Matthews: This Is The NFL Final Four We Wanted



For the football fans who prefer games with offensive fireworks, Sunday’s two NFL conference championship games are the matchups most of us have been hoping for since the playoffs started.

NFC – Los Angeles Rams at the 3 ½-point favored New Orleans Saints; over/under 57 points; 3:05 p.m., FOX. The Saints are loaded and very tough at home but the Rams have a big chance with their dynamite passing attack and the 1-2 running punch of Todd Gurley II and C.J. Anderson....Of course, a Super Bowl with two starting QBs 40-plus years old – Drew Brees versus and Tom Brady -- would be interesting.

AFC – New England Patriots at the 3-point favored Kansas City Chiefs; over/under 58 points; 6:40 p.m. CBS. Here’s a pretty safe prediction: The TV ratings for Tom Brady versus Patrick Mahomes will be fairly decent.

The Patriots showed their class – again – to earn their annual eighth straight trip to the AFC title game. Tom Brady, with his sore knee feeling better, was ridiculously good in Sunday’s 41-28 and-it-wasn’t-that-close romp over the Los Angeles Chargers. Maybe he can play until he’s 45...Running back Sony Michael figures to gouge KC’s suspect rush defense. I sort of like the Patriots against the Chiefs...and if the Patriots don’t want Gronk anymore, I think his hometown Bills could use him next season.

+++BOVADA Super Bowl 53 odds:

New Orleans Saints 100 to win 170

Kansas City Chiefs 100 to win 250

New England Patriots 100 to win 350

Los Angeles Rams 100 to win 350.

+++ESPN ProFootballIndex (PFI) probabilities to win Super Bowl 53:

Chiefs 34 percent

Saints 33 percent

Rams 18 percent

Patriots 15 percent...Just the way Brady likes it: The Nobody Respects Us card.

+++FiveThirtyEight ELO conference championship games win probabilities

Chiefs 61 percent over Patriots 39 percent.

Saints 64 percent over Rams 36 percent.


+++Here’s how the four conference championship teams measured up in the32-team NFL for the regular season:

Scoring – Chiefs 1st (35.2 points per game)...Rams 2nd (32.9)...Saints 3rd (31.5)...Patriots 4th (27.3)

Total offense – Chiefs 1st (425.6 yards per game)...Rams 2nd (421.1)...Patriots 5th (393.4)...Saints 8th (379.2)

Scoring defense – Patriots 7th (20.3 points allowed per game)...Saints 14th (22.1)...Rams 20th (24.0)...Chiefs 24th (26.3)

Total defense – Saints 14th (allowed 349.1 yards per game)...Rams 19th (358.6)...Patriots 21st (359.1)...Chiefs 31st (413.6).

+++The four teams headed to the Conference Finals ranked 1-2-3-4 in total offense this season. They ranked in total defense.

+++The four Division Round-winning quarterbacks combined for 3 TD passes: Drew Brees 2 + Tom Brady 1 +Jared Goff 0 + Patrick Mahomes 0.

+++The four winning teams in the Division Round combined for 745 yards and 11 touchdowns on 146 running plays...They combined for 1,065 yards and 3 TDs on 151 pass plays.


Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange shot terribly from the floor in Saturday’s 73-59 home loss to Georgia Tech at the Carrier Dome – field-goal percentage 31.3 (18-for-57) and three-point field-goal 21.2 (7-for-33).

That was no surprise. SU has been a poor shooting team for a long time. Is it fair to wonder why the Orange seem to have trouble recruiting sharpshooters?

Let’s check the shooting numbers since SU joined the Atlantic Coast Conference for the 2013-2014 season (ranking among the 350-or-so teams in Division I in parentheses):

2013-14 -- .437 FG percentage (202nd); .331 three-point FG percentage (238th); .708 free-throw percentage (151st)

2014-15 -- .430 FG percentage (203rd); .301 three-point FG percentage (325th): .660 free-throw percentage (284th)

2015-16 -- .425 field-goal percentage (251st); .360 three-point FG percentage (119th); .688 free-throw percentage (218th)

2016-17 -- .458 field-goal percentage (93rd); .379 three-point FG percentage (53rd); .739 free-throw percentage (63rd).r2017-18 -- .417 field-goal percentage (312th); .318 three-point FG percentage (328th); .736 free-throw percentage (92nd)

2017-18 -- .417 field-goal percentage (318th); .319 three-point shooting percentage (328th); .736 free-throw percentage (92nd)

2018-19 (before Saturday’s loss to Georgia Tech) -- .428 field-goal percentage (256th); .303 three=point percentage (320th); .694 free-throw percentage (193rd).

Those numbers are mostly bad. From the start of the 20123-14 season through Saturday’s loss to Georgia Tech, SU has a record of 122-67, including 52-41 in the ACC.  Give most of the credit to Boeheim’s zone defense.

If SU hopes to upset top-ranked Duke Monday night in Durham, D.C – Duke is favored by 16 ½ points despite the iffy status of freshman sensation Zion Williamson (poked in the eye Saturday) -- a tremendous shooting performance would help immensely. Not likely to happen but at least the Orange are overdue.


Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas has posted early-bird over/under win numbers for Major League Baseball 2019 and is accepting wagers – with a $1,000 maximum wager per person per team.

I’m surprised that these win numbers were posted before we know which teams top free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are going to sign with.

The top five teams in wins are:

 Houston 97.5

Yankees 96.5

Boston 95.5

Dodgers 95

Cleveland 91.5.

The rest: Cubs 89...St. Louis 88.5...Washington 88.5...Tampa Bay 85.5...Atlanta 84...Minnesota 84...Angels 83.5...Milwaukee 83.5...Mets 83.5...Oakland 83...Philadelphia 83...Colorado 82...Pittsburgh 78.5...San Diego 77.5..Arizona 77...Cincinnati 77...Toronto 76.5...Seattle 74.5...White Sox 74.5...San Francisco 73...Texas 70.5...Kansas City 69...Detroit 67...Miami 65.5...Baltimore 50.

My most tempting over wins number is Washington at 88.5. The Nationals were a big disappointment last season (82-80) but figure to be healthier this time around and have added Patrick Corbin as No. 3 starting pitcher (behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg), catchers Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki, and second baseman Brian Dozier, who figures to bounce back from an off year with the Twins and Dodgers.

There is a chance that Harper could choose to return to the Nationals. That would make that 88.5 over-win bet look even better.

The least-appealing over-win number for my taste is Minnesota at 84. The Twins have some offensive potential but they lack quality pitching in the starting rotation and in the bullpen.


Amerks  (23-13-2-0 record through 38 games) – They lost 5-1 at home last Friday night to the Toronto Marlies (attendance 8,326; the crowds are picking up, at least on Friday nights) and they won 5-1 at Toronto Saturday (attendance 7,141)...Rochester is a modest 12-9-0-0 (24 of 42 possible points) and outscoring opponents 66-65 (+1) in 21 home games, and an excellent 11-4-2-0 (24 of 34 possible points) and outscoring opponents 57-46 (+11) in 17 road games...The Amerks were 3-of-7 on the power play Saturday  and continue to have the American Hockey League’s best power play on the road: 31 percent; 22-for-71) and rank 24th at home (12-for-80) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Friday and at Lehigh Valley home games Wednesday, January 23 versus Binghamton and Friday, January 25 versus the Utica Comets.

Knighthawks (1-2 record through 3 games) – The national Lacrosse League K-hawks lost 12-10 at the San Diego Seals last Saturday night before around 11.500 fans. The Seals are an expansion team but a dangerous one. The roster includes NLL veteran stars Garrett Billings, Kyle Buchanan, Brodie Merrill and future K-hawks Hall of Famer Dan Dawson, who had three goals (including the go-ahead score for an 11-10 lead) and one assist against his former team...The K-hawks play at defending NLL champion Saskatchewan Saturday and return to Blue Cross Arena Saturday, January 26, against the loaded Buffalo Bandits...Eight of the 11 teams will make the playoffs and Rochester needs a win or two in the near future.

Lancers – The Major Arena 2 indoor soccer team is 3-1 after a win last Friday at Muskegon and a loss Saturday afternoon at the Detroit Waza Flo. I assume it isn’t easy to play well coming off a long bus ride after a night game. The team is idle until home games at the Dome versus the Chicago Mustangs Friday, February 1, and versus the Cincinnati Swerve Saturday, February 2. After drawing 5,000-plus fans for the 2-0 opening weekend, the Lancers have added seats for future home games ($15 and free parking).


The NHL Buffalo Sabres were 17-6-2 after a 3-2 overtime victory at home versus San Jose November 27. They’re 6-10-4 since.

According to NBCSports, since 2005, only 2 of the 37 teams that won at least 17 of their first 25 games failed to make the playoffs: 2015-16 Montreal and 2017-18 St. Louis).

The Sabres are trying to avoid joining those Canadiens and Blues, but here’s just what they don’t need – the next five games on the road --at Edmonton Monday, at Calgary Wednesday, at Vancouver Friday, at Columbus, Tuesday, January 29, and at Dallas Wednesday, January 30. Buffalo is 16-6-3 at home but a mere 9-10-3 on the road (including 1-6-2 in the last 9).

The Sabres are a highly respectable 23-16-6 (after finishing last season 25-45-12; 62 of 164 possible points in the standings) but now rank tied for eighth in points (52 of a possible 90) in the Eastern Conference standings. The top eight will make the playoffs. Lack of scoring depth is the glaring deficiency.


The University of Buffalo basketball Bulls boosted their record to 15-1 with an 88-64 win over Miami (Ohio) before a SRO crowd of 6,177 Saturday at Alumni Arena. Miami coach Jack Owens said UB has the talent to reach the NCAA Final Four.

+++Who is the better three-point shooter – James Harden of the Houston Rockets or Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors?

Harden – 188-for-497 (leads the NBA is three-point FG attempts and made); .378 3-PT FG%

Curry – 167-for-371; .450 3_PT FG%.

I prefer accuracy over volume, so my pick is Curry.


Monday, January 14

Keke Coutee 22...David Nwaba 26...Stephen Piscotty 28...Logan Forsythe 32...Mike Pelfrey 35...Erick Aybar 35...Byron Leftwich 39...Aaron Brooks 34...Terry Wooden 52...Tommy Kane 55...Serge Nemchinov 55...Tommy Kane 55...former Red Wings knuckleball pitcher Danny Boone 65...Jim “Hacksaw” Duggan 65...Swen Nater 69...Gene Washington 72. Jason Bateman 50, Carl Weathers 71, Faye Dunaway 78 and Jack Jones 81 are invited to the birthday party.

Tuesday, January 15

Mitch Garver 28...Matt Duffy 28...Luke Wilson 29...Matt Holliday 39...Drew Brees 40...Mary Pierce 44...Mike Minter 45...LeShon Johnson 48..Shane McMahon 49....Adam Burt 50...Felton Spencer 51...Bernard Hopkins 54...Kenny Easley 60...Marty Lyons 62...Jerry Narron 63...Randy White 66...Ernie DiGregorio 68...Bobby Grich 70...pitcher Mike Marshall 76. Pitbull 38, Martin Luther King Jr. 40, and Chad Lowe 51 are invited to the birthday party.


January 14

51 years ago (1968), the Green Bay Packers beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14 in Super Bowl II...32 years ago (1987), Catfish Hunter and Billy Williams were elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

January 15

127 years ago (1982), James Naismith’s basketball rules were published for the first time...85 years ago (1934), Babe Ruth signed his final contract with the New York Yankees, taking a $17,000 pay cut to $35.000...80 years ago (1939), the New York Giants beat the All-America All-Stars 13-10 in the first NFL All-Star Game, at Chicago’s Wrigley Field...77 years ago (1942), President Franklin D. Roosevelt requested that baseball continue during World War II...53 years ago (1966), the All-Stars beat the Buffalo Bills 30-19 in the AFL Pro Bowl...52 years ago (1967), the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in Super I at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum...51 years ago (1968), Minnesota North Stars forward Bill Masterton died of a head injury suffered in a game two days earlier. It was the only death related to an injury in NHL history.

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