Divisional Round picks

The real story of this weekend is whether or not Tim Tebow will have enough magic to get past Tom Brady and The Hoodie in Foxborough.

San Francisco and the New York Giants will try to prevent us from seeing the Brees-Rodgers NFC title match up we’re all dreaming of and Joe Flacco will become the first QB in history to start a playoff game in his first four seasons, but all storylines take a backseat to Tebow. I don’t know if he can do it again, but it’ll be interesting.

Saturday night. 8 p.m. CBS. Be there.

New Orleans at San Francisco (+3 1/2)
New Orleans

Denver (+13 1/2) at New England
New England

Houston (+7 1/2) at Baltimore
Houston

Giants (+7 1/2) at Green Bay
Giants

Playoffs:

Northrop: 3-1
McKissic: 3-1
Sullivan: 2-2
Always Game Seven 2-2
DiCesare: 2-2
Gaughan: 1-3
Skurski: 1-3

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This week in sports

You miss a lot when your laptop is broken. Now that it’s finally back from the shop, here’s a rundown of things I wanted to hit but couldn’t get to.

  • U.S. soccer and the Gold Cup

It’s good to be watching U.S. soccer play competitively again in the Gold Cup. It is always good when the States beat Canada. But following it up with a 2-1 loss to Panama was yet another step backwards for the Yanks.

Gabriel Gómez beat Tim Howard on a penalty kick in the 37th minute.

The 2-0 win over Canada was nice, but far short of a convincing performance. The lineup for the States doesn’t get much stronger than it is right now. The Yanks are back on the pitch tonight against Guadeloupe (who?), and nothing short of domination will be acceptable.

It looks like the States will still advance from Group C based on the standings, but that shouldn’t even be a question. Mexico is the second-best team in the tournament by FIFA rankings — despite having the best player, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez — but it has taken care of business, winning all three games with a goal differential of plus-13.

There is no reason the Gold Cup final shouldn’t be USA vs. Mexico every time. It likely still will be, but this tournament should give us a time to perfect our game against weaker regional opponents, not squeak through on a few lucky bounces.

The USA lineup has started the same for the first two games, in a 4-4-2:

Altidore-Agudelo
Dempsey-Bradley-Jones-Donovan
Cherundolo-Goodson-Ream-Bocanegra
Howard

  • FIFA rankings

The States came into the tournament ranked 22nd in the world by FIFA and first in CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football — we need a new name). Mexico is second in the zonal ranking and 28th in the world. Canada, USA’s first Group C opponent, is ranked 76th in the world (seventh zonal) and Panama is ranked 67th (sixth), though it will likely move up next month after beating the States.

Guadeloupe, if you notice, is not in the ranking. I wondered why, and got an answer.

  • Griffs drafted

Jamieson was drafted into the Oakland system.

Three Canisius baseball players were drafted in this year’s MLB draft: shortstop Sean Jamieson in the 17th round (526 overall) by the Oakland Athletics, relief pitcher Chris Cox in the 39th round (1,189 overall) by the Toronto Blue Jays, and starting pitcher Shane Davis in the 42nd round (1,279 overall) also by the Jays.

I talked to Sean before the draft, and basically asked him something I will never get to experience — how much fun is it knowing you’re going to get drafted:

“It’s pretty cool. Not too many people get the chance to go off and play in the minor league system. … [I hear from scouts in] emails, over the phone, after games. It’s always fun hearing from a big league scout. You try not to let it get to you and just take it one at bat at a time.”

  • The MLB draft

The Major League draft goes 50 rounds and had 1,530 players selected. Kolya Stephenson, right-handed pitcher from Ocean City High School (N.J.), was the last player selected, if you really want to know. With that many players you might think there’s more than just one “Mr. Irrelevant,” but not necessarily so. Fifty rounds sounds ridiculous, but there are a ton of minor league levels out there, and every organization needs to fill out the roster of every one of its affiliates.

A lot of the draftees are high school kids, many of whom will play college ball instead and re-enter the draft later. For some college draftees, “livin’ out the dream” may take a back seat to a job offer or a girl. Don’t forget about injuries. If you pitched for your high school team that played 25 games this spring, your arm might not be able to take the rest of the season in rookie ball. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of Major League dream die every year due to injuries. Those players need to be replaced with healthy ones.

  • The NBA Finals

Dirk Nowitzki, Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA title on Sunday. I watched the second half, which is about the longest I’ve ever watched an NBA game on TV (I went to my first NBA game in Los Angeles earlier this year; Clippers beat the Nuggets, 100-94).

I follow the storylines in the NBA, but I have a hard time watching the games. They are slow and there are way too many whistles. I don’t even see half the fouls when they show the replay. Putting your head down and dribbling into a guy to try to draw a foul and then having putting up an off-balance shot that has no hope of going in because you didn’t get the call is not exactly entertaining.

Part of the reason we love watching sports is because we want to feel like we could be there, too. I’m not Derek Jeter, but there are some ground balls hit to him I’m sure I could field. In the NBA, I’d have to be an outside shooter. There’s no way I could ever go inside or get a rebound. You almost have to be a freak of nature to make it in the NBA, and that idea of “there’s no way I could have ever done that” takes a lot away from the experience.

I enjoy college basketball. I love covering it and I’ll watch even if the teams playing don’t mean anything to me. I don’t really know how to explain it, or maybe how to back it up, but it’s almost like the college kids try harder. There is a lot more hustle in the college game and they certainly go a lot harder on defense. I think the millions have something to do with it, but I don’t know how much I could really do with LeBron James or Dwight Howard coming at me full speed, either. Maybe it’s easier to defend in the college game because they guys aren’t so gargantuan, but that makes up part of the human element that is the reason NCAA round ball is so much easier to follow, and that much easier to love.

  • Playoff format

With the NBA and NHL finals going on at the same time, there is some debate going on about the playoff series format in a best-of-seven — the NHL’s 2-2-1-1-1 versus the NBA’s and MLB’s 2-3-2.

I prefer the 2-2-1-1-1, and not just because I’m biased towards hockey. To me, the 2-3-2 says we are more about the money than the game. It’s about the media travel and the television deals, not the outcome of the series, which the former takes into account.

If you really wanted it to be fair, they would alternate every home game, 1-1-1-1… until a winner was crowned. That’s a little ridiculous on the travel, which is why the 2-2 start is used, plus it rewards to higher seed with two home games at the start. The 2-3-2 really doesn’t reward the home team at all. If they split the first set, then the home team has to go play three times away. Who cares if you have six and seven at home, you might not even get back that far. If the lower seed takes the series in five games, then they would have had more home games than the higher seed. The higher seed should never be at a disadvantage.

Ask the players, they’d travel across the country if it meant getting a home game instead of a road game. The home team has won all six games so far in the Stanley Cup final. I think Roberto Luongo would rather travel across the country to sleep in his own bed and play in front of people who love him. The 2-3-2 makes travel easier, but for who? The players or the media?

  • Sedin twins

Speaking of the Stanley Cup finals, where have the Sedins been? Daniel has one goal and three assists, Henrik has one goal and no assists this series. Vancouver won’t win tomorrow without its best players. The Crimson Chins better give Harry Potter his invisibility cloak back, because this is the biggest game of their lives. If anybody in Vancouver has the Crimson Chin spotlight to shine on the night sky, now would be the time to bring it out.

  • Women’s soccer

I still haven’t seen Marta and the WNY Flash play in person yet, but I watched a few games on TV and I’m trying to figure out what level of competition they are on par with. I’ll hold judgement until I see them live, but from the comfort of my couch, it looks like a Division I men’s team would handle the WPS. I’m against coed sports because it’s hard to go all-out against women, but if there was a way it could happen, it’d be interesting to see FC Buffalo take on the Flash.

  • Chicharito

Chicharito has five of Mexico's 14 goals in the tournament.

Oh, and remember Chicharito from Mexico soccer? His nickname means “little pea” in Spanish. His dad was “Chícharo” — pea — because of his green eyes, so naturally, he became little pea. That’s a fun fact.

Ryan Miller ought to be furious

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

I have about six thousand different thoughts right now about Game Seven that I’ll get to tomorrow, but right now I just want to make a brief mention about Ryan Miller.

Nobody should be more pissed off right now than Miller. I’m usually harder on him than most, but after Danny Briere, I think he was the best player in the series. (Have you ever seen so many 1-on-0’s from point-blank range? And he stopped almost ever single one.)

Ryan Miller single-handedly kept the Sabres afloat for a large portion of this series, and Game Seven especially. The first period was an absolute atrocity, but Miller was there every time for the first 19 and a half minutes. He let his team down once. They let him down half a dozen times.

Miller rarely got to play with the lead in this series, a huge advantage for goalies, and as soon as the Sabres built one up for him, they let their guard down shortly after.

Every Buffalo win in this series was by one goal — two 1-0 games and an overtime win. How often does a goalie steal a game for his team in the playoffs with a shutout, not once, but twice, and then still lose the series?

That has to be maddening for a goalie. I’d imagine this scenario has happened a few times in NHL history, but it can’t be very often.

To his credit, I can’t remember Miller being very vocal about it. If CC Sabathia threw two no-hitters in the same series for the Yankees and they still managed to lose, I’m sure he’d have a few choice words for the hitters after the fact.

Looking at Miller’s play might show just how bad the rest of the team was. The two shutout wins were basically gifts to the offense. What did they do besides that? Not much. The pooped out after a hot start a few times and disappeared completely not long after.

Ryan Miller was even credited with an assist in the series. He had the same amount of points as Brad Boyes, Mike Grier, Mike Weber, Chris Butler, Steve Montador and Jordan Leopold, all of whom played at least five games in the series. Try as he might, Ryan Miller can’t be counted on to provide the offense, too.

Miller faced more shots than any goalie in the playoffs, and finished with a 2.93 goals against average and a .917 save percentage, respectable numbers that should have been more than enough to win given the poor goaltending Buffalo was going up against.

Every Buffalo Sabre not named Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford or Rob Neidermayer (the only players with positive plus-minuses) better chip in and take Miller out for a nice dinner after this is all said and done (Chris Butler can leave the tip, too). If anybody should be mad about the loss, it’s Miller, and I respect him for not saying anything about it.

NHL Playoff picks

The greatest playoffs in all of sports, for the best trophy in all of sports, begin tonight.

I’ve spent most of this week coordinating a full-page preview for this week’s Griffin Newspaper, which can be found here as well as in this week’s issue.

Those picks were done by my sports writing team. Here are my selections:

Eastern Conference

1-Washington Capitals over 8-New York Rangers in five games.
7-Buffalo Sabres over 2-Philadelphia Flyers in seven games.
3-Boston Bruins over 6-Montreal Canadiens in seven games.
4-Pittsburgh Penguins over 5-Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.

Western Conference

1-Vancouver Canucks over 8-Chicago Blackhawks in four games.
2-San Jose Sharks over 7-Los Angeles Kings in five games.
6-Phoenix Coyotes over 3-Detroit Red Wings in seven games.
4-Anaheim Ducks over 5-Nashville Predators in six games.

Two upsets, one sweep. Wanted one lower seed to advance on each side, and I thought Phoenix has the best shot in the West after taking Detroit to Game Seven last year.

Chicago limped into the playoffs, losing win-and-in game number 82 and only getting in because Dallas lost too. If you can’t get up for that game and grind out a W, you deserve to get swept.

I’m really not worried for the Sabres. It’s an interesting feeling that I want to write more about tomorrow, but there’s a weird sense of “we got this” in town. We were a seven-seed when we went to the finals in 1999…..