Auburn, Brady, Chelsea and Dirk

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Auburn, Brady, Chelsea and Dirk

I don't quite like the way sport comes in waves. There's a lull through the weekdays with only a couple of NBA matchups being worthy enough of any interest. Then comes the weekend with its complete pandemonium.

Frantic clicks on popular sites, frequent visits to the statistics page to see who stuffed the box-score and the usual checks on all the famous columnists (Joe-Po, Thomsen, Mandel, King).

I have my favorites but if they're not making the headlines you won't hear of them. A few questions here, a few answers there, that's it.

 

How long will Chelsea's struggles last and by the time they recover, will the title race be over?

It's difficult to answer the first when you remember that Chelsea opened the season in thunderous goal-scoring fashion. Within a couple of August weekends, they hammered twelve goals past a hapless West Bromwich outfit and a woeful Wigan side that could have easily lost by more. 

You could point to Wilkins' acrimonious exit (or 'harmonious conclusion') as the start of the slide but there's a limit to the kind of impact his departure had. After the announcement on the 11th of November, the Blues were stunned by Sunderland at home, failed to get a win at Birmingham and then played out two lifeless draws with Newcastle and Everton.

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At the end of the day, they miss Lampard and they're suffering by Drogba's uninspired play up front. The defence has looked porous and a bit out of sorts but I really don't believe there's much of a reason to panic. Just the sobering realization that this title race will be extremely tight. United will slip up eventually and Arsenal might be consistent enough to remain a major threat. 

Chelsea's bouncing back. And for their loyal supporters, the sooner the better.

 

How good was Cam Newton's season and will it lead the Tigers to their first National Title in over 50 years?

For all the explosive power of LaMichael James and the multi-pronged offense that Oregon boasts, I just don't see the Ducks pulling this one off. Football is the epitome of a team game but in Newton, the Tigers have the nation's unanimous No. 1 player and it's going to count for something when the two face off in Glendale. 

Oregon put forth a devastating offensive season averaging 49.3 points and 537.5 yards a game, the former a nation leading statistic while the yardage was second only to Oklahoma's 537.6! But Cam Newton's a winner and he's going to win come January 10th.

How good was his Heisman season? The Rivals.com website states he was as unstoppable as O.J, as explosive as Ricky Williams and as spectacular as Desmond Howard (who incidentally, is the owner of one of my favorite sporting moments). In 2007, Tebow was the darling of college football with his gaudy passing and rushing numbers. Newton's season (passed 2589, ran 1409 and accounted for 49 touchdowns) is eerily similar production-wise except that he led Auburn to an undefeated season with a title game on the line. 

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As Mandel puts it quite simply, no one touches Barry Sanders, following which Newton makes a strong case for having a better season than Tebow, Ricky Williams, Reggie Bush (of forfeiting fame) and Sam Bradford. That's elite company. Really elite.

 

Who deserves the NBA 'quarter-season' awards?

Before I get to the difficult MVP decision, let me try and breeze through the others:

The Most Improved Player (MIP) is Kevin Love. There's simply no debate. UCLA's big man is pulling down boards by the dozen and shooting at a high percentage thereby making up for his suspect defense. If the Wolves were a winning team, the first 30-30 man since Moses Malone would get some MVP love too.

The Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY)  remains Dwight Howard but it might not be as easy as the past couple of seasons. For starters, although the Magic have the league's best defense and Howard is third in rebounds and fifth in blocks, Garnett has been playing at a high level while Chandler remains the focus of a surging Mavericks team on the defensive end of the floor. And then of course there's the energetic Noah and floor-general Paul.

The Sixth Man of the Year remains Jason Terry's to lose. The 33-year-old is providing offensive firepower off the bench and doing it at higher shooting percentages than last year. Unless Jamal Crawford, Shannon Brown or Charlie Villanueva do something big, this award's a keeper.

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The Coach of the Year generally tends to favor teams that end up with a high winning percentage so it's surprising that Jerry Sloan hasn't won this award yet.The Jazz remain in strong contention but right now it's hard to take this one away from Gregg Popovich. His Spurs, playing at a frenetic pace and having suffered only three losses are the cream of the crop so far. Popp won't end up with the award but if the season ended now, he would.

My Rookie of the Year (ROTY) is Blake Griffin. Period. Ladies and Gentlemen, Blake Griffin: All that is great about the NBA.

And finally the Most Valuable Player. Lebron's streak ends at two unless the Heat win 60 and James' numbers improve a bit more.

Kevin Durant? Doesn't happen. The best player on the Thunder right now is Russell Westbrook. Kobe Bryant? Gasol's play merits consideration that he might be the Laker's MVP. The Spurs have the best record but it's an absolute team effort with no one in particular standing out (except for a healthy Ginobili). Then there's Rose, Williams and Howard who are all leaders of teams with good records. To be safe, I'm tempted to take the best player on the best team (after the Spurs).

Dirk Nowitzki, for shooting an efficient 56% and leading the surging Mavericks night in night out, is my 'quarter-season' MVP. Bear with me.

 

Who will win the Australian Open 2011?

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Will someone not named Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal win a major in 2011 and as a sidenote, will Nadal win the 'Serena Slam' in January?

This one is tough and it seems partly pessimistic to say no to the first question. Murray is a future Grand Slam champion but it's hard to see him stringing together two weeks of perfect tennis at a Slam. His best chance might well be in Melbourne when he's freshly rejuvenated rather than at the US Open. Djokovic played brilliantly at Flushing Meadows eventually coming up short to Nadal but then produced a dazzling display to win his country's first ever Davis Cup. He may just pull one out of the bag in 2011. Other suspects include a healthy Del Potro, Robin Soderling and perhaps Tomas Berdych. It's always the ones with the firepower. 

Nadal has a great chance to hold all the Slams at once but he'll need top notch concentration and peak fitness. A glitch here, an off day there and it's possible for him to be overpowered on court by any of the big hitters. Something tells me he'll pull it off though if he does, it'll be anything but a cakewalk. We'll find out next month.

 

Is it time for the Patriots to win again and will the Colts miss the playoffs for the first time in a long time?

We're not far removed from that glorious Pats season with a Super Bowl blemish (thank you David Tyree). You know, the one where it seemed Tom Brady could do no wrong, where Belichick poured on points with a vengeance and commentators were crowning it the greatest season in the history of the NFL. Ever since then, New England has managed to stay out of the limelight but they can't avoid it now. Brady is the top MVP contender, the departure of Moss seems to have spurred the team on and at 10-2, the Patriots boast of the league's best record. 

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There are a number of strong teams such as the Falcons led by Matt Ryan and of course the Pittsburgh Steelers who must fancy their chances of yet another Super Bowl. The problem is that in the post-season, you generally don't pick against Tom Brady. You just don't. And so I won't.

After coming off the worst interception stretch of his career, Manning seemed to have righted some wrong by eking out a mistake-free game against Tennessee to get the Colts to 7-6 just a game behind the Jags for the division title. The Colts can't have a wildcard hope with the Jets and Ravens having superior records but at least arguably the greatest quarterback of his generation controls the destiny of his team.

If Indy wins outright (including a Week 15 match against the Jags) they'll regain control of the AFC South and make the playoffs. The schedule seems favorable and Jacksonville might slip up. There's hope alright, lots of it. And it's the regular season, so just as I did with Brady, I won't pick against Manning.

 

We'll obviously have a clearer picture for all this by the end of January. January seems to be the month for everything. We'll be ready for Cam Newton, for a Super Bowl, for a heated EPL title race, for a possible Nadal Slam, for anything. We'll just be ready.

Have a great weekend.

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