Weekender:  Super Bowl, Davis Cup, and more

The Daily Dan for Friday, January 31, 2014




We all know the biggest event of the weekend is the Super Bowl.  We also know that no one event is more talked about, especially when it comes to the ratio of fluff to reality.  So we’re going to focus elsewhere here.  But first a few thoughts.


I’m picking the Broncos even though most of what I know about football—takes that as you will—says the Seahawks are better.  Thought it near the end of last season, thought it as they stocked up during the offseason, and thought it for much of the recently concluded season.  But it’s the Broncos year.  We should have seen that coming from the moment they were allowed to host the Ravens on Opening Night because of a conflict with the Orioles.  Peyton Manning made them pay too, tossing seven touchdown passes.


Regular season success does not have a very good track record of late when it comes to predicting Super Bowl winners.  But while some of the better teams telegraphed that they were fading—see 2007 Patriots and 2011 Packers—the Broncos arrived for this year’s playoffs carrying what was far and away the greatest burden of any team left.  And Peyton Manning has been nothing short of spectacular.  His receivers and special teams nearly betrayed him against the Chargers, but there was nothing to come close to that against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.


The game will come down to two things.  First, the Seahawks cannot possibly keep all of Manning’s options covered the entire night.  Second, the Broncos defense is crafty enough to produce at least one mistake from Russell Wilson.


Keys to the game? Knowshon Moreno can take a bunch of pressure off Manning and the pass protection if he runs it well and/or does his part to pick up blitzers.  For the Seahawks it is Chris Clemons and Cliff Avril.  Clemons is their best pass rusher.  Avril is their changeup guy.  If they can keep Manning’s feet moving they can turn him into an average quarterback, especially if it is windy.


Still I’m betting on Manning doing enough for a 30-20 victory.


Elsewhere this weekend:


Men’s Tennis:  The Davis Cup Round of 16 will be decided this weekend.  The U.S. is hosting Great Britain on a hard court at PETCO Park in San Diego.  John Isner had to pull out due to the knee injury that cost him traction at the Australian Open and so Donald Young will make his Davis Cup debut against Andy Murray in the opening rubber.  On paper it’s a mismatch, but Young is 1-2 against Murray and calls his upset of the Scot at Indian Wells three years ago the biggest win of his career.  Also Murray is 1-2 this year against Top 100 players.


Still the loss of Isner makes the Brits clear favorites.  Second singles Friday will pit Sam Querrey against James Ward.  The Bryan Brothers wait in the wings to play doubles for the U.S. while Murray is currently slated to play doubles with Colin Fleming.  Britain also had to make an injury swap, replacing Kyle Edmund with Dominic Inglot.


The other ties are:


Japan vs Canada (indoor hard):  The injury bug has hit Canada also.  Milos Raonic is out of the tie due to a left foot injury and Vasek Pospisil’s balky back will keep him from playing singles.  That leaves Peter Polansky and Frank Dancevic to play Friday singles and swings favoritism to the hosts who feature Kei Nishikori and Go Soeda.


Czech Republic vs Netherlands (indoor hard):  The Czechs begin their bid to become the first nation to win three straight since the U.S. ran off five from 1968-1972.  They are heavy favorites to move on from here.  Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek will play Friday singles against Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling respectively.


Germany vs Spain (indoor hard):  Spain has work to do to avoid a second straight trip to the World Group playoffs.  Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer are sitting this one out (a decision made by Nadal prior to the Australian Open injury) leaving Roberto Bautista Agut and Feliciano Lopez to play opening day singles.  Bautista Agut is enjoying a strong start to 2014 including an upset of Juan Martin Del Potro in Melbourne.  Germany is well-balanced, but injury prone.  Philipp Kohlschreiber starts the tie against Bautista Agut in his first matching since pulling out of Australia.  Florian Mayer plays Lopez.  Tommy Haas is in the squad, but he retired during the 1st Round in Australia.


France vs Australia (indoor clay):  France are huge favorites, but Australia comes armed with veteran grinder Lleyton Hewitt and wide-eyed younger Nick Kyrgios.  The latter makes his Davis Cup debut against Richard Gasquet on Friday followed by Hewitt opposite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  France’s doubles team of Gael Monfils and Julien Benneteau are both own higher singles rankings than any of the Australians.  France have not won since 2001  but have to be feeling their current group gives them a chance at their 10th Davis Cup.


Argentina vs Italy (clay):  No Juan Martin Del Potro for Argentina leaves Italy as away favorites behind Fabio Fognini and Andreas Seppi.  Argentina will counter with Juan Monaco and Carlos Berlocq.


Kazakhstan vs Belgium (indoor hard):  Kazakhstan has yet to make a major splash in the tennis world but will be favored to advance to the quarterfinals for the third time in four years.  Mikhail Kukushkin and Andrey Golubev will be favored in Friday rubbers against Ruben Bemelmans and David Goffin.


Serbia vs Switzerland (indoor hard):  Serbia are part the crowd dealing with injuries and absences while Switzerland received a shot in the arm when Roger Federer unexpectedly joined the team this week.  He will team with Stanislas Wawrinka to give the Swiss a lethal combination against the undermanned Serbs.  Out of the team are Novak Djokovic (rest), Janko Tipsarevic (injured), and Viktor Troicki (suspended) leaving Dusan Lajovic and Ilija Bozoljac to deal with the two Swiss.


Women’s Tennis:  The quarterfinals are set in Paris and Pattaya City.  Maris Sharapova crushed Daniela Hantuchova to reach the Paris quarters where she will meet Kirsten Flipkens.  The other matchups are Angelique Kerber v. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova; Elina Svitolina v. Sara Errani; and Andrea Petkovic v. Alize Cornet.


Pattaya City was sabotaged when the top two seeds, Sabine Lisicki and Svetlana Kuznetsova both pulled out of their 2nd Round matches.  Andrea Hlavackova (v. Peng Shuai) and Julia Goerges (v. Elena Vesnina) advanced to the quarterfinals as a result.  The other quarters feature Ekaterina Makarova v. Kimiko Date-Krumm and Karolina Pliskova v. Sorana Cirstea.


PGA:  Y.E. Yang and Bubba Watson shot 64 (-7) to top a Waste Management leaderboard after all but a few players completed their opening rounds on Thursday.  Phil Mickelson shot 71 (E) in his first round since pulling out of Torrey Pines a week earlier due to a bad back.


NBA:  The NBA will play an 8/12/1 format this weekend (8 games Friday, 12 Saturday, 1 Sunday.)  Friday, Kevin Durant will put him 30-point streak of 12 games on the line in Brooklyn.  The Nets won in Oklahoma City on January 2 to kick off a run that has them 10-2 in January (both losses to the Raptors.)  The Thunder are 10-3 during Durant’s streak including a victory in one game he sat out.


Durant and the Thunder move to Washington on Saturday night on what is a relatively dull evening of a dozen games.  The Heat visit the Knicks on ESPN in the shadow of Super Bowl XLVIII.  The Knicks routed the Heat in their only meeting of the season.


Sunday’s lone game is Orlando at Boston at 1pm EST.  There is no national television for the game.


NHL:  It’s 5/11/2 for the NHL this weekend.  Friday sees the Islanders at the Rangers in the final meeting of the teams this season.  This one comes two nights after the Rangers beat the Islanders at Yankee Stadium.  Also the Capitals visit the Red Wings in a meeting of two perennial playoff teams currently staring up at the playoff bubble.


Saturday’s docket is well spread out with games starting at 1, 3, 4, 7, 8, 10 and 10:30.  Afternoon action sees the Flyers visit the Kings while the evening slate includes the Senators at Maple Leafs plus the Blackhawks at Sharks late night on NHL Network.


Sunday, NBC has the return match between the Red Wings and Capitals while the Jets visit the Canadiens before the deck clears for the Super Bowl.

Other thoughts, news, happenings, and tid-bits

NASCAR:  Here’s the deal for the Chase.  As expected the field has been increased from 12 to 16 and will now the called the Chase Grid.  Entry is based on wins with points now used only as a tiebreaker.  That means two wins during the regular season guarantees a Chase spot and a single win will make it highly likely a driver makes the Chase.  Once the Chase arrives the field will be reduced to 12 (after 3rd Chase race), to 8 (after 6th Chase race), to 4 (after 9th Chase race.)  Points will go out the window for the finale at Homestead where the championship will be presented to the highest finisher among the four remaining contenders.


The new format has been met with mostly negative reviews, not much different than the vitriol that greeted the original Chase 10 years ago.  We’ll throw together some thoughts for a column next week.


NHL:  The Lightning lost Ben Bishop early in their 5-4 loss to the Senators on Thursday.  If Bishop is out, the workload will fall to career backup Anders Lindback and the club will have to recall a goalie from the minor leagues.  Bishop’s 26 wins are 4th most in the NHL.


CFL:  It took Zach Collaros one day to find a new home.  The erstwhile Argonauts’ backup signed with the Hamilton Tigercats on Thursday, one day after the Argos released him rather than wait for him to declare as a free agent Februay 15.  The Tigercats then released Henry Burris who started the Grey Cup for them last season.


NBA:  Friday is the final day of David Stern’s tenure as NBA commissioner, which lasted 30 years to the day.  There is not enough space, even on the Internet, to extol all of Stern’s achievements as commissioner.  Sure he walked in on an iconic rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and his first draft included Michael Jordan.  But Stern used these assets to build the NBA from a niche league to a global brand.  It will not be easy for successor Adam Silver, but the NBA Silver takes over is nothing at all like the one Stern took over three decades ago.

Stats Corner

NHL:  The Sharks stumbled through Edmonton and Calgary scoring just once in a pair of losses.  The goal was a memorable one though, the 1st in the NHL for 25-year old Eriah Hayes.  An undrafted free agent from Minnesota State, Hayes has played 13 games at the NHL level.

The Archive
1/27: Wawrinka wins Aussie Open
1/28: Charting older dirt routers
1/29: Media Day overwhelms, underwhelms
1/30: Mickelson will play
1/31: Super Bowl highlights weekend
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