Not bad—just bad news

I’d like to feel better about my first week of NFL playoff predictions, really I would.
But unlike Tony Bennett, who left his heart in San Francisco decades ago and apparently still hasn’t retrieved it for as much as he still sings the song, my blood pumper is buried in the turf of Ericsson Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
Sure, I went 3-1 in my picks. Sure, I was bang on in figuring the Packers would survive the Seahawks (memo to Matt Hasselbeck: don’t spout off over the P.A. system, especially in the opponent’s stadium—you might get the other team’s defence fired up to beat you).
Sure, I was right that Indianapolis would recover from the thumping they took from Denver two weeks ago to deliver a painful payback to the Broncos.
And sure, I was accurate in determining Baltimore would wither and fall on their home field (that silence you hear echoing from the Ravens’ locker room is the sweet sound of Ray Lewis’ mouth being shut for another seven months).
But with the demise of my beloved Dallas Cowboys in the face of a ferocious Carolina Panthers’ assault, my joy knows strict boundaries. It’s wait ’til next year for another year.
Oh well, the world keeps turning, the temperature keeps dropping, and it’s time for the predictions—ill-fated or not—to keep on coming.
< *c>NFC
•Green Bay (11-6) at Philadelphia (12-4)
The Eagles have the confidence of not only knowing they own home field advantage all the way through the conference playoffs, but also that they walked into Green Bay’s own backyard and beat them 17-14 on Nov. 10 in a thrilling Monday nighter.
You would think Green Bay’s charmed run of five-straight victories has to come to an end at some point. But I said it last week, and I’ll say it again this week: the Packers are playing on offence (and considering how Sunday’s game finished, on defence, too) with a 13th man in the spirit of Brett Favre’s deceased father, Irvin.
Donovan McNabb can scramble to his heart’s content, and the Eagles can bring all the blitzes they want, but the Packers believe they’re a team of destiny right now.
They’re not scared of the cold nor the fans in Philly, and Favre appears hell-bent on winning the Lombardi Trophy for his dad.
And, yes, I still detest the Eagles. Go, Pack, go.
Packers 23, Eagles 20
•Carolina (12-5) at St. Louis (12-4)
The Rams looked like a runaway freight train down the stretch, winning seven in a row heading into their season finale in Detroit. Then the Lions laid a second-half whupping on them and now questions abound.
Who will play quarterback for the Rams is anyone’s guess. Marc Bulger should start, but he’s been shaky in the past few games. Kurt Warner, two-time MVP and Super Bowl champion, replaced him and looked less than stellar.
That Panthers defence has a tendency to make mincemeat out of quarterbacks who aren’t confident in their game.
All that being said, the Rams are at home, where they haven’t lost since Harry S. Truman ruled the White House or sometime close to that era. Jake Delhomme will face his first playoff road test, and the Rams are still seething after their misstep in Detroit.
It will be tight for a while, but the Greatest Show on Turf will have their day.
Rams 31, Panthers 14
< *c>AFC
•Tennessee (13-4) at New England (14-2)
Betting against a Steve McNair-led team at this point wouldn’t perhaps be considered wise strategy. The Titans’ pivot, along with his backfield mate Eddie George, were true warriors last Saturday in Baltimore against a puffed-up Ravens’ defence.
But it’s even less wise to bet against a team that has won its last 12 games, has had an extra week of rest, and which beat Tennessee 38-30 at home Oct. 5 when the Titans were considered the favourites.
This could be the most thrilling clash of the weekend as both the Titans and Patriots appear to be rock solid. But the Patriots’ defence may have the final say in this one.
If they hold George to 35 yards rushing as in the regular-season match-up, the burden may be a little to heavy even for the iron-willed and co-MVP McNair to bear by himself.
Patriots 20, Titans 17
•Indianapolis (13-4) at Kansas City (13-3)
Don’t go for snacks or a bathroom break during this one because you’ll probably miss two or three touchdowns.
The Colts finally shook the grand piano off their backs with their first playoff win last Sunday under the guidance of quarterback Peyton Manning. The league’s other co-MVP sliced and diced a Denver Broncos’ defence that had been ranked fourth in the league.
And now he gets a crack at a Chiefs’ defensive corps that has been inundated with infighting and an inability to stop the run in recent weeks.
The Chiefs, though, have their own assortment of weapons. Quarterback Trent Green, running back Priest Holmes, and tight end Tony Gonzalez give Kansas City a trio to match the Manning-Edgerrin James-Marvin Harrison triumvirate of the Colts.
While the Colts were impressive in stifling the Denver offence on Sunday, they have been mostly inconsistent throughout the year.
I was leaning towards picking the Chiefs because of the intimidation factor of Arrowhead Stadium—one of the loudest venues in the league. But Manning put his playoff ghosts behind him in a big way with an amazing display against the Broncos, and I think he’s ready to take it to the next level.
Colts 37, Chiefs 33
• • •
A little digging provided the information for some interesting updates, both good news and bad, when it comes to hockey players with local connections.
Goalie Heather Ash has established herself as the Manitoba Bisons’ leading lady between the pipes in her first season with the squad.
She has played in seven of the team’s 10 Canada West conference games and has a 2-5 record with a 4.87 goals against average for the Bisons, who are 2-8 in conference play.
Manitoba did show well, however, at last weekend’s Cougar Invitational tournament hosted by the University of Regina. The Bisons went 2-1 at the event, with Ash making 25 saves in her only appearance of the tournament during a 4-1 win over Mount Royal College (Calgary).
But Chris Shaen, who was an important member of the Borderland Thunder’s run to the SIJHL championship last year, has not been as fortunate in his recent hockey exploits.
The Thunder Bay native signed with the Port Huron Beacons of the United Hockey League on July 1, but only ended up playing one game with the Beacons, scoring no points and finishing plus-one.
He was put on waivers Oct. 23 and cleared them the next day. He then was signed to a 14-day Player Try Out (PTO) contract, but was released from the contract Oct. 26.
He currently is out of professional hockey, but hopefully will bounce back to find a home somewhere soon.
Then there’s the adventures of former Thunder goalie Rob Hrabec, who backstopped Borderland to the SIJHL final two years ago before losing to the Dryden Ice Dogs.
Hrabec, who led the Minot State University-Bottineau (N.D.) Lumberjacks to the National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association (NJCAA) national championship last year, was part of a wild brawl that took place three weeks ago in a game against their bitter rivals, the Minot State Beavers.
With the Beavers up 4-0 in the second period, a Minot State player was dumped into the Lumberjacks’ net, getting tangled up with Hrabec in the process.
The incident touched off a 13-player melee that led to 18 penalties and 12 players being ejected. MSU-Bottineau subsequently forfeited the game, with Lumberjacks’ head coach Travis Rybchinski vowing the two teams won’t play again as long as he is behind the bench.
Gee, guys, can’t we all just get along?

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