STARTING POINTS: An air-ball for the USC football team

Happy Friday one and all.

POINT ONE: Perfect metaphor

People have been using the word “deflating” to describe the USC football season all year, and now this. The Trojans are fined and reprimanded by the NCAA for intentionally taking air out of the footballs in the first half against Oregon last week. It seems like Lane Kiffin and the Trojans just can’t get out of their own way. If it’s not on-the-field question marks it’s weird stuff like this. Even worse than the idea of the cheating, is how poorly the sabotage plan worked. I’m not sure why a running back sprinting up and down the field against you would be slowed down by a deflated ball. Here are some other ball-doctoring ideas I would have tried to stop the Oregon offense: Make the ball super heavy; invent a way for a slippery substance to emanate out of the ball when a Duck carries it; a ball made entirely out of bees; something other than deflating it. Maybe they should replace the fired student manager with Bill Nye the science guy.

POINT TWO: College basketball is here! Yay!

The college hoops season tips off today with tons of games for your viewing pleasure. The Bruins and Trojans are among the teams suiting up for the first time this year today. There’s nothing like a rocking college basketball gym for pure sports emotion and drama. It should be another great year, because several of the traditional basketball bluebloods are back in the national picture. Concensus No. 1 Indiana is a good place to start, but UCLA is also primed to return to relevance. I have to be honest. I love college basketball. It’s my No. 1 favorite sport, even above the NFL. I consider that first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament a national holiday. I might name my first child Bracket. My Michigan State Spartans open their season today against UConn on an air-force base in Germany. Talk about your road games. Here’s hoping your favorite teams starts with a win.

POINT THREE: Luck-y Strike

Andrew Luck continued to look good, leading the Colts with his feet past a struggling Jacksonville squad. Luck, particularly on the road, throws some risky passes and gives up unnecessary turnovers, but obviously he’ll clean that up. Looking at the remaining schedule for the 6-3 Colts. There are four games in which they’ll likely be underdogs (at New England, at Detroit, at Houston and home against Houston). The other three are winnable (home against Buffalo, Tennessee and at K.C.). If things fall according to Hoyle, the Colts will be 9-7. If they sneak out a victory, perhaps the final week at home against a Texans team that might not need to play its starters, they could get to 10-6. I think they make the playoffs either way. But remember, it’s still a young team, so beware of a surprising loss. I think they will finish 9-7 and grab the final wild-card playoff spot.

MONDAY MORNING HEADLINE: Here is the No. 1 thing sports fans will be talking about Monday morning:

Bears are Super Bowl favorites: After the Bears’ convincing 33-17 victory over the  Houston Texans in a battle of 7-1 teams on national TV Sunday night, the Bears will finally be taken seriously as potentially the best team in the leauge. Their only loss was at Lambeau Field and they’ve been beating teams soundly. They have scored 236 and allowed 120. That 116-point score differential is by far the largest in the league — Texans 100, Patriots 92, 49ers 86, Falcons 77. And they’re doing it all in the toughest Division in the NFL, the only one with all four teams .500 or better, and all four with positive score differentials.

Good one: I’ll leave you for the weekend with an overheard-in-the-newsroom moment. I was commenting to golf writer Larry Bohannan, that it was funny that (Charlie) Wi and (Michelle) Wie were leading the PGA and LPGA tournaments respectively this week after one round. Larry said it would really be funny if the European Tour event was being led by a French guy with the last name Oui.

Have a good weekend, and go watch a high school football playoff game tonight. Bundle up, though.

Follow this blog Monday-Friday at mydesert.com or chat with me on twitter at @TDSshadpowers.

STARTING POINTS: Halfway home, an NFL analysis

Happy Election Day. Get out there and vote for the guy you think will be best for America for the next four years. When your done. Feel good about it. If your guy wins congratulations. If your guy loses, that’s OK, too. The system worked. Accept the outcome. Be happy you live here. And support the winner during his term.

America has already spoken out and decided about one thing, and that’s to declare the NFL the No. 1 sport in the country. All precincts have reported (these are the kind of clever introductions you’re obligated to use on election day) and football wins in a landslide. So with that in mind, this will be an all-NFL post today.

POINT ONE: Usual suspects

The truth is, despite some early shocking developments, as we reach the halfway point, the teams on top are ones that we might have predicted before the season. There’s not a suprising division leader in the bunch –  Falcons, Giants, Bears, 49ers, Patriots, Texans, Ravens, Broncos. In a weird way this predictiability is surprising because the NFL more than any other pro league is driven by parity. It is a rare year indeed when the teams you expect to win, win. We’ll see if that continues.

POINT TWO: Surprise teams, pleasant category

There have been a three teams to forge an above-.500 record so far that fall into the pleasant suprise category. That group is led by the Indianapolis Colts who would be the No. 1 wild-card team in the AFC if the season ended today. There turnaround from a dismal year shouldn’t be too big of a surprise because they have Luck on their side in both senses of the word. No single franches deserves this much good fortune to have its only two bad seasons in the last 15 years at just the right time to draft Peyton Manning and then Andrew Luck. Luck has been as good as advertised and the team has ridden an emotional month to a 5-3 record. I’m a believer. I don’t see why they won’t hang on and snag a playoff spot. The other two surprise teams hail from the NFC in Seattle and Minnesota, both with 5-4 records. It is my opinion that the Seahawks would have an even better record if they would have played this season with backup Matt Flynn as their QB, but there’s no doubt that Russell Wilson’s gotten more comfortable after a rocky first five or six games. His last three have all been solid. The Vikings are doing it with a whole lot of a healthy Adrian Peterson, some mistake-free safe quarterbacking and a decent defense. Of these two I think the Seahawks have the best chance to earn a playoff spot.

POINT THREE: Surprise teams, unpleasant category

The list of underachieving teams is longer than the overachievers. These teams likely did not envision being below .500  at this point (in order of how much I am suprised by their failure) Eagles (3-5), Saints (3-5), Cowboys (3-5), Bengals (3-5), Raiders (3-5), Jets (3-5). This motley group has a lot of the same problems: Spotty quarterback play, dumb mistakes, woeful defenses. If I had to pick two teams from this batch that could string together some wins and still make the playoffs, it would be the Saints and Cowboys. If the Saints defense puts up the least bit of a fight, they could get right back in it. The Cowboys’ have an attractive looking schedule the rest of the way. The Jets are a quarterback change from getting back in it. Their backup, I forget his name, was 7-1 in his first eight games last year. That would give the Jets a 10-6 record. Boom playoffs.

POINT FOUR: MVP candidates

Since the Bears’ defense isn’t allowed to win the award collectively, I’ve got a group of quarterbacks in mind that are in position to claim the top spot. It’s hard not to give credit to Matt Ryan of the Falcons right now. His team is 8-0. And he’s shown the ability to win close games. The media favorite is Peyton Manning, and he is definitely in the conversation, particularly if the Broncos can scorch through a very soft remainig schedule. Matt Schaub has the Texans clicking. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Eli Manning are viable candidates still, and entering the fray this last week is Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers QB is having by far his best statistical half-season and some ugly losses (Raiders, Titans) are quickly being forgotten about. Right now I would have it in this order: Rodgers, Ryan, Peyton Manning, Schaub, Roethlisberger, Eli, Brady. Adrian Peterson would be my top non-QB. And Andrew Luck is creeping into consideration.

POINT FIVE: Second-half story lines

NFC North uprising: The Division is the only one with no team under-.500, and it will be interesting to see if the Packers, looking as strong as ever again, can catch the Bears for the top spot. The way Adrian Peterson is running, you can’t rule out the Vikings, and don’t forget about the Lions at 4-4 who are one of the few teams in the top 10 in the league in both offense and defense. They coughed away some games with poor special teams play or they would be in better position. Bold prediction is that three NFC North teams will be in the postseason.

Charging into the playoffs: My other bold prediction is that the Chargers will find their way into the playoffs. The schedule is not daunting and their main competition for the final spot right now  is the Colts and Dolphins.

Mannings: Both Peyton and Eli appear to be in position to comfortably guide their teams to the postseason as division champions. It’s interesting that they are both so successful but do it in different ways. Peyton is about precision and pre-snap decision making. Eli is more draw-it-up-in-the-sand ad-lib type of QB. A sibling Super Bowl is not out of the question.

Chief concerns: Not an exciting story line, but don’t forget, the Chiefs still haven’t led at any point of any game this year in regulation. You have to believe it will happen, but at the same time, you could kind of see it lasting a while, too.

 

Rookie quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III meet on NFL Network

Week 3 of the NFL preseason is generally the week where the starters play the longest, and the schedule features an attractive matchup this weekend with the first meeting in the NFL between the top two draft picks this year, quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.

Here’s the NFL Network’s preseason week 3 release, along with the times each game this week will be shown on NFL Network.  All times listed below are Eastern.

 

 

ROOKIE QBS ANDREW LUCK & ROBERT GRIFFIN III MEET FOR FIRST TIME LIVE ON NFL NETWORK SATURDAY, AUGUST 25 AT 4:00 PM ET

Indianapolis Colts at Washington Redskins LIVE on NFL Network Saturday, August 25 at 4:00 PM ET

‘NFL Preseason Live’ Provides Live Look-Ins of Week 3 Preseason Games Friday, August 24 & Saturday, August 25 at 7:30 PM ET

 

As the 2012 NFL preseason enters the crucial third week, NFL Media remains the go-to destination for the most comprehensive preseason coverage, including the first meeting in the NFL between the top two draft picks this year, quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.

On Friday, August 24 at 7:30 PM ET on NFL Network, NFL Preseason Live provides live look-ins of Week 3 preseason games. Host Fran Charles and analysts Kurt Warner and Michael Lombardi take viewers around the league in NFL RedZone-style, delivering live game action and highlights including rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins hosting the Atlanta Falcons, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots traveling to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Philadelphia Eagles at the Cleveland Browns in a preview of a Week 1 matchup.

NFL Network’s live preseason broadcast schedule continues on Saturday, August 25 at 4:00 PM ET when the number one overall pick in this year’s draft Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts face the number two overall pick Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins.

Following Colts-Redskins, NFL Preseason Live airs at 7:30 PM ET providing analysis and coverage of the day’s remaining games, which include Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys hosting Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams, and Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers traveling to face defensive end Mario Williams and the Buffalo Bills.

NFL Network is the only place to catch all 65 games of the 2012 NFL preseason schedule.

NFL.com’s NFL Preseason Live returns to offer fans live and on-demand access to preseason games online and in HD. Full DVR controls allow fans to pause, rewind and replay both live and archived game action. Additional viewing options include picture-in-picture and a quad view mode which provides fans the ability to watch four games on the same screen.

New to NFL Preseason Live this year is the Condensed Games feature, which allows fans to watch every play from an entire game – from opening kickoff to the final whistle – in 30 minutes and commercial-free. For the first time, NFL Preseason Live is available on Android and iOS tablets with a free download.

Fans with NFL Mobile from Verizon can watch NFL Network, including preseason games, live on their mobile devices around the clock.

Below is NFL Network’s Week 3 broadcast schedule.

 

NFL NETWORK 2012 WEEK 3 PRESEASON GAMES SCHEDULE

(ALL TIMES EASTERN; LIVE GAMES IN BOLD; ALL GAMES IN HIGH DEFINITION)

Friday, August 24

10:00 AM – Tennessee Titans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 2)

1:00 PM – Philadelphia Eagles at New England Patriots (Week 2)

4:00 PM – Green Bay Packers at Cincinnati Bengals

12:00 Midnight – Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens

3:00 AM – San Diego Chargers at Minnesota Vikings

 

Saturday, August 25

7:00 AM – Green Bay Packers at Cincinnati Bengals

10:00 AM – Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens

1:00 PM – Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns

4:00 PM – Indianapolis Colts at Washington Redskins – LIVE

12 Midnight – St. Louis Rams at Dallas Cowboys

3:00 AM – Seattle Seahawks at Kansas City Chiefs

 

Sunday, August 26

7:00 AM – Chicago Bears at New York Giants

10:00 AM – Atlanta Falcons at Miami Dolphins

1:00 PM – New England Patriots at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

11:00 PM – Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders

2:00 AM – Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans

 

Monday, August 27

10:00 AM – Seattle Seahawks at Kansas City Chiefs

1:00 PM – Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints

4:00 PM – Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills

8:00 PM – Indianapolis Colts at Washington Redskins

12 Midnight – Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns

3:00 AM – Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills

 

Tuesday, August 28

10:00 AM – Carolina Panthers at New York Jets

1:00 PM – Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders

4:00 PM – Atlanta Falcons at Miami Dolphins

8:00 PM – St. Louis Rams at Dallas Cowboys

12 Midnight – San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos

3:00 AM – New England Patriots at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

Wednesday, August 29

10:00 AM – Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns

1:00 PM – San Diego Chargers at Minnesota Vikings

4:00 PM – St. Louis Rams at Dallas Cowboys

Tim Tebow, Andrew Luck featured on NFL Network this week

 

Tim Tebow’s New York Jets debut and Andrew Luck’s first NFL game highlight NFL Network’s live Week 1 preseason football schedule.

Four games will be broadcast live this week, with every other Week 1 preseason game broadcast on a tape-delayed basis. The live broadcasts are the Jets at Bengals at 4:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10, the Texans at the Panthers at 4 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 11, the Titans at Seahawks at 7 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 11 and the Rams at Colts at 10:30 a.m., Sunday, Aug. 12.

The NFL Network is only available in the Coachella Valley on DirecTV, Dish Network and Verizon FiOS. The NFL Network is not available on Time Warner Cable as both sides have not reached an agreement.

A new wrinkle to preseason coverage for Week 1 begins with NFL Preseason Live at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 9. NFL Preseason Live provides live look-ins of Week 1 preseason games, beginning with the opening kickoffs. Host Rich Eisen and analysts Marshall Faulk and Michael Lombardi will take viewers around the league in NFL RedZone-style, delivering live game action and highlights of Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints facing Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, Peyton Manning making his Denver Broncos debut against the Chicago Bears, Washington Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III in his first NFL action against the Buffalo Bills, and more.

NFL Network will offer all 65 games of the 2012 NFL preseason schedule, beginning at 9 p.m. Thursday when Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos travel to Chicago to face quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears, followed by the Atlanta Falcons hosting the Baltimore Ravens at midnight.

In addition, NFL.com’s NFL Preseason Live returns to offer fans live and on-demand access to preseason games online and in HD. Full DVR controls allow fans to pause, rewind and replay both live and archived game action. Additional viewing options include picture-in-picture and a quad view mode which provides fans the ability to watch four games on the same screen.

New to NFL Preseason Live this year is the Condensed Games feature, which allows fans to watch every play from an entire game – from opening kickoff to the final whistle – in 30 minutes and commercial-free. For the first time, NFL Preseason Live is available on Android and iOS tablets with a free download.

Here is NFL Network’s Week 1 broadcast schedule:

NFL NETWORK 2012 WEEK 1 PRESEASON GAMES SCHEDULE

(ALL TIMES EASTERN; LIVE GAMES IN BOLD; ALL GAMES IN HIGH DEFINITION)

 

Thursday, August 9

12 Midnight – Denver Broncos at Chicago Bears

3:00 AM – Baltimore Ravens at Atlanta Falcons

 

Friday, August 10

10:00 AM – Denver Broncos at Chicago Bears

1:00 PM – Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles

4:00 PM – Washington Redskins at Buffalo Bills

7:30 PM – New York Jets at Cincinnati – LIVE

2:00 AM – Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers

 

Saturday, August 11

6:00 AM – Green Bay Packers at San Diego Chargers

9:00 AM – Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles

12 Noon – New York Giants at Jacksonville Jaguars

3:00 PM – New Orleans Saints at New England Patriots

7:00 PM – Houston Texans at Carolina Panthers – LIVE

10:00 PM – Tennessee Titans at Seattle Seahawks – LIVE

2:00 AM – Cleveland Browns at Detroit Lions

 

Sunday, August 12

7:30 AM – Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Miami Dolphins

10:30 AM – Denver Broncos at Chicago Bears

1:30 PM – St. Louis Rams at Indianapolis Colts – LIVE

6:00 PM – Washington Redskins at Buffalo Bills

9:00 PM – St. Louis Rams at Indianapolis Colts

12 Midnight – Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles

3:00 AM – New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals

 

Monday, August 13

10:00 AM – Arizona Cardinals at Kansas City Chiefs

1:00 PM – Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Miami Dolphins

4:00 PM – Baltimore Ravens at Atlanta Falcons

12 Midnight – New Orleans Saints at New England Patriots

3:00 AM – Tennessee Titans at Seattle Seahawks

 

Tuesday, August 14

10:00 AM – New York Giants at Jacksonville Jaguars

1:00 PM – Houston Texans at Carolina Panthers

4:00 PM – Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers

8:00 PM – Denver Broncos at Chicago Bears

12 Midnight – Dallas Cowboys at Oakland Raiders

3:00 AM – Arizona Cardinals at Kansas City Chiefs

 

Wednesday, August 15

10:00 AM – Washington Redskins at Buffalo Bills

1:00 PM – Green Bay Packers at San Diego Chargers

4:00 PM – Arizona Cardinals at Kansas City Chiefs

8:00 PM – New Orleans Saints at New England Patriots

12 Midnight – Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers

3:00 AM – Cleveland Browns at Detroit Lions

 

Thursday, August 16

10:00 AM – Baltimore Ravens at Atlanta Falcons

1:00 PM – New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals

4:00 PM – Cleveland Browns at Detroit Lions