January 24, 2017
Life is just a bowl of bubbles
for local sports fans these days
By KEITH GAVE
A word of caution for sports fans in our neighborhood these days: Keep an eye on your blood pressure. Living on the bubble, as we have with most of our sports teams in the past year, can get pretty stressful.
The Detroit Tigers, after finishing last the season before, managed to stay in the playoff hunt until the final week of the season – battling through many injuries to key players with a makeshift pitching staff all year long. This season promises to be more of the same, if they somehow manage to keep the team together and not trim payroll – as promised – by trading away cornerstone players like Gold Glover Ian Kinsler and J.D. Martinez. They still need a capable centerfielder and hitter for the No. 2 slot after trading away Cameron Maybin, but isn’t it nice to see this lineup otherwise intact after promises of significant change after the season ended last fall?
The Detroit Lions were a playoff bubble team for most of the second half of the season, their chances eroding with each loss in the final three games of the season. Ultimately, they needed help – and they got it when the New York Giants upset Washington in the penultimate week of the regular season. The Lions were in, and of course quickly exited with a lopsided loss at Seattle.
The Detroit Red Wings are our perennial bubble team. Each year it seems more and more difficult for them to nab a playoff berth. Last spring, they made it in despite a final week flop, only because of a bigger flop by the Boston Bruins. This injury-plagued, roller-coaster season the Wings are again perched precariously on that bubble, which looks like it’ll finally burst on them.
The Detroit Pistons lived on the bubble last season, finally sneaking into the NBA playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season, promptly losing in four straight games in the opening round to eventual champion Cleveland. This season? Another bubble. At 21-25, the Pistons rank 10th in the Eastern Conference, a game-and-a-half behind eighth-place Chicago for the final playoff spot. Still plenty of time, but brace yourself for another rollicking ride.
The Michigan State and Michigan men’s basketball teams are both squarely on the bubble, and that’s a scary proposition for the Spartans. Tom Izzo’s team has been a mainstay in that tournament for 19 straight years, an even more impressive accomplishment, arguably, than the Wings and their 25-year playoff streak. Recently, both clubs were projected to squeak into the 68-team field, but neither can afford to lose many more games. In fact, in the either team may need to win the Big Ten tournament to qualify. Considering Izzo’s own expectations entering the season, it would be shocking if Michigan State’s bubble burst. But that’s the way it’s looking.
Michigan football was on the College Football Playoff bubble all season – until the Wolverines lost two of their final three regular-season games, then ultimately the third of their final four games. This season, expectations will soar again after pulling in a Top 3-ranked recruiting class, and more of the same kind of life on that national championship bubble.
Michigan State football’s bubble exploded early in the season when they found themselves losing week after week in a rather shocking performance following their CFP appearance the year before. No bubbles for Spartan football fans on the horizon. The rebuilding process is a long way from complete.
Hey, it could be a lot worse around here. All four professional teams and the major college programs are giving us a lot to cheer about, providing a lot of excitement these days. Just keep those beta blockers handy.
And the award goes to. . .
Hard not to get revved up about a New England-Atlanta Super Bowl, eh? Watching those two offenses led by two great quarterbacks should make for a highly entertaining game.
Tom Brady’s surgical precision against Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game was hardly a surprise. He’s owned the Steelers throughout his Hall of Fame career. But watching Matt Ryan eviscerate Green Bay and put the Packers in a hole not even Aaron Rodgers could lead them out of was shocking.
Until then, I had Rodgers as the hands down MVP of the season – especially considering his performance bringing the Pack back from a 4-6 record to beat the Lions for the divisional title.
But Ryan’s numbers have been statistically superior in every category. And his team is in the Super Bowl.
The voting was completed within days after Week 17 of the regular season, when Ryan and Brady were leading contenders for the award along with Rodgers and two other quarterbacks: Dak Prescott of Dallas and Derek Carr of Oakland.
All worthy candidates. But in my view Brady isn’t as strong a contender since he missed the first four weeks of the season, suspended for “Deflate-gate.”
So for me it still comes down to Rodgers and Ryan. Put a gun to my head and my vote goes to Rodgers as the player most valuable to his team. Without him, Detroit would have won the division and probably had a playoff game at home.
We’ll all know on Feb. 4, when the MVP Award is announced the night before Super Bowl 51.