about it, just thank the higher powers that you’re not a Minnesota Vikings fan this season. 

What It Means: The Vikings have dropped to 6-6, which is a good thing for the Eagles first round pick, and a completely irrelevant thing for the Dallas Cowboys. Jason Garrett’s squad has now clinched a playoff spot (thanks to a Washington lost) and can turn their focus onto clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, before inevitably resting their starters before facing the Birds in Week 17. They’re now at the point of a successful season where the most important debate is how best to avoid rust heading into the playoffs. Earlobe, meet car door.

The Cowboys are an interesting study. Last year, they lost their quarterback, then lost seven games in a row. This year they have the quarterback, and have won eleven in a row. Sure, Ezekiel Elliott has been tremendous, but it’s not as if the Cowboys running game was so atrocious in 2015. And yet, when you watch Prescott, he’s not doing SO much to warrant an 8-game (and counting) improvement.

The full reasoning behind ‘How Dallas Went From Garbage Eaters To The NFCs Top Team’ can’t be attributed to just one move. But it does stand as a nice reminder that in the NFL, things can turn around very quickly.

Unfortunately, it just seems like forever since they turned around for us.

What’s Next: Dallas faces the Giants in New Jersey, the last (and only) team to beat them this season. They then face Tampa Bay and Detroit, both teams fighting for a playoff spot, so no gimme-games between now and Week 17.

 

Washington

What Happened: Like last week against Dallas, Washington found themselves in an early hole and couldn’t fight back. Kirk Cousins was good-not-great, throwing for 271 yards but putting up a costly interception. And Washington’s defense had no answer for the Cardinal’s David Johnson, who had 175-total yards (thanks in large part to nine receptions) and a pair of touchdowns.

Also, their was a weird rumor on Sunday morning about DeSean Jackson being an Eagles target in the offseason. It’s unlike the Eagles to leak rumors about offseason targets, especially during the regular season, so the most likely scenario is this is information provided by Jaccpot’s agent. While I’ll always have a soft-spot in my football heart for the guy who did this, the idea that an aging wide receiver whose game is built on speed will cure the Iggles woes seems about as likely as Sam Hinkie replacing Howie Roseman.

Not like that’s a excuse for the woeful Washington defense, however. They’ve now given up 31 points in consecutive games, which sets a nice bar for Carson Wentz and Co. on Sunday.

What It Means: For the second week in a row, Washington failed the test, and while I don’t remember too much from High School, I imagine there's only so many times you can retake an exam. 

The Cardinals are a good and desperate team playing at home; there's no shame in going down swinging. However this is the second week in a row Washington fans have to build themselves up over the positives to take from defeat. To make something happen from a wild card spot, Dan Snyder’s squad will need to win games on the road against tough opponents. The past two weeks, they didn’t, and it’s fair to wonder if we’ve seen this team’s ceiling.

What’s Next: A trip to Philly where the Eagles have been hard to beat this year. Let’s not forget; the Birds playoff chances were denied the past two seasons by this very Washington squad. In a season suddenly lacking in joyous victories, a W on Sunday would feel phenomenal. 

 

New York Giants

What Happened: Like Washington, the Giants faced a real test on Sunday, and like Washington, the Giants failed miserably. New York was never really in this one, falling behind 14-0 to Pittsburgh in the first half and never bringing it within a score again. Eli Manning threw a pair of interceptions, both in the redzone, though in his defense one of them was on a fourth-and-13 and the Giants were already way behind because of how terrible Eli had been earlier in the afternoon. So, in theory, not fully his fault there.

Oh, and did Odell Beckham say something silly? But of course! The Giants headline-creating wide receiver had a number of complaints against the officiating on Sunday, saying it felt like it was “us against the world.”

The Giants were called for four penalties on the day, while the Steelers were called for twelve. Beckham’s claims that the refs made it “the Giants against the world” has as much base in reality as the theory climate change is caused by bullfrogs spending too much time in the rain. This man is like a living, breathing, fake-news site. But no, LETS BLAME THE REFS.

What It Means: At 8-4, the Giants would need a lot of things to go wrong to miss out on a Wild Card spot. Tampa, Minnesota, Green Bay --- all three are two games behind Big Blue. With just four games remaining, that’s a lead even Willie Randolph feels safe with.

That being said, the Giants final four games are all against playoff teams (oh, and also the regressing Eagles), so in order to cement their spot in the postseason, New York will have to do something they haven’t done since Week 6: beat a team over .500.

What’s Next: It’s Dallas Week for the Giants, so what else could matter? Sweeping the season series against the team with the best record in the NFL would go a long way towards preparing this team mentally for the playoffs.

Sixers fail to take care of business against Denver Nuggets

Sixers fail to take care of business against Denver Nuggets

It really felt like we could've gotten this one. The Denver Nuggets are hardly pushovers, but they came into this one a 7-13 team that'd lost their last three games, and even last night they seemed fairly beatable, even for a Philadelphia 76ers team still missing Robert Covington (in additional to our usual mini-roster of absentees). But Philly's energy sagged in the third quarter as Denver caught a second wind, and they spent the final frame hitting shots that the Sixers couldn't answer. Final score: Nuggets 106, 76ers 98. 

The most sobering part of the loss was that Joel Embiid finally played what would best be described as "a bad game." Not that bad, of course — even at his worst, Joel still managed 16 points and notched career-high five blocks. But he only shot 5-15 from the field, turned ball over three times, grabbed just four boards and played a large part in the sinkhole offense that the Sixers played in the late third and early fourth that ultimately cost them this one. JoJo still has trouble reading double teams and knowing when not to attack into traffic, and his frustration was extremely evident as he kept trying to do too much and paying the price for it. 

Nonetheless, even with an off Embiid night and a still-slumping Sauce — officially down to Left in the Car Overnight temperature after a night of 4 points on 1-7 shooting in 35 minutes — Philly probably still coulda gotten this one. Sergio Rodriguez appears to have swiped Nik's swag at least temporarily, with a season-high 17 points on 7-14 shooting to go with seven dimes and three steals, while Dario Saric and Ersan Ilyasova also poured in 17 and 8 each, and the Nuggets wings were largely kept quiet for two and a half quarters. But even while struggling, the Nuggets paraded their way to free-throw line — 34 FTAs for the night, including 12 for Danilo Gallinari alone — and once they caught fire late, the Sixers just couldn't keep up. 

A bummer for a team that's now lost seven in a row, and has to face the Grizzlies tonight in Memphis — their fourth game in five nights, and the first of a three-game road trip — without Embiid and also without Jahlil Okafor, out with illness. Even with the Grizz missing their own big names (no Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons, Zach Randolph or Vince Carter lately) and likely suffering from fatigue of their own after a double-OT road win last night in New Orleans, the 4-17 Sixers are gonna have a tough go matching Memphis' grit and grind tonight. Anytime you feel like Supermanning in and saving the day now would be cool, Nerlens Noel. Just sayin'.