|Yankees’ Michael Pineda Ejected for Pine Tar Against Red Sox||Bruins Take Control of Series with 3-0 Win Over Red Wings||To Boo or Not to Boo? Ellsbury Returns to Boston with Yankees||Yankees vs. Red Sox: Round 2 in Boston|
Patriots’ rookie linebacker Brandon Spikes has been suspended for the last four games of the regular season (without pay) by the NFL for substance abuse violations; he is eligible to return the day after the season ends, and will be eligible for all playoff games. Spikes will not appeal the decision in order to return for the playoffs. While the NFL is implying the substance was performance-enhancing in nature, Spikes claims it was a medication he didn’t get permission to take first.
“I’ve been contacted by the NFL and informed that I will be suspended four games for the detection of an illegal substance in a drug test,” said Spikes. “The substance was a medication that I should have gotten clarification on before taking. It was not a performance enhancer or an illegal drug. The integrity of the game is very important to me. I understand the league’s ruling and apologize to my teammates, the fans and the Patriots organization for this mistake.”
The NFL responded thusly:
“Brandon Spikes of the New England Patriots has been suspended without pay for four games for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances.
Spikes’ suspension begins immediately. He will be eligible to return to the Patriots’ active roster on Monday, January 3 following the team’s final regular season game on January 2 against the Miami Dolphins.
Spikes is eligible to participate in all playoff games.”
Spikes had 71 tackles, three pass breakups, and one interception in 12 games. The good news is that the Patriots are virtually a lock to win the #1 seed. They lead #2 Pittsburgh by a game, which means Pittsburgh needs to pick up 1.5 games in the final four, because they lost to the Pats. The Jets will need to do the same, unless strength of victory really swings in their favor.
Of course, for all that to happen, New England has to lose a game. First up is Chicago on the road. Chicago has been in some close games that shouldn’t haven’t been that close. They almost lost to Detroit twice. Chicago’s quarterback and offense aren’t as impressive as New England, which means Julius Peppers and the defense will need to perform VERY well for Chicago to win. New England’s pass defense is only better than Houston’s, so look for Jay Cutler to throw plenty. But with obscene cold and wind forecasted, Tom Brady loves bad weather.
Second is Green Bay at home. New England just doesn’t lose at home in the regular season when Tom Brady is in command. Aaron Rodgers might just be the perfect guy to try it, though. He’s done very well even with all the injuries. And with New England’s putrid defense, Green Bay will put up a LOT of points. And Green Bay has the 6th best passing defense in the NFL. And they have Clay Matthews. For New England to win, they’ll have to somehow deal with Rodgers first and foremost, and match him score for score. New England will need to take plenty of chances, but educated chances; come up with much better performances on 3rd and short. Fortunately, Bill Belichick is just the coach to take the chances they need.
Third up is Buffalo on the road. Just like Detroit, this should be a trap game, but Buffalo is still Buffalo, just like Detroit is still Detroit. Buffalo is actually 10th best in their passing defense in the league, but this is Buffalo. Fred Jackson and Steve Johnson are Buffalo’s biggest play makers. Harvard man Ryan Fitzpatrick (I know, sounds like he should’ve gone to Notre Dame) can’t do it with just them, not with all the weapons Brady has at his disposal.
Finally, the Pats have Miami at home. Miami’s pass defense is 4th in the NFL, but do you remember Week 4? Sun Life Stadium has usually been the thorn in Brady’s side, but the Patriots won 41-14, including touchdowns scored in five different manners. If the Pats can do Miami in like that in Miami, what chance does Miami have at home? Brandon Marshall might make it somewhat of a trap game if he plays, but not enough of one.
Fortunately, the Patriots should have a bye in the playoffs, after which they will likely host Indianapolis and then Pittsburgh before facing off against Atlanta in Dallas, just as one of my decks of playing cards randomly predicted would happen before the season. Seriously. Hopefully, they’re wrong about who’ll win that one, though.