Ahead of the Curve
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Home for the Holidays

We're in the stretch run for NFL13 and lo & behold, who's out leading the pack but two old (familiar) war-horses in Tom Brady & Peyton Manning, both right at home in the playoffs, eyes on the prize and then smart-money favorites to take it come February, whether rain, snow, sleet or sunshine.

Rest of the AFC field: Colts feeling their oats, Chiefs looking tired late (2-4), Bengals dicey away (3-5) and the Bolts, Dolphins & champion Ravens are clinging to the pack.

Over in the NFC it's a six horse race, with Seattle (offense) giving some lead, Cards charging late, 49ers rounding into form, Panthers & Eagles running strong but (PS) untested, North's a travesty (GB / CHI), Cowboys straining and swift Saints jockey for the front.

Which brings us back to Tom & Peyton, the faces of the NFL for well over a decade and now with Ray Lewis no longer around to keep 'em in check.

Manning's had the numbers wire-to-wire to capture his fifth MVP trophy, an accolade that slipped through his hands last season when Adrian Peterson muscled it away, coming within ten yards of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season mark (2105 / 2097).

But while Pey-Dirt has the perceptibles again in 2013, Tom's task has been a bit more weighty, with the uncertainty in receiver corps, i.e., tight-end & possession departments. Had Mr. Charles (KC) busted-out in either Denver game in a win (171 / 1TD / 2g), he'd a' been a cinch.

And which QB gets to Jersey? Both are skill & experience laden, so whomever stays healthy and then stingy on the gifting (INTs / fum).

"Sportsman of the Year 2013"

Crowning Peyton Manning Sportsman of the Year '13 (SI), nearly any year of this man's long, fruitful NFL career, is what's called...prudent. He set a record? When doesn't he?

The problem: Sports Illustrated was a year late. It was 2012 when Pey-Dirt returned from neck surgery, after a year lay-off and breaking-in a new squad, when he might've gotten nod for the Popeye award ("I am" / SOY), but then, LeBron had his breakthrough year.

A more inspired awarding might've been one that recognized all four major team titlists in 2013, a year in sport when 'team' was never so relevant in championship play.

Boston Red Sox: In a team sport that's been played professionally longer than any other in the Hub City (Boxing?) and has come to define the metropolis best, the Fenway bunch took inspiration from the Marathon tragedy and worked one of the game's greatest turnarounds in history, going from cellar-dwellers to World Series champions.

Miami Heat: No team had more pressure to hoist the hardware, and then repeat the feat, as did the Heaters. The well-decorated Spurs were long-in-the-tooth but still as savvy & game as the day is long. Le. James came through again and the rest will just be gravy;

Baltimore Ravens: Has any champion had to overcome an in-game obstacle (blackout) as did these guys in SB46 (Ice Bowl '67)? But Ray Lewis' farewell speech, like Al McGuire's in '77, ran so deep it almost assured they'd finish the job, no matter who objected; and

Chicago Blackhawks: It took 50 years for Chicago to hoist Mr. Stanley again ('10 / PHI), then made dynasty by besting another Eastern bruiser (BOS). Working the perfect mix of vets (Hossa / Sharp), youth (Toews / Kane) and primers (Crawford / Seabrook / Keith), it was small surprise when they made post-celebration gesture that transcended sport by pen & post of an open-letter in gratitude (Globe) to a still stunned & grieving Boston. Class.

Festivus Lampoon Awards 2013

There have been some real doozies in the dum-dum department this year in sport.

There was freshman footballer Johnny Manziel livin' large & loud after hauling in the Heisman to the apparent amusement of Texas A&M cufflinks;

The exposure of Notre Dame's All-American linebacker Manti Te'o & friends devious plot to win that same Heisman with a fabricated, cancer-stricken, on-line girlfriend story;

Steelers' head coach and former Super champ Mike Tomlin appearing to intentionally interfere with a Ravens' return-run in a nationally televised Thanksgiving contest; and

Ohio State...oh, excuse me, The Ohio State University President and 'foot-in-mouth' practitioner Gordon Gee who dissed on ND, Catholics, Louisville Cardinal, etcetera, in front of a large group in strange belief his caustic comedic routine wouldn't leak out. It did, and he stepped down, but not before many in media shined his boots clean.

There are more, but these nincompoops should suffice. It's the holidays.

"Let it Snow"

There's not much Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith do that's not all about money, a tact no different than anyone else in business, from the biggest corporate board, to any pest-control franchisee to the couple who owns the sandwich shop down the street. But once in a blue moon, they'll surprise. The 'special-of-the-day' will actually be fresh.

Roger & Dee are serving it fresh this February 2nd for Super Bowl 48, so fresh you may need to eat it with your mittens on and long-johns underneath.

This Super Bowl should separate the men from the boys, just like the "olden days," as Judy Garland would sing.

For the first time since 1969, when Vikings hosted Cleveland at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington (now a mall...the spot) where the temperature was 8 degrees, to play for the NFL championship, the League will present it's biggest game in outdoor chill at MetLife field, E. Rutherford, New Jersey (led by Coaching legend Bud Grant, QB bruiser Joe Kapp and the Purple People Eaters, Minnesota defeated the Browns, 27-7 for their only NFL title).

To its creators (Rozelle, Hunt et al), Super Bowl's always been about moolah. Monopoly has that advantage. Awarding greater New York the biggest shindig in the land was no doubt a major goal in mind but NYC pull, by itself, couldn't arrange this big a' gamble.

There must've been other elements involved in the decision-making, like vitality, a tip o' the cap to tradition and even a dash of bravery, dare I write. Bolder perhaps than the NHL's outdoor Winter Classic but in that same vane. Hello, Bud Selig (day-time WS?).

MetLife staff will be prepared for almost anything, but one concern is the awful late kick-off times that've been standard since the 80s. Cold during day is bearable if proper dress, but at night, w/wind, it can be frigid (when "sticky gloves" have manly use). Global warming makes the bitter cold less likely in February, which means it could reach 60 in the Garden State, though, snow can run until April. So, hydrate, "mix & mingle" and pack / dress accordingly, ticket-holders.

Cherry Picks Week 17: Happy Birthday Ted Danson & Mary Tyler Moore!

Baltimore Ravens (8-7) @ Cincinnati Bengals (10-5): 12-29 CBS 1:00 EST

Schedulers expected changing-of-the-guard? They were right, though, defending champs will play with heart. But Bengals rarely bungle at Paul Brown Stadium. Cincy wins.

San Francisco 49ers (11-4) @ Arizona Cardinals (10-5): 4:30 Fox (GOTW)

Who'd a' thunk, Cards would be players this late? The man in the glasses did. Can't say why exactly, but the spectacles work on Bruce. Give Fisher one more year and the West is gonna' be loaded, top-to-bottom. Niners nearly fell at home v. A-birds, 'Zona wins.

Green Bay Packers (7-7-1) @ Chicago Bears (8-7): 4:30 Fox

Don't know which is more annoying, Packers new tradition of blaming referees (PIT / SEA '12), Lambeau leap or Bears' ease in quickly moving beyond blow-outs. Collingsworth said in Eagles' romp, "sometimes a game gets away from you early."  True enough, 'all knowing one,' but more often today, teams can be down 28 and turn on the light like a switch. Be that as it may, GB's frustrated, Bears keepin' cool and play home to win.

Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) @ Dallas Cowboys (8-7): 8:40 NBC

COY is best award race in '13 and Chip's a front-runner. Most entrants are West, with Pete, Jimbo & Bruce, while Andy & Sean lose luster late. Jason happy just to get a win, secure job. Boys eke win @ DC, QB iffy, look easy prey, soooo...Dallas gets a W in Topsy-Turvy '13.

Steven Keys

NFL Hunch Line

Photo Credit: T. Brady / 12-18-11 / Denver / J. Beall / wc.cca

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