Byfuglien-led Jets Defense, Minus Three Regular Defensemen, Edges Bruins

Perhaps this whole thing is just the activities part of Paul Maurice’s application for Coach of the Year.

“What did you do to deserve this honor?”

JM Jets Bruins Dec19 Byfuglien 2 Byfuglien led Jets Defense, Minus Three Regular Defensemen, Edges Bruins

Dustin Byfuglien was the best player of the ice (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

“I took a team that was never known for great defensive play or even decent goaltending and made it one of the best defensive clubs in the NHL. Oh, yeah, and I did it for much of the season without my starters. In fact, we beat Buffalo 5-1 without Zach Bogosian, Toby Enstrom and Jacob Trouba and we beat Boston 2-1 without Bogosian, Enstrom, Trouba and Mark Stuart.”

Paul Maurice wouldn’t actually do that, but he is coaching the hell out of this Winnipeg Jets hockey team and the players are obviously stepping up in return.

Friday night at MTS Centre, with a defense held together by duct tape and binder twine, the Jets got goals from Evander Kane and Mathieu Perreault and beat the mighty Boston Bruins 2-1.

OK, so the Bruins aren’t that mighty this season. They’ve gone 2-5-2 in their last nine and are barely above .500, but still, they’re the Boston Bruins.

And for the second time this season, former Bruins prospect, Michael Hutchinson beat the team that originally drafted him. Hutchinson was so good, he was the game’s second star, stopping 30 shots – 16 in the third period – as he made some brilliant saves late in the game to save Winnipeg’s 17th win of the season.

JM Jets Bruins Dec19 Hutchinson 3 Byfuglien led Jets Defense, Minus Three Regular Defensemen, Edges Bruins

Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson had another sensational game (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

In fact, the Jets are now 17-10-6 and tied for fifth (San Jose has more wins) in the NHL’s Western Conference. They’ve won two straight and are now 8-6-2 at home this season. This is a good hockey team.

However, while Hutchinson was terrific on Friday, the star of the game was clearly Dustin Byfuglien. The big rightwinger-turned-defenseman-turned-rightwinger-turned-defenseman was clearly the game’s first star. He set up the winning goal and logged 27 minutes and four seconds of icetime.

But, in what appears to be a daily occurrence for the banged-up Jets defense, Byfuglien took a nasty high stick late in the game. This time, however, the Jets brass did not believe it was a serious injury and Big Buff should play Sunday against Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, after Friday’s game, during his streamed post-game news conference, Maurice made a couple of interesting remarks.

“We can play better,” he said. “I don’t think we can try harder.

“It’s not like we have something different that no other team has. You could find a team that is running the same defensive systems in all three zones. It is the compete level on this team that is making the difference. It’s far less about the coaching, far more about what happens in that room before the games.”

maurice paul 01695353 Byfuglien led Jets Defense, Minus Three Regular Defensemen, Edges Bruins

Paul Maurice, coaching the hell out of this team.

You have to love Maurice’s modesty. Fact is, Maurice’s Jets have two straight without their top defensemen. They have moved a former forward (who moved to defense in Atlanta) back to defense after another year on the wing in Winnipeg and he’s played brilliantly. They have been responsible in their own zone and when they’ve had breakdowns, as they did in the third period on Friday night, they’ve been getting sensational goaltending.

Friday, they used veteran Jay Harrison, a 32-year-old just acquired from struggling Carolina, to replace Stuart and they now have six defensemen named: Byfuglien, Harrison, Adam Pardy, Grant Clitsome, Paul Postma and Ben Chiarot. Nobody would have believed this team could win two in a row with those guys on the point, except those guys. They’ve done it and it’s been fun to watch.

In fact, Harrison played 20 minutes in his first game as a Jet and assisted on Kane’s goal.

But make no mistake, despite the fact he;s trying to deflect the credit – and rightly so – Maurice has changed this team. This is NOT the team that Claude Noel coached. It has virtually the same players and some will say that man-for-man it’s not as good as the team Noel coached. And yet this year’s Jets have allowed only 2.18 goals against after 33 games and that’s a significant upgrade. So far this year, the Jets are fourth overall in goals against, under Noel, they finished 22nd, 24th and 26th.

The Jets will have another chance to show the NHL how good this team is without four top defensemen when it plays the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night at 8 p.m. at MTS Centre.

The rest of the NHL still hasn’t noticed yet, but these Winnipeg Jets are the story of the first half of the 2014-15 season.

NFL Week 16: It’s Make or Break Time

By The Coach and Dr. Football

As Christmas approaches, it’s a strange week in the NFL. There is a Thursday game that might rank with the worst in NFL history and then two Saturday games that were probably high on someone’s wish list back on September, but are now nearly meaningless.

Blake Bortles NFL Week 16: It’s Make or Break Time

Blake Bortles, tough rookie season.

On Thursday night, living proof that the NFL has a quarterback problem. Dr. Football calls this the worst nationally televised prime-time game in NFL history. I don’t disagree. In a week in which jay Cutler lost his starting job in Chicago, we are presented with a rookie QB and a lousy QB in a Thursday night that is embarrassment for a league that has embarrassed itself often this year.

On Saturday, the stinky Washington football team, a team that no longer has anything going for it, takes on a Eagles team that had better start winning soon or the City of Brotherly Love might revolt.

Then we get a collapsing San Diego outfit against and San Francisco crew that has already folded its tent. This one should be fascinating – and not in a good way.

The boys are going to take on the first three of the games early and look closely at the Sunday games on Saturday.

Last week, our brilliant prognosticators did reasonably well despite all the upsets. Dr. Football had another great week, going went 13-3 (150-71-1) straight up and 7-9 (105-117) against the spread while The Coach went 10-6 (141-80-1) straight up and 9-7 (112-110) against the spread.

This week, the Doctor writes about our brilliant selections while The Coach continues to whine about the officiating (and it’s not even getting annoying). Remember, this is for recreational use only. Please, no wagering.

Let’s look closely at the first three games of Week 16:

Thursday Night

Tennessee Titans (2-12) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12) 
Line: Jaguars by 3.

According to those in the know, this is game is in the top 10 of the worst match ups in NFL history and the worst Nationally televised game of all time. ‘Nuff said. The Coach says: Home team.

Dr. Football: Take the Jaguars to win and cover.

The Coach: Take the Jaguars to win and cover


Philadelphia Eagles (9-5) at Washington Redskins (3-11) 
Line: Eagles by 7.5.

Saturday football returns with this stinkeroo. The Redskins will not win again this season and will make Mark Sanchez look like Aaron Rodgers. The Coach says: Washington football team owner Daniel Snyder is a complete moron. He is living proof that you don’t have to possess one working brain cell to get rich. Change the mascot and start over.

Dr. Football: Take the Eagles to win and cover.

The Coach: Take the Eagles to win and cover.

San Diego Chargers (8-6) at San Francisco 49ers (7-7) 
Line: 49ers by 2.

The Chargers haven’t been too bad this season on the road while the 49ers have basically checked out. The Coach says: Harbaugh will probably win this week as he gets another step closer to his career at Michigan.

Dr. Football: Take the Chargers in an upset.

The Coach: Take 49ers to win and cover.

Without Three Top Defensemen, Jets Blast Sabres

Tuesday night at MTS Centre, the Winnipeg Jets did exactly what they were expected to do. They blasted the Buffalo Sabres. But it was how they did it that says so much about the character of this year’s edition of the Jets.

Mark Scheifele scored twice and dished out an assist while Michael Frolik added a shorthanded goal as the Jets whipped Buffalo 5-1 in front of another loud, packed house at the downtown rink.

JCL Jets Sabres Dec16 Action 2 Without Three Top Defensemen, Jets Blast Sabres

Guys like Mark Stuart did a great job protecting Ondrej Pavelec. (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

Make no mistake, the Jets were favored to win this one. They were 15-10-6 heading in while Buffalo was 13-16-2. The Sabres had won seven of nine, but they were 4-9-0 on the road and playing their second game in as many nights. Buffalo was ripe for the picking.

And the Jets did just that. Trailing 1-0 after the first period, the Jets scored three times in a five-minute span as Scheifele scored at 9:30, Frolik tallied shorthanded at 11:35 and then Scheifele scored again at 14:17. By now the Jets were in control.

Evander Kane scored his fifth of the season just 1:11 into the third period and then Chris Thorburn scored his second at 12:39 to pt the cherry on top.

For Scheifele, it was another brilliant game. He was named the first star, assisted on Kane’s goal and now has three goals in his past three games after scoring just three in his first 29. He’s now recorded two three-point games in his past four.

However, despite the fact the Jets beat a team they should have beaten, they still did it without Jacob Trouba, Zach Bogosian and Toby Enstrom, three of the top defensemen on the club. Earlier in the day, the Jets learned Trouba would be out of action until February with an upper body injury. The Jets defense is now made up of Dustin Byfuglien, Paul Postma, Grant Clitsome, Adam Pardy, Mark Stuart and Ben Chiarot. No one would have expected that group to be playing every night let alone making up the Jets entire defensive corps. But those were the six D-men on Tuesday and they looked just fine.

After the first period, the Jets owned this game. Granted, they didn’t get off to much of a start and looked out of sorts for the first 20 minutes. In fact, Buffalo’s only goal of the night came at 19:16 of the first period on the power play.

JCL Jets Sabres Dec16 Scheifele Jubo 1 Without Three Top Defensemen, Jets Blast Sabres

Mark Scheifele was terrific (Photo by James Carey Lauder)

But after Buffalo outshot Winnipeg 12-8 in the first period, the Sabres had nothing left. The Jets outshot the Sabres 28-16 the rest of the way and outscored them 5-0. This was a blowout.

The Winnipeg defense might (and I mean ‘might’) have lost some speed and quickness without Bogosian, Trouba and Enstrom, but they certainly didn’t lose any size. Byfuglien, Pardy, Postma, Chiarot and Stuart banged and crashed in the Winnipeg end in the second and third periods and the Sabres didn’t mount much resistance. Byfuglien, Clitsome and Postma provided exceptional puck movement and the Jets forwards came back to help on almost every occasion. As the new defensive unit gained confidence, Winnipeg seized the day.

“I thought we did a pretty good job of helping the D out and I thought the D played off each other pretty well and moved the puck pretty efficiently,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “We were able to spend the right amount of time in the offensive zone, which takes that pressure off the D and they did a good job when we got in trouble finding sticks and when we couldn’t do that, our goalie made the big saves.”

It certainly didn’t hurt the Jets confidence when they killed off a five-on-three Buffalo power play that lasted one minute and 50 seconds during the first period.

Scheifele was the best player on the ice, but this was a total team victory. Ondrej Pavelec made 27 saves in the Jets net as Winnipeg stepped up with three of its top players on the shelf and put a halt to a two-game losing streak.

With the win, the Jets improved to 16-10-6. With Calgary getting thumped by the Rangers, the Jets moved back into a tie for sixth in the West with San Jose (the Sharks have a game in hand).

After two losses, this was a big win – Buffalo or not. It sets the Jets up nicely for Friday night’s real test with Boston. If this Jets makeshift Jets defense can handle the Bruins at MTS Centre, it can handle any team in the league.

Thanks to Manziel, Vikes Bridgewater Avoids National Embarrassment

Johnny Manziel was horrible on Sunday afternoon. The 22-year-old known as Johnny Football completed 10-of-18 passes for a meager 80 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions in a 30-0 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

He was bad. His offensive line was worse. That offensive line was so porous that it often appeared as if they were being bad on purpose just to allow the defense to crush poor Johnny Pigskin. Johnny was sacked three times, every time it was in the blink of an eye.

16569927 mmmain Thanks to Manziel, Vikes Bridgewater Avoids National Embarrassment

Johnny Manziel: Bad day.

Of course, as bad as Manziel was – and his struggles became the national story on Sunday – Green Bay superstar Aaron Rodgers might have been worse. Rodgers had his worst day as a professional completing only 17-of-42 passes for 185 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions in a 21-13 loss at Buffalo.

Of course, the winning quarterback in Buffalo wasn’t much better. Kyle Orton completed 14-of-27 passes for 158 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Not many quarterbacks win with those numbers.

The biggest problem in the NFL today is a collection of lousy quarterbacks – Tampa, Carolina, San Francisco, Miami, Tennessee, Houston, San Diego, St. Louis, Arizona all have quarterback issues. It’s so bad in Houston that the Texans had to sign Case Keenum off the St. Louis Rams practice roster. Keenum was 0-8 as a starter for the Texans last season.

The NFL has major quarterback problems and on Sunday, Detroit and Minnesota became part of the problem, not the solution.

Even though the Lions put themselves in a position to win the NFC North Division with a 16-14 win over the Vikings (sometimes, it isn’t fair), Detroit’s quarterback, Matt Stafford, was awful. In fact, if you didn’t care about the Lions or Vikings and who won the game, that thing was nothing more than 60 minutes of the unwatchable drek.

Minnesota took an early 14-0 lead and was dominant (13 first downs to none) then the offense completely disappeared. Sure, Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed 31-of-41 passes for 315 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, but those two interceptions came in the second quarter, right after the Vikings had taken that 14-0 lead, and from that point on, the Vikings offense was done. It had nothing in it. Not another point. Norv Turner? Genius? Puh-leeze.

Amazingly, Detroit’s Matt Stafford was only marginally better than Bridgewater and, really, he was only better on one drive in the second quarter. Overall, the Vikings finished with 21 first downs to Detroit’s 11. Detroit had only 233 net yards. Luckily, both Bridgewater and Stafford avoided national scrutiny for their dreadful efforts because Manziel was so bad. Seems everybody in the national media had to take a shot at Johnny Pigskin and ignored the incompetence that was going on this week in Detroit, Buffalo, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Nashville, Charlotte and Baltimore.

Sure, go ahead, say those defenses were tremendous and we should all give credit where it’s due. I say, “Poppycock.” This week in the NFL, the quarterbacking was horrible and more than a dozen offensive coordinators were clueless.

It was a bad week for football and frankly, if you liked what you saw this week, I’ll be the farm you just happened to one of those lucky people whose favorite teams happened to be on the right side of the final score.


Big Night for Scheifele, Bigger Night for Calvin Pickard

The Road Warriors got another point, but they weren’t happy about it.

In fact, it was a disappointing way to spoil the biggest offensive performance of Mark Scheifele’s career.

Mark Scheifele celebrates his fourth goal of the year Big Night for Scheifele, Bigger Night for Calvin Pickard

Mark Scheifele celebrates his fourth goal of the year. It was a big night for Scheifele, the biggest offensive night of his career.

The Winnipeg Jets built a 3-1 lead on Scheifele’s fourth goal of the year, but the Colorado Avalanche came all the way back to win 4-3 in a shootout.

The Jets still picked up a point. They’ve now accumulated a point in eight straight games and still have the second-best road record in the NHL, improved to 9-4-4 away from MTS Centre.

Despite the loss, the Jets went 1-0-1 on this most-recent trip through Dallas and Denver and it will send the Jets back to Winnipeg for a four-game homestand with a record of 15-9-6, good enough for a tie for seventh place in Western Conference with the Calgary Flames.

The game’s first star and the best player on the ice was Colorado goaltender Calvin Pickard. The former Winnipeg Wild netminder who played with the Seattle Thunderbirds in the Western League and was selected by Colorado in the second round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft (49th overall). He played bits of four seasons with the American Hockey League’s Lake Erie Monsters before getting his big break with the Avs this year. On Thursday night, he was terrific.

Meanwhile, Scheifele had the first three-point night of his career. He assisted on goals by Andrew Ladd and Paul Postma and then scored the Jets third goal with a blistering shot to the glove side of Pickard that hit high on the post and deflected in.

However, after a couple of back-to-back penalties were handed to the Jets, it changed the complexion of the game. Backed into their own zone for much of the final 10 minutes, the Jets allowed Jarome Iginla’s seventh goal of the season and then Ryan O’Reilly’s fifth. O’Reilly tied the game at 17:18 of the third period as the Avs handed the Jets a little bit of their own cardiac kids’ medicine.

Calvin Pickard of Winnipeg has an awesome night Big Night for Scheifele, Bigger Night for Calvin Pickard

Calvin Pickard of Winnipeg had an awesome night

That set up an overtime period that nothing short of spectacular. In fact, it was proof that hockey would be a more exciting game if it was played four-on-four all the time. There were nine great scoring chances – five for the Jets and four for Colorado – as the goalies were sensational. It was an end-to-end firewagon extravaganza that was about as thrilling as hockey can get. In fact, Pickard stopped Andrew Ladd on a breakaway then stopped Bryan Little’s rebound with 2:40 left in extra time. Pavelec made a huge save against Duchene, who was left alone in the slot, with 1:46 to go. It was tremendous.

The shootout? Not so much, as Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene beat Pavelec while Mathieu Perreault and Blake Wheeler were stoned by Pickard.

“We got where we wanted to be, up two goals with 10 minutes to play,” Jets centre Adam Lowry told TSN 1290. “That’s where you want to be in a road game. But they game back on us. We kind of took our foot off the gas a little bit. They were able to create some chances and they came back to tie. Then you get to the shootout and it’s a skills competition and they’re guys scored and our guys didn’t. It was unfortunate.”

The Jets outshot Colorado 33-26 and controlled the game until the final 10 minutes. The win snapped Colorado’s four-game losing streak (0-3-1) while the Jets have now gone 3-0-3 in their last six road games. As well, Winnipeg has played four overtimes in their last six games.

The Jets will head home to face Anaheim on Saturday at 6 p.m. then meet the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday at 7. They’ll wrap up the four-game homestand with a game against Boston next Friday at 7 and Philadelphia next Sunday at 8.

NFL Picks Week 15: Statement Game for the Vikings

By The Coach and Dr. Football

The Minnesota Vikings will not make the playoffs, but the growth of the team under Mike Zimmer could continue this week. For the players in Minnesota, a battle with the Lions at Ford Field, will be a statement game.

This is the week the Vikings can prove if they’re going to be a contender or a pretender for years to come. They don’t have to win this one, necessarily, although that outcome would go a long way toward making a statement, but if they can go into Detroit and play equally with a team that will make the playoffs, then it will say something about the direction that head coach Mike Zimmer is taking them.

teddy bridgewater2 NFL Picks Week 15: Statement Game for the Vikings

Teddy Bridgewater

Now let’s be straight here: The Vikings have won two straight, but both wins came at home against the Carolina Panthers (31-13) and the New York Jets (30-24 in OT). Those are not statement wins.

This week, reality sets in. How the Vikings respond will tell Zimmer a lot about his club. After all, in Minneapolis on Oct. 12, the Lions whipped the Vikings 17-3.

“We’re getting ready to play against a very good football team this week,” Zimmer said at his weekly news conference. “The Lions are very talented on both sides of the ball. We didn’t play near as well as I’d hoped the first time we played them. This will be a good test, a great divisional game on the road.

“We’re going to have to play well in order to have an opportunity to win this game. The last time we played them, they had eight sacks. We had nine penalties, they had four and we had three turnovers, as well. We’ll have to change that if we intend to win this week.”

Our boys aren’t sure the Vikings will be a whole lot better this week. But we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Then again, if you take the Vikings to knock off the Lions, you’re going a long way out on a shaky limb.

Last week, our brilliant prognosticators did reasonably well despite all the upsets. Dr. Football had another great week, going went 11-4 (137-68-1) straight up and 7-8 (98-108) against the spread while The Coach went 10-5 (131-74-1) straight up and 8-7 (103-103) against the spread.

This week, the Doctor writes about our brilliant selections while The Coach continues to whine about the officiating. Remember, this is for recreational use only. Please, no wagering.

Let’s look closely at Week 15:

Thursday Night

Austin+Davis+St+Louis+Rams+v+Tampa+Bay+Buccaneers+1ZCKzaPgFHfl NFL Picks Week 15: Statement Game for the Vikings

Austin Davis

Arizona Cardinals (10-3) at St. Louis Rams (6-7) 
Line: Rams by 4.5

This will be a battle of the defense as the Rams have two consecutive shut outs to defend. The Rams also have outscored their opponents 76-0 during that time as well. Time for a big letdown in Prime Time. The Coach says: The Rams are the best 6-7 team in NFL history.

Dr. Football: Take the Cardinals in an upset.

The Coach: Take the Rams to win and cover.

Sunday Afternoon

Oakland Raiders (2-11) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-6) 
Line: Chiefs by 10.

The Raiders embarrassed the Chiefs a few weeks back and beat the 49ers last week. KC still can salvage their season, but this will be a tough fight. The Coach says: Revenge in K.C.

Dr. Football: Take the Chiefs to win but not cover.

The Coach: Take the Chiefs to win but not cover.

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11) at Baltimore Ravens (8-5) 
Line: Ravens by 13.5.

The Jaguars have played better the last few weeks, which make me think they’ll be brought back to reality in Baltimore. This should be fun watching the Ravens chase Blake Bortles around all afternoon. The Coach says: Not even close.

Dr. Football: Take the Ravens to win and cover.

The Coach: Take the Ravens to win and cover.

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) at Atlanta Falcons (5-8) 
Line: Steelers by 2.

The Falcons showed character last week against Green Bay, and I think that momentum will carry over under the Dome. The Coach says: Blow out.

Dr. Football: Take the Falcons in an upset.

The Coach: Take the Steelers to win and cover

Houston Texans (7-6) at Indianapolis Colts (9-4) 
Line: Colts by 6.5.

The Colts can guarantee themselves a playoff spot and that’s the kind of thing that drives Andrew Luck. He’ll make it two in a row over the Texans. The Coach says: There are five quarterbacks in the NFL who will win consistently – Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. This will just be another notch in the gunslinger’s belt.

Dr. Football: Take the Colts to win and cover.

The Coach: Take the Colts to win and cover.

Johnny+Manzie+Cleveland+Browns+v+Pittsburgh+PEOUvCRjHSSl NFL Picks Week 15: Statement Game for the Vikings

Johnny Manziel

Cincinnati Bengals (8-4-1) at Cleveland Browns (7-6) 
Line: Bengals by 1.

Johnny Football aka “Mr. Not Ready for Prime Time” gets the start for the Browns. The Bengals won three consecutive road games before falling on their face at home last week, look for a big recovery. The Coach says: Johnny Pigskin will start, the Browns will win and The Ear will begin. Period.

Dr. Football: Take the Bengals to win and cover.

The Coach: Take the Browns to win and cover.

Miami Dolphins (7-6) at New England Patriots (10-3) 
Line: Patriots by 7.5.

The Patriots will have Week 1 on their mind as they avenge that embarrassing loss. The Coach says: I would not at all be surprised if the Patriots were still playing in February.

Dr. Football: Take the Patriots to win and cover.

The Coach: Take the Patriots to win and cover.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-11) at Carolina Panthers (4-8-1) 
Line: Panthers by 3.

No Cam Newton no win for the Panthers no matter how lousy their opponent is. The Coach says: Carolina, with or without Cam Newton, isn’t very good, but Tampa is gawd-awful, especially on the road.

Dr. Football: Take the Buccaneers in an upset.

The Coach: Take the Panthers to win and cover.

Washington Redskins (3-10) at New York Giants (4-9) 
Line: Giants by 6.5.

I can’t see the Redskins winning again this year. The Giants at least have stability at QB. The Coach says: Change the mascot.

Dr. Football: Take the Giants to win and cover.

The Coach: Take the Giants to win and cover.

Green Bay Packers (10-3) at Buffalo Bills (7-6) 
Line: Packers by 5.

While the Packers appear to be unstoppable at home, they aren’t the same team on the road, covering the spread just once away from Lambeau since September. That being said, Buffalo hasn’t played well over the past two months against winning teams. Go with Aaron Rodgers. The Coach says: It should be downright balmy in Buffalo this weekend for the Packers. Green Bay is another team that should be playing in February.

Dr. Football: Take the Packers to win and cover.

The Coach: Take the Packers to win and cover.

New York Jets (2-11) at Tennessee Titans (2-11) 
Line: Jets by 2.

Both teams are playing for next year but I liked the way the Jets played hard against the Vikings. I usually don’t like teams on their second road game, but I don’t think the Jets are as bad as the Titans. The Coach says: My goodness, is this bad. It’s not only bad for football, it’s bad for American sporting culture as a whole. It will be so bad, people will be numbed into counting empty seats in Nashville.

Dr. Football: Take the Jets to win and cover.

The Coach: Take the Titans.

Peyton NFL Picks Week 15: Statement Game for the Vikings

Peyton Manning

Denver Broncos (10-3) at San Diego Chargers (8-5) 
Line: Broncos by 4.

Denver always finds a way to make San Diego look silly, and this one won’t be the exception. Expect Peyton to have a big afternoon. The Coach says: San Diego will give Denver a better game than many expect. It won’t matter.

Dr. Football: Take the Broncos to win and cover.

The Coach: Take the Broncos to win and cover.

Minnesota Vikings (6-7) at Detroit Lions (9-4) 
Line: Lions by 8.

The Lions can win the NFC north by winning out, but it won’t be easy. The Vikings have won two in a row, albeit both wins were at home against lousy teams. Teddy can’t win here just yet. The Coach says: Another easy win for the Motor City Kitties.

Dr. Football: Take the Lions to win and cover.

The Coach: Take the Lions to win and cover.

San Francisco 49ers (7-6) at Seattle Seahawks (9-4) 
Line: Seahawks by 10

The Seahawks are revving up for another run at the Super Bowl while the 49ers are playing for their season. They’ll battle tough, but will come up short in a close one. The Coach says: We are watching the end of Jim Harbaugh’s career in San Francisco.

Dr. Football: Take the Seahawks to win but not cover. 

The Coach; Take the Seahawks to win and cover.

Sunday Night

Dallas Cowboys (9-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (9-4) 
Line: Eagles by 3.5.

The Cowboys looked like Turkeys the last time these two teams met, and have been resting for the last 10 days waiting for this one. The winner takes the division, and I think that’s the motivation Dallas needs. The Coach says: The Iggles won’t lose at home.

Dr. Football: Take the Cowboys in an upset.

The Coach: Take the Eagles to win and cover.

Monday Night

cutler NFL Picks Week 15: Statement Game for the Vikings

Jay Cutler

New Orleans Saints (5-8) at Chicago Bears (5-8) 
Line: Saints by 2.5.

It might just be easier to flip a coin here, as both teams are disappointments. You gotta go with Drew Brees over Jay Cutler, as Brandon Marshall is done. The Coach says: Is this Cutler’s Last Stand? Alshon Jeffery will have to step up with Brandon Marshall out. Neither team is very good, but Chicago is at home.

Dr. Football: Take the Saints to win and cover.

The Coach: Take the Bears to win.

Lowry Scores Twice, Jets Whip Dallas

So much for the theory that teams like the Dallas Stars went out and improved their teams dramatically in the off-season while teams like the Winnipeg Jets did not. Tuesday night in Dallas, the Stars were no match for the Jets, a team that is steadily climbing the standings in the NHL’s Western Conference.

In a game that was owned by the Jets right from the opening faceoff, Winnipeg whipped Dallas 5-2. This one was in doubt only briefly. And even at that, it wasn’t in doubt by much. Winnipeg had a 2-1 lead when the Stars’ Antoine Roussel scored on a backhand shot at 3:29 of the second period to tie it up.

460217724 slide Lowry Scores Twice, Jets Whip Dallas

Blake Wheeler celebrates the Jets first goal.

But Adam Lowry proceeded to score at 7:22 and 9:41 (2:19 apart) and the Jets were ahead not only ahead 4-2, but in the driver’s seat. Michael Frolik scored a shorthanded goal with 40 seconds left in the second period and that did it.

With Michael Hutchinson between the pipes, there was little doubt the Jets had it in the bag. Hutchinson made 26 saves and improved his record on the season to 6-1-2. Hutchinson hasn’t allowed more than two goals in a game since his first game of the year against Los Angeles (he gave up four) back on Oct. 12.

The Jets have not suffered a regulation loss since a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 23. And they’ve recorded points in seven straight games with both serious injuries and a suspension.

On Tuesday night, the Jets played without defensemen Toby Enstrom, Zach Bogosian and Grant Clitsome (all injured) and forward Evander Kane (suspended). However, head coach Paul Maurice rolled four lines and a number of minor characters stepped up. The biggest step was probably taken by forward Adam Lowry.

460217924 slide Lowry Scores Twice, Jets Whip Dallas

Winnipeg’s Cody Eakin had no room to move.

“We were happy with how we played against Anaheim and wanted to carry that forward,” said Adam Lowry who scored his first road points in the NHL. “We got off to a great start but they came back twice and tied it, but we just stuck with it. We were able to first some turnovers and score three quick ones and that put it away.

“We’d gone a long time without a hat-trick and Lits (Bryan Little) got one last week so we talked about me getting a hat-trick tonight. A hat-trick would have been nice, but two goals for me is pretty good. I’ll take that.”

The Jets have now earned points in seven straight games (5-0-2) and have earned at least in a point in 18 of their last 22 games (13-4-5). Combined with Los Angeles’ 1-0 loss to Buffalo, the Jets are now solidly in seventh place in the West, just one point behind fifth-place Calgary. The Flames lost 4-1 in Toronto on Tuesday night.

The Jets played with four regulars out of the lineup and still made mincemeat of Dallas on Tuesday. Sure, it was tied for a while in the second period but as you watched the game, you never got the sense that Dallas was actually going to win. When Lowry banged in the third goal, it was almost as if the Jets took all of the air out of the American Airlines Center.

All this talk about improving teams in the off-season seems to be moot now that the Jets have passed the one-third mark in the schedule. That’s not to say teams like Dallas and Colorado won’t pick it up before the season ends, but it’s hard to imagine things will change much over the next 53 games. The Jets are a confident hockey team right now and even though they aren’t running away with a playoff spot, they are putting other teams in deeper holes — every time they win, they push teams like Minnesota, San Jose, Dallas and Colorado further behind.

460217976 slide Lowry Scores Twice, Jets Whip Dallas

Michael Hutchinson was just too good.

The Jets can almost bury the Avalanche with a win on Thursday night in Denver. Colorado is 9-12-6 and staggering. This could be a statement game for Winnipeg. It starts at 8 p.m. CST and it’s on TSN3.

The End of the First Period: Jets on the Playoff Line

Sometimes you just need to hear what other people have to say about your favorite team in order to fully understand where your beloveds stack up in the big picture: Especially after the end of the first period – the completion of one-third of the 2014-15 National Hockey League season.

That’s right, believe it or not, the Jets have played 28 games and finished the first one-third of the 2014-15 schedule. The first period is over.

459693908 slide The End of the First Period: Jets on the Playoff Line

The Jets have been able to celebrate a few more goals recently.

So what are other people around the NHL saying about them? It’s quite flattering, actually.

“I really like this team,” said Columbus Blue Jackets scout Marshall Davidson as he watched the Jets drill the Colorado Avalanche 6-2 this past week. “I’ve seen them five or six times already this season and I love how they play. They move the puck quickly, they play at a high pace, they forecheck aggressively, they’re responsible in their own zone, the forwards come back, they’ve been getting solid goaltending. What’s not to like?”

Indeed, as the 14-9-5 Winnipeg Jets get set to play the Stars in Dallas tonight, Winnipeg’s local team couldn’t be in a better situation. They just went 2-0-1 on a recent three-game homestand and have earned points in six straight games (4-0-2). They’ve also earned at least in a point in 17 of their last 21 games (12-4-5).

Granted, despite the fact they’ve played very well recently, they are still barely holding on to eighth place in the Western Conference after the end of the mythical first period. And that has to be problematic.

The Stars (10-12-5) have been solid recently, winning four of their last five games (4-0-1). The Central Division rivals sit eight points apart in the standings, but the Jets will be without Top 6 forward Evander Kane, who was suspended for two games for boarding Anaheim Ducks defenseman Clayton Stoner on Sunday afternoon.

After the first one-third of the season, the Jets are virtually tied with the Los Angeles Kings for seventh place (the Kings and Jets each have 33 points, but L.A. has a game in hand). Amazingly, Winnipeg is a mediocre 6-5-2 at home and a pretty sensational 8-4-3 on the road. Only the Top 2 teams in the West, Anaheim (9-3-3) and Vancouver (11-5-1) and ninth-place San Jose (9-7-2, that’s right San Jose has played 18 of 29 games on the road this season) have accumulated more points on the road than the Jets.

“We’ve been consistent,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “That’s the one thing I like about our game, we’ve been consistent whether it’s been at home or on the road.

“The two things that are really happening for us right now are the compete level and whatever is happening in that room before the start of games. Whatever routines, the things they’re doing before the start of games, are getting them to the right intensity level for the start of the game. And then the games look, from the bench, look like something they expect. They look at the game from the bench and they see this is what the game is supposed to look like when we forecheck. Or this is the way it’s supposed to look like when we get back in our own zone. Or this is the way it’s supposed to look like when we play well in the neutral zone.

maurice paul 01695353 The End of the First Period: Jets on the Playoff Line

Paul Maurice

“We’re kind of new to this process, but we need to continue to play like that while we build the memory bank of what this system is supposed to look like. So on the nights when the legs aren’t there, and that happens, or on the nights when the hands aren’t there, and that happens, too, you have in your memory bank what the game is supposed to look like when you play it properly and that should carry you through.”

After one-third of the 2014-15 National Hockey League season, the Winnipeg Jets have carried through and are now above the playoff line. Barely, granted, but they are above it. Teams that are above that line in mid-December tend to make the playoffs 77.6 per cent of the time.

That’s what the Jets have to look forward to as they face Dallas and Colorado on the road this week. The memory bank is full. They’ve been playing well. No need to stop now.

Palmieri Threads Needle to Win it For Ducks

It was just one of the greatest shots you’ll ever see.

About 50 seconds into overtime, Anaheim Ducks centre Kyle Palmieri found himself below the goal line in the Winnipeg Jets zone. He was along the left wing, almost completely behind the goal. Fortunately for Palmieri, he’s a right-handed shot.

JM Jets Ducks Dec7 Pavelec 4 Palmieri Threads Needle to Win it For Ducks

Ondrej Pavelec makes a big save on Ryan Kesler (Photo by Jeff Miller)

The diminutive Ducks centre proceeded to rip a wrist shot over the right shoulder of Jets netminder Ondrej Pavelec. When it hit the twine just inside the opposite crossbar it was the 53-second mark of OT and in the blink of an eye, the Ducks had a 4-3 victory.

On the upside for the 15,016 Jets fans at MTS centre, their beloveds collected another point, this time against the top team in the Western Conference, and claimed five of six points on a three-game homestand.

In the end, it was a loss for the home side, but once again, the Jets fell behind and didn’t quit. Down 3-2 with five minutes to go, Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba ripped one past Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen to tie the game at 15:15 of the third. Trouba followed his own shot from the right face-off circle, and scored on the rebound.

It was a tremendous effort and one that has characterized Jets hockey in the past month. The Jets often outp[layed the Ducks, outshot them 30-25 and outhit them 34-20.

Once again, however, the Jets missed a lot of great chances.

“You know they had chances too and missed some of theirs,” conceded Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “It’s a good thing — if there’s a good thing out of it — that you play the best team arguably in the Western Conference and you have chances to score. You’ve worked for them — pucks to the net, some in alones. They had their chances too; they’re a good team. You’re not finishing all your chances you can say that about every game, ‘Well if we just scored on our chances.’ Well we did score three. That should be enough. We would have liked to scored five, six and seven if we could’ve, but the other team gets paid too, so I’m not walking away from that one.

JM Jets Ducks Dec7 Wheeler Palmieri Threads Needle to Win it For Ducks

Blake Wheeler works in front of Frederik Andersen (Photo by Jeff Miller).

“I’ll watch it tomorrow, but I know the things that you try to do night after night were there. The effort was there, the compete was there, our pace was good. We were aggressive in the offensive zone, created a lot off turnovers down low. It was a good, solid game, just a disappointing result.”

Rene Bourque gave the Ducks a 1-0 lead with a power play goal at 11:02 of the first period, but Dustin Byfulgien tied the game 1-1 on the power play at 14:28.

Andrew Ladd, who finished the game with a goal and an assist,scored on the power play 1:33 into the second period to give Winnipeg a 2-1 lead, but three minutes later the Ducks’ Jakob Silfverberg tied the game 2-2.

Former Manitoba Moose star, Ryan Kesler, scored on a 4-on-3 power play to give Anaheim a 3-2 lead at 8:53 of the second period and that was all the scoring until Trouba tied the game late in the third.

Once again, the Jets played well against a “better team,” and never gave up. Now 14-9-5 on the season, the Jets have earned points in six straight games (5-0-1) and just went 2-0-1 on a three-game homestand.

“I think a characteristic we want to have, is as a tough team to play against, especially late in games,” said Trouba. “When you’re down a goal late in the third period, you want to come back and storm as hard as you can and put it all out there. I think we did a good job of that. I think it was a hard fought game, both teams played really well. And, yeah, you got to take the positives out of it.”

Bruce Boudreau wasn’t particularly happy with the way his 18-6-5 Ducks played, but he’ll obviously take the two points.

“It was a sloppy game, but you know I thought our goaltender kept us in it in the first ten minutes, and then when we scored a goal it sort of stemmed the tide a little bit,” said Boudreau. “We were sleepwalking a little bit and then when they made it 2-1, I thought that for the rest of the second that’s when we stepped it up and played a pretty good second period. Then, in the third period we were trying to protect the lead on the power play instead of going after it and trying to put the nail in the coffin. We ended up with Palmy (Palmieri) making a great shot and Freddie (Andersen) making some great saves.”

JM Jets Ducks Dec7 Byfuglien Goal Palmieri Threads Needle to Win it For Ducks

Dustin Byfuglien scores the Jets first goal (Photo by Jeff Miller)

On the power play The Jets went two-for-six with eight shots on goal, while the Ducks went two-for-six with seven shots on goal on the power play. It was a pretty even game all around.

Which says a lot for the Jets, a team that was just hanging on to eighth place with the ninth-place San Jose Sharks about to play.

The Jets will now head out onto the road and play at Dallas on Tuesday and Colorado on Thursday. Two big intra-divisional battles will set them up for four-game homestand that starts next Saturday with these same Anaheim Ducks.

Little Scores Three And Nearly Brings the Roof Down

Let’s be blunt. The Winnipeg Jets were simply better than the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night.

In fact, the Jets outplayed Patrick Roy’s Avs from the opening faceoff, whipping them 6-2 and beating them like a rented mule in every aspect of the game.

Littles third goal Little Scores Three And Nearly Brings the Roof Down

Bryan Little’s third goal (Photo by Jeff Miller).

Bryan Little had a hat-trick – two of his goals came within 32 seconds of each other to start the third period – and the feat nearly brought the house down as 15,016 jubilant Jets fans stood and cheered the first Jets hat-trick at MTS Centre and the first hat-trick by the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets franchise since Eric Boulton, of all people, turned the trick on Dec. 18, 2010.

“It just feels great,” said Little, the game’s first star, as the crowd continued to cheer wildly for the man they call “Lits.” “It’s been a long time since we’ve had one so it’s good to get that off our backs.

“This was a great night. The fans were amazing out there. It was just a really good night all-around for us.”

This one was a no-doubter right from the first shift. Winnipeg outshot Colorado 37-22, outhit them 26-19 and even won 54 per cent of the game’s faceoffs. Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson made 20 saves to get the win. Hutchinson is now 5-0-2 in his last seven starts.

“That was a fun one,” said Blake Wheeler, who had three assists and was the game’s second star. “I thought we did a good job responding after they scored their first goal. We made a mistake but we came right back and scored and it was nice to see a few go in for a change. It was a good night.”

The Jets No. 1 line of Wheeler, Little and Andrew Ladd combined for four goals and nine points. They were rock solid right from the opening faceoff. Dustion Byfuglien, back on defense to replace the injured Bogosian, was terrific. He scored a goal, was a plus-two, had five shots and four hits.

Jarome Iginla scored both goals for Colorado but the big story was Little’s hat-trick. Little now leads the Jets with 11 goals this season.

“It’s been too long (since the Jets have had a hat-trick),” said Wheeler. “It’s one of those things that has hung over the team. A lot of guys don’t take it that seriously, but it will be fun to let Boults know that his record is over. A lot of guys still stay in touch with Boults, so it will be good to say good-bye to his hat-trick. Lits is a guy who is very good with the puck on his stick. He’s as good a goal scorer as anyone I’ve ever played with.

“As long as we’re winning and as long as we’re playing the way we’ve been playing, we’re going to create chances. They haven’t been going in all that often, but tonight they started going in and when they do go in on a consistent basis, we’ll be tough.”

The Jets owned the first period. They came out with plenty of jump against a team that had lost the night before in Calgary – in overtime, no less. The Avs had airplane legs and it showed.

Chris Thorburn scored his first of the year just 4:31 into the first and then, after Jarome Iginla tied the game with a beautiful wrister on Colorado’s second shot of the period, Bryan Little scored a very interesting goal.

Little took a beautiful pass from Blake Wheeler that went through Semyon Varlamov’s crease, and ripped a shot that was destined for the top corner. But Varlamov reached back and pulled the puck out of the air. However, Little knew that the Colorado goalie had reached into the net and quietly indicated to the official that it might have been a goal. After review, it was determined that Varlamov had, indeed, reached back into the net and that his catching glove was over the goal line when he caught the puck and pulled it out.

In a period in which the Jets outshot Colorado 16-4, it was fitting that Little’s shot was declared a goal and Winnipeg led 2-1 after 20 minutes.

In the second period, the Jets outshot the Avs 10-5, but didn’t beat Varlamov until the 19:15 mark, when Andrew Ladd tipped a shot from Ben Chiarot past the Avalanche netminder to make it 3-1 after 40. That turned out to be the winning goal.

In a penalty-filled third period, the Jets scored three times while Iginla scored a power-play goal for Colorado, but this game belonged to a Winnipeg team that was so good, it even fought off a long (1:32) two-man disadvantage midway through the final period.

“We lose Bogo (Bogosian) and we lose Toby (Enstrom) and we still win tonight,” said Wheeler. “This team didn’t miss a beat. That says a lot about our team.”

The Jets will play the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday afternoon at 2. If the crowd is half as loud as it was on Friday night, the roof might