The playoffs and the picks |

The playoffs and the picks

Chris Freud
Vail, CO Colorado
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning wears a hood as he warms up at football practice at the team's training facility in Englewood, Colo., on Thursday, Jan.10, 2013. The Broncos are scheduled to play the Baltimore Ravens in an NFL playoff game on Saturday. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

Remember last year when the NFL owners proposed an 18-game season as an opening gambit in the league’s most-recent collective bargaining agreement? How’s that idea looking now? The players are bigger and faster since the league went to a 16-game slate in 1978.

Broncos’ right-tackle Claude Minor was the team’s biggest player in 1977 at 6-foot-4, 280 pounds, and that made him huge in that era. More typical of a “big man” was Lyle Alzado at 6-foot-3, 255. The average weight on the Broncos’ roster in 1977 was 222.3 pounds. Peyton Manning is listed at 230 pounds this year.

While there’s been much second-guessing about whether Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III should have been pulled or not during last week’s game against Seattle, the bigger issue is that the NFL is turning into a contest of attrition.

The NFL is never going to reduce the number of games during the regular season or the playoffs because there’s too much money to be made. But playing the 16-game schedule during 18 weeks with two byes, as well as not expanding the playoffs, seem like good ideas.

• Happy divisional playoff round to all. First off, let’s remember that it’s big-boy football time, as opposed to wild-card weekend. There’s a reason why teams like the Texans, Bengals, Ravens and Colts were playing last weekend in the AFC, while the Broncos and Patriots were resting. The picks … Ravens at Broncos: Denver wins, but it won’t be a repeat of their regular-season meeting. The Ravens’ defense is healthier – hello, Ray Lewis. I’m also not totally sold on the Broncos’ running game without Willis McGahee. Texans at Patriots: The bottom has fallen out on Houston and New England is a seasoned playoff team. Pats win easily. Seahawks at Falcons: Meet the most unloved No. 1 seed ever, Atlanta. Yes, the Falcons and the postseason have never been a good mix, but Seattle can’t go across the country twice and win. Falcons hold serve. Packers at 49ers: That this game is in San Francisco gives me hope. While Colin Kaepernick is better than Alex Smith, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is better than both. My heart says Niners. My head says Packers. (Obligatory reference: The San Francisco Giants won the World Series in both 2010 and 2012.)

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• Absolutely love how NFL teams axed their coaches. Jacksonville’s Mike Mularkey became No. 8 on Thursday. Is this really the right thing to do? OK, Norv Turner definitely deserved it with the Chargers. The Chiefs were bad, but firing Romeo Crennel after one of his players committed suicide in front of him? Andy Reid’s a good coach as he proved in Philly and will do so again in K.C. Lovie Smith? He took the Bears to a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman, for crying out loud. The Browns, Bills, Jaguars and Cardinals are simply dysfunctional franchises.

The Steelers should be the model – three head coaches since 1969. Yes, they drafted well. Yes, they’ve had some down years and the current edition is getting long in the tooth. Pittsburgh’s won six Super Bowls since and is in the hunt consistently.

Put it another way, do you Broncos fans actually think John Fox is better coach by the margin of five games in 2012, as opposed to 2011? (He’s a good coach, period.) Think Manning might be one (of a few) reasons the Broncos are 13-3, instead of 8-8?

• Sleep in the bed you made: Major League Baseball and its writers who vote for the Hall of Fame are attempting to rewrite history. As much as people like to lionize – and deservedly so – Cal Ripken Jr.’s streak, that did not save baseball after the 1994 strike. Home runs did with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998 and others including Barry Bonds.

Once homers pouring in like rain, so did ticket sales and, more importantly, television revenue. Baseball received $975 million from NBC and Fox for network TV rights from 1996-2000. Fox alone renewed its contract with Major League Baseball for $2.5 billion for 2001-2006. (ESPN’s package went from $400 million to $851 during the same time period.)

Suitably enriched, the owners, players and media (with a few exceptions) looked the other way, and are now collectively saying, “For shame.”

Try again. The likes of Bonds, Roger Clemens, McGwire and Sosa were the best players of the Steroid Era, which, by the way, is not even close to over. It’s kind of funny that the day after Bonds and Clemens, most notably, were denied the Hall of Fame, that baseball announced that it is finally going to test for human growth hormone (HGH) during the 2013 season, about 15 years after the home run explosion.

Those affiliated with baseball are using the Hall of Fame character clause to change the course of events. If Gaylord Perry, a self confessed master of the spit ball (outlawed since 1920), is in the Hall, why are we having this conversation about Bonds, Clemens, McGwire and whole bunch of other players whose names we probably still don’t know?

Fans are smart enough to know that these guys used steroids. There will be a mental asterisk with each other Cooperstown plaques. We’re done here.

• And we are back: The NHL ended its circular firing squad, aka the league’s latest lockout, and the puck may drop as soon as Jan. 19. Fans deserve some serious arse-kissing from players and owners alike. The NHL needs to do something more than paint the ice and run commercials with the phrase: “Thank you, fans.”

Said fans should also think twice about returning to the NHL. I know you diehards are jones-ing for hockey, but that’s exactly why hockey can keep doing this – four labor stoppages in the last 20 years – and still exist. The NHL knows you’re coming back and takes it for granted.

As much as hockey diehards have missed the game, the sports world has gone on.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or

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