It’s December, and that means so many things: gift-shopping and official winter, holidays of many different faiths and cultures, skiing and snowboarding and much more. It’s also an exciting time of year for sports in America. The NBA and NHL are about one quarter into their respective seasons, enough to give a measure of what’s what. College hoops have tipped off and teams now have enough games under their belt to start hitting their strides. But December is the time for the biggest of the beasts to rear its head: Football. The NCCA college four-team championship playoff is set and the NFL playoff hunt is entering pitch-fever with four games remaining in the regular season. Each week’s games in the NFL now carry heavyweight: a loss can eliminate some teams from contention, or drop playoff seedings. If a team doesn’t gain home-field advantage, it can severely crimp its chances of making the full run to the Superbowl LII (52) in Minneapolis this year. Conversely, a big win can take a team from the edge of oblivion to the thick of the battle. Take a look at everything you need to know for the December sports round up!
The AFC has two perennial powerhouses seemingly headed for a showdown with a spate of unpredictable but interesting teams vying for the other playoff spots. The two big boys, as often is the case in modern AFC history, are the Patriots and the Steelers. Brady and Roethlisberger, contrasts in styles and size, once more lead their teams to excellence. Both sit at 10 wins and 2 losses currently. The Ageless One Brady is circling in on the second 5000 yard game in his career – at the age of 40, while Big Ben is more battered and bruised due to the style of physical contact he’s always had, but he’s still a hulking and formidable figure on the gridiron. Beyond these two teams, if the playoffs started today you’d have the Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Kansas City Chiefs in. Each one of these teams has looked very strong some weeks, and very bad others. December is the month that will shake things out. The Chiefs are only 6 and 6 after beginning the season like world-beaters! The Bills, in comparison, are also 6 and 6. So do the Bills have a shot still? Definitely, but it’s a long shot. It seems like if they win three of their last four they might squeak in. But don’t despair, Bills fans. With all the changes with the new coaching staff and players, people were saying before the year began that the Bills wouldn’t win six games all year long. Buffalo did its cruel trick of getting everybody’s hopes up with a great start to the season before stumbling in November, but the future is bright and the season should be deemed at least a partial success regardless of what happens now. They just have to find the right QB for the future.
In the NFC, there are also two front-runners at 10 and 2 each in the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles. The Vikings could actually have a home-field Super Bowl game if they make it! Both look like balanced, well-coached teams that could go to the Super Bowl, but there is stiffer competition in this conference. The LA Rams are showing genuine promise, the New Orleans Saints are revived behind their great QB Drew Brees, and the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers are both shaking off their recent malaise and returning to the top-caliber teams they’ve been in the not too distant past. The Atlanta Falcons cannot be counted out either. Unfortunately for the Green Bay Packers, their franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone earlier in the season. There is rumor of his return, but it may be too little too late at this point for Packers fans. No doubt though, each week’s games in December bring intrigue in the NFC.
The college playoff in football has four powerhouses in their playoff series. Both semi-final games will be played on the evening of New Year’s Day. We get a rubber match of the past two season’s championships with Clemson ranked at # 1 playing # 4 Alabama. It won’t be for the championship this time (which many are kind of glad about) but it will determine who has the right to play in the championship game. Either one of these teams can obviously do it, although Clemson has turned it all on at the right time. It will be an interesting side note that if Clemson wins the national championship, their only loss of the season will be to none other than the Syracuse Orangemen. Syracuse pulled off one of the greatest upsets in their football program’s history – but sadly they didn’t win another game after that! In the other semi-final game, Georgia and Oklahoma play each other. Georgia is a physical power, peaking at the perfect time here at the end of the season, while Oklahoma’s offense is said to be the best in the nation behind the Heisman Trophy leading candidate Baker Mayfield.
The NBA has some fantastic storylines shaping up – mainly the Eastern Conference showdown between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers who swapped great point guards with each other in the off-season. In the West, it’s still the Golden State Warriors setting the ‘golden’ standard, but the Houston Rockets threaten with the acquisition of Chris Paul to partner with superstar James Harden, and the OKC Thunder now have two more all-stars in Carmelo Anthony and Paul George to go with their MVP Russell Westbrook. Stay tuned for excitement, and we’ll report on the Association in a later blog.
The NHL has the Tampa Bay Lightning and long-suffering Toronto Maple Leafs off to strong starts in the East, along with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the return to contention of the old powerhouse the New Jersey Devils – and a team that has to go back much further for its glory days, the New York Islanders. Unfortunately, the Buffalo Sabres are cellar-dwelling again, and this in a year that they were supposed to turn the corner to respectability. We hope there’s a turnaround soon for the Sabres. The West has the St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, LA Kings, and Winnipeg Jets all playing good hockey. And one good story is that the newly-formed Las Vegas Golden Knights are off to a strong start – something that Vegas can root for and rally around after the horrible tragedy there a few months ago.
There it is – a December sports round up that clearly shows that football is the dominant story this time of year, with basketball and hockey picking up speed. Saint Bonaventure plays their annual D-1 basketball game at the Blue Cross Arena next week, too, December 16th, versus Vermont. It’s always a fun afternoon out. And when you have family in town for the holidays, catch a game at one of Rochester’s many excellent sports bars and restaurants. Watching the game with a group is a great way to share some holiday cheer!