You can tell that the NFL is starting to settle because I’m starting to pick games correctly. But enough about me. The game of the week is New Orleans Saints-Minnesota Vikings.
You remember last season’s Minneapolis Miracle, sometimes called the Minnesota Miracle? This was the last time the teams played. The Vikings led the Saints 17-0 in the NFC divisional playoff game, but the Saints rallied to take a 24-23 lead.
The Vikings had the ball on their 39 with 10 seconds remaining. Case Keenum passed 27 yards to Stephon Diggs along the right sideline. Diggs went high to make the catch, and New Orleans rookie safety Marcus Williams came undone.
He missed the tackle, and with nobody between Diggs and the end zone, and as time expired, Diggs scooted for the easy TD.
Unless you snowshoe, ski, snowmobile or skate, January in Minnesota is evil. Spring feels like a myth. The deeper the Vikings go into the playoffs, the easier it is to tolerate the extreme cold. The game was played Jan. 14.
The Philadelphia Eagles hammered the Vikings the following next week. But if you watched the Minnesota-New Orleans ending, you will never forget.
The rematch is Sunday at 8:20 p.m.
Last Week: 10-4
Lock of the Week: Picked Kansas City (-6½) against Cincinnati. Kansas City won 45-10.
Season Lock of the Week: 5-2.
This week’s picks, with the home team in CAPS:
HOUSTON 7 over Miami
CHICAGO 9 over New York Jets
CINCINNATI 6 over Tampa Bay
Seattle 2 over DETROIT
KANSAS CITY 10 over Denver
Washington 4 over NEW YORK GIANTS
PITTSBURGH 8 over Cleveland
CAROLINA 1 over Baltimore
Indianapolis 3 over OAKLAND
LOS ANGELES RAMS 9 over Green Bay
ARIZONA 2 over San Francisco
MINNESOTA 3 over New Orleans
New England 13 over BUFFALO \u0009
Lock of the Week: Philadelphia (-3½) 6 over Jacksonville (in London)
Interesting betting line this week: The Carolina Panthers, who play at home, are a 2-point underdog against the Baltimore Ravens. (That’s the line when I write this column; odds could shift by kickoff.)
The Ravens (4-3) have not been overwhelming. They’ve beaten the Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans. They’ve lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and, last week at home, the New Orleans Saints.
I know that the Browns no longer are the Browns. But losing to Cleveland still means that you lost to Cleveland.
The Ravens are 2-2 on the road. beating the Steelers and Titans, losing to the Bengals and the Browns.
So, why did the Ravens open as 2-point favorites?
Some of you believe that oddsmakers don’t respect the Panthers. Respect has nothing to do with it. Odds makers respect the opportunity to make money, and they are a lock to make money if they can convince people to bet as much on one team as the other.
It’s the bettors who don’t respect the Panthers.
I expected the Panthers to be favored. It’s not as if they’re secret. They’ve made the playoffs three of the last four seasons.
Their 17-point comeback against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday was their best work of the season. When you rally from a 17-point deficit against that team in that place, you did something. The Panthers did something. The Eagles, I believe, are a better team than the Ravens.
Carolina’s problem is the ease with which it falls behind. Two weeks ago, the Panthers trailed the Washington Redskins 17-0, and almost came back to win.
October has been a testament to Cam Newton comebacks and near comebacks.The game plan appears to be to fall behind and rely on the quarterback’s arm and legs to rally and win.
Or, against the New York Giants, rely on the leg of kicker Graham Gano to win. Gano kicked a 63-yard field goal with one second remaining for the 31-30 victory.
It’s a dangerous way to make a living, falling behind and coming back. But only five teams have a better record than Carolina and only two, the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints, play in the NFC.
Another statistical oddity: When the season began, the odds against the Panthers winning Super Bowl 53 were 20-1. Those odds now are 30-1.
If Carolina continues to win, the odds that they’ll win the Super Bowl will be, what, 40-1?
My final four sports
People ask me why I don’t follow certain sports – soccer mostly, but also hockey.
About soccer, I like the World Cup, and I absolutely believe that Major League Soccer would succeed here. About hockey, I’ve enjoyed watching the Charlotte Checkers, especially when they let me spend the game in their penalty box.
But I can’t like everything. My sports are the NFL, NBA, college basketball and boxing. I like other sports, too, but not as much as my final four.
Almost everybody likes the NFL. Some fans say they boycott professional football because of those darn take-a-knee protesters. But these fans say it so frequently and so loudly that I wonder if, when nobody is looking, they watch. If they really didn’t care about the NFL, wouldn’t they ignore it?
The NBA is riding a wave of popularity, and it should be. The sport is dazzling.
Unless college basketball’s scandals grow, the sport will survive and, come the spring, thrive.
Boxing, well, the prognosis is not so good. Young fans are moved by mixed martial arts, and unless a city has a strong tradition or a casino, fans tend not to attend local shows.
I went to a very good boxing card at CenterStage@NODA Saturday, a building that’s more likely to be used for wedding receptions or reunions than the sweet science.
Christy Martin, a former women’s lightweight champion and a Charlotte resident, promoted the card. I sat next to Zab Judah, a guest Saturday who has held multiple titles in two weight divisions.
All evening, fans approached Judah and asked for an autograph, or to pose for a picture with him, or both. Judah, 40 and still boxing, never said no.
“You treat your fans as if they’re important,” I said.
“They are important,” Judah said.
In the ring that night, you had everything – decisions and knockouts, surprises and emotion, celebrations and, for the losers, the long slow sad walk back to the dressing room.
In the first co-main event, Derek “H-bomb” Hyatt of Gastonia wore his black and white God Family Boxing T-shirt. A good guy, Hyatt is 35. He fought a welterweight fight against Kelvin King, 23, of Wilson.
King caught Hyatt early in the first round, trapped him against the ropes, and caught him again. As his fists flew, the referee jumped in and stopped the fight.
A friend had gone outside to smoke a cigarette, and when he was out there heard fans scream. By the time he had rushed to the window to look in, the fight had ended, proving yet again that cigarettes are bad for you.
In the second main event, Charlotte’s Stevie Massey, whose style is a combination of power and speed, won an easy decision, pushing his record to 8-1.
I’ve been going to Charlotte boxing cards since the 1980s, and there are people I see only at boxing matches. There’s former heavyweight Calvin Brock. There’s the Quiet Storm, Jared Robinson. There are fans whose names I don’t know but whose faces I do.
Boxers and boxing fans lead separate lives, and a few times a year we get together. We hug and watch and laugh and love being there. It’s a club. Our club is small, and we’re always looking for new members.
Boxing has a stigma. Hundreds of fans who order a fight on pay-per-view stay away from local cards. I’m not sure why.
I always take my girlfriend, and she likes and appreciates the sport. We cut a deal. She goes to boxing with me, and I go to ballet with her.
I can identify an arabesque. She can identify a left hook.
Hornets look fun, entertaining
I know it’s early. But I’m enjoying the 2018-19 Charlotte Hornets. Miles Bridges is going to be a basketball player; Malik Monk is.
As I write this, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is fifth in the league in blocked shots. MKG no longer starts, but he works as hard as he ever has. He doesn’t sulk about not starting. He does what he used to, and imposes himself on the game. Now in his sixth season, he’s only 25.
Going into Wednesday’s games, guard Kemba Walker was second to Blake Griffith in the NBA in scoring at 33 points a game. He was second to Steph Curry in 3-pointers made.
Last season, Walker hit 38.4% of his 3-pointers. This season he’s hitting 46.7%. Last season, Walker hit 43.1% from the field. This season he’s shooting 49%.
Look, the season is in its infancy. But don’t you like what you see? I picked the Hornets to go 41-41, which would be a fine season. (I picked the Carolina Panthers to go 8-8, so maybe there’s a theme here.)
I like Charlotte’s hustle, the scrambling down court for quick baskets, the passing, Monk’s development, MKG’s attitude, the leadership of Tony Parker and Walker’s absolute confidence and command.
As I write this, the Hornets are second in the league in blocked shots and first in 3-pointers made.
They play as if they’re having a great time. It’s infectious. You can feel it from the cheap seats, and the good seats, too.
Short takes: NFL trade deadline; Duke, UNC players going fast
▪ The NFL trading deadline is Tuesday. Would you like to see the Carolina Panthers participate? If so, who do you want, and what are you willing to give up? I don’t see them making a major move…
▪ Looked at my first 2019 NBA mock draft. The first, third and fifth players taken will wear Duke uniforms this season, and the second player taken will wear North Carolina’s…
▪ Rajon Rondo called the punch-throwing tiff between the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets Spitgate. The Rockets contend that Rondo spit in the face of Houston guard Chris Paul, and Los Angeles’ Rondo vigorously denies it. After Watergate, every issue had a GATE attached, but hadn’t heard it for years. Perhaps Rondo is a student of history…
▪ The renovation of the Atlanta Hawks is progressing slowly. But the renovation of State Farm Arena was scheduled to make its debut this week. Without leaving the arena, you can play TopGolf, get a haircut, eat a beignet and, depending on the visiting team, see some decent basketball…
Be interesting to see a basketball game at High Point , where Tubby Smith, who went to school there, coaches. Smith coached at Kentucky and Minnesota, among other places. Like Appalachian State and UNC Wilmington, High Point is one of those schools that alumni universally seem to like.